Now, more than ever before, the country needs personal trainers.
Dedicated professionals committed to helping people stay fit, lose weight and live their healthiest lives are an absolute necessity for the health of our nation.
The evidence of this? The obesity rate–which can contribute to conditions like heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer– from 2017-2022 was recorded at about 41.9%.
Aside from the blatant reasons why these statistics matter, the primary factor is that many of these diseases and conditions can be–and are–preventable in most cases.
How can professionals like you make a difference? By helping people lose weight, stay in shape, and lead the healthiest life they possibly can.
If you’re on the fence about becoming a personal trainer, if you’ve thought about committing your career to help people change their lives, and if you’re seriously debating pursuing this new path in life, your timing is truly impeccable.
Why? Because professionals like you are needed. Think about it this way–there are roughly 350,000 personal trainers in the United States. Sounds like a lot, right? Maybe, but the market is far from saturated. The United States has over 329 million citizens. That 350,000 doesn’t seem so large now, does it?
The lesson here? The country needs more personal trainers.
And the next life-changing personal trainer could be you. How do you tackle this? By committing to the best personal trainer certifications. This is your first step toward the journey to help the country get healthy.
Are you ready to learn more? We have a lot of information to dive into. Keep reading to discover the fitness instruction path, determine the best personal trainer certification for you, and learn even more about what it means to choose a personal trainer career.
Decide Your Path of Fitness Instruction
There are several different routes one can take when it comes to teaching fitness. Importantly, you’ll need to understand that when it comes to being a health instructor, there are a ton of disciplines you could get into. The real challenge is choosing which makes the most sense for you and which is the right personal trainer certification to go with it.
So, how should you select your discipline? By answering a few questions and establishing a few goals.
You should select your discipline based on what you want to accomplish and what your overall ambitions are.
For example, if you want to teach groups, focus on more 1-on-1 client relationships, or find something unique within a niche specialization, those are the perfect starting points.
The exciting (but also tricky) part? There are even more subcategories for every path you choose to take.
Here’s another example to consider. If you want to be a group instructor, there are a ton of groups out there you can focus on. So, if you want to be a group instructor, you need to ask yourself what that group will be. Is it Zumba? Cross-fit? Group weight training? Or, if you want to work 1-on-1 with clients, what will your specialization be? Will you work with college athletes? Senior citizens? Everyday folks looking to get fit?
There are limitless possibilities and plenty of fun directions you can take your personal training career.
Our preferred partner: American Sports and Fitness
One of IFG's preferred certifying bodies, ASFA specializes and tailors certifications to fitness industry professionals who have an extensive pre-existing knowledge. ASFA helps you specialize your continuing education and marketability by testing in industry-specific fields.
ASFA offers affordable fitness certifications that allow you to focus on specialty qualifications - you pay only if you pass. As a leading certifying body, ASFA has certified thousands of fitness professionals throughout the United States and Internationally.
Finding the Best Personal Trainer Certification
This choice is perhaps the most popular route for fitness instruction. That doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s easy, though. Undoubtedly, this path often requires the most work.
And importantly, you'll need to realize that to become a personal trainer; you need to obtain a certificate. The tough part about this? Finding the best personal trainer certification for you is no easy task.
These certificates are awarded upon completion of the NCCA-accredited exam. The good news? This exam is given and permitted through several different organizations, so there’s no one-size-fits-all program to go through to achieve what you need.
That being said, the most popular organizations include names like National Academy for Sports Medicine and International Sports Science Association (but we’ll talk more about those later).
Here’s a very important distinction we’d like to make clear. You do not legally have to have a certification to be a personal trainer. Still, it is highly encouraged. Mostly because it’s the responsible way to offer these hands-on services, but also because most gyms or clients will want to see your credentials and likely won’t hire you if you don’t have this experience.
The main takeaway here? Having a certificate is a vital part of being a personal trainer.
In other words, if you want to succeed in the industry, you need to get one.
This option for fitness instructors takes more patience. In this discipline, you will be working with people who have very specific health problems and are not necessarily looking for generalized fitness goals. An important distinction, though, is that this is not a physical therapist role.
There are specific programs and certifications you must receive to go into this role. In most cases, you will need to go through the American College of Sports Medicine to obtain the necessary certification in Clinical Exercise Physiology or Registered Clinical Exercise Physiology.
The clients you’ll serve will likely be very different, from different age ranges to unique conditions. Likely, they’ll be in a stable medical condition in a controlled environment, and your job will be to help them exercise and meet their goals despite the conditions they might have.
GROUP FITNESS INSTRUCTOR
Becoming a group fitness instructor is similar to becoming a personal trainer. The only difference? You will be dealing with more people at one time.
Typically, the classic version of a personal trainer works with clients in a 1-on-1 environment. With group fitness, your specialization is in the name–group fitness. This niche isn’t a tough specialization to chase– most major organizations offer group fitness certifications for potential instructors.
Certain organizations, such as NASM, will even offer a hybrid approach. The program's Group Personal Trainer option blends small group instruction with personal training to give you a little bit of both. In completing this program, you will be able to work in a 1-on-1 setting as well as with a smaller group of 5 people.
To really dive into this discipline, it helps to have lots of energy and charisma. If you are going to be teaching mid-to-large groups, you need to keep everyone around you energized and excited. If this doesn’t sound up your alley, this might not be the specialty for you.
SPECIALTY FITNESS INSTRUCTING
This branch of fitness instruction is where you can get picky with who you want to instruct. There are many different groups that you could specialize in.
Whatever your professional goals are, there is a specialized group for you.
Many popular organizations offer specialization certificates in conjunction with their main certificates. Popular specializations include senior citizens, children, weight loss coaching, and even nutrition.
Typically, specializations are broken up into three subdivisions.
The subdivisions include:
-Prevention and correction
-Nutrition and wellness coaching
Within these subdivisions, there are several more options for you to pick from.
HUMAN PERFORMANCE INSTRUCTION
Human performance instruction allows you to work with athletes. Sports and fitness instruction tend to be intersecting areas, and with several different sports and sporting levels, guidance is often needed from a professional.
NSCA offers incredible strength and conditioning certifications that will allow you to work with any age group within this specialty. With this certification, you will be able to select the sport of your choice and any athlete level.
Importantly, though, to become a human performance instructor, you’ll need more than a certification–most companies will look for a college degree, too. On the positive side, there are several degree options out there to help you reach your goal of working with athletes.
Your Guide For The Best Personal Trainer Certifications
Even though it is legal to work as a personal trainer without being certified, we highly recommend that you obtain a certification. Marketing yourself as a certified personal trainer is a big deal–not only does it offer the social proof and credibility employers are looking for, but it will also contribute to client attention and reach.
Most gyms, studios, and similar establishments will require proper documentation and exams for their trainers. The reality? Getting certified will help with this process.
Looking for info on the top personal trainer certifications? This guide will help you on your path to becoming a personal trainer. Remember, each training program offers something unique and specialized.
This guide will highlight different programs and how they fit different needs. It will also highlight an online program and several other types of certifications.
Least Expensive Personal Trainer Certification: Action Personal Trainer Certification
Action will give you the skills that you need. This organization will help you become a personal trainer at a lower cost than most other programs. After completing your certification, you will know how to educate, motivate, and train.
The Action Personal Trainer Certification was accredited in 2014 when the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) made this program official. This is a great choice if you are working on your own and need to keep a specific budget in mind.
What to Expect From Action Personal Trainer Certification
The program allows you to have access to NCCA exams at a low cost. The program also comes with an easy-to-use app so you can work at your own pace.
If the app isn’t your cup of tea, they offer a hardcover textbook, too. The materials you decide on will range anywhere from $100-$250. The cost of these educational materials is far less than competitors.
That being said, the program does not come without flaws. There aren't many CEU courses or customer support for help when you need it, which might happen along your certification journey. Additionally, the program is not a very well-known certification and may bring up questions.
Once you finish the studying and learning portion of the course, you will need to take your exam. The exam must be proctored at a designated location and costs about $100.
The certification for this organization has three plan options.
The Basic Plan costs $99 and features two online courses, five hands-on scenarios, and ten practice questions for the exam.
The Professional Plan costs $149 or $9.95 a month for 15 months. This plan features 18 online courses, 12 hands-on scenarios, 200 practice questions for the exam, and CPR training.
The Platinum Plan costs $249 or $19.95 a month for 15 months. This plan is the most extensive. It offers 28 online courses, 21 hands-on scenarios, and over 400 practice questions for the exam.
The plan also offers CPR training and advanced nutrition certification. The Platinum plan has one more key benefit–it grants you free recertification for life (without any additional fees).
Online Personal Trainer Certification: International Sports Science Association
The International Sports Science Association (ISSA) can be done completely at home. ISSA will allow you to stay in the comfort of your home while completing your certification program.
ISSA is one of the oldest organizations in personal training. It has been around since 1988 and has reached all parts of the world. ISSA certifications are very common, which means they are very respected and trusted.
What to Expect From ISSA
You can expect to finish your training quickly. No matter the plan you select, you can finish your training in about four weeks. A major pro of ISSA is that no matter how many times you fail the exam, you can retry at no additional cost.
Unlike other certifications, the ISSA exam can be taken at home. You can also take this exam with your notes and textbook in front of you. If you are a bad test taker, this program might be a good choice for you.
Though ISSA has its pros, it also has its cons. One of the negatives of ISSA is that you won't have face-to-face interaction for most plans–you only get this interaction when you select the highest program. That being said, the notes and materials are very organized and easy to follow.
Another downside of ISSA is that the exam is not NCCA-approved. In order to be NCAA accredited, exams must be held in a proctored location set by the organization. Since theirs is online, it cannot be accredited.
ISSA has three different plans.
The first plan is their Become a Fitness Coach Plan which costs $79 a month for 12 months.
This program comes with an added specialization certification that you can choose. This plan will give you two courses.
The second plan is to become an Elite Trainer. This plan costs $99 a month for 12 months. It allows users to gain two additional specialization certifications. ISSA claims that trainers who use this plan earn $4,000 more per year. This plan will give you three courses.
The third plan is the Master Trainer Plan. This plan costs $149 a month for 12 months and will label you as a master. In this plan, you will complete two primary courses before selecting three specialized certifications of your choice. This plan will give you six courses.
The Master Trainer Plan comes in three different tracks. The first and most popular is strength, followed by advanced, then health. Each plan has the same cost of $149 a month.
First-Timer Personal Trainer Certification: American Council on Exercise
The American Council on Exercise (ACE) will encompass everything you need to start. ACE programs are designed to make you understand the fundamentals of working with clients.
Out of all the personal training certifications, this one teaches the fundamentals in the most approachable way. The program is ideal for gaining exposure to what the personal training industry looks like.
What to Expect From ACE
With ACE, you can expect a wide range of materials. This program offers several different fields that you can select from–each field will give you the necessary materials to start training and interacting with clients.
If you select ACE, you’re choosing to learn a lot about behaviors and strategies. This means you will become an expert in behavior modification while teaching along with strategies to ensure your coaching is as close to perfect as possible.
The plus side of this program? You can enjoy an at-home NCCA-approved exam with a remote proctor. ACE is a well-known organization, so personal trainer certifications from ACE will be recognized at any place of business.
The largest negative aspect of ACE is its price for recertification. If you want to get your recertification, it will cost you $129. Still, they offer several unique and different materials that will help you stand out from your competition.
ACE has three plans to help you become the best personal trainer you can be. All their options are currently 40% off their original price.
The first option is their Basic Plan. This plan cost $587.
This plan gives you access to ACE University, the exam, and one practice test. The plan will give you a digital textbook and a digital training companion but won't help with any answers.
The second option is their Plus Plan. This plan costs $689.
This plan will get you access to everything the Basic Plan offers with a little more. You will get two practice tests, a hard copy textbook in addition to the digital one, and live Q&A sessions. You will also receive a copy of their "Exercise Science 101."
The third option is their Advantage Plan. This plan costs $1,037.
With this plan, you will get everything offered by the other two plans with more features. You will receive four practice tests and an audiobook of the textbook along with the other versions. Additionally, you will have access to study groups and an Advantage Team as well.
Continuing Education Personal Training Certification: American College of Sports Medicine
The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) is a great way to continue your education past your initial certification. The ACSM is engineered with you in mind as you navigate life with learning–that’s why they make it easy to follow your passion for personal training and push your career further.
ACSM has been around since 1954 and is recommended for people who already have a background in personal training. Importantly, this should not be your first foray into personal training–having a certification first is a must. Why? Because ACSM is not intended to help you learn the basics, you’ll need to have those covered first.
What to Expect From ACSM
Mostly, you can expect to advance your learning and gain the knowledge to push your career further. ACSM has many different training and certification options that will fit your needs based on your prior knowledge level. Although the material isn't interactive, the education is designed to be easy to navigate.
If you choose to learn in person, they offer services to help. ACSM offers online seminars, Q&A sessions, workshops, and so much more–this way, everyone will be able to learn on their own terms.
Although your learning will be thorough, it’s important to realize that the test is very difficult. The exam has a pass rate of below 60% for first-time takers and a 45% pass rate for those who attempt a second time.
The course material, of course, will be challenging–just as the exam is.
ACSM offers several different programs. Having several programs makes it hard to navigate what price is right for you. However, that's what this guide is for.
If you are looking to partake in weekend courses, you will have to pay $728. This payment includes your studying materials as well as your exam fees.
If you want to learn from home, they have options for you too. You can spend $199 just to take the exam.
If you pay $350, you will have access to the exam learning materials and a few practice exams. Each exam is taken with a remote proctor, so it meets NCCA standards.
In-person personal Training Certification: National Federation of Professional Trainers
The National Federation of Professional Trainers (NFPT) is a great in-person option. This certification is a great way to receive more personalized training and teaching. By choosing face-to-face learning, you’ll get a lot out of the program.
The program takes place over the weekends, which is ideal for most, and tries to fit into most schedules. Users will learn several basics as well as learn focus on anatomy. You will also earn how to develop a fitness plan and how to act professionally.
What to Expect From NFPT - Does NFPT have a good certification?
Most of all, you can expect to receive a hands-on education. If you are someone who works better when taught directly, this certification is for you. By having personal instruction and someone to answer all questions, you’re getting a more streamlined, engaging process.
You can expect to renew your certification each year. You will need to reach 2.0 CEUs and can do so by renewing your certification. The good news? CEUs are free with this program.
A negative of this program is that it will not allow you to work at your own pace. Since you are being taught, you are expected to learn the material at the pace of the teacher.
Since 2005, the NCCA-accredited organization has helped many. The organization is well known and shows potential clients and gyms you’re credible and educated.
NFPT offers users three different options to obtain one of the best personal training certifications. Each option has more to offer as the price increases.
The first option is their CPT Exam Only plan. This plan costs $199. The plan will only get you access to an exam outline, certification for your exam, and one exam attempt.
The second option is their Standard Package. This plan costs $239. In this package, you will receive everything from the CPT Exam Only plan plus much more.
The Standard Package will give you access to a personal trainer manual, workbook, quizzes, how-to's, and essential documents. This plan is also $100 off its initial price.
The third option is their Premier Package. This plan costs $349. This package includes everything from the first two options plus a lot of additional benefits and add-ons.
The Premier package offers two practice tests, assessment videos, and access to education help. If you are looking for a comprehensive plan and money is not an option, this is a great option for you.
All-encompasing Personal Trainer Certification Program: National Academy of Sports Medicine
The National Academy of Sports Medicine is considered to be the best of the best. If you are looking to get your certification and take personal training seriously, this is the place for you.
NASM will prepare you to be the best trainer you can be. NASM gives you the skills you need to be successful in the personal training industry. Through corrective exercises and self-study options, this program has it all.
What to Expect From NASM
Whether you are learning for the first time or are expanding on what you already know, NASM has options for you. You can either learn at your own pace or choose the all-inclusive option.
Almost every gym in the United States regards NASM as high-quality certification. They offer a guided certification program which is very popular. The option gives you almost 50 lectures and videos to help guide you along the way.
NASM has an incredible feature with several of their plans called "Job Guarantee."
In fact, the website states a bold but accurate claim– "Upon successful completion of your NASM-CPT Exam, NASM guarantees that you will get a job within 90 days or the cost of the Job Guarantee will be refunded to you."
Each option offered by the NASM offers many features. This list will cover some of the details of each plan. However, there are more in-depth details about the plans available.
NASM offers four plans to help you get your certification. As mentioned, each plan is extensive and will help you learn valuable skills.
The most popular option is the Guided Study which costs $57 a month of $1,119. This plan offers a 100% online learning course, chapter summaries, and high-quality learning videos. You will also have access to practice exams and quizzes.
The second option is the All-Inclusive plan which costs $99 a month or $1,889. With this membership, you get everything included in the Guided Study plus much more. You will have access to their "Gymternship," which guarantees 80 hours of hands-on experience with real fitness clients.
The Self-Study option costs $32 a month or $674. This plan does not have the same amenities as the other two. You will still receive several benefits but will lose out on access to NASM fitness experts and exam preparation.
Premium Self-Study is very similar to the Self-Study option. This plan costs $44 a month or $899. You will receive all the features of the Self-Study plan plus a certification exam redo and a job guarantee.
Personal Training Certifications Frequently Asked Questions
Getting your certification is a pretty overwhelming process. And, as you can expect, there can be a lot of unanticipated questions that pop up during that process. Hopefully, this next section can help answer any questions that may arise during your search.
Don’t see your specific question here? No worries–we can help! Feel free to contact us to ask us directly–we can either answer your question or help you find the right organization or person who can.
WHAT IS THE EASIEST CERTIFICATION I CAN GET?
Here’s the thing–none of these certifications are easy. You will have to work hard to receive your certification. Still, some programs do have higher completion rates than others.
For example, ISSA has the highest passing rate of 90%. That means 90% of people who take the non-credited exam will pass it. After ISSA, the percentage dropped for second and third place. ACE has a 59% completion rate, followed by NASM, which has a 64% completion rate.
DO I NEED PERSONAL TRAINING INSURANCE?
That’s a resounding yes. We might sound biased because we’re a personal training insurance company, but we’re not just saying this to make a sale. Every time you direct, instruct, or guide a client on their fitness journey, you assume something called liability–AKA risk. That risk, if you’re not covered by liability insurance, is entirely on your shoulders–that means if someone gets hurt or alleges something bad happened because of you, you’re responsible for handling the costs associated.
With professional liability insurance for personal trainers, you’ll have a solid plan that has your back no matter what happens.
The best insurance plans will give you instant coverage along with a certification. You will also be given general liability insurance, professional liability insurance, and even identity theft protection. The plan will give you so many more benefits as well.
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO BECOME A CERTIFIED PERSONAL TRAINER?
This varies depending on the program you select. If you are doing a program in which you work at your own pace, you can decide how long it takes. If you are not working at your own pace, you can expect it to take around five months.
The amount of time it takes someone is unique to each person. Variables for time include the program, course material, and pace of instruction.
DO YOU REALLY NEED A CERTIFICATION?
Technically no, you don’t need a certification to be a personal trainer. Presently, there is no law stating that you must have a certification to be a personal trainer. It is not required, but it is heavily encouraged by clients and gyms.
Without a certification, though, most gyms will not hire you. And further, if you are not educated on personal training to a full extent, you could be putting clients at risk for injury. Personal training certification is a must, in our opinion.
IT'S NOT ILLEGAL TO BE A TRAINER WITHOUT A CERTIFICATION–SO IS IT WORTH IT?
Yes, absolutely. If you get your certification, you will put yourself and your clients in a better position for success. Having a certification will make you more desirable for hire and more credible to your clients, too. In short, this means that you have the potential to earn more money with a certificate than without one.
WHAT IS THE MOST RESPECTED CERTIFICATE?
All the programs highlighted in this article are very well respected. The most prestigious program would be NASM. In our opinion, you can’t go wrong with ISSA, NASM, or ACE. These are very well-known programs across the country.
As long as you are taking an NCCA-accredited exam, you will be receiving a respected certificate. Make sure that the program you select has this validation.
HOW OFTEN DO I NEED TO RECERTIFY?
Your certificate will be valid for about three years. Once you have reached this time, you will need to go back to your program and get your recertification. This process may cost you.
You will need to continue your education in some capacity. The best programs will require you to keep learning as you grow as a personal trainer. Try to keep a note of when you will need to go through the process.
WILL EVERY ORGANIZATION ACCEPT EVERY CERTIFICATION?
As long as you are taking an NCCA-accredited exam, your certification should be accepted and respected. Gyms across the country primarily accept the same certifications.
If you go through ACE, ISSA, NASM, NSCA, NCSF, or ACSM, you will be accepted at every major gym. More programs are out there; however, these are the main six.
CAN I USE MY CERTIFICATION ACROSS STATE LINES?
Yes. Your certificate is not valid in one specific location. As long as you stay in the United States, your certification will work and be accepted.
WHAT REQUIREMENTS DO I NEED TO START A PERSONAL TRAINER CERTIFICATION PROGRAM?
To start your certification process, you will need to have a high school diploma or equivalent. The personal training programs listed in this article all have that requirement.
Two more requirements need to be met to take your exam. You must be at least 18, and CPR/AED certified. As long as you meet those criteria, you can get certified.
Become a Certified Personal Trainer
Becoming a certified personal trainer is an intense journey. With the right mindset, goals, and work ethic, you can pass your exam and gain your certificate.
The best personal trainer certifications are often in the hands of the best personal trainers. If you want to make yourself stand out, you need to be educated, kind, and energetic.
There are several places where you can get your certification. Hopefully, the list above can help with your decision. If you want to learn more about personal training and personal training insurance, visit our website.
The Best Personal Trainer Insurance is Just as Important as your Personal Trainer Certification
When it comes down to becoming a high-quality personal trainer, your certification matters–but so does your professional liability insurance. As we mentioned earlier in this article, personal trainer liability insurance is a must for all trainers (no matter how long you’ve been in the industry).
Why is this the case? Because no matter your specialization, the age you work with, the niche you decide on, or what exactly you do, you’re taking on massive risk when you choose to work in a hands-on environment with other people.
That risk? Well, it’s part of the job. But being saddled with all the bad things that go hand-in-hand with that risk isn’t. That’s where professional liability insurance for personal trainers comes into play.
The right personal trainer insurance can ensure that you’re covered and taken care of if something bad happens to you, your client, or both. Whether you deal with actual issues or alleged issues, top-notch liability insurance will have your back and cover your costs, ensuring that your career can stay afloat (no matter what issues you might deal with).
The good news? Insure Fitness Group can help. We have years of experience and plans created specifically for personal trainers like you. That means our coverage options are designed for your industry specifically to address the specific and unique risks trainers face.
Translation? No one-size-fits-any-industry liability insurance plans here.
No matter what type of coverage you need, what you specialize in, or how frequently you work, we have a plan for you.
Have questions? Looking for insight on the right plan?
We’ve got your back. Reach out to the Insure Fitness Group ASAP for answers to your questions and reliable information–we’re ready to help you!