Lexington Healing Arts Academy program is training the next generation of personal trainers
Shane Burry said worry about getting in trouble for helping friends and acquaintances get in shape drove him to look for a personal training certification program.
Looking through a slew of personal training programs, from short online courses to four-year degrees, he found the Lexington Healing Arts Academy’s accredited Personal Fitness Training Certification Program and dove right in.
“I’ve loved it,” said Burry, who previously worked professionally as a musician and was in the military. “It’s been tough, they really push you here. It’s not an easy school, but the benefits and the rewards are well worth the time.”
He has never missed a day of class, and with only two months left, the Minnesota native said he already has a job lined up locally when he graduates from the program.
Attending class every day, the academy’s personal trainers go through rigorous scientific courses that cover nutrition and fitness, professional development and lab work. It was this multi-faceted, thorough curriculum that attracted Burry, and it is what Lexington Healing Arts Academy Executive Director Bill Booker expects out of the program.
The three-year-old initiative now rounds out the other instructional offerings at the Lexington Healing Arts Academy’s facilities on Southland Drive, which include yoga and massage training programs.
After having bad experiences with personal trainers at gyms, and seeing the rising popularity of personal training for the middle class, Booker, who received his master’s degree in business from George Washington University, decided it was time to enlist the help of some seasoned personal trainers and gym owners to start the accredited program.
“I didn’t know any better,” he reflected. “I went to the gym and I figured they (personal trainers) were very qualified people.”
It turns out, there is no statewide or nationwide standard to become a personal trainer.
“There are a lot of different ways to become a certified personal trainer, all the way from going to school for six years, to studying on your own on the weekend and paying for a certificate,” explained Laura Coombs, the faculty head for the personal training program. Coombs has a bachelor’s degree from Stony Brook University in athletic training and a master’s degree from Queens College in exercise science. “We are at an aggressive level and it is accredited, which means that to take the test you have to have proper identification and have a testing center.
“And the faculty standards are the most tough,” she added. “We are all educated, experienced and have worked in the field so we hold the standard very high.”
She said experienced personal trainers like her would rather have qualified professionals following in the footsteps of their field to hold a higher standard.
Booker added that he has seen personal training “certifications” that allow just about anyone to label themselves as “personal trainers” with only a few hours of study and an online test.
This is disheartening for the true professionals, but most important for the consumer, Booker added. He said gyms in Kentucky are beginning to demand trainers with higher levels of training, and that a large percentage of their graduates walk into jobs almost immediately.
Coombs, who moved to Lexington six years ago to help rehabilitate injured assembly line workers at Toyota, said helping students build and enhance their professionalism is also a special component of the program. “Unlike the scientific curriculum, we really add a lot of professional development,” she said. “How to sell yourself, how to pound the pavement.”
She added that they educate their trainers to work with a large range of people – from regular gym goers to severely overweight first-timers – with a safety-first mentality, and then by making it enjoyable for the client. They also focus on helping the trainer educate clients on how to maintain fitness and health outside of the gym environment.
Booker said he was a good example of someone in need of a qualified trainer.
“How I worked out as I aged changed, and I didn’t really know how to work out,” he said. “I kept injuring myself and was a weekend warrior. You really need an educated, certified, trained person to help you.”
To help prevent injuries for other people, Coombs teaches her students in anatomy, exercise physiology, kinesiology, nutrition and more. The students work out often while practicing moves and get a lot of coaching from the instructors. Class sizes are small, with an average of about 10 students, and taught by a five-member faculty – most of whom are both trainers and business owners.
Coombs said the program’s students come from all walks of life. She said she has one student with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural economics, another with a master’s degree in international leadership, a rock and roll musician, a retired police officer and many other unusual paths. They range in age from 18 to 60 years old.
“Everyone is very passionate, everyone wants to help,” Coombs said. “A lot of them have personal stories, they’ve seen people struggle.”
As graduates, some have started their own gyms and others integrate nicely into existing health facilities. Students are encouraged to maintain gym memberships while in the program and stay as fit as possible.
“They need to know how it feels to be pushed and to look the part,” Coombs said.
At the Lexington Healing Arts Academy, educators are also looking at how to best stay on top of fitness trends. Today, the biggest trend is small group fitness training, Coombs said.
“It’s not group exercise, it’s targeted and customized for those three or four clients, and it makes it more affordable for them and leverages the trainer’s time to get more clients in,” she said. “It also brings the community and social aspect and is less intimidating.”
Booker added that more and more doctors are prescribing exercise to heal physical ailments and the demand for qualified personal trainers will continue to grow.
“I think the settings will continue to broaden,” Coombs added. “It’s not a luxury service for the rich and famous like it was in the ‘80s and ‘90s.”