Best Personal Trainer Certification Programs

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Personal trainers teach their clients proper exercise form, design workout programs to help them reach their goals, provide motivation, and educate their clients on proper nutrition and good health habits. Personal trainer certification programs prepare fitness trainers to work with clients who want to improve their health and fitness. Many people, regardless of their experience, can study to become a personal trainer and start to build a career in the health and wellness field. 

Although it is legal to work as a personal trainer without a certification, if you want to advertise yourself as a certified personal trainer (CPT) and gain employment at many major health clubs, it is generally required that you pass a personal trainer exam, preferably one that is accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA).  

We looked at over 10 personal trainer certifications available in the U.S. that, as long as you pass the exam, will certify you as a CPT. Here are the best we found.

Best Personal Trainer Certification Programs for 2021

Best Overall : National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM)

National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM)

National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) 

Why We Chose It: NASM is one of the most respected personal training certifications around. Its thorough study materials and well-designed exam make it the best choice for any serious personal trainer.

What We Like:
  • Well-known and respected

  • Thorough study materials

  • Interest-free payment plans

What We Don’t Like:
  • Expensive

  • Recertification is costly

  • $199 to retest

A well-known program, NASM focuses on corrective exercise and teaching you the skills you need to be a successful personal trainer. It offers many different options when it comes to study materials including a self-study option, a premium self-study option, and a guided study program. The guided study program includes a 10-week instructor-led course and the all-inclusive option includes all the other bonuses that NASM offers. 

If you already have experience in the fitness industry or have taken other courses, the self-study option is a great choice. It includes their online course, exam fee, digital textbook, learning videos, and practice exams and quizzes for $559. The other options range from $769-$1,559 and include things like additional study materials, guided study courses, a 90-day job guarantee, and the option to retest for free. It costs $99 to recertify every two years and you will need to accumulate 2.0 continuing education units (CEUs) to be eligible. NASM often runs special promotions and you can find discount codes online to decrease the cost. 

NASM is accredited by the NCCA and recognized by all major gyms. Like all other NCCA-accredited exams, it requires a high school diploma and CPR certification. It has great reviews online from those who have completed the certification, and reviews mention their excellent customer service.

Best for Basic Certification : American Council on Exercise (ACE)

American Council on Exercise (ACE)

 American Council on Exercise (ACE)

Why We Chose It: ACE is a well-rounded certification that teaches all the basics of working with clients.

What We Like:
  • Can take the exam at home

  • Engaging study program

  • Many CEU offerings

What We Don’t Like:
  • High recertification cost at $139 every two years

  • Retest fee is $24

ACE personal training certification is a great choice for any personal trainer just starting out or those looking to expand their credentials. It is similar to NASM in many ways and has multiple options when it comes to choosing your study materials. Their basic package is $509 and includes access to their online study materials, cost of the exam, one practice test, and a digital textbook and study companion. Their other options include additional study materials and support and range from $599-$899. If you fail the test the first time you can retake it for $249. 

Their program is comprehensive and includes everything you need to know to start training clients. Their program focuses on behavior modification and coaching strategies so you can work with clients with a variety of different goals. We liked that they have the option to take the exam at home through a remote proctor, which saves you the hassle of making an appointment at a testing center. You must recertify every two years and accumulate 2.0 CEUs to qualify. 

Their recertification is more expensive than other certifications, costing $139, but their variety of additional certifications and CEU courses is great to help you improve your skills and attract new clients. 

This certification is recognized by all major gyms and is well-known in the fitness community. Like the others, it is accredited by NCCA. Reviews are generally positive and their customer service is easily accessible online.

Best Low-Cost Certification : Action Personal Trainer Certification

Action Personal Trainer Certification

 Action Personal Trainer Certification

Why We Chose It: We chose Action as the best for low-cost certification because it gives you access to an NCCA-accredited exam at a very reasonable price as compared to other options.

What We Like:
  • Option to take NCCA-accredited exam

  • Lowest-cost option

  • Easy-to-use app

What We Don’t Like:
  • Not well-known

  • Limited customer support

  • Designed for entry-level personal trainers

  • Limited CEU courses

Action Personal Trainer Certification will give you all the skills needed to train, educate, and motivate personal training clients. It was accredited by NCCA in 2014, making it one of the newer certifications around, and it’s a good choice if you are a self-employed personal trainer, already have other fitness certifications, or prefer to study at your own pace. 

Their learning resources are available through an app, and you can purchase a hardcover textbook to accompany your learning. Learning materials range from $99-$249 and purchase is not required to take the exam. If you have a background in fitness or have a related college degree, you may not need the exam preparation materials, but they are recommended to properly prepare to take the exam and start working as a personal trainer. Their platinum plan costs $249 and includes free recertification for life, online CPR training, and free advanced nutrition certification. 

You must take your exam at a Prometric testing site and the registration fee for the exam is $99. Their basic option does not include an NCCA-accredited exam and is therefore not recognized by major gyms. Additionally, the exam is not as research-based as other certifications we reviewed, but this is likely because it is designed for the entry-level personal trainer. 

Reviews online state that the study materials are inconsistent and there is little information about the recertification process. Since it is not well-known, it may not be immediately recognized as reputable by fitness employers.

Best Online : International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA)

International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA)

 International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA)

Use code BALANCE20 for 20% off the ISSA Certified Personal Trainer program

Why We Chose It: ISSA can be completed 100% online and you can take the test from the comfort of your own home. 

What We Like:
  • Study materials and exam are all online

  • Great customer service

  • Complimentary retest

What We Don’t Like:
  • NCCA-accredited exam must be taken separately

  • No live instruction

  • More expensive than others

International Sports Sciences Association, or ISSA, is a personal training certification that is a balance of all aspects of fitness, nutrition, and exercise for special population groups. Since its inception in 1988, it has been certifying trainers from all over the world. This program is Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC)-accredited, which is similar to NCCA but less well-known. The ISSA CPT certification is well respected in the fitness community and recognized by many employers. 

ISSA has two study programs to choose from. Their basic program is $799 and includes an online textbook and course materials, a 10-week study guide, audio lectures, practice exams, job guarantee, and online support. Their fast-track program is only four weeks long and includes unlimited retests so you can keep taking the exam until you pass. The ISSA exam is open book and completed in the comfort of your home, which is great for those who are not comfortable taking exams. 

Unlike other programs, there is no option for live instruction, but reviews online state that the study materials are thorough and organized. You can also join their professional forum where you can ask other trainers and students for help. Like other certifications, you need 2.0 CEUs to renew every two years and the renewal fee is $99. However, if you take your CEUs through ISSA, the fee is waived.

It’s important to note that the online ISSA CPT exam is not NCCA-accredited. If you need this as a requirement for work then you must complete the NCCA-accredited exam at a Prometric testing site. It is included with their study packages or can be purchased on its own for $599.

Best In-Person : National Federation of Professional Trainers (NFPT)

National Federation of Professional Trainers (NFPT)

 National Federation of Professional Trainers (NFPT)

Why We Chose It: NFPT offers in-person two-day workshops to prepare you to take the exam and give you hands-on practice and support. 

What We Like:
  • In-person programs

  • Free CEUs for recertification

  • Discounts and financing available

What We Don’t Like:
  • Less recognized than other companies

  • Expensive

  • Must renew every year

National Federation of Professional Trainers (NFPT) offers a personal training certification program that is NCCA-accredited, comprehensive, and available in a two-day weekend format. The NFPT program covers all the basics of personal training including anatomy and physiology, fitness testing, stretching techniques, nutrition, and legal and professional practices. 

The cost of the weekend course and certification is $728 and includes exam fees, study materials, and more. You also have the option to complete the program at home, and packages start at $199 for the exam only or $349 for the exam, study materials, practice tests, and other resources. You are now able to take the exam at home with a remote proctor and if you cannot attend a workshop, you can view the videos online. They offer financing options and discounts for military, civil servants, and club staff. 

You must renew your certification every year and obtain 2.0 CEUs. The benefit of this program is that CEUs are free and can be obtained in many different ways. NFPT has been accredited by NCCA since 2005 but is less well-known by employers, so it's recommended to check with your future employer before pursuing this certification.  

Customer reviews state that the program is quite basic compared to others on the list and is best for trainers who are just starting out and looking to gain some basic knowledge. The exam is relatively easy to pass but the program may not prepare you to start working as a trainer right away.

Best for Continuing Education : American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM)

American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM)

 American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM)

Why We Chose It: ACSM offers many forms of continuing education credits including their annual conference, where you can obtain all the CEUs you need to renew. 

What We Like:
  • Established in 1954

  • Certification valid for three years

  • Educational annual conference

What We Don’t Like:
  • Study packages are confusing

  • Challenging exam

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) is one of the most prominent exercise science and sports medicine organizations and emphasizes corrective exercise. They have been around since 1954 so they are well-recognized in the fitness industry and by potential employers. It’s best for those who have previous experience, want to work in a healthcare setting, want a widely recognized NCCA-accredited certification on their resume, or are planning to specialize and build on their skills in the future.

ACSM offers many different options for study materials so you can choose what is best for you based on your prior knowledge and experience. Their study materials are not particularly interactive but they do offer an e-book and online practice tests. They also offer one- or three-day workshops or a six-day webinar series for those who prefer in-person learning. 

To study for the exam, you can purchase one or more of the resources available on their website. The personal trainer study kit is $206.76 and includes all recommended books to prepare you for the exam. You must then purchase the exam separately for $349 and schedule to take it at a testing site near you or register for live remote proctoring so you can take the exam at home. They also offer online practice tests and a Facebook study group so you can connect with other trainers and students. 

Reviews online state that it is one of the most challenging exams to pass and it is geared toward those working with special populations or in a healthcare setting. They have several advanced certifications to choose from if you want to further develop your skills as a trainer. Certification is good for three years and you must obtain 45 CEUs to recertify.

Final Verdict

Overall, all certifications reviewed give you the option to take an NCCA-accredited exam, require a high school diploma and CPR certification, and will give you a basic understanding of fitness training, program design, behavior modification, nutrition, and best practices to follow as a personal trainer. Some certifications like NFPT or ACSM offer in-person seminars or online workshops, and all of them offer self-study guides and relevant study materials so you can work at your own pace. It can take four weeks to six months to prepare for the exam depending on your prior education and experience. 

Each company has many options when it comes to study packages and ways to prepare for the exam. Some certifications allow you to register for the exam without purchasing the study guides while others like NASM and ACE require you to purchase the entire package. Your total financial commitment ranges from $99-$1,559 so it’s best to choose one that aligns closely with your goals and career aspirations.

Compare Providers

Best Personal Training Certification Programs
Personal Training Certification Program  Category Cost
National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) Best Overall  Study programs range from $559-$1,559
American Council on Exercise (ACE) Best for Basic Certification Study programs range from $599-$899
Action Personal Trainer Certification Best Low-Cost Certification  $99 for exam only;  $99-$249 for study materials
International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA) Best Online  $599 for exam only;  $799 for exam and study materials
National Federation of Professional Trainers (NFPT)   Best In-Person  $199 for exam only;  $349-$748 for exam and study materials 
American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) Best For Continuing Education $349 for exam only;  $79-$207 for study materials

FAQs

What Is a Personal Trainer Certification Program? 

A personal training certification program is a course you can take that will give you the title of Certified Personal Trainer (CPT) so that you can obtain employment as a personal trainer and establish yourself as a respected member of the fitness community. They are designed to provide you with the basic knowledge you need to start working with clients and gain real-world experience as a fitness professional. 

Is It Worth Getting a Personal Trainer Certification? 

Yes. Most fitness clubs or healthcare facilities require an NCCA-accredited certification to be employed as a certified personal trainer. If you are looking to work for yourself, being designed at a CPT can help you get affordably priced liability insurance and advertise yourself as a qualified trainer. 

What Does a Personal Trainer Certification Program Include? 

Most programs include a variety of study resources such as textbooks, practice tests, and online learning. Many also include the fee to sit for the exam when ready. 

How Much Does a Personal Trainer Certification Program Cost? 

Personal training certification programs cost between $99 and $1,559 depending on what study materials and extra resources you need to prepare for the exam. In-person courses may cost more than online ones, and you may need to pay for travel to attend the courses, which also increases the cost. 

What Are the Different Types of Personal Trainer Certifications?

NCCA is the major accrediting body for Personal Trainer Certification exams. Most major workplaces require this as a prerequisite to apply for a job as a CPT. There are many certifications online, such as the American Sports and Fitness Association Personal Training Certification, that are not NCCA-accredited, and although some may be reputable and full of useful information, they may not be recognized as acceptable forms of certification if you want to work for a gym or healthcare facility. 

Methodology

We looked at over 10 personal trainer certification programs available in the U.S. We decided to only review certifications that include an NCCA-accredited exam as this is the gold standard when it comes to personal training programs. Programs included must have an option to purchase study materials online, and we looked at those that offered both self-study options and in-person learning. 

All of our choices offered comprehensive programs with a variety of delivery methods to help students achieve their CPT designation.

Article Sources

  1. Institute for Credentialing Excellence. “Accreditation.” Accessed Jan. 27, 2021.