Best Personal Trainer Certification Programs

Two persons exercising
Photo: Meghan Holmes / Unsplash

Personal training can be a rewarding career field with a flexible schedule and limitless possibilities. A passion for health and fitness and a personal training certificate are two of the most important elements for working in the fitness industry.

To work in most gyms, a personal training certificate is encouraged and often required. Personal training certifications teach more than just correct form–they typically combine information about best business practices, tips on how to create a fitness plan for your client, knowledge of how exercise affects the body, and ways to exercise more efficiently to reach your clients' goals.

Finding a personal trainer certification that fits your needs can help propel your career forward and pave the way for further education. The requirements for personal training certifications can vary but typically require trainers to take a certification exam based on a curriculum established by each certifying organization. Here's a list of some of the best personal training certification programs out there today.

Best Personal Trainer Certification Programs of 2022

01 of 06

Best Overall: National Academy of Sports Medicine

NASM logo
Courtesy of NASM

Key Specs

  • Cost: $999–$2699
  • Accreditation: National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA)
  • Online or In Person: online

Why We Chose It

The National Academy of Sports Medicine is one of the most recognized certification programs available. Its self-study and guided courses give a well-rounded basis for coaching and guarantee that participants will find a job in the first 90 days after certification.

Pros & Cons

Pros

  • Robust study materials, including video library
  • Lifetime certification is available for a fee
  • Career board and 90-day job guarantee

Cons

  • Certification is only good for two years unless lifetime certification is purchased
  • No option for in-person education

Overview

When it comes to certifications, reputation matters. The National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) has more than three decades of experience and over 1.4 million respected fitness professionals to their credit.

NASM offers several certification tracks, including personal training, nutrition, wellness coaching, and numerous specializations. Its online course focuses on professional development, client relations, applied sciences and nutrition, assessment skills, exercise techniques, and program design. It's designed to be completed in 15 weeks, but the self-study course allows 180 days from start to finish. Participants can also opt for access to fitness experts for advice and a hard copy of the textbook.

Like many programs, NASM requires trainers to recertify every two years after completing continuing education units intended to keep their skills sharp. Unlike other programs, however, NASM allows trainers to pay $399 for a lifetime certification, which could save a lot of money in the long run.

The program is open to high school graduates or GED holders and requires all participants to be CPR and Automated External Difibrilator (AED)-certified before taking the Certified Personal Trainer exam. Exams can be taken online or in person at a local testing center; a live proctor oversees both.

Participants can choose from self-study for $89 a month, premium self-study for $125 a month, guided study for $161 a month, and all-inclusive packages for $243 a month. (The all-inclusive includes lifetime recertification, test prep, and CPR/AED certification.) Once the exam is passed, NASM has a 90-day job guarantee–if you don't find a job in 90 days, they will refund the price of the course for premium self-study and up.

02 of 06

Best For Professional Support: American Council on Exercise

ACE Logo
Courtesy of ACE

Key Specs

  • Cost: $979–$1729, with frequent promo codes available
  • Accreditation: NCCA and European Health and Fitness Association Standards Council (EHFA)
  • Online or In Person: online

Why We Chose It

When you're just dipping your toe into the fitness industry, it's nice to have the freedom to take things at your own pace. The ACE curriculum is self-guided with options for live help. The ACE program is rooted in integrated movement and helps customize plans for each client. Once you complete the program, the training materials are available to you for your lifetime.

Pros & Cons

Pros

  • Continuing support after certification through a job board and podcast
  • Backed by a scientific advisory panel
  • Self-paced

Cons

  • Only one opportunity to test is included in the original plan price
  • Renewal prices go up if certification is allowed to expire
  • Exercise 101 course only available with the Plus plan or higher

Overview

When you're just starting the personal trainer certification process, the fundamentals are essential. The American Council on Excercise offers an excellent basis for any fitness career with science-backed theories and techniques, and the ability to go at your own pace so you can truly understand the material.

The ACE personal trainer certification is specifically focused on how to have a successful career in the fitness industry. The program can usually be completed in three to six months, allowing users to jumpstart their career journey. On-demand support is also available so students can get the one-on-one help they need to succeed as they work to complete the course.

The ACE Plus program is the most popular option. It includes access to your exam curriculum guided by the ACE University, a personal trainer textbook in digital and hardcopy, a study companion guide, live Q&A webinars, an Exercise Science 101 course, and the opportunity to take the exam from home with a live proctor.

Once students have tested and passed, they are well-equipped to work in gyms or with private clients. The program focuses on your role as a personal trainer, creating a client-centered approach and finding ways to motivate and design courses for clients.

One of ACE's strongest features is its career support. The organization has a podcast, the ACE Pro Compass content hub, a job board, and a directory and profile option to help establish yourself as a fitness professional. The website also offers continuing education credits you'll need when you recertify every two years.

03 of 06

Best for Guided Study: International Sports Sciences Association

ISSA Logo
Courtesy of ISSA

Key Specs

  • Cost: $119 per month for 12 months, discounts are frequently available
  • Accreditation: NCCA, Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC)
  • Online or In Person: online

Why We Chose It

If you prefer guided study, the International Sports Sciences Association's personal training certification is a great option. The program can help you fast-track your training and has an expansion pack geared toward the four learning styles (auditory, kinesthetic, visual, reading/writing). Job placement is also guaranteed with their job promise guarantee.

Pros & Cons

Pros

  • One-on-one study help
  • Expansion pack offers tools for different learning styles
  • Free recertification with ISSA continuing education units
  • Job promise guarantee

Cons

  • Money-back job promise guarantee only available in the continental U.S.
  • No live instruction unless the most expensive option is purchased

Overview

Not everyone learns the same way or at the same pace, and the Internation Sports Sciences Association (ISSA) honors that. Its online curriculum offers flexibility for students, whether they want to fast-track their training in four weeks or go at their own pace, utilizing student forums and a dedicated success coach for extra help.

Established in 1988, ISSA is one of the oldest personal training certification programs and has trained nearly half a million people. Unlike some courses where the course training is optional as long as you pass the test, the ISSA certification is earned by taking the open book, online test, and submitting weekly quizzes. This required training ensures that trainers are knowledgeable and well-rounded, rather than just certified. All candidates must also be CPR/AED-certified to gain their personal training certification.

The ISSA course is one of the most interactive of the courses we found. It encourages students to collaborate using the student forum and to work with their dedicated success coach. An optional study expansion pack ($49.95) offers flashcards, crossword puzzles, audio lessons, and other tools that cater to various learning styles. ISSA also guarantees that students will find a job within six months of certification (with stipulations), or they receive a refund for their course.

With longevity on its side, ISSA has cemented a solid reputation and a 4.7 rating on Trust Pilot. Certifications are valid for two years and cost $99 to renew, however, recertification is free if your continuing education units are completed with ISSA.

04 of 06

Best on a Budget: National Exercise and Sports Trainers Association (NESTA)

NESTA Logo
Courtesy of NESTA

Key Specs

  • Cost: $349–$477
  • Accreditation: NCCA
  • Online or In Person: online

Why We Chose It

It can be easy to spend thousands on personal training certifications, but the National Exercise and Sports Trainers Association (NESTA) offers an all-in-one package for under $500 that includes study materials, chapter quizzes, and lifetime access to training, along with the exam.

Pros & Cons

Pros

  • Certification is valid for four years, twice as long as other companies
  • Top tier package is under $500
  • Business and career system included

Cons

  • Other programs offer more robust training materials
  • Smaller number of graduates
  • Expensive to retest

Overview

When you're trying to jumpstart your career, the prices and options for personal training certifications can be daunting. The National Exercise and Sports Trainers Association (NESTA) offers a comprehensive package that includes a digital study guide covering both client interaction, exercise theory, program design, and business strategies for building your business, all at a relatively low cost.

NESTA is the most affordable certification option on the market–if you're already well-versed in the concepts, you can take the exam for only $349. For $399, you'll receive a digital study manual. For most students just starting out, the top tier offers the most value with 10 hours of audio and video training, a study manual, quizzes, and unlimited practice exams.

NESTA isn't the most well-known certification, but it is NCCA-accredited. Whereas other programs emphasize their scientific backing, NESTA focuses on business building and includes online coaching, a training course, and a business system.

Certification testing for NESTA is also somewhat different. The exam must be taken in a proctored physical location–there is no online testing option. PSI Exam locations proctor the test and are available in all 50 states as well as some international locations. Students must have a CPR card or equivalent certification to take the test. Those who don't pass the test with a 71 or better will need to retake the exam and score higher than 71 points to get certified for an additional fee of $199.

NESTA's certification is valid for four years, which is double that of most other certifications. It does require twice the number of continuing education units (CEUs), but for those that want to pace out their continuing education, this can grant a bit of flexibility.

05 of 06

Best for Specialization: The Yoga Project

Yoga Project Logo
Courtesy of Yoga Project

Key Specs

  • Cost: $2250
  • Accreditation: Yoga Alliance 200-hour RYT
  • Online or In Person: online

Why We Chose It

While yoga certification can't help you take on personal training clients in a gym setting, it will allow you to teach yoga classes. The Yoga Project offers a blend of traditional yoga techniques and ideology, and corrective exercise theory.

Pros & Cons

Pros

  • Science-backed theory
  • Online teaching platform
  • One year to complete course

Cons

  • Not valid for personal training work despite scientific basis
  • Costly in comparison to other programs

Overview

Enter any gym in America and you'll likely see a yoga class on the schedule. A 200-hour yoga certification is your gateway to teaching those classes. Yoga certification is based on hours of practice and is typically completed in person with a singular teacher. However, since the pandemic, online training has become an accepted way to get certified. The Yoga Project, headed by Stacy and Dave Dockins, combines power vinyasa flow that incorporates several different yoga traditions with exercise science.

The Yoga Project course can be completed in four to five months, but the lessons are available for up to a year. Weekly live sessions with the Dockins offer students a chance to ask questions and hone their skills for the first three months.

Since yoga courses are certified differently and focus on a singular modality, certification only allows students to teach yoga, not train people in a gym setting. However, the Yoga Project has more scientific information about anatomy and physiology than many other yoga programs, based on Stacy Dockins's book, Embodied Posture, and work in exercise research. Dockins is certified with the NASM and works in orthopedic rehabilitation and exercise psychology at the Osteopathic Medical School at A.T. Still University.

For those who may want to teach yoga but can't take off weeks or months for intensive training, the online format offers a great opportunity for training. The course price includes reading assignments from course textbooks, discussion assignments, writing assignments, quizzes, weekly live sessions with the Dockins, and practice teaching.

06 of 06

Best For Academics: Action Personal Training Certification

Action Personal Trainer Certification
Courtesy of Action Personal Trainer Certification

Key Specs

  • Cost: $99 plus test center fees for test; educational bundles range from $99–$249
  • Accreditation: NCCA
  • Online or In person: online

Why We Chose It

If you have an academic background in exercise science and need certification to start working, Action Personal Training Certification offers a low-cost bundle of study materials. Testing fees are also low–only $99 plus test center fees.

Pros & Cons

Pros

  • Low cost for both training and exam fees
  • Self-paced
  • Bundled plans include CPR training
  • Premium plan includes nutritional certificate

Cons

  • Curriculum doesn't seem as robust as some other programs
  • Lifetime certification only included in Platinum plan
  • No phone support available

Overview

Even if you have a degree in exercise science, most gyms require a certification to be a personal trainer. If you're already well-versed in anatomy, physiology, and exercise theory and technique, Action Personal Trainer Certification provides an NCCA-backed certification at an affordable price and with a flexible schedule.

Action Personal Trainer Certification has three plans–the basic plan only gives access to an unaccredited online certificate in personal training. To prepare for the NCCA-accredited test, the Professional or Premium plans offer coursework, real-life simulations, practice questions, and professional development and support after the exam.

If you're confident in your knowledge, you may also take the test without educational support. Action's NCCA-backed test is $99 plus testing center fees. The test is completed at a Prometric test site in person and testing is available in 160 countries around the globe.

Final Verdict

If you've decided to invest in your fitness career, the certification program you choose matters. We chose The National Academy of Sports Medicine as the best for online personal training certification because it has an established reputation, science-backed curriculum, the opportunity for lifetime certification, and a 90-day job guarantee. It's not the cheapest program on the market, but it will be recognized at any gym in the nation.

If budget is a concern, the National Exercise and Sports Trainers Association is a solid option as well. For less than $500, their program offers exercise training, business guidance, and a four-year certification, making it an easy entry point into the industry.

Compare the Best Personal Trainer Certification Programs

Company Cost Accreditation Online or In Person Program Length
National Academy of Sports Medicine
Best Overall
$999–$2699 NCCA Online 10 weeks
American Council on Exercise
Best for Professional Development
$979–$1,729, with frequent promo codes available NCCA Online Self-paced, typically 3–4 months
International Sports Sciences Association 
Best for Guided Study
$119 per month for 12 months NCCA Online 10 weeks
National Exercise and Sports Trainers Association
Best on a Budget
$349–$477 NCCA Online Up to 12 months
The Yoga Project
Best for Specialization
$2,250 Yoga Alliance Online Up to 12 months
Action Certification
Best For Academics
$99-$249 NCCA Online Self-paced

Guide for Choosing the Best Personal Trainer Certification Programs

Should You Become a Certified Personal Fitness Trainer?

Personal training is a growing field with significant income potential, and choosing to become certified depends on your goals. Many gyms employ personal trainers to cater to their clients, but that's only one way that a personal trainer can succeed. Fitness influencers, online personal training, and corporate wellness coordinators are also career paths that are now popular for personal trainers. Certification helps establish authority and credibility for personal trainers, separating those that have a passion for fitness from those that have an education that can help guide others on their fitness journeys.

David Bromberg of David Bromberg Fitness says that earning a personal training certificate is the first step to most fitness careers.

"If you want to train in most big box gyms like the YMCA or Genesis, they want you to have certification because it helps them sign off on their insurance. It tells them that you know a bit about what you're doing, and you're smart enough to do it well," said Bromberg.

Although most certifications are based on performance on a test, you need the training to pass the test, either from a course or by studying exercise physiology in a traditional school setting. Bromberg says that courses also teach people how to set a course for clients so that they reach their goals.

What Experience Do You Need to Become a Personal Trainer?

Becoming a personal trainer can manifest in several ways. Many people get a degree in exercise science to learn the fundamentals of training, then receive certifications from organizations like NASM or the American College of Sports Medicine.

Most certifying bodies have training courses to prepare you for the certification exam and help you connect with jobs. Depending on what you want to do, it pays to get certified by the right institution. Bromberg says that those looking for jobs with college athletics or higher-level athletes may want to find programs focusing on higher-level skills and training, like the performance enhancement specialization at NASM.

Although certification is necessary, depending on the gym, there may or may not be an expectation of past fitness work experience. Bromberg says that some gyms will offer internships for those interested in getting hands-on training, either before or after their certification exams.

Is it Worth Getting Certified as a Personal Trainer?

If you're interested in working in the fitness industry, a personal trainer certification is your foot in the door. Since there are many different applications for personal training knowledge, the career avenues are wide open. Corporate health and fitness initiatives have added another potential career field for fitness professionals as companies beef up their wellness benefits.

How to Choose a Personal Trainer Certification Program

Choosing the right personal training certification program to fit your needs is important. Bromberg advises that students look at the curriculum offered and the reputation of the certifying organization. Since there is no governing body, there is little but reputation and past history to separate less established from more established programs.

Choose a program that is appropriately accredited and associated with institutions you respect. Consider looking at gyms or colleges you'd want to work at and investigating who they affiliate with. Find trainers you admire and respect, and ask where they got their certification to help you find the right fit.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Do You Become a Certified Personal Trainer?

To become a certified personal trainer, you must pass an examination that shows that you understand the basic tenets of exercise physiology and how to create a personalized workout plan for a client. You may take a course that teaches you this information, or you may have a traditional degree in exercise science or something similar. Once you have the education and a CPR/AED certificate, you can take the certifying exam and receive your certificate.

What Type of Certification Is Best for a New Trainer to Get?

The certification is called a "certified personal trainer" and can be obtained through several organizations. There is no central governing body for personal trainers. Still, it is important to make sure that any company you get certified through is accredited by a reputable organization like the NCCA.

How Much Do Personal Trainer Certification Programs Cost?

Personal trainer certifications can cost anywhere from $349 to $3,000.

Can I Get Certified to Train in a Specialty Area or Sport?

Yes. Once you have the basic personal trainer certification, you can specialize in many different areas, including nutrition, strength training, triathlons, flexibility, and more. Specialized certifications establish credibility in those areas and expand your understanding of how to train toward specific goals effectively.

Can I Be a Personal Trainer Without Certification?

While you may be able to start a private fitness business, most gyms and yoga studios require a certification to work as a personal trainer or lead group classes.

Methodology

We looked at 17 companies to find the best options for personal training certifications. We considered cost, reputation, ease of learning, and accessibility. All of the programs chosen are offered online and have accreditation with the primary governing body in their field, either NCCA or Yoga Alliance.

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