Best Personal Trainer Certification Programs

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If you’re considering a career in the fitness industry, now is a good time to get certified. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that job growth for personal trainers is projected to increase by 39% from 2020-2030, which is much higher than the average projection for the job market. This likely means there will be a growing need for personal trainers in the coming years. Since most gyms choose to hire certified trainers, training programs will also likely grow in popularity. 

It’s technically legal to work as a personal trainer without formal certification, though it can be difficult to find reputable work. In order to call yourself a Certified Personal Trainer (CPT), a title that both gyms and clients are often looking for, you must pass the CPT exam. Personal trainer certification programs give you the knowledge you’ll need to pass this test, while also preparing you to work with people in a variety of settings like a health club, gym, college, or rehabilitation program. 

The most widely respected courses are accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) or another accrediting agency like NBFE or DEAC. Here are our top picks for personal trainer certification programs you can enroll in now.

Best Personal Trainer Certification Programs of 2022

Best Overall : American Council on Exercise (ACE)


American Council on Exercise

 American Council on Exercise

Key Specs

Cost: $979–$1,729 (program often goes on sale)
Accreditation: NCCA, EHFA
Online or In Person: Online (testing in person)

Why We Chose It

The ACE certification is widely respected and recognized by gyms and fitness organizations worldwide.

Pros
  • Evidence-based approach

  • Accredited by NCCA

  • Widely recognized

  • Job board and mentors available

Cons
  • More expensive than other options

American Council on Exercise (ACE) is a widely recognized, accredited nonprofit institute and certification program that trains health coaches and exercise professionals using an evidence-based approach. ACE’s Personal Trainer Study Program is online and self-paced; most students will complete the program and exam in three to six months, or in approximately 80–100 hours.

ACE is currently the largest certifier of health professionals and all ACE programs are rooted in scientific research and functional movement training. Its ACE exams are available in numerous specialties including personal trainer, group fitness instructor, health coach, medical exercise specialist, and more. However, it’s best to get a personal training certification before starting a specialization program—most gyms and fitness studios will want to see the basic certification.

Designed with several learning styles in mind, the course includes a textbook along with video explainers, audio, graphics, interactive activities, and more. There are also live webinars, study groups, and Q&A sessions for those who learn best through conversation and interaction.

You will need to recertify every two years with ACE; employers may also want to see continuing education credits (CECs). The ACE job board is another helpful resource for connecting exercise professionals with employment opportunities; you will have access to the board even after you complete the course (it is currently open to the public).

Best for New Trainers : National Academy of Sports Medicine


National Academy of Sports Medicine

 National Academy of Sports Medicine

Key Specs

Cost: $699-$1,889
Accreditation: NCCA
Online or In Person: Online

Why We Chose It

The NCAA-accredited NASM program is a 10-week course that helps new trainers connect with seasoned educators to jumpstart their personal training careers.

Pros
  • NCAA accredited

  • Offers 1:1 mentorship

  • Certification takes under three months

Cons
  • Recertification is pricey at $399 (a one-time cost)

The National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) sets new trainers up for success with its support both during and after the class, and assistance in finding a job.

NASM offers different tiers and programs at different price points. The self-study program could be a good option for those who already have experience and are looking to continue their education and get formally certified without needing a ton of background knowledge.

The most popular option “Guided Study” is great for beginners as it offers one-on-one coaching and a mentor who acts as your guide for all parts of the process. Some packages also include a “Gymnternship” which “places newly certified professionals in a gym setting for an eight-week internship in which they will complete assignments and assist trainers [to] get adapted to the work they will be doing once they are in the field on their own,” according to a spokesperson for NASM.

The course is designed to be entertaining with graphics and videos; it’s also updated regularly to reflect “accurate and up-to-date science” per the website.

Note: To be eligible to take the NASM Personal Trainer Certification Exam, you must have a high school degree or GED, hold a current Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) certification, or hold an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) certification. This is true for all NCAA-accredited programs and the additional certifications must be secured before taking the exam but not necessarily before beginning the course.

To earn this certification, you must pass the NCCA-accredited personal trainer certification exam, which must be proctored by a person. However, you can test online with a live remote proctor or onsite (not all certifications allow for online testing). You will need to earn 2.0 Continuing Education Units (20 contact hours) every two years to keep your certification.

Best for Academics : National Council On Strength & Fitness


National Council on Strength and Fitness

 National Council on Strength and Fitness

Key Specs

Cost: $699-$1,299 
Accreditation: NCCA
Online or In Person: Online

Why We Chose It

The National Council on Strength and Fitness (NCSF) is a leader in education and training. While there are different pricing tiers, whichever NCSF program you choose includes digital flashcards, videos, review quizzes, and instructor support, which is helpful for beginners to learn and ask questions.

Pros
  • NCAA accredited

  • Hands on and self-guided study available

  • Largest exam network

  • Payment plans available

Cons
  • Not as well known as other options

  • Pricier than other options

The National Council on Strength and Fitness (NCSF) is a challenging and rewarding course that improves your critical thinking, client communication, and training skills, making it the best option for academics. 

This certification is good for people who want to work in a gym or health club or start their own business. The certification is recognized in over 160 countries and has educated over 300,000 individuals; there are also more than 8,000 exam centers worldwide which makes it easy to find a place to take the exam.

After passing the exam, your certification should arrive in the mail within two weeks, so you can start working quickly. On average, students should expect to study and prepare for two to four months before the exam. There is also an option to keep building your education by becoming a master trainer, sports coach, or certified in sports nutrition. The NCSF has partnerships with well-regarded gyms and health clubs like 24 Hour Fitness, Gold’s Gym, and Equinox which helps set beginners up for success in finding a job.

There are several pricing tiers to choose from; each includes both a physical and digital textbook, study materials, review quizzes, instructor support, and the exam. The most robust option offers continuing education units (CEUs) that help students meet ethics requirements.

Best for Professional Support : International Sports Sciences Association


International Sports Sciences Association

 International Sports Sciences Association

Key Specs

Cost: $1,427
Accreditation: NCCA
Online or In Person: Online

Why We Chose It

International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA) provides trainers with a wealth of professional support, including a free professional website and help to secure a job.

Pros
  • NCAA accredited

  • Free re-testing and recertification

  • Unlimited exam time

Cons
  • Program is not as highly regarded as other certifications

The International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA) is known for providing its students with plenty of professional support. Notably, you’ll receive a free, professionally developed website which is helpful for showcasing skills and finding a job. If you apply and interview with at least three gyms in the six months after completing your certification and still have not found a job, you can fill out a form and within six months ISSA will place you in a job or otherwise give you a full refund. The program also offers lifetime support from professionals.

ISSA is a self-paced class that can be completed as slowly or quickly as your schedule allows; typically someone who does one hour of work per day will finish in 10 weeks. ISSA stands apart by giving its students unlimited exam time which can be helpful if you’re a slower test taker. The test is also an open book which can be incredibly helpful for people who struggle with memorization; however, some employers think ISSA is an easy test, so, in some cases, the certification may not be taken as seriously as others.

ISSA is accredited by the NCCA and the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC), and it has been operating for 35 years with over 475,000 students in 174 countries. The program is affiliated with several well-regarded organizations including International Health, Racquet & Sports Club Association (IHRSA), and New York Chiropractic College.

Best Low-Cost Option : Action Certification


Action Personal Trainer Certification

 Action Personal Trainer Certification

Key Specs

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

Why We Chose It

The Action Certification program certifies a large number of individuals and at an affordable price.

Pros
  • NCAA accredited

  • Affordable 

  • Learning materials, including hardcover textbook, included

Cons
  • Newer NCAA accreditation (2014) may not be as universally recognized

Action Certification prepares students for the CPT certification through online video classes and real-world simulations, which is likely what helps keep it so budget-friendly. All learning takes place on the app (available for Android and iOS), and the curriculum gets you ready to work with individuals or in group settings using video lessons and practice exams.

The company has three pricing tiers which start at $99 and go up to $249. Each course option comes with a physical textbook and digital certification badge. The mid and top tier have other helpful add-ons including a Kindle textbook, a professionally written business plan, and a job reference letter plus free recertification (top tier only).

Throughout the course, you’ll gain the skills to train, educate, and motivate clients in a safe and effective way. It takes about two months to study and complete the course, though there are no time limits on how long you need to spend on the material.

You can choose to take the exam online, though this exam is not accredited and gives you a “certificate in personal training.” Keep in mind that if you select the most basic of the three class tiers, your certification will not be NCAA-accredited and may not be recognized by certain gyms; it’s best to go with an accredited exam for job-seeking purposes. The upper two tiers are accredited and require in-person testing; with completion, you’ll earn the title of ACTION-Certified Personal Trainer.

To take the CPT, exam you’ll need to pay an additional $99 and visit a Prometric test site.

Best Long-Lasting Certification : National Exercise & Sports Trainers Association (NESTA)


National Exercise & Sports Trainers Association

 National Exercise & Sports Trainers Association

Key Specs

Cost: $349-$477
Accreditation: NCCA
Online or In Person: Both

Why We Chose It

NESTA is the only certification on this list that’s good for up to four years (most require recertification after two years), making it a great choice for trainers-to-be who are looking for an affordable, long-lasting certificate.

Pros
  • NCAA accredited

  • Valid for four years

  • Integrates technology into curriculum

Cons
  • Not ideal for those seeking one-on-one instruction or hands-on learning

  • Lowest tier is not accredited

Since the National Exercise & Sports Trainers Association (NESTA) recertification takes place every four years, it’s a great option for people who don’t enjoy testing or who live in a more remote area which makes visiting a testing center tricky.

The NESTA program is thorough but still affordable; it covers exercise physiology, kinesiology and anatomy, biomechanics, nutrition, client assessments, exercise programming, injuries and safety, psychology and behavior, and professional responsibilities. NESTA is also one of few personal training programs to integrate technology into its curriculum including heart rate tracking and digital exercise logging. And, there’s a post-exam kit that teaches key business components including marketing, sales, networking, social media, and online coaching that will help set you up for success in all areas.

To get certified, you must take the proctored test at a PSI testing location which is available worldwide. Certification must happen within 90 days of requesting your exam eligibility ID, so make sure you're prepared to test in that time frame. You also need to show your CPR certification card.

Best for Career Growth : National Federation of Professional Trainers (NFPT)


National Federation of Professional Trainers

 National Federation of Professional Trainers

Key Specs

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

Why We Chose It

The National Federation of Professional Trainers (NFPT) stands out for providing both fee-based and free continued education for certified personal trainers long after the program is completed.

Pros
  • NCAA accredited

  • Affordable

  • Free continuing education certificates

Cons
  • Not as well known as other options

Regardless of the certification program you choose, all personal trainers must accumulate continuing education credits (CECs) both to maintain their certifications and stay up to date with industry knowledge. These credits often cost money, but through the National Federation of Professional Trainers (NFPT), you can receive them free for a lifetime.

There are three class tiers to choose from. The least expensive ($379) is the CPT exam (no course materials); the middle tier ($499) includes learning materials but not videos; and the top or “premier” tier ($1299) includes all learning materials, plus videos, practice tests, access to NFPT expert trainers, and more.

The course takes into account how the exam breaks down each topic. For example, 33% of the exam is training program development, implementation, and modification—and this is reflected in how the curriculum breaks down.

In addition to the course prep, NFPT throws in some helpful freebies like a trainer guide which covers topics like expected daily routine, income potential, career options, and more.

Final Verdict 

The personal training certifications on this list are all accredited by the NCAA certifying body, meaning you will achieve a legitimate certification that will be recognized by most gym and health clubs. However, some are more widely known and respected than others. American Council on Exercise (ACE) is a step above the rest, due to its size, the wealth of course material, and job support.

ACE is the largest certifier of health professionals and it goes above and beyond with engaging course material, access to a job board, and continuing education courses taught by mentors. Studies show that working with a mentor provides career, behavioral, and motivational benefits.

If you are looking for a personal trainer certification course that is more affordable, National Exercise & Sports Trainers Association (NESTA) is a good choice. The program is well-regarded and has a thorough curriculum, although it does not offer the same caliber of job placement opportunities as ACE.

Guide for Choosing the Best Personal Trainer Certification Programs

Is It Worth Getting Certified as a Personal Trainer?

Becoming certified as a personal trainer is an added expense, and, in some cases, you do not need a formal certification to work. However, most reputable gyms, health clubs, and institutions prefer or mandate that trainers have an accredited certification, and often the best personal trainers have certifications. You can expect to earn more, have improved visibility online, and be more in demand with a certification.

Is a Personal Trainer Certification Program Right for You?

A personal trainer certification program is generally a good idea for someone who is just beginning a career in the fitness or health industry and doesn’t have existing clients. These programs often help with job placement and many teachers will offer their students industry connections.

Seasoned exercise professionals may also wish to advance their fitness careers by getting certified or by adding an additional certification to their resume (like elite trainer or nutrition coach).

Compare Personal Trainer Certification Programs

With many personal trainer certification programs available, it can be hard to know which one is right for you and your specific goals. Factors to consider when choosing a certification program include:

  • Cost: Accredited programs range from a few hundred dollars to over $2,000—in most cases, a higher cost means more mentorship and help with job placement.
  • Program length: If finding a job quickly is important to you or you have a lot of free time, it may make sense to do a self-led certification program that you can finish rapidly.
  • Accreditation body: An NCAA-accredited program is your best bet since it’s most widely recognized and respected by gyms, clubs, institutions, and more.
  • Job support: For those just starting their careers, it can be helpful to pick a program that provides mentorship and job placement support. This may be less important, however, if you already have a job lined up that’s simply dependent on you passing the exam.

How to Choose a Personal Trainer Certification Program

All of the programs on this list are NCAA-accredited. They are also all online, though some do require you to sit for the exam in person.

The first step in choosing a personal trainer certification program is to compare your options. Keep in mind your career goals, budget, and timeline, and decide what aspects of a program (e.g., affordability, flexibility, accreditation, mentorship, and job placement) are most important to you.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Is a Personal Trainer Certification Program?

A personal trainer certification program prepares you to pass the CPT exam. These programs are in course format and are suitable for existing health and fitness professionals looking to formalize their skillset, or those looking to break into the industry.

Some studies indicate that having a certified personal trainer who is certified will become increasingly important to clients in the coming years as a way of establishing trust and professionalism.

How Much Do Personal Trainer Certification Programs Cost?

The cost of a personal trainer certification program varies. Generally, they run between $200 and $2,000 with most hovering somewhere around $1,000.

How Do You Become a Certified Personal Trainer?

The only step that’s absolutely essential to becoming a certified personal trainer is passing the CPT exam so you can receive your certification.

What Will I Learn in a Personal Trainer Certification Program?

CPT training certification programs prep you to pass the test and teach you important skills for training, offering fitness advice, building trust with clients, and developing your business. The exact curriculum may vary depending on each specific personal trainer certification program, but most will cover exercise science, anatomy, how to motivate clients and develop plans for individuals, and more. Some may teach nutrition and other health topics and offer business advice (like how to find clients).

Methodology

All certification programs on this list come from an accredited organization (NCAA) and have national recognition; we reviewed over 15 companies and selected our top picks. We made sure they had course materials online, though some require sitting for the Certified Personal Trainer exam (CPT) at an approved location. (In some cases, you can take the exam online with a proctor.) We considered certifications that have self-paced, at-home study options as well as scheduled curriculum; some are completely self-led while others are live classes with the ability to ask a mentor a question. We evaluated various price points and timelines, but favored programs that are budget-friendly and offer some flexibility.

The 8 Best Personal Trainer Certifications of 2022

Verywell / Designed by Amelia Manley

Article Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Occupational Outlook Handbook.

  2. National Library of Medicine. Women's Perspective of Personal Trainers: A Qualitative Study

By Amanda Capritto, ACE-CPT, INHC
Amanda Capritto, ACE-CPT, INHC, is an advocate for simple health and wellness. She writes about nutrition, exercise and overall well-being.

Edited by
Ally Hirschlag
Allison "Ally" Hirschlag

Ally is a senior editor for Verywell, who covers topics in the health, wellness, and lifestyle spaces. She has written for The Washington Post, Scientific American, The Guardian, BBC Future, and more.

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