The massage therapist who earns a personal training certification sees doors open to an expanded practice and clientele.

Jim Bell, PhD, CEO and founder of the International Fitness Professionals Association (IFPA), sat down with MASSAGE Magazine to talk about the career expansion available to massage therapists who step up to a personal training certification, why massage therapists are now the number-one type of professional seeking training from his organization — and how becoming a personal trainer can help turn around the health crisis plaguing our society.

MASSAGE Magazine: Massage therapists are the largest career demographic seeking training and certifications from your organization. Why do you think that is?

Jim Bell: Massage therapists are our number-one crossover career. The route is either the personal training side or the group fitness side; however, massage therapists mostly go through personal training largely due to the fact that when doing massage therapy, they do it one-on-one — and do one-on-one training in personal training as well.

The Dual Massage Therapist/Personal Fitness Trainer (MT/PFT) practice has always been a popular career path through the 25-plus years since the founding of the IFPA.

The IFPA estimates that 10-15% of our 330,000+ Certified Fitness Professional do both, massage therapy and personal training. The reasons for the crossover for both career fields are typically expressed as:

• Both career fields are complementary health care modalities designed to help, not hinder, individuals.

• Both career fields rely on the body’s own ability to heal itself, instead of relying on pharmaceutical drug therapies.

• Both career fields attract the same type of people who enjoy helping people live longer, healthier and happier lives.

• Both career fields attract the same type of clientele: Clients who are interested in generating their own sense of health and wellbeing.

MM: How do legal requirements differ between massage and personal training?

JB: Massage has been operating for more than 3,000 years — but in modern times, in Florida for example, licenses weren’t required until about the 1980s for massage therapy. There weren’t requirements for personal trainers to be certified until the early 2000s.

For the most part, in both industries, governments wanted a better-quality individual — better quality in terms of training — so they came into having some oversight around the same.

It’s all about protecting the public. Many gyms won’t hire trainers that don’t have a certification. We’re seeing more government intervention where the government is requiring certification.

MM: How do massage and personal training fit together in a practice?

JB: In either career field, once the necessary level of rapport has been developed, it is relatively easy for a massage therapist to enhance their clients’ health and wellbeing by taking advantage of their additional personal training services.

Clients may only have one massage therapy session per week, but would easily consider taking three to four personal training sessions per week from their MT/PFT.

Many MT/PFTs add additional certifications for the growing needs of their clients. For example, our Sports Nutrition Certification Course is our second-most-popular certification after the personal trainer certification, for the very reason that people need a reliable and trusted source of valid information concerning nutrition, supplementation, fad diets, and all the other pills, potions and magic elixirs promising to help the client lose 10 pounds in 10 days, 30 pounds in 30 days and the soon-to-be “lose 100 pounds by the time you finish reading this article” diet.

People need help making sense of all the hype — and who better to trust than their massage therapist who has developed great rapport with them over the years?

MM: Do most massage therapists who complete the training then run a dual practice where they provide both massage and personal training to clients?

JB: I think that’s the intent of 99.9 percent of the people who do both. They already have their massage therapy client, and you have an opportunity to see that client, three, four, five or sometimes more times a week. People who have an event coming up may train seven days a week.

Personal training and massage go hand in hand because they are both health care modalities; both prevent your need from having to go to a doctor. If I could wave my magic wand and get every man, woman and child in the U.S. — or the world —on a nutrition and exercise plan, 90 percent of all drug prescription use would go away in a year.

The reason people have heart disease, cancer and other diseases are related to lack of fitness.

Most societies on our planet are now seeing pandemics in obesity, metabolic syndrome and/or Type 2 diabetes. Now you’re seeing those diseases and disorders, and more, and they’re becoming very prevalent in nearly every nation.

MM: Please describe the physiological effect of massage in the exercise realm.

JB: Most people see themselves going into the gym and working their muscles really hard and think the harder you work the more benefit you’ll get from it. But you want to recover as rapidly as possible from that exercise activity — because after recovery, the body adapts to the stimulation you’ve given it. The adaption is a stronger, healthier body in all the body’s physiological systems.

Massage therapy is a recovery technique I recommend on a regular basis. When you’re massaging, you’re affecting the underlying biochemistry of the body. Not just the muscles, the central nervous and endocrine systems and every other system are affected by massage therapy.

Even most personal trainers aren’t aware of the effect of massage on the lymphatic system. One byproduct of fat metabolization is water. Water is removed through the lymphatic system. If that system is sluggish, the water pools between muscles and you will feel puffy. Massage helps in getting the lymphatic system to drain that excess fluid.

MM: What is your perspective on health challenges facing the public now?

JB: Most medical and health experts agree that between 80-90% of all chronic disorders — 80-90% of over $4 trillion of our annual health care expenditures — is a direct result of the poor lifestyle choices most Americans make. These choices lead to most of the pain and suffering, premature aging and death we see today.

Today’s top killers — heart disease, hypertension, metabolic disorder, Type 2 diabetes, certain cancers and more —are preventable with healthy lifestyle choices, or at the very least, greatly delayed by making healthier choices.

The healers of the future will not use drugs and surgery, but will use exercise, nutrition, sleep-and stress-management, massage therapy and a series of exercise, nutrition and lifestyle prescriptions and protocols to heal their patients.

Already, many evidenced-based medical researchers are proving the safety and efficacy of exercise prescriptions as a far superior modality over the typical drug prescriptions. These include evidence presented in major medical journals.

MM: Can you share some examples of that?

JB: Yes.  The four-meter stride rate test has shown that those patients in the top quintile at age 65 could live 35 years longer than those in the bottom quintile.

The number-one predictor of the chance a cardiac patient could die of a cardiac event is their time in the one-mile walk/jog/run test. This research also showed that by the point the subject could run a mile in eight minutes or less, their chance of dying of a cardiac event was less than 10% of other cardiac patients.

The only known way to reverse Type 2 diabetes was to increase muscle mass. The truly great news in this research was that this reversal occurred after the very first strength training session and every session thereafter.

Exercise and nutrition prescriptions have proven more effective than drug prescriptions for treating patients with anxiety, stress, depression, suicidal thoughts and other mental health issues.

MM: Will you provide a specific example of one health challenge we as a society need to address?

JB: Consider just one very prominent issue in dealing with the typical MT/PFT client: obesity. The obesity epidemic continues to plague nearly every culture throughout the world.

Almost all personal trainers see overweight and obese clients multiple times every day. These clients want weight-loss exercise programs, although IFPA-credentialed trainers are trained to educate their clients that what they really need is a fat-loss program. This is an important concept, since increasing muscle mass is a critical goal in burning fat.

From a health standpoint, the death spiral is: overweight, fat, obese, metabolic syndrome, Type 2 diabetes — and at that point, the destruction of the person’s physiological systems leads to cardiac disease and other major killer diseases.

With healthy exercise, nutrition and lifestyle choices, the degeneration stops and the patient’s systems begin to regenerate.

MM: Massage therapists frequently suffer burnout from overwork. How would holding a personal training credential help with that?

JB: One great health benefit to a MT/PFT is avoiding wear and tear on your body. Many career massage therapists develop joint problems in the fingers, wrists, arms and backs. The MT/PFT career path enables you to give your joints a rest while increasing your income.

I would also like you to consider my own personal appeal and the reasons behind it. I would like you to consider the MT/PFT not just to save your joints and increase your income, but to save the men, women and children in our communities.

Please don’t worry if you don’t look like a competitive bodybuilder or fitness model. Your clients will be far more concerned about what you can do to help them than the hours you spend each day training yourself.

My observation of all the massage therapists I have had the pleasure of dealing with is that you are a caring group of people who truly want to help people. Your community needs you to pick up the mantle of personal training to help more people.

About the Author:

Jim Bell

Jim Bell, PhD, is the founder and CEO of the International Fitness Professionals Association and its two subsidiaries, Doctor’s Fitness Centers and The Fitness Institute of Technology. He has authored 12 books, 68 certification courses for the IFPA, six Fellowship Modules for the American Boards for Kinesiology, Nutrition and Sports Medicine, one certification program for the American College of Anti-Aging Sports Medicine Professionals and hundreds of articles for numerous publications. Mot recently, Dr. Bell has created the Fellowship In Integrated Sports Medicine to teach doctors how to use exercise and nutrition prescriptions as a primary treatment modality.

Karen Menehan is MASSAGE Magazine’s editor in chief.