A Not-So-Traditional Path to a Career as a Certified Wellness Professional

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A Not-So-Traditional Path to a Career as a Certified Wellness Professional

Christopher E. Howard, M.S., ACSM-EP |  March 23, 2023

A Not-So-Traditional Path to a Career as a Certified Wellness ProfessionalAs a society, we are facing ballooning rates of obesity, Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure, conditions that drive up health costs, decrease productivity and erode quality of life. Exercise can have a positive impact on all of these conditions, yet many people don’t have access to informed, competent professionals who can guide them in addressing these problems.

At the same time, many potential fitness professionals are questioning the wisdom of pursuing a degree in exercise science or a related field of study. Is it worth incurring the debt that so often comes with a college degree? 

Within the last decade, the American College of Sports Medicine® (ACSM) amended its requirements for certification as a group exercise instructor or personal trainer to include those with a high school diploma or equivalent. Now women and men of all ages and backgrounds who already enjoy being physically active and working out for personal reasons can make an indelible mark on the health status of all segments of the population by becoming certified through ACSM. 

This topic is dear to me; my path to ACSM certification was not traditional. I spent nearly two decades as a steelworker at a Pittsburgh area mill but always loved working out. While I had already been certified as a personal trainer, I really wanted to earn the industry’s “gold-standard” ACSM certification. Without a bachelor’s degree, that path was closed to me. 

My opportunity came at a meeting at my church for members who had any background in health and wellness. In attendance was the associate director of the University of Pittsburgh Center for Minority Health. The university was starting a community wellness program to help people attenuate the effects of high blood pressure and diabetes. My participation in the program as a health coach would eventually lead me to earning both a bachelor’s and master’s degree, starting a personal training and wellness practice, and creating the Community Wellness Initiative, a nonprofit organization that aims, among other goals, to provide similar and even greater professional opportunities than those afforded to me.

Today, those who aspire to ACSM certification face fewer hurdles. While a college degree offers clear advantages, with intense study and preparation, a meaningful career as a health professional is open to them. I urge current health and wellness professionals to encourage those just starting out by mentoring promising individuals of any age and work experience to follow their dreams. We need them if we are to make an impact on the health issues undermining the lives of so many today.

Additional Resources: 
Blog | 5 Skills of High Performers in the Fitness Industry
Download | ACSM Career Guide
Jobs | ACSM Career Center

Christopher Howard
Christopher E. Howard, M.S., ACSM-EP
, is the founder and executive director of the newly launched nonprofit organization the Community Wellness Initiative of Pittsburgh. After a career as a steelworker, Chris earned a Bachelor of Science in exercise science at the University of Pittsburgh and a Master of Science in exercise science with a concentration in health promotion, wellness and fitness at California University of Pennsylvania. He is an ACSM Certified Exercise Physiologist® and established the personal training and wellness practice C. Howard Fitness in 2012.