Personal Training Certification: The Best Choices in the United States

Personal Training Certification: The Best Choices in the United States is your go-to resource for learning about, comparing, and selecting a personal training certification course that's perfect for you.

You've decided to enter the world of fitness as a personal trainer: Great choice! It can be such a rewarding (and lucrative) career, one that is as much fun as it is work. But there's just one question you need to answer before you dive in...

Where should I go to get certified as a personal trainer?​

US Certification

This is a question that many prospective PTs agonize over. Which certification course will teach me the most? Which will help my career take off as quickly as possible?

The truth is, choosing the right personal training certification program is important, but it might not be as crucial of a decision as you think.

Here's why...

4 Things NOT to Expect from Your Personal Trainer Certification

Even the best personal trainer certification program has its limitations, and that's why it's important to make your choice with realistic expectations. The following benefits should NOT be expected from your certification program, no matter which you choose:

#1. New Client Leads and Sales

Your certification as a personal trainer will have little (if any) impact on the sales and growth of your business. In fact, most certification courses strictly focus on the physiological side of personal training, leaving the sales and business development aspect up to you.

This isn't a short-coming of personal training certification programs either. Just imagine what would happen to the length and cost of these programs if they taught business principles in addition to the fundamentals of training your clients. No, business training is not the focus, nor should it be.​

Fortunately, there are tons of available resources that will teach you how to find prospects and nurture them into lifelong paying customers. Here's one great place to start!​

#2. Expertise as a Personal Trainer​

As we just discussed, your PT certification program is designed to equip you with the basic skills needed to safely train clients. Upon graduating with a certification you are still not a fitness expert, and that's the whole point.

Just as with any career, your initial education is ​the first of many steps you will take as you find your niche, hone your craft, and develop true expertise over many years. 

After all, you can have all the "classroom" education in the world, but until you have time to practice your knowledge with real clients, it is impossible to become an expert. Instead, try to find a mentor who has been in the industry for quite some time and ask if you can shadow him or her to see how they train their clients.

Take notes, ask questions, and think about how you can apply what you've seen them do with their clients. Practice it. And then come back and spend more time with your mentor. Again, hands-on experience is what will turn you into a fitness expert.

#3. Credibility with Your Clients

As someone who is pursuing a career as a personal trainer, it makes sense that you are familiar with all of the big name companies, brands, and organizations that work within this space. You've heard of the top personal training certification programs, but your clients have not.

That's why it's important to remember that your clients likely aren't going to be impressed with your credentials. In most cases, they don't care at all. They want to know just on thing about you: Can you help me get the results I'm looking for?

​If you can prove to your clients (or your prospective clients) that you have the skills to get them results, then your certification won't matter one bit. 

If you can't help your clients see results, none of your education or expertise matters.

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#4. On-Going Guidance and Support

Any credible personal training certification program will want its graduates to succeed, but keep in mind that all certification programs are run as money-making businesses. They provide a very specific service for a set fee. If you're looking for follow-up support, guidance, or education, be prepared to pay for it.

This is why many certification bodies offer lots of opportunity for continuing education. They want to help you improve your skills as a personal trainer...in exchange for on-going membership dues and education enrolment fees. ​

Your personal training certification program is just a foot in the door. You should expect to invest in yourself each and every year so that you never become stagnant in your career, or in the service that you're able to provide to your clients.​

What You SHOULD Expect from Your Personal Trainer Certifcation Course

It's clear that PT certification programs have their limitations, but that doesn't mean that they don't have value. They do. In fact, getting the right certification can make or break your fitness business.

As discussed here, ​there are some minimum requirements that you should demand from any certification program that you're considering. You personal trainer certification must offer:

  • Ability to obtain liability and general business insurance
  • Opportunity for on-going education to help you continually improve as a PT
  • The chance to network with other professionals in your industry
  • An enrolment fee that fits within your budget
  • The convenience to allow you to complete the course without too much hassle or time investment
  • And of course, the basic skills training needed so that you can offer value to your first clients

Your PT certification is just step #1. An exceptional trainer is devoted to becoming better each day. 

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Again, think of these as the minimum requirements only. Many certification programs go above and beyond, but often at an additional cost to you. To help you make the most informed choice, take a look at the following summaries of the best personal training certification options that are available in the United States.

Comparing Your Personal Trainer Certification Options

By now you have a good understand of what to expect (and what not to expect) from the personal training certification course you choose. Now it's time to look at some of your best options. Keep reading below and click any of the certification logos to visit their official website.

You can also view and download a comparison summary in PDF below:

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How much time is required to get certified?

ACE recommends about 3 months of study if you are studying around 8-10 hours per week.

Can the certification be obtained online or in-person only?​

They offer online education with digital resources and manuals.

What is the examination process?

ACE uses competency-based examinations to assess if candidates meet the established level of competence to earn the specific ACE certification.

All ACE certification exams are comprised of 150 multiple-choice questions; with 125 scored and 25 experimental questions. The 25 experimental questions are not included in the candidate’s score as they are being evaluated to determine if they perform well enough statistically to be introduced as scored items on a future exam.

Only the 125 scored items count towards a candidate’s final score that determines if the candidate passed or failed the exam. The 125 scored items are distributed according to the test specifications, called the Exam Content Outline, for the specific certification program. 

How is the certification updated/renewed?​

Certification must be renewed every 2 years.

What is the cost to certify?​

One can choose for ACE's study programs namely:

  • PREMIUM PLUS = $699 or 4 X $174.75 PAYMENT PLAN
  • PREMIUM = $699
  • STANDARD = $599

Other relevant information​

Earning an ACE certification means meeting a standard accepted by other leaders in the healthcare industry. In addition to holding NCCA accreditation for all four certification programs, ACE also goes above and beyond when it comes to taking care of their professionals.


NASM

How much time is required to get certified?

Students will have 180 days from their sign-up date to take the exam.

Can the certification be obtained online or in-person only?​

NASM offers both online and in-person education.

What is the examination process?

Candidates must receive a scaled score of at least 70 to pass the written exam. There are multiple versions of the exam administered at any one time. The use of a scaled score provides consistency in reporting passing standards by accounting for the difficulty level of the examination version. The same level of performance is required to meet the scaled passing score of 70, regardless of which version of an assessment a candidate takes.

Pretest questions are an important part of the exam development process. The 20 pretest questions are incorporated throughout the exam and are not identified; therefore, all questions should be answered to the candidate’s best ability. The pretest questions will not count against the candidate’s score.

How is the certification updated/renewed?​

Certification must be renewed every 2 years.

What is the cost to certify?​

One can choose from NASM's programs as follows:

  • CPT Exam Only: $599
  • CPT Self-Study: $749
  • CPT Self-Study w/ Live Workshop: $899
  • CPT Online Classroom: $999
  • CPT All Access: $1,299
  • Associate Personal Trainer Experience: $1,999

Other relevant information​

Most NASM packages have a money back guarantee – If you don’t land a job in 60 days after you pass your exam, they will give you a refund.


ISSA

How much time is required to get certified?

You have up to 4 months from the date of enrolment to complete your personal trainer course. However, you may complete the course as quickly or as slowly as you would like within that 4 month period. It takes the average ISSA student 10 weeks to get certified.

Can the certification be obtained online or in-person only?​

ISSA offers both online and in-person education.

What is the examination process?

The examination is an online, open-book, non-timed exam that consists of two sections. Section I contains 100 questions, of which 50 are multiple choice and 50 are true and false. Section II is comprised of 60 practical, illustrated multiple-choice and matching questions, 2 Case Studies, and 6 long essays.

What is the cost to certify?​

​The cost to certify with ISSA is $499.99.

Other relevant information​

ISSA's personal trainer education approach is backed by top fitness industry professionals throughout North America. The International Sports Sciences Association's Personal Trainer Certification advisers and authors are some of the most prestigious and respected names in the fitness industry.

The years of scientific research they have conducted, in conjunction with the hundreds of professional publications and college textbooks they have authored, form the basis of virtually all exercise, physiology, nutrition, and fitness courses taught around the world.


How much time is required to get certified?

ACSM recommends 3-6 months to completely prepare for the exam. The preparation can all be completed at home, but you will need to go to a testing center near you to take the exam.

Can the certification be obtained online or in-person only?​

ACSM offers both online and in-person education.

What is the examination process?

Exams are administered at 5,000 computer-based testing centers. The exam content outline is the blueprint for your certification examination. Every question on the exam is associated with one of the knowledge or skill statements that are found in the exam content outline.

How is the certification updated/renewed?

​Certification must be renewed every 3 years.

What is the cost to certify?​

The ​ACSM Personal Trainer Study Kit cost is $146.88.

Other relevant information​

Once you become ACSM certified, you'll have the opportunity to take full advantage of the wide range of professional benefits. From marketing support, research and techniques, to continuing education and additional certification, ACSM is dedicated to provide you a path forward in helping people live longer, healthier lives.


NSCA

Can the certification be obtained online or in-person only?​

The NSCA offers Exam Prep Live Clinics for individuals preparing for the Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and NSCA-Certified Personal Trainer (NSCA-CPT) exams. Exam Prep Live Clinics are offered in three formats: 1.5-Day, 2-Day and 3-Day options with a blend of classroom lecture and hands-on training. All exams can be done online.

What is the examination process?

​To earn the NSCA's personal trainer certification, candidates are required to pass a challenging written examination that includes 140 scored questions and 15 non-scored questions. The exam consists of four sections: Client Consultation/Fitness Assessment, Program Planning, Exercise Techniques, and Safety/Emergency Issues.

How is the certification updated/renewed?

Every three years, NSCA-certified trainers must re-certify by earning Continuing Education Units (CEUs) to demonstrate that their professional knowledge and skill is up-to-date.

What is the cost to certify?​

The ​cost to certify with the NSCA is $300 as a member, and $435 for non-members.

Other relevant information​

NSCA certification examinations are hosted in 20 countries, and are available in eight languages. NSCA CEU opportunities are offered in eight countries, and available in six languages.


NPTI

How much time is required to certify?

You can choose between a 30-week course or a 40-week course.

Can the certification be obtained online or in-person only?​

NPTI offers in-person education only.

What is the cost to certify?​

Total cost for the Personal Fitness Training Program:

  • $9,890 Tuition
  • $325.00 Approximate textbook costs
  • $25.00 Approximate cost for calculator, stopwatch, and clipboard
  • $75.00 Application fee
  • SAVE $595.00 if you enroll and pay in full, in advance prior to any class start date.

If you chose to take the Certified Personal Trainer (CPT) examination following graduation, your cost is approximately $260.00 (after NPTI reimbursement and if you pass the CPT exam). NPTI Colorado reimburses you $175.00 after successfully passing the exam.

Other relevant information​

This is not a "show up and pass" course. You will spend over 600 combined classroom and practical (hands-on) hours of your time learning and practicing valued processes, procedures, and knowledge.


USSA

How much time is required to certify?

Completion of a course takes 16 weeks from registration.

Can the certification be obtained online or in-person only?​

USSA offers online education only.

What is the cost to certify?​

The total cost to be certified with USSA is $150.

Other relevant information​

Certification in Personal Training provides students a solid background in the area of personal training. Courses focus on training principles, nutrition, conditioning, and the various aspects of programming.


AFAA

How much time is required to certify?

You must complete the program within one year of your enrollment date.

Can the certification be obtained online or in-person only?​

AFAA offers online video lectures only.

What is the examination process?

The process is an independently monitored and authenticated online exam, consisting of 120 multiple choice questions.

What is the cost to certify?​

The total cost to be certified with AFAA is $499.

Other relevant information​

Your AFAA Personal Fitness Trainer online certification combines the most current science with over 30 years of experience and leadership in the fitness industry. We’ll cover these key topics to get you prepared:

The Human Body & Exercise Physiology

Behavior Modification and Communication Skills

Fitness Screening, Health Assessment and Injury Prevention

The Basics of Nutrition and Weight Management


NAFC

Can the certification be obtained online or in-person only?​

NAFC offers online education only.

What is the cost to certify?​

One can choose from NAFC's programs as follows:

  • ​Basic (Test Only)-$149.00
  • Interactive (Self Study)-$399.00
  • Interactive (Virtual Workshop)-$549.00
  • All Access (Job Guarantee)-$699.00

Other relevant information​

The NAFC Certified Personal Training program was developed from a passion to ‘build a better trainer’ by combining results-driven science with advanced practical application. By perfecting these two disciplines, NAFC trainers become empowered to safely and successfully lead clients toward better health & improved quality of life.


NFPT

Can the certification be obtained online or in-person only?​

NFPT offers online education only.

What is the examination process?

The NFPT – CPT exam consists of 120 multiple choice questions, derived from 9 content categories.

What is the cost to certify?​

One can choose from NFPT's programs as follows:

  • Standard: $299
  • Premier: $399
  • Exam Only: $199

How is the certification updated/renewed?

Certification must be renewed every year.

Other relevant information​

Providing legally defensible, industry recognized Certified Personal Trainer (CPT) credentials since 1988, NFPT’s CPT program is accredited by the NCCA and adheres to standards which pertain to certification business and test development practices.


NETA

How much time is required to certify?

NETA offers a Two-Day Live Review Workshop. The PT Certification review workshop features 14 hours of interactive lectures, demonstrations, and hands-on applications.

Can the certification be obtained online or in-person only?​

NETA offers in-person education only.

What is the examination process?

The NETA-CB Personal Trainer certification exam includes 120 multiple-choice questions using four response options (A-D), of which 100 questions are scored and 20 questions are experimental (i.e., ‘pre-test’).

The experimental questions are undergoing a pretesting process to evaluate performance and validity of each item before introduction on future exams as scored questions. The experimental questions are randomly placed throughout the exam so candidates are blinded as to which are among the 100 scored and the 20 experimental questions.

Candidate responses to experimental questions do NOT affect the score or pass/fail status of their exam. Candidates will indicate their response to each exam question using a Scantron answer sheet.

A minimum score of 70% (of the 100 scored questions) must be obtained to earn the NETA-CB Personal Trainer Certification.

What is the cost to certify?​

One can choose from NETA's programs as follows:

Two-Day Live Review Workshop Fees:

  • Early Bird: $399
  • Standard: $449
  • On-site: $459 OR Testing Only Fee: $349

How is the certification updated/renewed?

Certification must be renewed every 2 years.

Other relevant information​

NETA certification can be an important step in establishing credibility and earning respect as a qualified exercise professional and our NCCA-accredited Personal Trainer Certification is among the best in the industry.

Developed for those who plan to work with apparently healthy individuals, our curriculum is updated continuously according to the latest research and techniques to help you challenge, guide, support, and motivate your clients.


NESTA

How much time is required to certify?

The program features over 10 hours of step-by-step video training with 30, 60, and 90 day study plan checklists.

Can the certification be obtained online or in-person only?​

NESTA offers online education only.

What is the examination process?

The NCCA accredited NESTA-PFT offers a 125 questions, 2-hour multiple choice, proctored exam. NESTA Personal Fitness Trainer exam candidates will take the exam at a PSI testing center in their area. The exam candidate must take the Personal Fitness Trainer proctored exam within 90 days upon receiving their exam eligibility ID.

What is the cost to certify?​

The cost to certify with NESTA is $477. For the exam only, the cost is $299.

How is the certification updated/renewed?

Certification must be renewed every 4 years. The NESTA ECB requires its certified personal fitness trainer (PFT) to complete 4.0 Continuing Education Units (CEUs) over a four year period. Each 0.1 CEU is worth one hour of study time or one contact hour in a live training format.

Other relevant information​

NESTA was established in 1992 in Southern California. Today, NESTA is an international fitness association with over 55,000 members from around the world. Approximately 10% of their members are from outside the U.S.

NESTA members and graduates have thriving careers in over 50 countries. Countries outside the U.S. with the highest number of NESTA certified trainers/coaches are Canada, Singapore, Japan, Australia, China and the UK. Their certifications are accepted and used globally. They welcome all students from around the world.


NCSF

How much time is required to certify?

For the live workshop course, the NCSF recommends completing the Workshop registration approximately 4 to 6 weeks prior to the workshop date. The NCSF Certified Personal Trainer workshop itself is two days. The home study course is self-paced, although the average time of completion is several months.

Can the certification be obtained online or in-person only?​

NCSF offers both online and in-person education.

What is the examination process?

The certification examination is comprised of 150 multiple choice questions proportionately sectioned to assess the requisite nine content areas. You will have three hours to complete the exam. The National Council on Strength and Fitness offers it's Personal Trainer Certification Exam at Prometric testing centers.

What is the cost to certify?​

One can choose from NCSF's programs as follows:

Live Workshop

  • Course only: $399
  • Course & Exam: $549
  • Plus Package: $585

Home Study

  • ​Course: $359
  • Course & Exam: $499
  • Plus Package: $535

Certification Exam Only registration fee: $299.00

How is the certification updated/renewed?

Certification must be renewed every 2 years.

Other relevant information​

It is the mission of the National Council on Strength and Fitness Board for Certification to establish, assess, and promote qualification standards for Exercise Professionals in a continued effort to foster a high level of professional competency and ethical practice, to best serve public interest and safety.


NCCPT

How much time is required to certify?

A candidate has 30 days from their exam date.

Can the certification be obtained online or in-person only?​

Both! You can choose the convenience of an online certificate exam or go for the full certification at a PSI Testing Center; however, you must take your final exam at a PSI Testing facility.

What is the examination process?

The CPTE is a computer based test and must be given by a live proctor at a PSI testing facility. The exam is 140 multiple choice questions. Only candidates who achieve a passing score will obtain certification as a CPT and must use that designation. You have two hours to complete the exam and a pass or fail result will be provided upon completion.

What is the cost to certify?​

The costs to certify vary between $299 - $499 for the personal trainer specialist. The rate includes the manuals, study guides, and online videos.

How is the certification updated/renewed?

You need a 2.0 CEUs: Choose from a variety of inspiring programs to enhance your knowledge and motivate your clients! Choose from online courses you can complete from home. Also, proof of completion of an Adult CPR course must be submitted.

Other relevant information​

NCCPT has been certifying health and fitness professionals for over 20 years. They have been proudly providing cutting-edge education, tools, and resources throughout the U.S. and international markets. Nationally recognized, they provide students the best value for the best price.


IFPA

How much time is required to certify?

You have 6 months to take the Personal Trainer Certification Exam after registering.

Can the certification be obtained online or in-person only?​

IFPA sends you at-home materials with admission to one free, in-person, 2 day workshop.

What is the examination process?

The IFPA Personal Trainer Exam is a 105 multiple choice closed book exam. Five of the questions are not graded; they are for statistical purposes only. You have 1 hour and 40 minutes to take the exam. 

When you are ready to take the exam, you will contact your local library/college/university or testing center to set up a time and date for you to take the exam. After you have setup your testing location, call the IFPA and give the information to their Testing Department.

What is the cost to certify?​

​One can choose from IFPA's packages as follows:

  • Personal Trainer Exam Only: $349
  • Bronze Package: $399
  • Silver Package: $549
  • Gold Package: $699
  • Platinum Package: $999

How is the certification updated/renewed?

In two years your certification will expire, and you are required to renew your certification with additional continuing education.

Other relevant information​

The International Fitness Professionals Association is devoted to offering the highest quality learning experiences to individuals aiming to improve their lifestyle, and those aiming to improve the lifestyles of others.

Our educational opportunities provide only the most practical and scientifically based health and fitness information that can be directly applied to “real life” experiences. It is with this dedication that the IFPA is committed to being the lifelong exercise and training resource to the entire fitness community.


About the author

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Dave Smith

Dave Smith was chosen as Canada's Top Fitness Professional for his innovative online fitness coaching found at Make Your Body Work. He now teaches other fitness professionals how to build their own profitable online businesses. Learn more at the Online Trainers Federation.