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The 7 Best Personal Trainer Certifications (Fall 2023 Update)

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If you’re looking to break into the field of fitness training and coaching, there’s no better way to start than by getting a personal training certification. The best personal trainer certifications are offered through many different organizations at all different price points and provide you with study materials and information that will help you become a successful trainer. For example, most programs have chapters that take you through topics like human anatomy, nutrition and supplement information, writing a fitness program, and ways to market yourself. 

The personal trainer certifications on this list are all accredited by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA), but they vary a bit in what they offer specifically — some cater to special populations and elite athletes, while others focus more on the general fitness population. Use our list to help you narrow in on the correct personal training certification for you.

Best Personal Trainer Certifications

Best Overall Certification

When it comes to the best overall personal trainer certification, you’ll want one that prepares you to work with all types of clientele — from young adults to older individuals and every fitness level in between. This one fits the bill.

ISSA Personal Trainer Certification

The International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA) Personal Trainer Certification will help teach you the skills you need to motivate any client to reach their fitness goals. You’ll learn all about the body’s musculature and skeletal structure, along with how these joints, bones, and muscles work and function. Plus, you’ll also gain confidence using the cert’s Purpose-Driven Training Model to create custom programs that focus on the most effective exercises for your trainee and ways to ensure they stay injury-free in the process.


ISSA Personal Training Certification

ISSA Personal Training Certification


ISSA Personal Training Certification

ISSA has certified over 475,000 students through their various personal trainer certifications since 1988. It has a 90 percent test rate, a free retest, and tons of resources to help you become the best personal trainer you can be.


When you sign up for this certification, you’ll receive access to an online textbook, online practice quizzes, audio and video lecture options (for those who prefer to hear or watch the information), an online workout, an online student forum, an open book or proctored exam option, a CPT education boot camp, as well as a free professional website post-certification. Keep in mind that if you already have a background in fitness, you may want to find a more specialized certification. The information presented is comprehensive but more basic than what you’ll have learned while obtaining a kinesiology degree.

Pros

  • Anyone looking to train a variety of clients will like that this certification covers training material for a variety of client demographics.
  • Individuals who are getting their first training certification will appreciate the ISSA’s range of packages.
  • There are a wide variety of instructional options (online textbook, audio, video, etc.) to suit different learning types.

Cons

  • Individuals who want to work with athletes or train clients at a higher fitness level may not find this certification specific enough.
  • The information covered here is more basic than you’d have gotten if you already have a kinesiology degree. 

The material in the ISSA personal training certification is comprehensive, has a variety of learning methods, and provides plenty of additional study aids to help you pass your course. Plus, the free coaching website that it provides is a solid perk to help your business get started.

Read our full ISSA Personal Trainer Certification Review.

Best Certification for Coaching Athletes

When it comes to working with athletes or clientele with a higher fitness IQ and ability, it’s important to know exactly which exercises these individuals should be doing to excel in their sport or field. This cert provides in-depth knowledge about overactive and underactive muscles, and it shows how to pinpoint muscle imbalances via static postural, dynamic, and strength assessments.

NASM Personal Trainer Certification 

The main philosophy of the National Academy of Sports Medicine certification is what the company refers to as the Optimum Performance Training Model (OPT). The model focuses on five specific phases of training: stabilization endurance, strength endurance, hypertrophy, maximal strength, and power — in that order. The first stage of the model includes stabilization endurance, which focuses on balance and stabilization. Stage two is all about strength and encompasses the strength endurance, hypertrophy, and maximal strength stages. The third and final stage centers around power and includes the power phase of training. 


NASM Personal Trainer Certification

NASM Personal Trainer Certification


NASM Personal Trainer Certification

If you want to move from an exercise enthusiast to a bonafide fitness professional, then you can develop your skills in client assessment, program writing, self-marketing, sales, physiology, psychology, and more with the Personal Trainer Certification from NASM.


While the philosophy behind this certification is entirely based on science, making it reputable for training athletes, NASM works hard to keep the material fresh and exciting. You’ll learn how to perform different types of postural, strength, and cardiovascular assessments in order to determine compensations and muscle imbalances and the corrective strategies to fix them. When you purchase this certification, you’ll have the option of either a self-study program done on your own or a guided study program with support, plus a job guarantee at the end.. One thing to note is that a high school diploma or a GED is a prerequisite for this program, so if you don’t have one, you’ll need to get that first.

Pros

  • Anyone looking to work with athletes or clientele with a higher fitness ability and IQ will like the science-backed model this certification is based on.
  • The focus on adapting programming to accommodate progression is ideal for developing long-term clients. 
  • This certification course teaches you about not only personal training and exercise but business fundamentals, as well. 

Cons

  • Anyone without a high school diploma or GED won’t qualify for this certification.
  • Individuals who aren’t interested in a model-based training certification might find this too complex.

The NASM Certified Personal Trainer certification is the most well-rounded one on the market. It will teach you training techniques and how to apply them, as well as how to perform a new client assessment and build a successful career with sales tips and tricks. It also provides some information on supplements and nutrition, too.

Read our full NASM Personal Trainer Certification Review.

Best Certification for the Money

If you’re new to personal training or switching professional fields, you may want to start with an affordable certification and widely recognized option like this one. 

ACE Personal Training Certification

The American Council on Exercise (ACE) Personal Training Certification is one of the most recognized certifications in the field. The program options are Basic, Plus, and Advantage, each increasing in price. However, they often offer promotions and sales, making the cert rather affordable (especially compared to others).  You’ll learn about human anatomy, modifications for clients with special considerations, as well as how to assess, program and make progressions as your clients grow and gain. The only category lacking is for training clients in special populations — this cert touches on the subject but does not go into much depth.


ACE Personal Trainer Certification

ACE Personal Trainer Certification


ACE Personal Trainer Certification

If you’re looking to become a fitness professional, you can develop your skills in program writing, movement assessment, physiology, business development, and more with Ace’s Personal Trainer Certification.


There are three different personal training certification packages available for ACE. All packages include the core study program, the final exam, practice exams, a digital textbook, and a digital trainer study companion, with the most affordable package (labeled fittingly as “Basic”) costing just $675. Upgrade to “Plus” for just $70 more, and you’ll also get a hard copy of the textbook and trainer study companion, as well as live Q and A webinars.

The “Advantage” package costs $975 and includes everything from “Plus” with additional audiobook options and facilitated study groups. It’s not the least expensive certification that you’ll find, but it’s lower than many others, and the materials you get make it well worth the cost.

Pros

  • The self-pacing learning style works for Individuals looking to learn online at their own speed.
  • The lower cost of this cert will suit individuals who want a price-conscious option.
  • Anyone who wants access to ongoing support and guidance will like the facilitated study group and live Q and A webinars.

Cons

  • There is minimal information on training clients who have special needs.
  • Anyone who prefers to do in-person learning and studying may not want this certification.

When you purchase the ACE Personal Training Certification, you’ll be able to complete the program online at your own speed. Most complete the program and exam in about three to six months, or the equivalent of about 80 to 100 hours. The ACE Personal Training Certification is NCCA Accredited, too.

Best Certification For National Recognition 

If you’re looking to get a training certification that you can use in different states or even different countries, it’s important to choose one with national recognition. Having an NCCA Accredited certification is the way to go. 

NCSF Personal Trainer Certification

The National Council on Strength & Fitness (NCSF) Personal Trainer Certification is an NCCA Accredited certification, so you’ll automatically earn that recognition, and the cert is globally recognized. The cert features the NCSF Easy Learning System, which is an advanced e-learning platform, so you can fully study and test online. However, if you need one-on-one support or group study forums, you may find this certification lacking. 


NCSF Personal Trainer Certification

NCSF Personal Trainer Certification


NCSF Personal Trainer Certification

NCSF’s Personal Trainer Certification will provide you with the knowledge and expertise needed to provide quality coaching to a wide range of athletes. 


Topics covered include functional anatomy, exercise physiology, health and physical fitness, screening and evaluation, nutrition, weight management, exercise programming, training instruction, considerations for special populations, and professionalism and risk management.

You can choose from four different study bundles, and all allow for the exam to be taken online or in person at a testing center. This certification will qualify you to work both with individuals and small groups in-person or online. 

Pros

  • Four different study bundles allow students to choose the method that suits them best.
  • Individuals looking to study and take the exam online have the option to do it all at their own pace with this certification. 
  • The NCCA accreditation makes this a globally-recognized certification.

Cons

  • Anyone who prefers to do in-person learning and studying may not want this certification.
  • Individuals who need more support when learning may find this certification falls short in online study forums and expert availability.

Not only is this certification recognized nationally, but NCSF also has strong partnerships with some of the top health and fitness clubs in the world. 

Best Certification for General Fitness Clients

If you’re looking to get a certification to work with your average gymgoer, it’s best to get a general fitness certification like this one from Fitness Mentors. By focusing on the fundamentals, you’ll be able to work with all levels of general fitness.

Fitness Mentors Personal Trainer Certification

The first three chapters of the Fitness Mentors Personal Trainer curriculum starts with the fitness assessment, then moves on to anatomy, physiology, and the study of human movement, followed by exercise physiology and energy systems. This gives students a well-rounded knowledge base to train general fitness clients. 


Fitness Mentors Personal Trainer Certification

Fitness Mentors Personal Trainer Certification


Fitness Mentors Personal Trainer Certification

Fitness Mentors provides a well-rounded knowledge base for training the general fitness population, is NCCA accredited, and offers a wide range of study material to suit different learning styles. 


You’ll also learn about program design, flexibility, mobility, range of motion, and the cardiovascular and respiratory systems, as well as some bits on nutrition, emergency procedures, professionalism, fitness for special populations and online personal training. 

When you purchase this program, you’ll have access to video presentations, a digital textbook, audiobook lectures, assignments and learning activities, practice quizzes, bonus videos, and flashcards, as well as two practice exams to get you ready for the final examination.

Pros

  • The well-rounded course coverage will benefit individuals looking to work with the general fitness population.
  • Individuals newer to personal training will find this certification easily digestible, thanks to the variety of study materials available. 
  • Two practice exams help ensure the successful completion of the course.

Cons

  • Individuals looking to learn training and programming for specialized populations may not find this certification to be specific enough.
  • Anyone who wants help finding a job post-final exam might not find the help they need within this cert’s community.

Fitness Mentors Personal Trainer Certification focuses on developing a well-rounded knowledge base for training the general fitness population. Plus, it is NCCA Accredited and has the highest exam pass rate (according to their website).

Best Certification for Specialized Populations

If you know your fitness career will involve working with specialized populations of individuals, it’s important to choose a certification that focuses on customizable programming.

ISSA Personal Trainer Certification

Being that the International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA) Personal Trainer Certification is based on a purpose-driven training model, obtaining this cert will allow you to confidently create customized programs for a wide variety of clients. It also dives deeply into training clients with special needs, focusing on exercises that make sense for their specific requirements. You’ll also learn what to do and what not to do with your clientele in order to keep them injury-free. 


ISSA Personal Training Certification

ISSA Personal Training Certification


ISSA Personal Training Certification

ISSA has certified over 475,000 students through their various personal trainer certifications since 1988. It has a 90 percent test rate, a free retest, and tons of resources to help you become the best personal trainer you can be.


With this certification, you’ll have 10 different package options to choose from, all of which include student forums to help you study with other future trainers. Also, all of the online material will always be accessible if you need to refresh your skills. This will allow you to look back if you ever need to review a certain topic that pertains to a specific client you’re working with.

Pros

  • Anyone looking to train clientele of special populations will like that this certification covers training material for clients outside the general population.
  • Online student forums provide a community to learn and study with.
  • All study materials will be available online after course completion for future reference.

Cons

  • Individuals who want to work with athletes or train clients at a higher fitness level may not find this certification specific enough for that demographic.
  • Anyone who prefers to do in-person learning and studying may not want this certification.

In addition to providing a wide range of knowledge for training the general fitness population, the ISSA personal training certification has in-depth information for training clients with special needs or requirements. Plus, all of the study material is available post-certification, so you can continue to brush up on your knowledge as needed. 

Best Certification for Jobs in Exercise Physiology

If you want to get a job in exercise physiology, you’ll need a certification that clues you in on biology, anatomy, kinesiology, and nutrition. The NASM Personal Trainer Certification will provide all of this — plus, its widespread recognition can help you attain work in the field. 

NASM Personal Trainer Certification 

By utilizing the Optimum Performance Training Model (OPT) that the National Academy for Sports Medicine Personal Trainer Certification is based on, you’ll be prepared to train more advanced clientele, including athletes. You’ll be equipped with the ability to explain how your training philosophy will progress through different phases in order to help your client reach their goals and continue to set new ones. Based on a client’s abilities and goals, the OPT model can be modified and adapted to progressively move through the stages of stabilization, strength, and power. 


NASM Personal Trainer Certification

NASM Personal Trainer Certification


NASM Personal Trainer Certification

If you want to move from an exercise enthusiast to a bonafide fitness professional, then you can develop your skills in client assessment, program writing, self-marketing, sales, physiology, psychology, and more with the Personal Trainer Certification from NASM.


As one of the most widely recognized personal training certifications, its reputation will help set you up for a job in the exercise physiology field. NASM works hard to keep the material and information updated with the latest scientific studies and breakthroughs, so your knowledge will always be current. A high school diploma or GED is required for this course, so if you don’t have one, you’ll need to get that first or look at a different cert.

Pros

  • Anyone looking to pursue a career in exercise physiology will feel confident that this certification is created based on a science-backed model.
  • The focus on progressive programming will help trainers keep clients as they grow fitter over time.
  • This certification’s copious information on training advanced clients is ideal for people who want to work with athletes. 

Cons

  • If you don’t have a high school diploma or GED, you’ll need to get one to qualify for this course.
  • There is a 180-day time limit on this certification, so people who want to learn at their own pace may want to look elsewhere.

Becoming a NASM Certified Personal Trainer will set you up for success in the exercise physiology field with a sturdy and expansive foundation of knowledge. You’ll learn training techniques, how to adapt and progress them, as well as basic information on nutrition and supplementation, too

How We Chose the Best Personal Training Certifications

When it comes to picking a personal training certification, it probably comes as no surprise that there are many to choose from. We realize that each individual will have their own wants and expectations when it comes to a certification, and therefore, the best product will vary from one individual to the next. For our purposes, we chose our list of best personal training certifications based on NCCA Accreditation and national recognition, curriculum content, study materials and programming, exam difficulty, and price point.

NCCA Accreditation and National Recognition

In partnership with the government, the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) was created to develop the standards that voluntary certification programs in all professions and industries must adhere to. Said “standards” are referred to as the NCCA’s Standards for the Accreditation of Certification Programs and were the first standards developed by the credentialing industry for professional certification programs. The goal of the standards is to ensure the health, welfare, and safety of the public. Having an NCAA Accreditation makes a certification that much more credible. Therefore, we included only certifications that have this accreditation. 

Curriculum Content

While most personal training certification programs will cover the basics of movement, anatomy, and nutrition for training the general fitness population, some certs will focus more heavily on specific fields. If you are interested in training high-level athletes or clients with special needs, you’ll want to find a certification that has deep coverage of those areas. We looked at the specific curriculums to see which ones focused on areas that future personal trainers would most likely be interested in.

Study Materials

While most programs have similar study materials, some offer study materials that will appeal to different types of learners. You’ll often find online written materials, but more visual or auditory learners may want to search out certification programs that offer video and audio content as well. Some also offer access to student forums for group study and one-on-one tutoring as well. We included a wide range of study aids to help students with a variety of learning styles. 

Exam Difficulty

The whole point of going through a personal training course is to learn enough to pass the exam that proves your ability to provide high-quality coaching to clients, so the exam should be somewhat difficult to pass. That said, it should still be accessible. The programs that we included here provide study aids, practice tests, and periods in which you can study up and retake exams if you don’t pass the first time. 

Price Point

Personal training certification programs can vary in price, depending on the materials they provide, the accreditation they have, and the time it takes to complete the course. There are also added costs, including physical textbooks and fees for retaking exams. In this list, we’ve included programs that range in price, from high-end certifications that are loaded with study aids and materials to more cost-effective ones that don’t come with as many bells and whistles.

The Benefits of Having a Personal Training Certification

A personal training certification is a necessity for anyone looking to be a trainer in a reputable fitness institution. Taking the time to earn a cert shows that you put in the effort to acquire the knowledge and skill that are required to help someone achieve their fitness goals. Along the way, you will develop a knowledge of anatomy and physiology, gain the ability to learn how to write programming for clients, and build credibility in the fitness industry.

Credibility

Training shouldn’t be taken lightly, and if clients are smart, they’ll want to know that the person creating programs for them isn’t only in good shape themselves but also understands the human anatomy and principles behind creating a cohesive and progressive training program. Having a certification can provide this credibility to your clients.

Knowledge of Anatomy

While technically anyone can train a client, a good trainer understands the human body and the way in which muscles, joints, and skeletal structure work. By getting a personal training certification, you’ll learn all about the human anatomy and skeleton, as well as be able to recognize compensations and muscle imbalances.

Ability to Write Progressive and Adaptive Programming and Modifications 

Again, the actual act of writing a fitness program can be done by nearly anyone who knows exercises. However, when it comes to programming, it’s important to know what level to start at, how to adapt training protocol to fit a client’s needs and goals, and at what speed to progress their programming. It’s also important to know how to modify or change a program if a client has comorbidities or any injuries. By studying and receiving a fitness certification, you’ll learn how to write individualized programming for clients, as well as the periodization of programming. 

Professionalism and Client Relationships

If you’re new to the fitness field, it’s not necessarily going to be the easiest field to break into, meaning you will probably have to work to get some clients at the beginning. Personal Training Certifications teach you skills to help build up your clientele, make sales, and have a successful fitness career.

How Much Do Training Certifications Cost?

Each certification has a different price, and even within one organization, they may offer different packages or bundles when it comes to getting a personal training certification (an online versus online and in-person option, etc.).

Best Certification Overall ISSA Personal Trainer Certification Starting at $799
Best Certification for Coaching Athletes NASM Personal Trainer Certification Starting at $999
Best Certification for the Money ACE Personal Trainer Certification Starting at $675
Best Certification For National Recognition  NCSF Personal Trainer Certification Starting at $799
Best Certification for General Fitness Clients Fitness Mentors Personal Trainer Certification Starting at $499
Best Certification for Special Populations Training ISSA Personal Trainer Certification Starting at $799
Best Certification for Jobs in Exercise Physiology NASM Personal Trainer Certification Starting at $999

In general, most personal training certifications range anywhere from around $400 to $2,000, depending on what study materials are included, whether or not you add on specialized certifications, and what kind of student support is offered. Other add-ons can include physical textbooks, online tutoring, and fees for retaking exams. 

What to Consider Before Buying a Personal Training Certification

Selecting a personal training certification program is as individualized as selecting a personal trainer. While all of the best personal training certification programs will provide you with the knowledge you need to help clients achieve their goals, they can vary in several ways, including programming, study materials, and the support they offer. When you’re looking for a cert program, consider your ideal clientele, your learning style, and exactly where you want your career to go.

Program and Study Materials

When you’re considering a certification program, it pays to know who your ideal client is. If you want to focus on the general fitness population, all of the programs on this list will equip you. But if you’re looking to train a specific demographic like advanced athletes or special population clients, it pays to find a certification with an emphasis on these types of training. 

A person working out using dumbbells with a gym partner.
Credit: NDAB Creativity / Shutterstock

Also, be sure to read how the certification you’re considering delivers its course material. While you’ll find online written materials in all of these programs, some offer physical textbooks, as well as video and audio content for students. There are also online forums for group study and one-on-one tutoring available with some of these programs if you don’t want to work alone. If you have test anxiety, many of these programs also offer practice exams and quizzes to help you prepare for your final exam. Be sure to do a deep dive into the course materials of whatever program you’re considering to make sure it caters to your learning style. 

Support Throughout and After the Program

Some people prefer to study alone, while others work best with a personal instructor or in a group setting. If you work best with others or want some extra accountability, be sure you choose a certification that offers help through group or trainer forums or expert and/or peer guidance. These study aids can also be useful if you find yourself getting stuck in a certain section of your educational materials. 

A person working out with a barbell and being coached.
Credit: TORWAISTUDIO / Shutterstock

You may want to look into the options and offerings when it comes to job placement post-completion of the certification. Some programs cover the business side of personal training, including marketing and client relations, and others offer perks like a free professional website after completing the program, both of which can be a huge help to someone just starting out in the field. 

Continuing Education

As you shop around for a certification program, make sure it has the resources you need to further your career and expertise. Almost all fitness certifications require recertification, so make sure you read and understand what’s required in order for you to recertify and how often you’ll need to. Certifications can last from a year to five years or more, so make sure that you’re willing and able to recertify as often as necessary to keep your certification active. 

Also, many of the certifications offer add-on certifications for becoming a nutritional and wellness coach or coaching for specific activities like running or yoga. If you want to develop more skills and broaden your client base, check to see what other offerings the organization you’re getting your personal training certification with offers. 

Final Word

It’s important that, as a personal trainer, you have the confidence and ability to write adaptable, progressive, efficient programming based on your individual client’s wants, needs, and goals. While there is some debate about whether or not you need to have a personal training certification to train individuals, there’s no denying that through studying and obtaining a certification, you’re forced to learn about the human anatomy, how muscles work together, ways to correct and fix muscle imbalances, as well as how to write and progress programming correctly. 

You’ll also learn a lot about the industry itself, as well as tips and tricks to hopefully have a successful and fulfilling career. While the certification you choose is up to you, rest assured that all of these NCCA Accredited personal training certifications will provide you with the skills and knowledge you need to confidently train individuals to help them achieve their fitness goals. 

FAQs

Why do I need a personal training certification?

As mentioned above, yes, anyone who has knowledge of a gym and exercises could train a client. However, that doesn’t mean they should be. As a trainer, it’s important to make sure you fully understand the human anatomy and skeletal system, as well as progressive programming and adapting fitness goals to your client’s wants and needs. As a trainer, you need to be able to train your clients confidently and do your best to prevent them from getting any injuries.

How much do personal training certifications cost?

Personal training certifications can cost anywhere from hundreds of dollars to over a thousand dollars, depending on the certification’s accreditation, the study materials and resources that it provides, and any additional options, fees or specialty certifications that are available.

What’s the best personal training certification?

The best certification will always vary from individual to individual. When looking through the different personal training certification offerings, it’s important to first identify what you’re looking for in a certification. Are you looking to work with a specific type of clientele, or are you just looking to work with the general fitness population? Are you hoping to train athletes and maybe later on also get a nutrition certification or a TRX-specific certification?

It’s important to know what you hope to get out of the personal training certification in order to choose the best one to help you achieve your goals. That said, right now, our favorite personal training certification is the ISSA Personal Training Certification for it’s comprehensive curriculum, variety of learning methods, and online student forums for group study.

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