Best Personal Trainer Certification Programs (2022)

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Personal trainers teach their clients proper exercise form, provide motivation, design workout programs to help them reach their goals, and educate them on proper nutrition and good health habits. Personal trainer certification programs prepare fitness trainers to work with clients who want to improve their health and fitness. Many people, regardless of their experience, can study to become personal trainers and build a career in the health and wellness field.

Although it is legal to work as a personal trainer without a certification, if you want to advertise yourself as a certified personal trainer (CPT) and gain employment at many major health clubs, it is generally required that you pass a personal trainer exam, preferably one that is accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA).

We looked at the top personal trainer certifications available in the U.S. that, as long as you pass the exam, will certify you as a CPT.Here are the best we found.

Best Personal Trainer Certification Programs for 2022

Best Personal Trainer Certification Programs

Best Personal Trainer Certification Programs

  • National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM)
  • American Council on Exercise (ACE)
  • Action Personal Trainer Certification
  • International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA)
  • National Federation of Professional Trainers (NFPT)
  • American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM)
  • Final Verdict

  • Compare Providers

  • FAQs

  • Methodology

Best Overall : National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM)

Key Specs

  • Cost: $699- $1754
  • Accreditation: NCCA
  • Online or In-Person: Online

Why We Chose It

NASM is one of the most respected personal training certifications around. Its thorough study materials and well-designed exam make it the best choice for any serious personal trainer.

Pros & Cons

Pros

  • Well-known and respected

  • Thorough study materials

  • Interest-free payment plans

Cons

  • Expensive

  • Recertification is costly

  • No option for in-person education

(Video) Best Personal Training Certifications

NASM is a well-regarded program that focuses on corrective exercise and teaching you the skills you need to be a successful personal trainer. It offers many different options when it comes to studying materials including a self-study option, a premium self-study option, a guided study program, and an all-inclusive option. The guided study program has 45 lecture and learning videos, and the all-inclusive option has all the other bonuses that NASM offers.

If you already have experience in the fitness industry or have taken other courses, the self-study option is a great choice. It includes the online course, exam fee, digital textbook, learning videos, and practice exams and quizzes for $979. The other options range from $699 to $1754 and include things like additional study materials, guided study courses, a 90-day job guarantee, and the option to retest for free. NASM often runs special promotions, and you can find discount codes online to decrease the cost.

NASM is accredited by the NCCA and recognized by all major gyms. Like all other NCCA-accredited exams, it requires a high school diploma and AED and CPR certifications. It has great reviews online from those who have completed the certification which mentions its excellent customer service.

Best for Basic Certification : American Council on Exercise (ACE)

Key Specs

  • Cost: $979-$1729 (program often goes on sale)
  • Accreditation: NCCA, EHFA
  • Online or In-Person: Online (testing in person)

Why We Chose It

American Council on Exercise provides a well-rounded certification that teaches all the basics of working with clients.

Pros & Cons

Pros

  • Can take the exam at home

  • Engaging study program

  • Many continuing education unit ("CEU") offerings

Cons

  • High recertification cost of $129

  • Retest fee is $249

ACE personal training certification is a great choice for any personal trainer just starting out or those looking to expand their credentials. It is similar to NASM in many ways and has multiple options when it comes to study materials. Its basic package is $979 and includes access to the online study materials, the exam, one practice test, and a digital textbook and study companion. The other options include additional study materials and support, and range from $979-$1729. If you fail the test the first time you can retake it for $249.

ACE's program is comprehensive and includes everything you need to know to start training clients. It focuses on behavior modification and coaching strategies so you can work with clients with a variety of different goals. We liked that it has the option to take the exam at home through a remote proctor, which saves you the hassle of making an appointment at a testing center. You must recertify every two years and accumulate 2.0 CEUs to qualify.

ACE's recertification is more expensive than other certifications, starting at $129 for one renewal, but the variety of additional certifications and CEU courses can help you improve your skills and attract new clients.

This certification is well-known in the fitness community. Like the others, it is accredited by NCCA. Reviews are generally positive and ACE's customer service is easily accessible online.

Best Low-Cost Certification : Action Personal Trainer Certification

(Video) Best Personal Training Certification 2021 | ISSA vs ACE vs ACSM vs NSCA vs NASM vs INTERNSHIPS

Key Specs

  • Cost: $99-$249
  • Accreditation: NCCA
  • Online or In-Person: Online

Why We Chose It

We chose Action as the best for low-cost certification because it gives you access to an NCCA-accredited exam at a very reasonable price, compared to other options.

Pros & Cons

Pros

  • Option to take NCCA-accredited exam

  • Lowest-cost option

  • Easy-to-use app

  • Premium plan includes nutritional certificate

Action Personal Trainer Certification will give you all the skills needed to train, educate, and motivate personal training clients. It was accredited by NCCA in 2014, making it one of the newer certifications around, and it’s a good choice if you are a self-employed personal trainer, already have other fitness certifications, or prefer to study at your own pace.

Action's learning resources are available through an app, and you can purchase a hardcover textbook to accompany your learning. Learning materials range from $99-$249 and purchase is not required to take the exam. If you have a background in fitness or have a related college degree you may not need the exam preparation materials, but they are recommended to properly prepare to take the exam and start working as a personal trainer. The platinum plan costs $249 and includes free recertification for life, online CPR training, and free advanced nutrition certification.

You must take your exam at a Prometric testing site with a registration fee of $99. The basic option does not include an NCCA-accredited exam and is therefore not recognized by major gyms. Additionally, the exam is not as research-based as other certifications we reviewed, but this is likely because it's for the entry-level personal trainer.

There aren't any reputable reviews available online, and since it is not well-known, it may not be immediately recognized as reputable by fitness employers.

Best Online : International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA)

Use code BALANCE20 for 20% off the ISSA Certified Personal Trainer program

Key Specs

  • Cost: starts at $69 a month for 12 months
  • Accreditation: NCCA
  • Online or In-Person: Online

Why We Chose it

International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA) certification can be completed 100% online and you can take the test from the comfort of your home.

(Video) Top certs to get in 2022 | Show Up Fitness | Best Fitness Certifications for Personal Trainers

Pros & Cons

Pros

  • Study materials and exam are all online

  • Great customer service

  • Complimentary retest

Cons

  • NCCA-accredited exam must be taken separately

  • No live instruction

  • More expensive than others

International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA) is a personal training certification for special population groups that balances all aspects of fitness, nutrition, and exercise. Since its inception in 1988, it has been certifying trainers from all over the world. The ISSA CPT certification is well-respected in the fitness community and recognized by many employers.

ISSA has three study programs to choose from. The basic program, the START Training, is $69 a month for 12 months and includes an online textbook and course materials, audio lectures, practice exams, job guarantee, and online support. The Kickstarter program is $79 a month for 12 months and includes everything in the START program, plus a free nutritionist course, and a guarantee of five clients in the first five weeks. Finally, the Top Trainer program offers everything in the lower tiers, plus in-gym training experience. This program is the most expensive, at $119 a month for 12 months.

The fast-track program, available in all three tiers mentioned above, is only four weeks long and includes unlimited retests so you can keep taking the exam until you pass. The ISSA exam is open book and completed in the comfort of your home, which is great for those who are not comfortable taking exams.

Unlike other programs, there is no option for live instruction except with the most expensive program, but reviews state that the study materials are thorough and organized. You can also join the professional forum where you can ask other trainers and students for help. You need 20 continuing education hours to renew every two years and the renewal fee is $99. However, if you take your CEUs through ISSA, the fee is waived.

It’s important to note that the online ISSA CPT exam is not NCCA-accredited. If you need this as a requirement for work then you must complete the NCCA-accredited exam at a Prometric testing site. It is included with the study packages or can be purchased on its own for $599.

Best In-Person : National Federation of Professional Trainers (NFPT)

Key Specs

  • Cost: $199-$349
  • Accreditation: NCCA
  • Online or In-Person:

Why We Chose It

National Federation of Professional Trainers (NFPT) offers in-person two-day workshops to prepare you to take the exam and give you hands-on practice and support.

Pros & Cons

Cons

  • Less recognized than other companies

  • Expensive

  • Must renew every year

    (Video) What is the BEST personal training certification?

The National Federation of Professional Trainers (NFPT) provides a personal training certification program that is NCCA-accredited, comprehensive, and available in a two-day weekend format. The NFPT program covers all the basics of personal training including anatomy and physiology, fitness components, program development, and communication and professionalism skills.

The cost of the weekend course and certification is $728 and includes exam fees, study materials, and more. You also have the option to complete the program at home, and packages start at $199 for the exam only or $349 for the exam, study materials, practice tests, and other resources. You are now able to take the exam at home with a remote proctor and if you cannot attend a workshop, you can view the videos online. NFPT offers financing options and discounts for military, civil servants, and club staff.

You must renew your certification every year and obtain 2.0 CEUs. The benefit of this program is that CEUs are free and can be obtained in many different ways. NFPT has been accredited by NCCA since 2005 but is less well-known by employers, so it's recommended to check with your future employer before pursuing this certification.

Best for Continuing Education : American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM)

Key Specs

  • Cost: $279 to $349 to take the exam; exam prep course approx $270
  • Accreditation: National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA)
  • Online or In-Person: online

Why We Chose It

ACSM offers many forms of continuing education credits including an annual conference, where you can obtain all the CEUs you need to renew.

Pros & Cons

Pros

  • Established in 1954

  • Certification valid for three years

  • Educational annual conference

Cons

  • Challenging exam

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) is one of the most prominent exercise science and sports medicine organizations out there. It has been around since 1954 so it's well-recognized in the fitness industry and by potential employers. It’s best for those who have previous experience, want to work in a healthcare setting, want a widely recognized NCCA-accredited certification on their resume or are planning to specialize and build on their skills in the future.

ACSM offers many different options for study materials so you can choose what is best for you based on your prior knowledge and experience. The study materials are not particularly interactive but it does offer an e-book and online practice tests. ACSM also has workshops and webinars for those who prefer in-person learning.

You can purchase one or more of the resources available on the website to study for the exam. The Certified Personal Trainer Certification Preparation Course includes audio and PowerPoints, a corresponding online quiz, and a course evaluation. In the past, the course cost $270, but the latest 2022 pricing won't be released until September 2022. You must then purchase the exam separately for $349 and schedule to take it at a testing site near you or register for live remote proctoring so you can take the exam at home. ACSM offers online practice tests and digital flash cards.

The personal trainer exam only has a 58% pass rate for first-time test-takers and a 42% pass rate for repeat test-takers, so it's a tough exam to pass. They have several advanced certifications to choose from if you want to further develop your skills as a trainer. Certification is good for three years and you must obtain 45 CEUs to recertify.

Final Verdict

Overall, most certifications we reviewed give you the option to take an NCCA-accredited exam, require a high school diploma and CPR certification, and will give you a basic understanding of fitness training, program design, behavior modification, nutrition, and best practices. Some certifications, like NFPT or ACSM, offer in-person seminars or online workshops, and all of them offer self-study guides and relevant study materials so you can work at your own pace. It can take four weeks to six months to prepare for the exam depending on your prior education and experience.

Each company has many options when it comes to study packages and ways to prepare for the exam. Some certifications allow you to register for the exam without purchasing the study guides while others like NASM and ACE require you to purchase the entire package. Your total financial commitment ranges from $99-$2,024 so it’s best to choose one that aligns closely with your goals and career aspirations.

Compare Providers

Best Personal Training Certification Programs
Personal Training Certification ProgramCategoryCost
National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM)Best OverallStudy programs range from $559-$1,559
American Council on Exercise (ACE)Best for Basic CertificationStudy programs range from $509-$899
Action Personal Trainer CertificationBest Low-Cost Certification$99 for exam only; $99-$249 for study materials
International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA)Best Online$599 for exam only; $828-$1,428 for exam and study materials
National Federation of Professional Trainers (NFPT) Best In-Person$199 for exam only; $349-$728 for exam and study materials
American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM)Best For Continuing Education$349 for exam only; $270 for study materials

Frequently Asked Questions

What Is a Personal Trainer Certification Program?

A personal training certification program is a course you can take that will give you the title of Certified Personal Trainer (CPT), allowing you to obtain employment as a personal trainer and establish yourself as a respected member of the fitness community. They are designed to provide you with the basic knowledge you need to start working with clients and gain real-world experience as a fitness professional.

Is It Worth Getting a Personal Trainer Certification?

Yes. Most fitness clubs or healthcare facilities require an NCCA-accredited certification to be employed as a certified personal trainer. If you are looking to work for yourself, being trained as a CPT can help you get affordably priced liability insurance and advertise yourself as a qualified trainer.

What Does a Personal Trainer Certification Program Include?

Most programs include a variety of study resources such as textbooks, practice tests, and online learning. Many also include the fee to sit for the exam when ready.

How Much Does a Personal Trainer Certification Program Cost?

The personal training certification programs and study materials we reviewed cost between $99 and $2,024 depending on what study materials and extra resources you need to prepare for the exam. In-person courses may cost more than online ones, and you may need to pay for travel to attend the courses, which also increases the cost.

What Are the Different Types of Personal Trainer Certifications?

NCCA is the major accrediting body for Personal Trainer Certification exams. Most major workplaces require this as a prerequisite to apply for a job as a CPT. There are many certifications online, such as the American Sports and Fitness Association Personal Training Certification, that are not NCCA-accredited, and although some may be reputable and full of useful information, they may not be recognized as acceptable forms of certification if you want to work for a gym or healthcare facility.

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Methodology

We looked at over 10 personal trainer certification programs available in the U.S. We decided to only review certifications that include an NCCA-accredited exam as this is the gold standard when it comes to personal training programs. Programs included must have an option to purchase study materials online, and we looked at those that offered both self-study options and in-person learning.

All of our choices offered comprehensive programs with a variety of delivery methods to help students achieve their CPT designation.

FAQs

What personal trainer certificate is most respected? ›

Best Overall National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM)

NASM is one of the most respected personal training certifications around. Its thorough study materials and well-designed exam make it the best choice for any serious personal trainer.

Which is better ace or NASM? ›

It all depends on your career path and goals. If you want to work with general populations, ACE will suffice. Whereas if you want to focus more on corrective exercise techniques, then NASM would be a better option.

Which is better NASM or ACSM? ›

While the NASM-CPT exam has fewer questions than the ACSM-CPT exam, both are challenging and prepare you for work in the fitness industry. You are required to fulfill CEUs every two years for NASM, and every 3 years for ACSM. In the end, the better certification is the better certification for YOU!

Is NASM respected? ›

It is a stamp of approval awarded by a panel of experts and organizations of authority in the field of health and fitness practice. NASM is accredited by the NCCA, which is the most recognized and reputable accrediting body in North American sports science.

What is the hardest fitness certification? ›

* The “hardest” personal trainer certification: The NCSA-CPT is the most difficult of the three, as its content is relatively technical and assumes a solid background in the subjects of anatomy, physiology and physics.

Is NASM hard to pass? ›

Overall, the NASM certification has been notorious for being one of the more difficult in the industry over the last decade. NASM has made their test difficult on purpose because they are trying to raise the standard for the knowledge required for personal trainers.

How hard is the ace CPT exam? ›

Overall, the ACE CPT exam is one of the most difficult exams in the industry. This is partly due to the fact that the textbook is huge with over 800 pages. Choosing the information to constitute a 150 question test from 800+ pages of material is going to result in a very difficult exam for the test-taker.

Is it worth getting certified as a personal trainer? ›

IS CERTIFICATION IMPORTANT FOR A PERSONAL TRAINING CAREER? Yes. Certification is extremely important due to the close working relationship with clients, their health and their physical abilities.

Is the ACSM exam hard? ›

This exam is meant to be somewhat difficult, which will gear you up for a pretty challenging career. As challenging as it might be, the pass rate revolves around 68%. That means you're most likely to pass on your first try. 65% Pass rate for the ACSM Certified Clinical Exercise Physiologist.

Does NASM require a degree? ›

2.3 NASM-PES and NASM-CES Advanced Specialization: You must hold either a bachelor's degree in a health and fitness field or have a current NCCA accredited CPT certification.

How much do ACSM personal trainers make? ›

While ZipRecruiter is seeing annual salaries as high as $95,000 and as low as $18,000, the majority of ACSM Personal Trainer salaries currently range between $35,000 (25th percentile) to $58,500 (75th percentile) with top earners (90th percentile) making $78,000 annually across the United States.

What's the difference between ISSA and NASM? ›

ISSA: General fitness training with an emphasis on program design, athletes, powerlifting, and peak performance. NASM: Exercise technique, training instruction, corrective exercise training, muscular imbalances, post-rehab clients.

How long does it take to get NASM certified? ›

The standard NASM certification program is a 10-week online course. Candidates can also participate in a hands-on, live workshop component in addition to the online course. Start to finish, participants can expect to invest in approximately 10-12 weeks to complete the online modules and prepare for the exam.

Is the ISSA certification respected? ›

ISSA is legitimate and respected by many fitness employers. It's governed by the International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA), an organization founded in 1988. In 2009, it became the first fitness training organization to earn accreditation from the DETC (Distance Education and Training Council).

Can you just take the NASM test? ›

NASM'S CERTIFIED PERSONAL TRAINER EXAM

To become an NASM-CPT, you must successfully pass the NCCA-accredited personal trainer certification exam, which must be proctored. There are two options for taking the exam: Online through a live remote proctor. In-person at one of our many proctoring locations.

Does NASM certification expire? ›

FAQs. How often do I need to recertify my Personal Trainer Certification? Your NASM-CPT certification must be renewed every two years. You will be required to earn 2.0 Continuing Education Units, which includes 0.1 CEUs from the mandatory CPR/AED Certification.

How much is the NASM CPT exam? ›

Due to COVID-19, the test is also offered online via a live remote proctor. Test Materials: Test is administered on computer. You may not use any resources while taking the test. Cost: The NASM CPT course starts at $799 and includes the test.

Are PT courses hard? ›

The added depth is the main reason so many potential students end up delaying, looking for concrete answers as to how hard a PT course is. And, in truth, a PT course is going to be harder than a Level 2 Gym Instructor course.

How old are personal trainers? ›

The average age of a personal trainer is 40. On average, a trainer has been working in the industry for 13 years. 16% of trainers work with clients as a part-time job and have another source of income. Nearly 90% of trainers are certified.

What score do I need to pass the ACE personal trainer exam? ›

What score do I need to get on my exam to pass and become ACE Certified? To pass your ACE Certification Exam and become ACE Certified, you must earn a score of at least 500 out of a possible score of 800.

How many questions is the NASM exam? ›

There are 120 test questions, in which 20 are research questions and do not count toward or against the final score. There is a 2-hour time limit and you must pass with a scaled score of 70 or better.

How many times can you take the NASM test? ›

After the first time, you can retake the test following a one-week waiting period. Those who fail the test a second time must wait at least 30 days before retaking the test. Anyone who fails the test after a third attempt has to wait a year before trying again. In each case, additional retest fees apply.

Is Ace test open book? ›

It is not an open book test, but the study materials you prepare with can help you narrow down the lengthy textbook (500 pages), and nail down the knowledge you need to know in order to pass the exam, and essentially, to succeed as a certified personal trainer.

How long does it take to study for ACE certification? ›

The learning experience is self-paced, typically taking 80-100 hours over 3-4 months and is centered around ACE University, our intuitive learning platform. In addition, you will have access to ACE Answers study support to assure you are well prepared for your certification exam.

Is 40 too old to become a personal trainer? ›

“Am I too old to be a personal trainer?” You're never too old to start an exercise program and the same is true when it comes to being a personal trainer.

Why do personal trainers quit? ›

I quit being a personal trainer for three simple reasons; money, disillusionment, and career progression. These are the same reasons that thousands of other personal trainers have quit the industry too. They can't earn enough money, lose faith in what they're doing, and no longer see it as a long-term career.

Can you make a living as a personal trainer? ›

Yes, many trainers that put in hard work can make $100,000 or more a year as a personal trainer. Personal trainers that take their businesses online also benefit from higher incomes as they can sell services while they sleep and are not limited to the available hours in a day as are in-person trainers.

How long does a PT qualification last? ›

It can normally be completed in around three to six months, but the real appeal of this course is that you have up to three years to complete it! Not only that, but as an online course you are completely in control of your start and finish dates, as well as the times that you choose to study!

How much does the ACSM exam cost? ›

Exam Costs
ACSM Member Candidates$279
ACSM Non-Member Candidates$349
Re-Test$175

Does ACSM require a degree? ›

The academic eligibility requirement to take the ACSM-EP exam is a baccalaureate degree or higher from a regionally accredited college or university with a major in exercise science, or equivalent. Candidates are eligible to take the examination in the last semester of their degree program.

How long does it take to get ACSM certified? ›

An ACSM Certified Clinical Exercise Physiologist® (ACSM-CEP) holds a bachelor's degree or equivalent qualification in exercise science with 1,200 hours of hands-on experience or a master's degree in clinical exercise physiology and 600 hours of clinical experience.

What qualifications do I need to be a personal trainer? ›

You'll need:
  • customer service skills.
  • the ability to teach people how to do something.
  • the ability to work on your own.
  • physical skills like movement, coordination, dexterity and grace.
  • knowledge of psychology like theories of motivation.
  • knowledge of teaching and the ability to design fitness programmes.

How long does ISSA certification take? ›

How Long Does ISSA Certification Take? The ISSA personal trainer certification usually takes about 8 – 10 weeks. That said, the length of the program depends on the work the student is willing and able to put in.

How do I get started as a personal trainer? ›

Steps to Becoming a Personal Trainer
  1. Earn a High School Diploma. ...
  2. Complete AED/CPR Certification. ...
  3. Choose a Fitness Specialty. ...
  4. Prepare for Certification. ...
  5. Take and Pass Certification Examination. ...
  6. Apply for Jobs and Build a Portfolio. ...
  7. Additional Education Options. ...
  8. Latest Posts.
Jul 28, 2022

Can personal trainers make 100k? ›

In the personal training industry, 25-32 hours is considered full-time (once again, depending on location and self-drive). In order to make 100k, you need to be bringing in $8,333/ month.

How much does CPT exam cost? ›

NSCA-CPT Exam Registration Fee
Member Rate*Non-Member Rate
Registration Fee$300$435

Is Ace certification respected? ›

an ACE Certification. Program. As an ACE Certified Pro, you are widely respected as being the most qualified professional to coach clients. You hold the most recognized certification in the industry that can lead to the most sought-after opportunities.

Is the ISSA certification respected? ›

ISSA is legitimate and respected by many fitness employers. It's governed by the International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA), an organization founded in 1988. In 2009, it became the first fitness training organization to earn accreditation from the DETC (Distance Education and Training Council).

What's the difference between ISSA and NASM? ›

ISSA: General fitness training with an emphasis on program design, athletes, powerlifting, and peak performance. NASM: Exercise technique, training instruction, corrective exercise training, muscular imbalances, post-rehab clients.

How hard is the NASM Personal Trainer exam? ›

They have incredible study materials for NASM. How hard is the NASM test? Well, With the NASM exam pass rate being only 65%, and the retest fees being so steep, it's best to have proper direction in order to study the most important areas.

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