Today I completed the second module in my National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) course to become a personal trainer. The primary focus was “Career, Directions in Sport, Health, and Fitness”.

The title reflects NASM’s goal to not only produce highly knowledgeable trainers, but also prepare them for the practical realities of being a fitness industry professional. The module covered a breadth of skills including career management, sales, gym facility management, and collaboration with other fitness professionals.  I initially showed little interest in the subjects related to fitness careers since I’m not planning to make a career of personal training. However, I did learn a particularly valuable lesson from today’s module.

Scope of Practice

Much of module 2 was dedicated to “Scope of Practice” for a fitness professional. The material stressed that the health and wellness industry is subject to massive amounts of misinformation. The body is incredibly complex-especially how it interacts with food and exercise and responds to injury. Yet many people expect their trainers to play the role of physical therapist, doctor, and nutritionist.

I’ve been guilty of this as well. I go to my trainer first when I’m injured. I often seek advice around nutrition as well.

NASM has strict professional standards of conduct. The athletic trainer must stick to his or her scope of practice. A trainer’s scope of practice is defined as designing and implementing scientifically-based exercise and conditioning programs. It also includes suggesting lifestyle modifications to help clients achieve their fitness and health goals.

I identified with the concept of “scope of practice” because I like to be the person with all the answers. I imagine I’ll feel qualified to make judgments about potential clients after completing my course in personal training. I’ll diagnose why someone got injured. Maybe I’ll investigate what the root cause of pain might be. Or I’ll prescribe the best way to train despite a special need.

Let’s be real: I like to be sought after for advice. I like to have the answer. I like to say, “Yes, I can help!”

The Art of Saying No

We can be dangerous to others if we never push back. We can even cause harm if we fail to admit we might not have the best answer. People pleasers risk being over-promisers and under-deliverers. In some cases, they might actually make a situation worse despite their sincere desire to help.

I’ve had some valuable realizations after reading this NASM chapter. I recognize my obligation to defer answers in situations where I am not qualified to respond. In fact, I could inadvertently cause someone harm by giving wrong or incomplete advice. This is simply because I’m not a licensed medical professional or nutritionist.

We live in a society which constantly pushes us to say YES. We undervalue saying no or admitting we don’t know something. However, it’s crucial to say no. It takes self-awareness of one’s strengths and weaknesses to do so. It requires critical thinking to evaluate the appropriate response. Saying no demands the courage to push back, sometimes against people who might be upset by your answer.

Stop and ask yourself a question the next time you feel pressure to say yes to something. Are you saying yes from a position of fear (i.e., fear of disappointing someone)? Or are you saying yes from a position of strength?

The bottom line? Saying no takes courage, self-awareness, boundaries, and finesse. Your ability to learn when, how, who and what to say no to can mean the difference between mediocrity and excellence.

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Follow Jacob’s journey to becoming a personal trainer here.