Could the days of wondering whether your personal trainer's training was sufficient -- or whether he underwent any at all -- soon be over?

The National Board of Fitness Examiners (NBFE), a nonprofit group formed in 2003 in response to complaints about the lack of uniform credentialing in the field, plans to devise a standardized national exam to be administered to personal trainers and other fitness specialists by 2005. The result won't be regulation, but at least a form of self-policing.

"Once a self-regulated industry is established, one of the first questions [posed to prospective personal trainers] will be, 'Are you national-board-certified?' " said Sal Arria, a retired chiropractor in Santa Barbara, Calif., who is executive director of the NBFE.

At present, more than 100 organizations offer training and certification courses for personal trainers, Arria said. Some are rigorous, and others can be completed in a weekend; some require no testing. "Everyone is called a personal trainer today," said Arria. "It doesn't matter whether you've downloaded a certificate or obtained a four-year college degree."

The model for the NBFE, said Arria, is the National Board of Medical Examiners, which has judged the competency of physicians via standardized exams since 1915.

NBFE executive board members, elected this month, include professionals in the fields of fitness, medicine, higher education and the military, Arria said. These representatives will determine the makeup of the national exam.

"What we're doing is elevating the [fitness] profession," said Susan Johnson Sterling, vice president and director of education at the Cooper Institute, and a supporter of the effort to create national exams.

Sterling said she is hopeful the NBFE will pave the way for personal training costs to be covered by insurance and for a personal-training referral service to be put in place for doctors and other health care specialists.

-- Dana Scarton