Big Brother is Watching You Squat

State Regulation: What Coaches and Trainers Need to Know

Here's what you need to know...

  1. If you're a coach or personal trainer, your state government may soon force you to get licensed and operate within their "Standards of Practice."
  2. Certain organizations are lobbying state governments to make their certification and license mandatory for everyone who trains clients.
  3. Approval will be determined by a board, which may not approve of the way you train clients, i.e. using deadlifts or full squats.
  4. Don't think your state government will leave you alone to coach the way you know best. They'll try to make you train your clients the way the NSCA and the ACSM tell them you should.
  5. There are good and bad professionals within every profession that requires a license, and a license doesn't guarantee competence.

Attention Trainers and Coaches

This article is for the professionals. But the rest of you can read it, if you promise to think along with us.

It's been suggested that state governments should control the practice of exercise prescription through programs of state licensure.

If this plan is enacted in your state, this would mean that you would need a license granted by your state to practice strength coaching or personal training.

It would mean that you would have to pass an examination procedure developed by the entity assigned the task of deciding what you can and cannot do as a licensed trainer.

What's Wrong With Having Standards?

Here's the problem:

If your State Board of Exercise Prescription Examiners (SBEPE, to save time) decides that full squats are bad for the knees, presses are bad for the shoulders, and deadlifts are bad for the back, then full squats, presses, and deadlifts will be presumed to be Bad, and will be excluded from the Standard of Practice established by the SBEPE.

I have a serious problem with my state government making such decisions, which they would be quite likely to do given the probable makeup of such a state board.

In the District of Columbia, where this legislation has already been passed, the Board of Physical Therapy is in charge of developing the "Standards of Practice" document.

Physical Therapy is concerned with the rehabilitation of injured or disabled people, and their approach is based on rehab. Very soon in DC, Physical Therapists will be in charge of all exercise prescription.

Those of us who have had experience with Physical Therapists must immediately ask what government-approved and Physical Therapy-administered training and exercise in DC will be composed of – and perhaps most importantly, what it will not be composed of.

Do Workouts Require Government Approval?

There is a national organization whose sole purpose is advocating the process of state licensure of exercise professionals.

The Coalition for the Registry of Exercise Professionals (CREP, again saving time) is a coalition of the ACSM, the NSCA, ACE, NETA, the NCSF, the Cooper Institute, and the Pilates Method Alliance (PMA).

Operating the US Registry of Exercise Professionals (USREPS), CREP actively advocates state licensure.

From their website, "CREP encourages public policy to establish strict standards based on NCCA-accredited certification of qualified exercise professionals, up to and including registry and/or licensure, so the profession may be recognized and trusted as part of the healthcare continuum."

It appears as though a profession may only be recognized and trusted if the government says it's okay.

That's pretty interesting, in a disgusting sort of way, but this organization also seems fixated upon NCCA accreditation as the threshold for certifying body competence.

The Whole Accreditation Shebang

The National Commission for Certifying Agencies is the accreditation body administered by another organization called the Institute for Credentialing Excellence (ICE), which accredits personnel certifications.


ICE itself is accredited by the American National Standards Institute, and ANSI also accredits organizations which provide personnel certifications. For example, CrossFit is accredited by ANSI, and not the NCCA.

If you're confused by all this self-serving complexity, good.

You should realize that neither ANSI nor NCCA actually examine the content of the curricula of the educational organizations they accredit. They are almost exclusively concerned with office procedures and bureaucratic detail.

Our organization, the Aasgaard Company, has had some experience with this process in an attempt to obtain accreditation for our Starting Strength Seminar.

After a couple of years, we decided to just let our seminar attendees, our coaches, and their clients decide for themselves how good a job we're doing.

Here's the most important detail:

At no point during the process were we asked about full squats – or anything having to do with exercise, training, safety, equipment, science, biomechanics, physiology, kinesiology, physical education, or any other aspect of any activity in which our credentialed professionals are actually engaged. Nothing.

Not one question or request for documentation regarding what we actually do professionally, just lots of questions about how we run the office and who keeps the keys.

And this arcane, byzantine maze of voluntary private bureaucracy proposes to be the only allowable interface between your profession and the even more byzantine and coercive bureaucracy of your state government.

Licensure Vs. Certification

The difference between certification by one of these accredited organizations and state licensure is that certification is voluntary and licensure is not.

You voluntarily select a certification based upon your perception of its value to your practice.

If you wisely choose ours over the drivel administered by the NSCA, for example, you have chosen based upon your assessment of the two organizations, their materials, their examination procedures, their maintenance of certification policies, and their ultimate value in the marketplace of the strength training profession.

If your state forces you to get a license and operate within the "Standards of Practice" developed by the SBEPE, things will be different.

Guess who will be on the SBEPE: Orthopedic Surgeons, Physical Therapists, Exercise Physiologists, and members of the NSCA, ACSM, ACE, NETA, NCSF, and the Cooper Institute.

What do you suppose the Standards of Practice document will contain?

What will happen to you if you continue to squat, press, and deadlift with your clients and athletes? What will happen to your practice if you don't get a license?

It actually boils down to one salient fact: The member organizations of CREP are lobbying state governments to make their certifications mandatory for persons practicing exercise prescription.

They're trying to create a market for their certification products that doesn't currently exist within a voluntary system, and it bothers them not one tiny little bit to use the government to force you to pay them for something you have not chosen to buy.

How the Government Limits Competition

State licensure is primarily concerned with creating artificial markets and limiting competition.

An astute observer once wrote, "The market is quite capable of ensuring competence, but the state is much better suited to restricting the number of other people competing with you."

Hairdressers, manicurists, surveyors, nurses, geologists, landscapers, interior decorators, bug sprayers, irrigators, insurance salesmen, real estate salesmen, social workers, speech pathologists, veterinary assistants, private security guys, pharmacists, architects, athletic trainers, and massage therapists, as well as Physical Therapists, engineers, doctors, and lawyers all enjoy the protection from undue competition that licensure provides.

And countless "professional development organizations" benefit from the business provided by a captive audience.

You have been told that licensure – although it cannot guarantee competence – at least provides a minimum baseline of entry-level competence for a profession. Well, folks, so does voluntary certification.

The public has enough sense to ask for references, even when choosing from among licensed professional landscapers.

But under the current system of licensure protectionism, the public cedes a measure of its prudence to the government's perceived authority.

There are bad doctors, lawyers, and interior decorators, and there always will be, licensed or certified. But with the State's imprimatur, many people stop thinking and begin trusting.

This is unfortunate.

I'd rather be evaluated by potential clients for my experience and competence than merely trusted because the SBEPE says I'm just as good as the kid who graduated from PE school last year with his NSCA-CSCS credential, and who actually believes that full squats are bad for the knees like the Standards of Practice says.

I'd rather be free to practice what I've learned in 38 years of making people stronger than be forced to operate according to the tenets of physical therapy/rehab-based exercise promulgated by the NSCA and the ACSM.


Is This Just Paranoia?

Again, the District of Columbia has already passed this legislation.

And over the past six years Massachusetts has moved in this direction suggested by CREP with their HBs 209, 1005, and 185, along with Maryland's HB 747, New Jersey with SBs 695 and 731, California's SB 1043, Texas's HB 3800, and Georgia with SBs 441 and 204.

Florida HB 1257, SB 984, and SB 1616 have all sought to establish precisely the SBEPE structure I referred to earlier.

North Carolina has already enacted some rather confusing legislation regarding the professional provision of nutrition information that can potentially impact a coach's ability to help his trainees with dietary advice.

If you think that state governments will leave you alone to coach the way you know best, you are making a serious mistake.

They have tried, and will continue to try, to make you train your clients and athletes the way the NSCA and the ACSM tell them you should.

It's best to know of these things beforehand, so that you can make your voice heard before the Squat Nazis formally take over the profession.

Note: Thanks to Brodie Butland for his help in preparing this article.