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Pro Profile: the ACSM’s Richard Cotton

By Patricia Glynn

Richard CottonAn industry veteran with over 30 years of experience, Richard Cotton, the national director of certification for the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), earned a master’s degree in exercise science from San Diego State University, in San Diego, California. He holds two ACSM certifications: those for Clinical Exercise Specialist, and Preventive and Rehabilitative Program Director.

Before joining ACSM, the largest sports medicine and exercise science organization in the world, Cotton had served as the chief exercise physiologist for the American Council on Exercise (ACE), the San Diego-based fitness education and certification provider.

He’s also served as a wellness coach and industry consultant, and is considered an expert industry resource by major media outlets, including The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, and the Washington Post. He’s also appeared on broadcast shows and networks such as ABC’s Good Morning America, Dateline NBC, and CNN.

You originally planned on pursuing a career in economics. What prompted you to enter the fitness industry?  

It was only after I’d obtained my bachelor's degree that I realized the field of exercise science even existed. I was sitting in on an extension class at the University of California in San Diego, and it was there that I first heard about the discipline of exercise physiology. For some reason, that really piqued my interest—so much so that, just a few months later, I enrolled in the master’s program at San Diego State University. It was a great decision, and I’ve never looked back.

What’s something about you that people might find surprising?

In spite of the work I do and the knowledge I’ve gained, I have just as hard a time sticking to exercise as most people do. I’m always mixing things up and playing games with myself to ensure that I work out consistently.

That begs the question: How do you stay fit?

I participate in both gym-based and home-based workouts. I’m a swimmer and a runner. At the club, I enjoy doing aerobic and strength circuits. Sometimes, I also attend a boot camp or a yoga class. And, at my house, I have a suspension trainer that I make use of regularly.

How can we get more people exercising? And how can we encourage them to remain committed to an active lifestyle long-term?  

I think trainers should spend more time fostering sustainable behavior change in their clients. Instead of simply focusing on the physical aspects, and developing complex workout routines that tend to lead to dependence, trainers should try to be more attuned to the whole person—the mind and body in tandem. I believe this would cultivate independence, which, in turn, would lead clients to sing their trainer’s praises.

I realize this might not be conducive to developing a long-term, trainer/client relationship, but it would definitely make the experience more valuable for the member. And that, ultimately, would enhance the reputation of the training profession, as well as of the entire club industry. 

What are your thoughts on the push to require fitness pros to acquire licensure?

I think, eventually, for club trainers to be licensed, a certain level of education—such as a yearlong certificate program—will have to be required. At this point, I don’t think we’re ready for licensure at the club level, certainly not with respect to educational requirements.

Of course, at the same time, I do believe that trainers working at the clinical level should be licensed. At a minimum, they should also have a bachelor’s degree in exercise science, along with a clinical certification such as the ACSM’s Clinical Exercise Specialist (which requires a bachelor’s degree) or ACSM’s Registered Clinical Exercise Physiologist (master’s degree required).

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

About 15 years ago, while attending a presentation on effective communication, I heard a tip that’s proven very useful when I’m dealing with a challenging situation: I ask myself, “Do you want to be happy, or do you want to be right?”

The reality is that, often, we’re unable to have it both ways. So, that said, I typically choose to let happiness win out, because, while my ego might sometimes object, I find that doing so brings me the greatest piece of mind. It usually produces a reward that I truly appreciate.

What would you say is the secret to your success?

To be honest, I credit a good portion of my success to my being a lifelong learner. I’m passionate about learning new things. I’m also nuts about self-improvement. I’m always trying to improve myself, particularly in the areas of interpersonal communication and relationships. I find this especially valuable since I engage with so many people on an ongoing basis—I work with 10 different committees and more than 50 amazing volunteers.

The field that we work in is, I think, just absolutely fantastic, and I feel compelled to make the greatest contribution I possibly can.

- Patricia Glynn,

Reader Comments (1)

I agree that if a trainer can help someone develop healthy life long habits this would be the best approach. But I have to wonder if most trainers would think that is risky because most people want quick results and specific actions to follow. Maybe the trainer could advertise the technique and see if there is an interest.
March 30, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTammy Lee

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