The Faculty of Sport and Health Sciences has offered academic education for personal trainers since 2018. The study programme lasts about half a year and to be eligible the applicants need to be at least third-year students of the faculty.

Personal trainer courses are also offered by various private enterprises with virtually no admission criteria at all (except for the course fee). Such courses are available with different lengths and prices, and also with varying content. In contrast, the students of the faculty’s programme already have academic education about human physiology and anatomy as well as some theoretical basis and practical knowledge of teaching and coaching. Hence, the programme can focus more on personal instruction and broad-based wellbeing.

“Outside of universities, people might think that someone is just a master of sport science and believe that personal trainers have more expertise and professional skill for personal coaching,” says Kaisa Wallinheimo, M.Sc. in Sport Science and a personal trainer who works as an instructor for academic personal trainers.

“Yet this is not always the case. We want to develop PT expertise and professional competence and at the same time certify these master’s students as authorised PTs.”

The idea for this new study programme came from Wallinheimo herself: “As we know, the Faculty of Sport and Health Sciences is the only institution in Finland that produces academic professionals in the field of sport. Yet the faculty was not providing this chance for additional education, which would enable the students to work also as an authorised personal trainer.”

Wallinheimo contacted Professor and Vice Dean Mirja Hirvensalo, who had already been teaching a course on adult physical exercise in the faculty for a long time. On this course, the students got a chance to instruct adults.

“It is important that students get to apply the studied theories to practice with adults as well,” Hirvensalo says. “Adults’ problems and starting points differ from those of children and youth, whom physical education teachers instruct at school. The courses had plenty of participants, indicating a clear need for this.”

From the beginning, Senior Researcher Juha Ahtiainen from the master’s degree programme in biology of physical activity was included in the planning. The trio set out to promote the idea, and the first academic personal trainer programme was arranged in 2018–2019. It involved 20 students out of more than 50 applicants from the Faculty of Sport and Health Sciences.

Kaisa Wallinheimo is excited about the possibility to teach the Faculty’s students.

“The faculty’s students already have sound basic knowledge in view of PT as a profession,” Wallinheimo explains. “During our programme of about six months, we can slightly deepen their skills in customer relations and marketing, for example. With these students, there is no need to use much time for specific gym exercises or other basic sport skills, for instance.”

She also finds it important to increase the students’ awareness of holistic wellbeing. A personal trainer should see a person as a whole and give the customer a chance to seek increased wellbeing in various ways: “For some people, it might even be something else than physical exercise. Personal trainers are by no means working merely as gym instructors. People can turn to a PT for help in considering one’s nutrition, quality of sleep and recovery or mind control,” Wallenheimo says. “I consider it very important that students reflect on the domains in which they should still gain more competence. After our programme, the students may realise that they would need more education, for instance, about nutrition or certain health problems that limit physical activity.”

The half-year programme includes five contact teaching weekends, written assignments, and work practice with a client, with a related final report and explained work sample of one’s coaching. Students are estimated to spend approximately 270 hours on this programme and they receive 10 study credits for it. Upon completing the programme, the students receive the PT authorisation through the Trainer4you enterprise.

The faculty’s PT graduates get a chance to test their professional skills within the University during the next year, when the participants of the “wellbeing teacher” project can buy their services through Academic Sports.

“This is a great link within our University,” Hirvensalo says. “First, the University provides education and then gives an opportunity for practical work.”

Wallinheimo is also happy for her students’ chance to test their expertise in a real-life context with a low threshold: “People have highly different needs in today’s working life. Our academic personal trainers are educated to focus on what requires attention.”

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