The Best Personal Trainer Certification
Specialized Certifications for Personal Trainers & Strength Coaches: PICP
I just took the Poliquin International Certification Program (PICP) level 1 Strength Coach Certification in New York City ($650, 3 days). It was really good information.
I learned about the certification through a mentor, Joe Dowdell. I trust his opinion because he is very committed to continuing education and has taken pretty much every respectable certification.
Charles Poliquin is a famous strength coach who has trained more Olympians than any other strength coach I can think of (except maybe Mike Boyle).
If you read Part. 1 of this series, you know that there are a lot of good certifications out there, and there is no one best certification for everyone. It all depends on who you want to work with and your career path.
But, if you want to work with athletes to increase performance, Yoga Classes For Everyday Athletes this certification is up there with the NSCA’s C.S.C.S. and the Athlete’s Performance mini-internship (both of which I have taken, and honestly, even though NSCA is the most respected, I feel like I got more practical knowledge from Poliquin and Athlete’s Performance.)
There are several things that I loved about this certification, and a couple of things that I think could be improved.
* The level 1 strength coach certification focuses on manipulating acute training variable (sets, reps, tempo, and rest) for highly effective program design. These may seem like basics, but no other certification covers it like Poliquin. It’s amazing how few people really understand how to manipulate time under tension, tempo, and rest for specific goals and sports. They also emphasize creating precise descriptions of every exercise, to ensure the most amount of variation and adaptation (Squat vs Barbell Back Squat Shoulder Width Stance).
* I loved how much research they provided as evidence, although they could have done a better job summarizing it. I have found that the best certifications specialize in one area. (Too many certifications try to be a jack of all trades, and end up being a master of none.)
* The information easily transfers to practical application, and is applicable to your general population clients. If you want to learn program design, in particular for power, strength, or fat loss, this certification is great.
* They provide a good methodology and protocol for testing maximal strength, although somewhat incomplete (see below). Based on this test, they provide a nice formula, based on studies, for assessing the balance of strength throughout the upper body. (Ex. If you lift xxx on the bench press, you should be able to do 8rm of external rotation with 8.6% of that bench press weight, and if you can’t there is an imbalance etc).
* The course instructors were friendly, knowledgeable, and generous with their attention.
* You have to take a test before being admitted to the class, in addition to a test at the end. I like this! Only committed trainers show up, and they show up with a good understanding of the basic material, so nobody asks stupid questions.
* One of the instructors didn’t understand BASIC biomechanics. Either that, or we had a major miss communication.
* Some of the pictures in the manual were misleading and/or confusing.
* The little demo on stretching was a waste of time at best, and misleading at worst. Stick to what you are good at, leave the stretching to certifications that focus on that!
* We were quizzed on Cluster Training and German Body training, which is very cool stuff, but we only glossed over it during the lecture. I would like to have spent more time on these specific programs, but there is a lot of good info about them online too.
* Some of the topics in the manual could be worded better. Initially, they do an ok job of defining the different strength qualities (limit strength, maximal strength, absolute strength, speed strength, strength endurance), but aren’t as clear when they refer to these qualities later on in the manual.
* They were clearly negligent and not following their own methodology when they chose a trainer to demonstrate the 1rm testing protocol for the bench press. The specifically chose someone who appeared to be out of structural alignment, and then tested him to his limit, without ever asking him if he has been working out consistently for the last 12 weeks (which is their own protocol).
* Furthermore, they should change their protocol and ask what kind of workout has been done over the last 12 weeks, because a person could be working out for 12 weeks and still not be ready for a 1rm bench press. RULE # 1 in personal training is do no harm. The trainer came in the next day and couldn’t participate in certain lifts, and my understanding was that he had joint pain, not just muscular soreness. Not cool and not necessary. I later talked to another trainer who said he was injured in a PICP certification.
You may read this last part and say “Whoa, no way am I doing this certification” but I think you should reconsider, it is a very valuable certification, just know your own limits and don’t do anything you think is risky (and keep the ego in check! I know it is hard when there are other trainers around).
We all had to do a 1rm test to get experience; I chose the pull up because I am a rock climber. I was able to do 1 pull-up with 90lbs loaded on me, chin over bar. There are several exercises to choose from, so you should be able to find one you are comfortable with, and if not, you can and should pass.
Regarding the biomechanics issue, one of the instructors mentioned he does 1 and ¼ reps on bench press with girls with the ¼ rep at the top of the motion, because this part of the motion overloads the triceps and girls care about the back of their arms looking good.
Totally cool with me. This instructor had mentioned that he is very precise in tracking his programs and exercises, so I asked was if he ever manipulated their intention on the bar to overload their triceps also?
In other words, you can push out against the friction of the barbell with your triceps, your hands aren’t going to move, but the line of force caused by the friction, when combined with the line of force of the barbell (gravity) creates a resultant with a different line of force that changes the force angle’s at the axes of rotation of the shoulder joint and elbow joint. (Not a typo, axes is the plural of axis. Who knew?)
With intention, you can make the lowest part of bench press harder for the triceps, and the top part harder for the chest. Can you do this and still lift maximal weight? No! Can you just lift a barbell with only your triceps? No! But that was not my question.
His response was “I would love for you to come do chest with me sometime” as if who could bench the most would settle who knew the most (It doesn’t, duh).
Whoa there cowboy, first off, I was just asking a question, second off, I would be honored to workout with you because you know a lot, even if you don’t understand basic biomechanics, and thirdly, you are welcome to do one of my empire state building stair workouts with me. I can get up 86 flights in UNDER 15minutes, I would love to watch your face as you try and keep up, although to do that I would have to slow down, and slow ain’t my style buddy. Either way, neither of these workouts would settle anything, I was just trying to learn from his perspective without losing my perspective.
His final response was “Yeah, you could probably do that, but why not just do a triceps exercise instead of modifying a bench press?” Really, didn’t we start this conversation because you said you liked modifying a bench press with 1 and ¼ reps to hit the triceps more? Sheesh! I wasn’t going to push, because it wasn’t a seminar about biomechanics and I didn’t want to be one of those trainers who take over a lecture to prove their point. Anyway, this instructor has a lot of potential, but he is young and testy! I liked him to say the least:)