Ways To Get Your Personal Trainer Certification

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated February 22, 2021 | Published February 25, 2020

Updated February 22, 2021

Published February 25, 2020

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

As more and more people prioritize their personal health and fitness, the demand for personal trainers has increased. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job growth for fitness trainers and instructors is expected to be 13% by 2028, which is well beyond the growth rate of other industries. One of the best ways to stay competitive as a personal trainer in a high-demand market is to become certified. In this article, we explore why certification is important, the types of courses and certifications available, and general requirements for personal trainer certification.

Why is certification important for a personal trainer?

For many people, employing the services of a personal trainer is an investment in their health. It shows they take seriously their desire to improve their lifestyle. Because of this, they want a personal trainer who understands how the body works, why certain exercises work better than others and who can tailor a workout to their personal needs. Certification gives assurance to your clients that you have this knowledge and experience, and your service is worth the cost.

In the U.S. particularly, the fitness industry is mostly unregulated. This means you do not need certification to become a personal trainer. However, many top employers within the fitness industry require you to be certified. For them, certification means you should be able to provide their clients with the best support for their fitness journey. Certification can, therefore, give you access to some of the best available jobs and possibly improve your chances of being hired.

Related: Learn About Being a Personal Trainer

Personal trainer certification course types

There are four types of personal trainer courses you can take to get certified:

  1. Correspondence courses: In this scenario, you will receive the personal trainer certification course in the mail. After you complete the training materials and fill in the final exam form, you send the form back for grading. The school then sends you the results. This is the most cost-effective method.

  2. Weekend training classes: These are often workshop-style classes that are useful for exam preparation and to learn about different specializations. You also have the opportunity to interact with instructors and other fitness training professionals.

  3. Online courses: Online courses tend to be self-paced so they are ideal if you have a full-time job or a busy schedule. Instruction is by video, audio and text, and there are often forums where you can interact with other personal trainer students.

  4. Bachelor's or advanced degree programs: Completing a degree program in personal training is the most widely respected option. If you intend to work for a large organization or in a clinical setting, this is the course you should take. While it may cost a little more than other options, you will have qualifications that are accepted by most employers.

Personal trainer certifications

There are a number of personal trainer certifications available to you, including:

  • American Council on Exercise (ACE): This is one of the most respected certifications in the U.S. and therefore one of the most widely accepted by gyms. ACE offers a broad range of specializations including personal trainer, group fitness instructor and medical exercise specialist. You are required to recertify every two years to maintain your certification.

  • National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM): Also widely respected, NASM certifications are available for personal trainers, nutrition coaches, corrective exercise and performance training. They require CPR/AED certification, and you must earn at least 20 continuing education credits every two years when you recertify.

  • American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM): ACSM offers personal trainer, group exercise instructor, exercise physiologist and clinical exercise physiologist certifications as well as other specialty credentials. This certification is good for those interested in sports medicine with more of an academic focus.

  • National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA): NSCA certification focuses on helping those already in good physical condition achieve higher levels of fitness. You must have CPR/AED certification and be over 18 years old to take the certification exam. They require recertification every three years.

  • American Fitness Professionals and Associates (AFPA): Not as widely accepted as ACE and NASM certification, AFPA does offer certification as an advanced personal trainer among 30 other certifications. Also, they allow you to take your certification exam either online or by mail. AFPA certification might be worth considering if you intend to operate as an independent personal trainer.

  • International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA): If you want to earn your certification from home, you might consider becoming ISSA certified. You can complete the program and take the exam online, where you will also find educational materials to help you grow your business as a personal trainer. You need to recertify every two years and earn 20 continuing education credits, which you can do through online conferences and workshops.

  • National Federation of Professional Trainers (NFPT): While not as recognized as other certifications, the NFPT certification is among the more affordable. They even offer payment plans to make it as easy as possible for you to accomplish your certification goals. Once you graduate, you can earn continuing education credits at no charge as long as your certification is active.

  • National Exercise and Sports Training Association (NESTA): NESTA's program offers a variety of certifications at a relatively low cost. These include group exercise, nutrition, children's nutrition and mixed martial arts. They require recertification every two years with 20 continuing education units. NESTA may not be one of the most recognized programs, but the variety of disciplines they offer may look appealing on your resume.

Related: Learn About Being an Athletic Trainer

Requirements for earning a personal trainer certification

The requirements for becoming certified as a personal trainer vary depending on the program. Some of the common requirements include:

  1. Be at least 18 or older. This is a requirement for many programs.

  2. Earn a high school diploma, GED or equivalent.

  3. Obtain a government-issued photo ID. This might be a driver's license, a passport or military identification.

  4. Become CPR/AED certified. Some, but not all, certification programs require this.

  5. Gain two years or more fitness experience.

  6. Choose your certification specialty. You can choose from a number of certification programs, which may be partly influenced by your specialization. Specialties include group trainer, individual trainer or strength and conditioning specialist.

  7. Pay the certification fee. Depending on the program, you may be paying as little as $300 or as much as $1,000. This could be an important factor in your choice of program. The cost usually includes study materials such as textbooks, digital media and online or in-person teaching.

  8. Prepare for the certification exam. There are various ways you can prepare for your personal trainer certification. You can take exam preparation courses that are offered by the certification program or another provider. There might be training classes you can take close to where you live. Also, you could take a degree course that would cover the material in the certification exam. Degrees in exercise science or kinesiology would be helpful in your preparation.

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