There’s no shortage of programs offering a personal trainer certificate. However, to ensure that you get your money’s worth, you really want to choose a program with a high pedigree, such as one of the five training certification courses listed below.
These programs are all lead by venerable fitness institutions, combining cutting-edge fitness science and methodologies with the convenience of distance learning. Additionally, many include professional guidance, internship placements and other assistance to get you out of the classroom quickly—and into your first fitness training position. Here’s a closer look at some of the best personal trainer certifications available today.
1. International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA)
The International Sports Sciences Association is another option, particularly for those students who require distance education. The ISSA bills itself as “the trainer’s trainer,” offering a huge variety of self-paced distance courses in many different fitness and health-related topics. They even have an Associate’s Degree program in Exercise Science, for those interested in improving their knowledge.
The Personal Trainer Certificate, while not an undergraduate degree, nonetheless provides fitness instructors and trainers with the skills they need to provide comprehensive fitness training.
- Curriculum. ISSA’s personal trainer certification is built around the philosophical and scientific aspects of fitness—anatomy, health assessment, and movement principles—with an eye toward applying those skills in a practical, day-to-day environment. Therefore, the curriculum also includes sections on business management and marketing, as well as tailoring programs to meet the diverse requirements and needs of clients. Coursework is self-paced and students receive a dedicated student success coach to help them whenever needed.
- Prerequisites and Eligibility Requirements. The self-paced curriculum is divided into practice quizzes, which will not affect your overall score. However, completion of all quizzes is required. Candidates must be 18 years of age but do not need a high school diploma or equivalent. Students are required to have a valid CPR/AED/First Aid Certification, which can be purchased online through ISSA.
- Testing. The ISSA exam is an untimed, open-book test available online. If you don’t pass the first time, ISSA provides you with a free retest option. You can find out more information about courses and testing by downloading the Certification Course Catalog.
- Continuing Education and Career Resources. Students who pass ISSA’s final exam are set up with a FREE professional website to kick-start your career and market yourself as a health and fitness pro. ISSA also offers a wide range of additional certification programs and continuing education courses, covering everything from nutrition to online coaching. For a limited time, take 20% off ISSA certification when using promo code FT20.
2. The National Council on Strength & Fitness (NCSF)
The National Council on Strength & Fitness (NCSF) is a globally recognized organization for exercise professionals. The certification program is accredited in the United States (NCCA) and Europe (EA) offering certification at over 1000 testing sites in 83 countries worldwide. Exercise professionals can specialize in personal training, strength & conditioning as well as sports and fitness nutrition. The accredited programs can be taken anywhere in the World online using the NCSF easy-learning system and remote testing platform. Additionally, the certification programs are offered through hundreds of colleges and universities across the U.S. The certifications are internationally portable to countries with register systems for exercise professionals including the United States, Canada, Europe, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, and India representing over a quarter-million professionals.
- Curriculum. The curriculum is developed based on a Job Task Analysis for personal trainers which reflects both the U.S. and international standards. The Personal Trainer program utilizes self-guided (online) or guided instruction (workshops, training schools, and colleges) to teach this curriculum which includes physical evaluations and testing, result-based training methodologies, programming models for varied population segments, nutrition and weight management, and advanced instruction in resistance training, corrective exercise, flexibility, and aerobic fitness. Student knowledge and skill development follow logically sequenced learning modules with interactive, engaging videos and study tools that culminate in the successful completion of the certification exam.
- Prerequisites and Eligibility Requirements. In order to take the NCSF-CPT exam, you must be 18 or older, have a high school diploma (or equivalent). CPR/AED is required once certified.
- Testing. Examinations can be taken online or at a local testing center when ready, through the organization’s on-demand testing service.
- Continuing Education and Career Resources. NCSF offers a career center and placement assistance through our corporate partners as well as trainer’s tools through the NCSF App. For continued education the NCSF offers workshops, online courses, and home study programs. Additionally, Certified Personal Trainers can move on to become a Certified Strength and Conditioning Coach and/or Nutrition Specialist.
3. Fitness Mentors – Personal Training and Online Personal Training Certifications
Fitness Mentors is leading the industry in preparing trainers for the future and new-aged fitness landscape. It is more important than ever to have trainers understand both in-person training and virtual/online personal training. With all courses and testing being 100% online, this option stands out for those that want to train clients privately, in the gym, and online, providing education that helps set up all forms of fitness businesses. For the trainer that knows they want to train online, we highly recommend their Ultimate Online Training Bundle that includes their Online Personal Training Certification, Virtual Nutrition Coach Certification, Virtual Group Fitness Instructor Certification and Virtual Health Coach Certification.
- Curriculum. Fitness Mentors Personal Trainer Certification and Online Trainer Certification focus on the exercise science principles that lead to effective fitness programming to help clients achieve a variety of health goals including, fat loss, muscle gain/hypertrophy, strength improvement for athletes, and endurance for the general population and endurance athletes. What I find most unique is their emphasis on the best business, marketing, and sales techniques that show you how to start and run a personal training business and online personal training business from the ground up. The course work is self-paced and includes a personal fitness mentor to aid you in the study process.
- Prerequisites and Eligibility Requirements. The standard CPR/AED certification is a prerequisite to earning your certification, but the test can be taken prior to obtaining CPR/AED. Due to the self-paced nature of the program, the student can test as soon as they feel ready, but Fitness Mentors does provide a four and eight-week study timeline for optimal exam preparation.
- Testing. The Fitness Mentors CPT and Online Trainer Certifications are both taken online and, in your home, with the CPT having a 120-minute time limit to complete the 100 question exam. The CPT boasts one of the highest pass rates in the industry at around 85% success for first-time takers. If you do not pass the exam on your first try, a free retest is available if you go with their Pro Package. You can learn more about their test at the bottom of this page here.
- Continuing Education and Career Resources. One of the best resources in the Fitness Mentors Curriculum is the Facebook and Instagram Success module, covering how to get clients through these platforms. This is unique to FM and not offered by other certifications, setting FM apart as the leader in Online Client acquisition. Fitness Mentors also offers a wide array of additional certifications for trainers that want to focus on nutrition, sports nutrition, nutrition coaching, special populations, business and sales, pain management, group fitness, and health coaching. Fitness Mentors has provided our readers with a special discount of 20% off all courses using coupon code FitnessTrainer20.
4. American Council on Exercise (ACE)
The American Council on Exercise (ACE) empowers trainers and fitness experts with one simple directive: get people moving. The training course and resources are built on that straightforward foundation, offering teaching that meets clients at their level, whether that means a walk in the park or a high-performance triathlon.
And that singular mission seems to have results; the personal trainer program boasts over 53,000 graduates, with over one million client sessions all over the globe. ACE offers separate certification programs for Personal Trainers, Group Fitness Instructors, Health Coaches and Medical Exercise Specialists. The personal training program consists of the following:
- Curriculum. The curriculum for personal trainers revolves around the ACE Integrated Fitness Training® model, which emphasizes customized training programs to meet various individual challenges and goals. The training cycle for each program falls into four phases: function, health, fitness, performance. Each phase emphasizes different aspects of health: mobility and stability training, aerobic exercise, endurance and efficiency training, and more. The ACE certification teaches trainers how to rank clients into one of the four phases, and how to design a customized training program around each group’s goals and abilities.
- Prerequisites and Eligibility Requirements. In order to sit for an exam, candidates must hold a valid CPR/AED certification at time of registration with live skills check (not online only). Candidates must be over 18.
- Testing. The program culminates with an in-person exam covering the lessons outlined in the ACE Academy Elite 2018 guide and the ACE Personal Trainer Manual eBook. Find out more about testing in the free Certification Exam Candidate Handbook.
- Continuing Education and Career Resources. ACE offers a robust library of resources for certified trainers, including recertification programs, a career center, online courses, workshops and events, and live webinars.
5. National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM)
The National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) is a respected organization of sports and fitness professionals. For over thirty years, the academy has been offering training and resources for those involved in the fitness training, with the goal of offering an elite, science-based approach to personal training.
Thanks to that extraordinary pedigree, they have turned out over 190,000 personal training certifications in the last 10 years, making them one of the most popular programs in the industry.
- Curriculum. NASM’s certification relies on the organization’s proprietary Optimum Performance Training™ (OPT™) model. Using the latest scientific research as a basis, the program explores a wide variety of fitness and health predictors, including flexibility, core stabilization, balance, strength, power, and cardiorespiratory endurance. NASM offers both self-guided and guided instruction programs with a digital textbook, video lectures, practice quizzes, exercise library and study guides, designed to help fitness professionals build training routines and guidance that employ evidence-backed research.
- Prerequisites and Eligibility Requirements. In order to become a NASM-CPT, individuals must have earned a high school diploma or GED, and current CPR/AED Certification prior to sitting for the exam.
- Testing. Like all PT certification programs, NASM-CPT candidates must pass the Certified Professional Trainer exam with a grade above the cut score. To learn more about NASM-CPT testing, review the organization’s Candidate Handbook.
- Continuing Education and Career Resources. Trainers who receive certification through the NASM are eligible for placement in their Gymternship™ program, which gives personal trainers hands-on experience, and the potential to earn a permanent spot at a fitness facility. Certificate holders can also continue their education by pursuing the organization’s Advanced Specializations, including courses in Fitness Nutrition, Group Training, Weight Loss Training, Senior Fitness, Women’s Fitness and more. The NASM also hosts live workshops and an annual conference for certified professionals.
* American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM)
The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) is a well-respected professional organization among fitness pros across the globe. ACSM boasts an impressive membership of over 50,000 fitness professionals, with chapters in 90 different countries.
ACSM holds itself and its candidates to what it calls its “gold standard,” which the organization describes as “setting the bar a little bit higher” than other professional organizations/certifications. The organization has a scientifically-minded bent, encouraging members to drive fitness science research forward.
- Curriculum. ACSM’s personal trainer certification courses prepare students for a variety of different fitness settings, including gyms, universities, and other fitness facilities. The curriculum is a combination of practical knowledge and scientific research, instructing students to create individual training programs for individuals across all walks of life.
- Prerequisites and Eligibility Requirements. In order to take the ACSM PTC exam, you must be 18 or older, have a high school diploma (or equivalent) and hold an adult CPR/AED Certification.
- Testing. All exams are scheduled with Pearson VUE, and covers the information outlined in the Personal Training Exam Content Outline.
- Continuing Education and Career Resources. ACSM offers many opportunities for advanced learning and professional development, including recertification programs, regular events and conferences, and several specialist certifications for working with special populations.
* National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA)
As you might imagine, the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) focuses primarily on strength and conditioning training. Their CPT course prepares future fitness professionals to assess, motivate, educate and train clients using an individual approach. With research-backed course materials, this certification is a good fit for anyone pursuing a future in fitness training.
- Curriculum. The NSCA CPT exam covers four main areas: Client Consultation/Fitness Assessment, Program Planning, Exercise Techniques, and Safety/Emergency Issues. These topics cover how to assess client needs based on health history, fitness level and nutrition. They also teach students how to design a comprehensive training program using client goals as a benchmark. They also address special needs clients, and teach students how to train clients safely and how to respond to emergency issues.
- Prerequisites and Eligibility Requirements. In order to sit for the NSCA CPT exam, candidates must be at least 18 years old and hold a high school diploma or equivalent. Candidates must also hold a current CPR and AED certification.
- Testing. The exam consists of 140 scored questions and 15 non-scored multiple-choice questions, covering material outlined in the NSCA Certification Handbook.
- Continuing Education and Career Resources. The NSCA has many opportunities for continued studies, including additional training programs for the Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, Certified Special Population Specialist and Tactical Strength and Conditioning Facilitator. The foundation also produces regular publications and journals. Membership in the NSCA offers access to a job board and career development resources as well.