BBB Warns: American Sports and Fitness Association Offers Consumers Quick and Easy Certification for Cash
on Sep. 07, 2010, under alert
At 5 feet tall and 80 pounds, 11-year-old Julianna doesn’t look very much like a weightlifter. The Webster Groves, Mo., sixth-grader says the biggest thing she ever lifts is her 5-year-old brother. Until a few days ago, she thought a kettlebell was a something to ring, not a piece of weight-training equipment.
Recently, Julianna took and passed an online test for the St. Louis-based American Sports and Fitness Association
— a 75-question exam that qualified her to become a certified, card-carrying kettlebell instructor.
How difficult was the test? She finished it in 10 minutes with a score of 89 percent, after the website gave her most of the correct answers on her second attempt. “I wish they would do that in school,” she said.
Kurtis Scott Lippman of Affton, Mo., is president of the American Sports and Fitness Association, which was incorporated in Missouri in September 2007.
Better Business Bureau says that the association’s testing program illustrates an ongoing problem in the area of personal training and exercise certification. People with few qualifications and virtually no knowledge of a subject can receive official-looking certificates indicating an expertise in everything from sports nutrition to kickboxing by simply visiting the website, answering a list of questions and paying $99 or more, depending on the type and length of certification. And don’t worry if you can’t answer the questions the first time through. The American Sports and Fitness Association tells you which answers you missed and lets you continue retaking the test until you get 70 percent correct, the score needed for certification.
“It’s embarrassing for our industry,” said a personal trainer for a well-known St. Louis area gym. “You can be driving a truck one day and working as a personal trainer the next.”
Steve Ball, associate professor of exercise physiology at the University of Missouri at Columbia, called many online certification programs “a joke.” He said businesses around the U.S. “come up with a fancy name, put up some fancy pictures of people exercising and they call you a master personal trainer. And the public doesn’t know.” He said people should be wary of easy and inexpensive certification programs, choosing instead to go through more rigorous, better recognized certification programs.
Kim States, BBB President, said it would be one thing if people were simply using the certificates as gag novelties, to show off to friends and family. But an Internet search shows trainers using their ASFA certificates on their public resumes to solicit business. “For people to tell consumers they are ASFA certified is simply misleading,” she said. “An ASFA certificate should have about as much credibility as a three-dollar bill.”
The Internet search showed ASFA-certified trainers working in colleges, health clubs, gyms, martial arts schools, country clubs and in private practice throughout the U.S. Many of them note their certifications on resumes. Lippman said his association has certified thousands of people around the world.
Lippman said he is the sole owner of ASFA, which is accredited by and affiliated with Elite Personal Training and Tactical Edge, both of which he runs.
In addition to Julianna’s recent kettleball test, 12-year-old Kaelyn, a North St. Louis County, Mo., seventh grader, tested for a certificate in martial arts. She too passed on her second try and was told she qualified to be certified. BBB investigators also took several ASFA exams. Among them:
- A certification exam as a child obesity specialist. The BBB investigator who took the test had no expertise in the area of childhood obesity, but passed the exam on the first attempt with a score of 84 percent. “Congratulations!” the site said. “You will now be taken to your shopping cart where you can finish purchasing your certification.”
- A certification exam in the area of Pilates, a type of exercise. The BBB investigator who took the test had no background in Pilates, but passed in a matter of minutes on her second try when the Website told her which answers she had missed.
- A certification exam for martial arts strength and conditioning coach. The investigator took this test without ever reading any of the questions and simply marking the 75 true/false and multiple choice answers at random. On the third try, after changing answers to reflect the ones that were missed in earlier attempts, he passed with a score of 72 percent and was invited to purchase the certificate.
In an e-mail response to BBB questions, Lippman said he founded ASFA “to help other employers screen potential employees as well as provide the required continuing education credits needed to retain employment and/or primary certificates held.” ASFA tests, he said, “are a valuable resource for employers in the fitness industry for quality assurance as well as for employees in the fitness industry required by the employer or another certification body to complete continuing education courses.
“In a field that is not accredited by any legal board, we do not claim state or national accreditation status,” he said in the e-mail. “However, we do provide a useful tool for employers and employees alike.”
On both the website and in his e-mail, Lippman noted that only those certificates issued for persons 18 or older should be considered valid.
The ASFA website’s welcome page says, “Fitness professionals and personal training are in large demand and can provide a rewarding and lucrative career opportunity! Why not become a fitness professional today?” Persons ordering certificates are asked to read a series of warnings and disclaimers, including a notice that “ASFA certifications are intended for niche marketing, continuing education, and as a resource for the fitness professional; ASFA certifications are not intended to be sole or primary certifications.”
ASFA uses an address at a UPS Store in the Grasso Plaza Shopping Center in south St. Louis County.
BBB offers the following tips for consumers looking for certified fitness trainers:
- Make sure the trainer is certified with a widely recognized organization and ask for specifics on what kind of training he or she has had. (Ball, with the University of Missouri, says some of the more recognized certification programs are those of the American College of Sports Medicine, National Strength and Conditioning Association and American Council on Exercise).
- Research who, if anyone accredits the certifying organization. Research the accrediting group to ensure that it is legitimate and well-known in the fitness area.
- Go to the certifying organization’s website to determine just how stringent its requirements are for certification. Be cautious of websites that use an easy-to-pass exam and a fee as the sole requirements for certification.
- Check out a business’s Reliability Report with the BBB by going to www.tucson.bbb.org or by calling (520)888-5353.