Interview with Fitness Education Professional, David Van Daff

Programs and Schools

David Van Daff is vice president of business development for the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), one of the country's largest providers of study courses and testing for personal certified trainers. He began his career in the health club industry in 1996 as senior director of education and business development for Bally Total Fitness. Career Colleges interviewed Mr. Van Daff to discuss his background and provide students with advice on what to expect from a personal training program.

Q. How did you become interested in personal fitness teaching programs?

A. I worked in the health club industry for roughly 14 years. I was always very passionate about the education associated with the industry. It became very important to me that the services personal trainers were providing were top notch, safe, effective, and that the people paying for those service felt like it was a great investment. Over time I saw that NASM trainers came in with the foundation and ability to hit the floor running and were able to take on various clients, young, old, male, female, weight-loss or strength-specific. They were able to incorporate skills they learned in certification immediately and had the best opportunity for success in a health club environment.

Q. What types of people are most likely to succeed as personal trainers?

A. In many cases, it's someone who is working out, sees people doing personal training and becomes friends with other trainers. It is a bit different than other professions. Typically, people look at the education necessary for other professions and then pursue that education. With personal training, most of the time it is a fitness enthusiast who has achieved a high level of fitness. They already are working with their friends and relative, teaching them fitness routines. That tends to be more of the thinking than about the need to go to college to get started.

Q. What are some challenges typically associated with technical instruction of educational programs?

A. Making sure the education is practical is always a challenge. Students can learn all the bones and muscles in the body and all the fine points of anatomy, but is that going to help them train someone whose goal is to lose weight? A lot of trainers starting in the industry can name all the muscles associated with the rotator cuff, but when they get their first client they are not sure about what routine to develop to not only achieve effective results but to also to keep them excited and on a renewal cycle. The education they pursued is more technical than practical, and it is important to achieve a balance of both.

Q. Describe the online personal training program experience.

A. The way certification education works today is a million times better than when I started in this industry. Before, you got a textbook, and then you showed up to a practical and written exam. Now, with online and interactive educational formats, the difference is incredible and is much more suitable for the fitness profession.

An online education and learning management system does so much. Being able to watch videos of actions being done, being able to go back and rewind. If an anatomy component is difficult, students can keep going back and watching videos, go through quizzes, and use textbooks to get a more intensive education. I am extremely proud of NASM as an education organization. We have people on staff that can handle an email or phone call to describe a troublesome aspect. We also have more than 200 live workshops around the country for people who need more intensive learning.

Students can go to the NASM certified personal trainer program and get access into its learning management program. Students get a textbook and workbook, but also chapter-by-chapter online learning that ties back to textbook. They go through the videos and see digital movement descriptions. If they don't catch something, they can watch it again. There are chapter-by-chapter quizzes, and all of it ties back to the exam prep. Students have practice tests. It is extremely active and more suitable for the typical personal trainer to learn the material. Students are watching, learning and seeing hands-on what goes on and getting the practical skills they need to know.

Q. How do you define the success of a course or program?

A. The obvious outcome to look for is to pass the exam and become a certified personal trainer. What it comes down to is what best prepares new graduates to step into an environment to work and interact as a successful personal trainer. The worse thing that can happen is to for a students to step into a career and realize they are in over their heads and don't have the education. Students should not only want to achieve certification and credentialing, but also possess a desire to be comfortable and achieve success in any situation.

Q. What is your prediction on the future of fitness programs?

A. There are some great statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics that fitness jobs are increasing tremendously and should see unparalleled growth over the next 10 years. The obesity crisis is upon us and getting worse, and it is important to have trained professionals to work with the population and combat that challenge. We have a sedentary population problem, but there are a tremendous amount of people who are passionate about fitness, and the jobs are there -- there is no shortage of people who need the help and services of fitness professionals.

Q. What are some fundamental characteristics students must possess to achieve success as a personal trainer?

A. Personal training is like any other type of customer service profession. If one cannot develop relationships with clients, keep them motivated and enthused, it may be difficult to maintain and build a business and achieve success.

Q. What skills will students not be able to learn in the classroom or through education programs?

A. Students can get all the book learning and master the exam and materials, but ultimately personal training is a physical job. Personal trainers have to understand the gym and environment they are working in, and that takes practical learning and training. Personal trainers learn by doing it over time, but they must possess the educational foundation and skills to put it all together.

Q. What types of outside education do you recommend your students pursue while taking your classes?

A. My biggest advice for students going through a personal training educational program is to workout with their girlfriend, boyfriend, friends and family and try to go through the concepts they learn in class with them. Students should try it out on your own, start creating programs, and try to experience what they are learning. They can always shadow a personal trainer as well. Students should figure out what organizations provide continuing education and advanced certifications, which can help them open up to different clientele and different environments.

Q. What does personal training educational program coursework entail?

A. We couldn't have an effective program without a focus on nutrition. It is going to play a role, and it is important to understand what clients need to do outside of the gym. Exercise form is the bread and butter of our personal training programs. Designing and understanding exercise programs and being able to assess a client and determine what they need. Personal trainers have to understand correct form and be able to identify incorrect form. Science is also a significant part of the coursework in personal training programs. It's not just sitting back and learning all the bones and muscles in the body. Students need to understand the basic framework of kinesiology and anatomy.

Q. What advice would you give students about to pursue education this profession?

A. A strong educational foundation is the key. Fitness enthusiasts may have developed a routine to achieve the results they desire, but that doesn't mean they have the education and understanding to work effectively with clients. An educational foundation is extremely important, and continuing education is absolutely essential. Fitness is always evolving, and new information is constantly coming out that impacts the way trainers interact with their clients. Personal trainers need to stay abreast of current research to enhance their understanding of the industry.

Please note: Unless explicitly stated otherwise, any job outlook predictions, career/educational advice, and salary information found on this page are based solely on the opinion of the interviewee and not that of or any other organization.