AFPA Graduate Spotlight: Heather Binns, MS Fitness & Wellness Specialist


To celebrate our 25th year in business, we’re selecting 25 grads to showcase this year. Meet our next featured grad, Heather Binns, an AFPA Certified MS Fitness & Wellness Specialist, who’s built a successful personal training business and broadened her clientele with an AFPA specialty certification.

How did you originally become interested in the health and fitness industry?

I never thought of fitness as a career. I was in the corporate world for about 10 years, and after work every day, I’d go run or I’d go to the gym and workout. Over time, after changing job after job after job, I just wasn’t happy. When I look back on it now, I realize it wasn’t satisfying. One day, a friend was like, “Why don’t you become a personal trainer?” I thought, “Personal trainer? What do they do?” So, I went online, I checked it out, and I figured, well, why not let me go see. So, I decided to apply for the position, and what was kind of surprising is, I got hired right on the spot. I had no experience whatsoever. They put me through like a two-day course, and I was considered a personal trainer. So, technically, that’s how I got into fitness. But the trainer that I was then versus the one I am now is completely different.

What was your experience with the Multiple Sclerosis Fitness and Wellness Specialist certification?

When I found out that I could learn about a new disease, and how I could help people with that disease, I totally jumped on the opportunity.

The certification process was easy. Basically, once you decide the certification you want, you go online, you pay for the certification, then you get an email. The materials are sent to you either via mail or email, depending on if it’s an online certification or actual hard copy books. I received three books and took the time to study on my own. When I was ready, I took the test online and I passed, and it was easy as that. Obviously, you have to make sure you know the information and study, but the process itself is easy.

As I was taking the certification program, I ended up realizing that it was actually quite special, and it makes it so that you feel more fulfilled. For me as a trainer, I love helping people in everyday life, lose weight, get in shape, improve their health and fitness, build muscle, improve in their sport, whatever it may be, reduced back pain, but to help someone that is struggling with the disease for the rest of their life just takes it to a whole new level.

It’s actually quite fulfilling to help someone with a chronic condition, and just be able to keep their symptoms at bay, and just make every day a little easier than it normally would have been without working out or learning how to eat healthy for having such a disease.

If someone with MS is more mobile, they can come to me; but if they’re not, I usually go to them in their home. What’s amazing about it is when you’re working with someone that has such special needs, you really have to get creative in figuring out how you can help that specific person. Even though there are a ton of people out there with MS, they might need physical activity or improve nutrition. Every single person is so different because their MS symptoms may be slightly different and their flare-ups are different. Every day when you go to train a client with MS, you don’t know what you’re going to expect. So, you have to have the knowledge of what you can use and then be prepared to change everything up. Even though I might have a plan written out for her of what I wanted to do today, if she’s having her flare-ups, we may not be able to do that. So, we have to change it.

Do you have client success stories that you’d like to share?

Of my clients right now, Rita, she has been with me for two years and, to be honest, I can’t even imagine two years have already passed. It’s amazing how time flies. Prior to getting the certification, I wouldn’t have met anyone like Rita before. She did a search on the Internet looking for a trainer who specializes in multiple sclerosis and that’s how she found me. She’s someone who’s not very mobile, so I drive to her house every single week. I’ve been doing that for two years now. She’s mostly stuck to a chair. She can’t stand on her own. She can’t walk on her own. When I go to her house, I help her mobilize and stretch because she’s in a seated position all day. I have to kind of open up her joints and get her body to move in ways that she doesn’t normally do on her own and then help strengthen the muscles that she can use and control that very day. Depending on her MS flare-ups, she may not be able to control certain movements in her limbs, her legs, or her arms. So, we have to work around that.

It’s quite amazing to have such an impression on someone and in someone’s life and just helping them live better every day. When I started working with her two years ago, she was very weak, and she couldn’t do a lot of the movements, but now she’s stronger. She’s got some biceps popping out that she’s very proud of, and she’s in less pain because she’s more mobile, and she’s not as tight. We work on mobilization, stretching, and strength. Also, I’ve given her guidance as far as nutrition is concerned because with a disease like multiple sclerosis, nutrition is huge with mitigating the symptoms as well as with exercise.

What’s awesome is having her for two years now. We know each other personally so well. I’m almost like a part of the family in a sense when I’m there. And it’s just more special than your everyday client.

What surprised you the most about the certification?

What surprised me was the information I learned about multiple sclerosis prior to getting the certification. I didn’t know much about it. I had heard of it. I knew someone who knew someone that had multiple sclerosis. But other than that, I never knew anyone personally. So, actually doing the certification really opened my eyes to the disease itself. The fact that it’s an inflammatory disease affecting the nervous system, but some people also consider it an autoimmune disease. It’s quite specific in nature, and that type of knowledge is just something you can’t get every day. Then, the fact that I can apply it literally in person with clients is pretty amazing.

How did getting this certification change your career?

I’ve been in the health and fitness industry for 12 years now, officially since 2006 when I first got certified. I founded my company in 2008 and then rebranded in 2016 to what it is now, Renovate Fitness. Adding on the multiple sclerosis fitness and wellness certification ended up allowing me to gain a new type of clientele than I was used to. Normally, I deal with the general population with weight loss, improving health and nutrition, reducing pain, helping them feel better, helping them move better, helping them perform better, whatever it may be. But with a certification like the MSFW certification, you’re actually impacting someone’s life on a greater sense because it has to do with the disease, one that has no cure to date. So, it gave me the opportunity to meet new kinds of people and to get involved with charities and societies supporting multiple sclerosis research. In addition to not only gaining new clientele, we actually had a team for the Muckfest race earlier this year, which was an obstacle course and a mud run. It was supporting the research of finding a cure for multiple sclerosis. I would never have found out about that before if I wasn’t already involved in multiple sclerosis as a whole.

So, working with clients with MS was something I’d never thought of before. And so now after having the certification for over two years, it’s wonderful to be able to impact people’s lives that have multiple sclerosis and be able to help them feel better and live better every single day.

What advice do you have for people who may be considering a career switch to the health and fitness industry?

I would say if you love it and you have a passion for it, definitely take the opportunity and try it out because I feel like in this industry you have to have a passion for health and fitness. Otherwise, it’s not going to work. You can’t do it only for the money. It’s a challenging career to have. The industry is constantly up and down. There are no guarantees whatsoever in this industry, but if you do have a passion for it and you do truly love it, you end up having a great impact on tons and tons of people’s lives.

Now that I’ve been in it for 12 years, I probably had an impact on thousands of people’s lives at this point because I’ve encountered so many different people in my career. You also have got to get some business sense because if, especially if you’re going to go on your own. Just because you have a passion for something doesn’t mean you’re going to be the best at it and you’re going to know everything. You definitely have to put in the work, and you definitely have to put in the research and then find out what skills you’re good at, what you’re not good at, and maybe what you’re not good at you can get help from someone else.

It definitely starts with having a passion and a desire, and then you have to be willing to put in the work because it’s not easy. But if you do put in the work, it’s very rewarding.