Before You Go - October 2012
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On the Rise
Fitness Industry Employment Set to Grow

By Deborah L. Vence

Fitness reality shows, the media, not to mention special associations dedicated to health and fitness, have put the limelight on the fitness industry in recent years. Even passing by newsstands, you can't escape heaving piles of health magazines with front covers of in-shape celebrities and athletes, while the inside pages are layered with articles about healthy recipes or how to get in shape … fast.

So, it probably comes as no surprise, then, that the fitness profession has been identified as one of the 10 hottest industries over the next decade, with employment expected to grow by 24 percent by 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

"I think, in part, it's due to [or] in regard to the healthcare crisis and obesity epidemic. There has been a lot of positive research and press with regard to the role that leading a healthier and more physically active lifestyle [is important] to combat some of the challenges we're facing as a nation," said Cedric X. Bryant, Ph.D., chief science officer at the American Council on Exercise (ACE), the largest NCCA-accredited nonprofit fitness certification organization in the world.

"It lends itself, then, to fitness professionals being part of the solution. I also think that one of the things that we're finding, too, are a fair number of career changers. They are finding themselves as being downsized with some of the more conventional occupations. Not a sense of fulfillment," he said.

The fact is that "many businesses are cutting their staff, asking people to do more with less help. So, they're starting to reevaluate their choice for a profession, looking to see [another] that might be more fulfilling, [one with] a bit more autonomy," he said, adding that trade schools often have six months to a year programs to become a fitness professional. There, you can get practical, hands-on skills. Also, certification programs and distance learning workshops are available to help people acquire some of the skills that are necessary.

When it comes to pay, according to ACE's 2010 Fitness Salary Survey, the average annual salary for an ACE-certified personal trainer is $53,323. Meanwhile, data reveals that top earners make $100,000-plus salaries. While becoming a fitness professional does not require a college degree, some employers require certification, and it is recommended for all people who are looking to pursue a career in fitness.

"I think as fitness professionals become part of the healthcare solution, you will continue to see the salaries grow," Bryant said.

Meanwhile, as the workplace wellness movement has been placing more emphasis on employee fitness, other factors, such as Medicare-approved obesity counseling, could stir up the fitness profession as well.

"That's one of the interesting things with the whole CMS [Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services] with the counseling for individuals suffering from obesity," Bryant said. "In many ways, it presents an exciting opportunity … individuals who have the ability to address behavioral components.

"That's one of the reasons why we, at ACE, developed a credential that's focused on providing fitness professionals with those important skills," he said, explaining that the Health Coach credential not only addresses fitness and nutrition, it pairs it up with behavioral psychology.

"In our opinion, that's kind of the missing element, behavioral psychology. [The idea is] to help people make those all-important behavioral changes to sustain weight loss," Bryant said.

ACE Health Coach puts emphasis on fitness, nutrition and the science behind true behavior modification. It helps professionals connect with people in a way that makes them not only want to change, but believe they can do it long-term, according to information from ACE's web site.

"[We have to] develop effective strategies to help people lose weight and keep it off. [We have to] understand what intrinsically motivates people to help them from relapse and [develop] the proper incentives to sustain the changes that one makes," Bryant said.

Sometimes, people try to follow programs and strategies that really are not sustainable. So, fitness professionals need to help identify the best physical activity that people are most likely to adhere to. You have to consider dietary changes and eating strategies, makeup and personality.

"It's important to spend time understanding the individual and human behavior," Bryant explained. "One of the big changes over the next several years with fitness professionals is to take the time and understand their clients, and establish a deeper connection to provide an individualized service to that client."

And, to finally get the obesity epidemic under control, Bryant said, "We need to understand that it's such a multi-faceted complex problem that's going to occur in small incremental steps. We have to collaborate much more than we have in the past.

"There has been a lot of discussion about collaboration of various members of the health care continuum … behavioral psychologists working as a real team in helping to address the many issues and challenges of people who spend their lifetime with weight-related issues," he said. "That will take a team working in concert to address all of the dimensions for all of those individuals to have long-term success."