Many industries that relied on personal contact felt the powerful pinch of the pandemic.
By its nature, the fitness profession was among the hardest hit. But that didn’t deter the National Academy of Sports Medicine from doing what it has done since 1987.
Based in Gilbert, the academy has built an international reputation for its bevy of fitness certifications running the gamut from personal training and nutrition to an evolving selection of specialties within the health and fitness space.
And when personal training and coaching came to an abrupt halt, the organization found new and creative ways to serve its clients so they could continue to serve theirs.
This meant quickly pivoting to virtual training and digital apps, developing hybrid models that would allow training to happen wherever people are comfortable as well as other methods to keep communication strong, said CEO Laurie McCartney. Podcasts and other media were used to also help everyone give as much industry insight as possible into this mysterious new virus that was dominating the world.
The goal: Enable professionals to keep their businesses thriving so they could continue to help others to positively transform their lives, McCartney said.
But McCartney also saw non-pros seek to take their interest in fitness to a new level, whether for personal fulfillment, a desire to remain as healthy as possible or ponderance of a new career.
“COVID was sending a signal that I need to change my life. Lots of people who would not have otherwise came into the fold during COVID,” McCartney said.
Today, the academy has a lineup of courses featuring dozens of options created to match interests and needs for overall wellness and health. Many go beyond how to make people sweat in a gym. A new certified wellness coach offering that features insights into sleep, recovery and even self-compassion is among them.
The National Academy of Sports Medicine moved from California to Mesa in 2006, due to its former CEO Mike Clark’s position as the then-physical trainer for the Phoenix Suns. The need for more office space sparked a move to Chandler a few years later and ultimately to Gilbert in 2019.
‘A little more rigorous than most’
In the past six years business has doubled, McCartney said. The academy has certified more than 1 million people in 98 countries.
Personal trainer Russell Wynter and his wife Crystal Reeves are among them. They earned their master trainer certification about 12 years ago and today help people meet their health and fitness goals with their personal training center MadSweat in Scottsdale.
Wynter was always athletic but was working on his fitness in preparation to go into the police academy in especially good shape. Along the way, others asked him what he did to get his physique and wanted his advice on working out.
Wynter decided a career in personal training would be his way of helping others. NASM’s reputation of being the industry leader and the certification to have, motivated him to enroll in the academy’s courses.
“Others are quick to get you certified. I think it’s a little more rigorous than most,” said Wynter, who liked the science-based program that moved at a progressive pace. “It wasn’t just throwing people into a gym and beating them relentlessly.”
Together, Wynter and Reeves have nearly 30 different certifications from the academy. In addition to personal training, those include corrective exercise, performance enhancement, weight loss, stretching and women’s fitness.
This appeals to Wynter and Reeves, who continue to earn education credits as part of their certification.
“You can always find a new avenue to do something,” Wynter said.
Broad offerings for customer base
When NASM was launched 35 years ago, it did so with personal training certifications as its foundation. Over the decades, McCartney said, it evolved to consider the entire human body and mind.
“It’s not just what you do at the gym,” she said. “What we really want to do is provide customers with the tools that make them successful in different ways.”
Traditionally, customers were mostly college graduates, college athletes or physiology majors, McCartney said. Currently, about 40% are “prosumers” — fitness enthusiasts who may not necessarily want to be a professional trainer but want to learn more for their families or themselves, or build their brand beyond personal training.
Specializations that focus on youth exercise, women’s fitness, golf fitness, and MMA conditioning demonstrate the diverse programming. There’s also a senior fitness specialization course designed to serve enthusiasts 65 and older in mind.
Customers range in age from 18-65, and are about 50% female, McCartney said.
“We want to make our appeal as universal as possible,” she said. “If we can get people to get up and go, they will lead healthier lives.”
NASM is a powerful force in an industry that includes more than 125,506 certified personal trainers employed in the U.S., according to employment resource Zippia. It also will play a role in a fitness trainer and instructor industry that is projected to grow 39% from 2020 to 2030, much faster than the average for all occupations, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Continuing expansion of course offerings to appeal to a broader demographic is part of the future business model.
McCartney talked about a paraplegic client who earned certification and senior citizens who came into fitness late and then became trainers after earning their senior fitness certification.
“They are the heroes of NASM,” McCartney said. “Our fitness partners are passionate about what they do, helping people change lives.”
What: National Academy of Sports Medicine
Where: 355 E. Germann Road, Ste. 201, Gilbert
Factoid: Employment of fitness trainers and instructors is projected to grow 39 percent from 2020 to 2030, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.