Your Guide to The Best Personal Trainer Certifications

Aug 23, 2018 · 6 minutes to read

Becoming a personal trainer is an exhilarating business opportunity. The fitness industry in the US is growing every year, and more fitness gyms’ locations are opening every day. It’s no wonder, that the demand for personal trainers is growing.

With the economy stabilizing, customers have more of a discretionary income to spend, and what is a better investment than your health and fitness?

There are numerous reasons as to why so many people decide to become personal trainers. With flexible hours, limitless income potential, and an opportunity to do something that you are passionate about while helping others and getting fit and healthy yourself, the career sounds like a dream come true.

There is also something to be said about low barriers to entry when it comes to personal training business. In most cases, it’s enough to only have your GED or a high school diploma, a few years of experience in fitness, and a basic certification to get started.

Although there is no universally mandated certification or licensing standards, most gyms require a minimum of specific certifications they want their trainers to have. You’ll have to earn at least those to get hired at the fitness club of your choice.

In this blog post, we will discuss the different certifications you can earn; which ones are considered top certifications and what steps you need to take to earn them.

Online personal trainer certification

There is no shortage of online personal certifications that you can take. If you google “online personal trainer certifications” you will get pages upon pages with companies offering certification packages.

Since there is no licensing for a personal trainer, certifications take on the role of continuing education and proof of the trainer’s competence and knowledge.

When deciding on your certifications, pay attention to whether or not a certification is NCCA (National Commission for Certifying Agencies) accredited.  They set a high standard for quality of the certification itself and are immensely respected in the industry. This is not to say that non-NCCA accredited certifications are not worth your time. However, the NCCA accreditation is widely sought after and is impressive to your future employers and clients.

What is the best personal trainer certification

Everyone always wants to know the answer to this question. What the best personal trainer certification there is? The truth is, there is not one best certification.

When considering different certifications, it’s important to look at how accepted they are in the industry and what most gyms require. It’s also necessary to consider your specialization. After earning your general personal trainer certifications, you can go on and earn the more specialized ones. Do you want to be a group, Zumba instructor? Yoga? Do you want to do individual training?

Consider these questions above when you are looking at furthering your personal training education.

Below are the top 5 industry certifications, that are all NCCA accredited with the exception of ISSA certification.

ACE (American Council on Exercise) – The gold standard of personal trainer certifications. If you ask 100 trainers which certification is a must, this is it. If you earn this certification, you will be highly employable as most gyms require you to have it. One of the many advantages of ACE is the breadth of certifications you can take. ACE is a cumulative name for the training under its umbrella, but they provide different courses. You can choose to become certified as a group fitness instructor, health coach, personal trainer, or a medical exercise specialist.

They offer high accountability during the learning process, and there are plenty of materials such as workbooks, test examples, etc. to help you ace the exam.

NASM (National Academy of Sports Medicine) – Like ACE, NASM is one of the most accepted accredited certifications programs available. Their primary certification program OPT (Optimum Performance Training) is top-rated and offers rigorous training based on science and is a foundation for other certifications.

ISSA (International Sports Sciences Association) – This certification is not NCCA accredited. It doesn’t make it subpar by any means. It’s a great certification that offers a general, overview course for personal training. It also offers six specialized certifications such as senior fitness, youth fitness, nutrition, sports nutrition, exercise therapy and strength and conditioning. A unique aspect of this certification is that it also offers a business and marketing guide that talks about developing a profitable personal training business.

ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine) – ACSM can be a tough certification to tackle as your first certification. It requires passing a personal trainer exam showing your experience even to begin the training. Other entry-level certifications are recommended if you are just beginning your personal trainer career journey

NSCA (National Strength and Conditioning Association) – Another tough yet extremely sought-after certification to get through. NSCA offers a personal trainer certification that enables you to work with not only healthy clients but also special needs clients. Special needs clients include pregnant women, post heart attack and other rehabs, diabetic and many more. Their primary certification is Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and requires a bachelor degree even to get started.

How to get personal trainer certification

When you begin your journey as a personal trainer, deciding on what certification to get is crucial. You could spend months studying for and earning a certification only to find out that your preferred fitness club does not accept it.

Before you go online and enrol, double check which certifications are accepted by the gyms you want to work at.

Once you are settled on which certification you want to invest your time and money in its time to put in the work.

Most certifications allow you to take classes online from the comfort of your own home. You will also get printed materials such as workbooks, practice exams, study guides, etc.

Many schools online provide courses for these certifications, or you can go directly to each certification’s website and enrol there.

Personal trainer certification cost

Below we compiled a handy table to illustrate the costs and minimum requirements of each certification.

  NCCA Accredited COST Retake Fee Primary Education Focus Commitment Time
ACE X $599 $199 Program design, implementation & modification


The test has to be scheduled within 6 months of purchase. Have a total of 9 months to take it


NASM X $799 $200 Exercise technique and training instruction Must complete within 6 months
ISSA $499 $149 Fitness program design


Must complete within 6 months
ACSM X $520 $155 Exercise leadership and client education 6, 12, 18 or 24 months options
NSCA X $712 $435 Exercise techniques Within 4 months of purchasing the exam


As you can see there are many certification paths that you can take when deciding on a certification. As it happens, you likely won’t stop at one certification once you see how much more employable it makes you. Fitness is a dynamic industry where it’s important to keep up with the new techniques, methods and keep learning to stay relevant and competitive.

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