Certified Personal Trainer
The fitness industry is booming and more and more people are learning the value that exercise and fitness adds to your life through improved mental and physical health as well as your overall well-being. Because of this, many people are becoming passionate about fitness and wanting to make it their career through personal training. In fact, they expect that the personal training industry will increase to 330,000 individuals working in the field by 2026 (more than a 10% increase)!
So, if you’ve found yourself motivated about fitness and health while wondering if there is a career path for you, look no further! In this article, we’re going to be exploring the world of certified personal trainers, how you can become one, and where you can start working on your certification today!
- Certified Personal Trainer
- Why Become a Certified Personal Trainer?
- 5 Ways To Become a Certified Personal Trainer
- ACE Certified Personal Trainer
- ISSA Certified Personal Trainer
- NASM Certified Personal Trainer
- ACSM Certified Personal Trainer
- NSCA Certified Personal Trainer
Why Become a Certified Personal Trainer?
This begs the question why? Why are more and more people becoming certified personal trainers? Well, there are actually a lot of different reasons, but here are a few…
Over the past few decades, the fitness industry has grown exponentially. People are learning more about the benefits of fitness on both mental and physical health. Because of this, people are seeking ways to continue to improve their fitness through classes and working with personal trainers!
Because the industry has grown, there is a higher demand for trainers, which means there will be plenty of clients and opportunities available.
Technology is continuously transforming the fitness industry and how personal trainers help and work with their clients. For example, with smart watches, trainers will see more information from activity levels, heart rates, and use this data to help clients more precisely.
Coupled with this technology, certified personal trainers (CPTs) can help their clients from anywhere. They don’t have to be physically with them to help them reach their goals, making it easier for people who are busy to have a personal trainer than ever before.
One of the biggest reasons more people are looking into becoming personal trainers is because there’s a lot of flexibility with the job. From doing classes to one-on-one and working for a company to working for yourself, you’ve got a lot of freedom and flexibility about how you want to approach and build your career. You can set your hours, your pay, and everything in between!
If this is sounding like something you’re wanting to pursue, then let’s look at how you can actually become a certified personal trainer…
5 Ways To Become a Certified Personal Trainer
There are several routes you can take to become a certified personal trainer, but the first step you must take is to decide on what course you would like to take. There are a variety of options, and I’ll discuss the most popular below.
Once you research and decide on a course, you must sign up and pay for a course. Last, you’ll study and prepare, then take the test. On average, it takes 6-12 weeks to study and prepare for the exam, but most programs require that you take it by 6 months after purchase. Once you pass your exam, you are officially a CPT!
As you are deciding on which program you want to sign up for, be sure to use the following information to help you make an informed decision.
Before signing up and paying for a course, make sure that you meet all the prerequisites! All the CPT courses we cover below require that you be 18 years or older with a high school diploma (or a GED) and have a current CPR/AED certification.
Depending on the certification, there could be some other requirements, so be sure to look! You must complete all requirements before taking the personal training certification test.
Once you know that you meet all the prerequisites, it is crucial that you select an accredited course. This means it is more reputable and is held to certain standards that will help you stand out from others.
The National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) accreditation is regarded as the gold standard and is recognized by most health centers and corporations. If you take a course and pass the certification that is accredited by the NCCA, its reputation could give you a really great shot at landing a job.
There are other notable and legitimate accreditations beyond the NCCA as well. For example, there is the DEAC, or the Distance Education Accrediting Commission. Just be sure to do your homework to see the accreditation before signing up!
It can be overwhelming finding the certification course that is right for you, so I’ve made a list below of the top personal trainer courses on the market.
ACE Certified Personal Trainer
The American Council on Exercise (ACE) is not only accredited by the NCCA, it is also recognized worldwide through the International Confederation of Registers for Exercise Professionals (ICREPS) and EuropeActive. It is one of, if not the most popular program in which individuals receive their certification to become personal trainers!
While the program is online, it has many features that make it seem a little less like a boring online course and a little more interactive and engaging.
This certification is for a general certified personal trainer, so the curriculum covers a broad stroke of all things fitness and training, with a focus on a gradual increase of strength and endurance with an emphasis on injury prevention.
There are three different study packages that you can choose from: basic, plus, and advantage. While the basic is the most affordable of the two options, the benefits of the plus and advantage are that you receive both digital and hard copies of the text and can attend live webinars. The advantage option takes it a step further with study groups and an advantage team dedicated to helping you succeed!
Depending on the study program you select, there are up to four practice tests that you can take before the actual exam – which is 150 multiple-choice questions. According to PTP, ACE has a passing rate of 65%, which lets us know that it may be difficult, but it isn’t impossible!
There are lots of continued education opportunities through ACE, which include specialized certifications, webinars for continued growth and improvement, workshops, and even more online courses.
ACE has a wide variety of career resources for you once you become a CPT through continued education, discounts on equipment, and more.
ISSA Certified Personal Trainer
While the International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA) is the only program in this list not accredited by NCCA, it is accredited by the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC), which is recognized by the Department of Education. The ISSA is highly regarded internationally and has an excellent reputation with over 300,000 trainers worldwide with this certification.
ISSA has a general CPT program, but it also has many specializations including, but not limited to: glute specialist, nutritionist, indoor cycling instructor, DNA-based fitness coach, and weight management specialist.
They have two main programs, the self-guided program and the fast-paced program. With the self guided, it can take up to 10 weeks while the other will take just 4. Both programs include an online textbook, audio lectures, practice exams, online forums, and educational support. The fast-paced program offers more materials, including an accelerated preparation program and unlimited free retests!
Are you ready for this? The passing rate for the ISSA CPT certification is 90%! While there are 200 multiple-choice questions, making it the longest test that we have explored today, it is, in theory, one of the easiest with such a high passing rate.
There are so many continuing education courses available on the ISSA website. You can get more specializations and certifications or simply take courses that strengthen your knowledge in your field. Some interesting continued education courses include building your dream team, rock hard core, and agility training.
Both programs available to become a certified personal trainer through ISSA offer job guarantees where if you have not found a job after six months of actively searching, they will either find you one or provide you with a complete refund!
NASM Certified Personal Trainer
The National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) seems to be just as popular and regarded as the ACE. In the past three decades, over 500,000 people have become certified personal trainers through NASM.
NASM, like ACE, is also accredited by the NCCA. NASM also has an in-house governing board dedicated to ensure the quality of the certification and recertification process and offers other certifications, such as nutritional coaching.
NASM curriculum teaches prospective CPTs through the OPT (Optimal Performance Training) method, which is a science-backed practice of personal training that includes five different phases: stabilization endurance, strength endurance, hypertrophy, maximal strength, and power.
Many people regard the National Academy of Sports Medicine as being one of the best programs regarding available studying materials. With its most basic program, they will equip you with a virtual textbook, learning videos, a video library of exercises, and practice exams. From there, there are three other program options that increase in price with more and more study materials being provided. What is really interesting is that starting with the Premium Self-Study program, they provide “Job Guarantee” as a material, where they will refund the cost of the job guarantee if you do not find a job within 90 days of completing the course!
The NASM certification exam comprises 120 multiple-choice questions, and you will have two hours to complete it. It has a comparable passing rate to the ACE at 64%.
There are all kinds of continuing education opportunities through NASM, from other available certifications to learning about special populations and even attending live workshops.
As stated earlier, if you opt into any program above the “self-study” program, they provide you with a job guarantee. There are other options, like the business accelerator available as well!
ACSM Certified Personal Trainer
The American College for Sports Medicine (ACSM) is the longest running certification program for personal trainers, starting all the way back in 1954. They are also accredited by the NCCA, and they seem to offer a wide range of specializations and certifications beyond a general CPT certification, including: group exercise instructor, exercise physiologist, cancer exercise trainer, inclusive fitness trainer, and more. It also appears to be a more affordable certification, meaning you receive the same accreditation from a well-established and accredited program.
The ACSM offers an array of topics in sports medicine with their personal training certification. Some curriculum components included in the exam include exercise programming, exercise physiology, nutrition and weight management, injury prevention, and more.
Instead of the typical package situation that most CPT programs offer, ACSM seems to offer more of a menu-style approach, letting you pick and choose what specific materials will help you most. However, upon exploring the website, it’s not as user-friendly when trying to locate the study tools and materials you may want or need.
Maybe it is because of the lack of studying materials available, but the ACSM exam has the lowest pass rate for first timers at 54%. Similar to NASM, they give you 120 multiple-choice questions, but you have 2.5 hours to complete the exam.
There is a continuing education community, termed CeOnline, that could be really helpful for certified personal trainers looking to continue their education. There are also podcasts, videos, and more available for members.
On the ACSM website, there is a job search engine, which seems incredibly helpful as a career resource!
NSCA Certified Personal Trainer
Fun fact! The National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) was actually the very first CPT program to receive accreditation from the NCCA! Similar to ACSM, NSCA also has options for certifications and programs. There is the certified personal training program, then there is also a certified strength and conditioning specialist, certified special population specialist, and tactical strength and conditioning facilitator program.
This certification looks at four key categories to training and fitness, which are client consultation/fitness assessment, program planning, techniques of exercise, and safety, emergency procedures, and legal issues.
Another similarity with ACSM is how they provide resources to their prospective certified personal trainers. It’s more of a menu-style with practice exams, live clinics, and similar items. You pick what you think will help you the most!
They actually recently published that the pass rate for first time test-takers was 72% in 2019. But, it has more questions at 140 multiple choice. Like the other options, this is also not an open book exam.
On their website, they have a designated area for professional development and continued education with podcasts, videos, and the ability to connect with other professionals.
The NSCA offers a free download of a career guide and a job board with featured jobs from around the United States!
To summarize, the fitness industry has been steadily growing the last few decades as more people have become serious about their fitness. Because of this, the job demand for personal trainers has also been steadily increasing. If you are passionate about health & fitness and are interested in a career as a personal trainer, now is a perfect time to become certified.
In order to become certified as a personal trainer, we covered 5 certification paths. Each is listed below. For each program, prerequisites of being 18 years or older with a high school diploma (or a GED) and having a current CPR/AED certification must be met.
In addition, all the programs below are accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) – except for the ISSA program. ISSA is accredited by the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC).
1) American Council on Exercise (ACE)
2) International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA)
3) National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM)
4) American College for Sports Medicine (ACSM)
5) National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA)