Published Jun 22, 2022 3:40 PM
Becoming a professional personal trainer requires the proper certification, and finding the best personal trainer certification programs means looking for in-depth education and training on technical topics such as anatomy and physiology. Not only an occupation for fitness buffs, personal trainers need to be able to motivate, sell themselves and their services, and offer clients individualized physical and technical guidance and training.
With our increasingly sedentary lifestyles, employment and demand for personal trainers is projected to grow in the next decade. While working out at home has been a popular trend for years, people turned toward home fitness in skyrocketing numbers as home offices became the new normal due to closings and safety concerns. Home fitness equipment, fitness trackers, and at-home gym sales have soared as more people take charge of their workouts and fitness goals. Despite this shift (and maybe because of it), people need consultation from personal trainers to teach them proper techniques, avoid injury, design workout routines, and track fitness goals. The best personal trainer certifications will provide you with all the technical training you need to help meet your clients’ needs no matter where they choose to work out.
How we chose the best personal trainer certifications
We arrived at our selections by reviewing seven top-rated personal training certification programs. Specifically, we reviewed personal training certifications from the National Academy of Sports Medicine NASM; Fitness Mentors FM; The American Council of Exercise ACE; National Strength and Conditioning Association NSCA; Action Personal Trainer Certification APTC; National Federation of Personal Trainers NFPT; and Athletics and Fitness Association of America AFAA. We compared and considered the following for each certification:
- Cost: How expensive is the personal trainer certification? Are there hidden fees or is the program all-inclusive?
- Features: What education and training tools does the program offer? How does the platform prepare you for your exam and career?
- Flexibility: How long do you have to study before your exam? Can you learn online and in person?
- Networking opportunities: Does the certification company offer opportunities to connect with peers and potential clients?
- Continuing Education: Does the company offer CE classes to maintain your certification?
- User impressions: How do actual customers rate the personal training certification?
Things to consider before pursuing a personal trainer certification
With no shortage of personal trainer programs on the market, it’s important to find a personal training certification program that not only is reputable but that works with your goals and lifestyle. Not all personal training programs are the same so you’ll want to consider the following before you decide to enroll:
- Accreditation: It’s important to choose a personal trainer certification program that is accredited. This means, the program has been reviewed by the NCCA, NBFE, or, if the program is remote, by DEAC. Knowing that your program’s curriculum is offering the most up-to-date instruction is also important if you will be working for gyms or health clubs, as most require certifications that are accredited.
- Price: How expensive is the program? Larger remote-only programs might be very affordable as compared to programs offered on-site at private studios. What is included in the program fee?
- Program reputation: How popular is the personal trainer certification program? Is the company well known and respected?
- Testing: Certifications require passing their test. How many hours will you be required to study? How many questions are on their test? Is there a retake fee if you fail and need to take the exam again? Check out the passing rate for the program you are interested in.
- CEU requirements: In order to maintain your certification, you’ll be required to take CEU classes, so how many Continuing Education Units must be taken each year?
- Income and jobs: Does the program offer assistance in finding jobs or clients? How are the average incomes of certification holders in the program compared to other programs?
- Focus: Does the personal trainer certification program focus more on one aspect of the education than another? Does that focus match your interests?
The best personal trainer certifications: Reviews & Recommendations
Best overall: National Academy of Sports Medicine
Why it made the cut: NASM is our choice for best overall personal trainer certification because of their well-respected, rigorous curriculum, accreditation, and internship program that gives trainers hands-on training, as well as job placement opportunities.
- Accreditation: NCCA National Commission for Certifying Agencies
- Course package options: Choose Basic Self-Study, Premium Self-Study, Guided Study, All-Inclusive or Combine with other Certifications (such as Nutrition Coach) in Bundle Packages
- Learning platform: Online Digital Learning
- Innovative Curriculum uses the latest scientific research
- Higher-tier packages offer a money-back job guarantee
- You’ve got 180 days to complete and pass exam
- Exam offered online or in-person
- Certification course offered online only
- Basic program has limited features
- Expensive for top-tier access
The National Academy of Sports Medicine, or NASM, offers multiple options for online personal trainer certification, which are tiered according to price and features. The fees for certification can be paid in a lump sum or split up into an interest-free payment plan over 18 months, which makes this easier to afford.
Depending on your needs, you can opt for a very affordable basic certification that gives you access to all learning, as well as one exam. If you are looking for added support and guarantees, you can opt for the all-inclusive package that includes retesting, job guarantee, CPR/AED Certification, a “Gymternship” program, as well as the ability to recertify for life. You’ll have to complete 2.0 CE credits—equivalent to 20 hours of training every 2 years—to keep an active certification, which ensures you will stay up to date on innovations in the field.
All tiers of this certification require online learning; there are no options to take a class in person with teachers. The exam, however, is flexible—you can opt to take it online or in person at one of their testing sites.
Best online: Fitness Mentors
Why it made the cut: Fitness Mentors is our top choice for online because this accredited, all-online certification program was designed specifically for trainers who want to learn and work online and includes useful online marketing training.
- Curriculum: Exercise science, business, marketing, and sales education
- Remote learning: All courses and testing are online
- High success rate: The exam passing rate is 85% for first-time takers, one of the highest pass rates in the industry
- Lower cost compared to other accredited certifications
- Accredited by NCCA
- Lower exam retake fee
- No in-person learning opportunities
Fitness Mentors, or FM, is an affordable online-only program for personal trainer certification. They also offer bundle packages if you want to add on other online certifications, such as virtual nutrition coach, virtual group fitness, or virtual health coach. Compared to other leaders in the field, FM has a shorter test and a higher rate of passing than other accredited certification programs.
While it’s common to obtain certifications online, this program offers no options for in-person or internships. This makes a good choice for fitness trainers that want to work remotely or are comfortable without any in-person resources. Included in the training are online business training and marketing to help you get started obtaining clients virtually.
Best physical (in-person): National Federation of Professional Trainers
Why it made the cut: NFPT is our top choice for a program with physical participation because you can opt to do your certification (or CE credits) by attending a two-day workshop in person.
- Accreditation: NCCA
- Continuing Education credits: CE credits required for maintenance of certification are free
- Flexible: Get your certification online or by attending in-person workshops
- Inexpensive for online-only option
- Live Remote Proctoring with virtual proctor from home for exam
- Discount for Civil Servants and health club staff
- In-person workshops are limited and not offered in every state
- Workshops with certifications will cost more
National Federation of Professional Trainers offers students a comprehensive certification package that includes free continuing education credits, free exam testing, interest-free financing options, as well as the opportunity to learn in person by joining two-day workshops.
This certification program is flexible and can be done online or in person. Some people learn best with hands-on training, so this is a nice option. Half of your in-person workshop will be in a classroom setting and the other half will be hands-on, which is critical for developing personal training skills.
In terms of cost, this program is very reasonable compared to other leading certification programs. The basic online program is one of the least expensive we reviewed; however, the in-person training plus certification will cost you significantly more. The workshops are limited in location, so travel may be required, which would add to the overall cost.
Best athletic focus: National Strength and Conditioning Association
Why it made the cut: National Strength and Conditioning Association NSCA is our top choice for best personal training certification with an athletic focus because this organization offers comprehensive resources that focus on athletic development.
- Certification options: Not only can you get your Personal Trainer Certification, they also offer many industry-specific certifications, several of which require a bachelor’s degree.
- Professional development: Networking events, special interest groups, local events, volunteer opportunities
- Membership perks: NSCA Journals, Member-only content, free access to NSCA TV
- In-person events and training
- Access to job board
- Robust professional network
- Expensive exam registration fee
National Strength and Conditioning Association, or NSCA, is a membership-based network of professionals that offer training and education content. While they don’t require an annual membership, if you are going to get a certification it makes sense to join as your rates will be lower, therefore paying back your membership fee. There are three levels of membership tiers offering various levels of access: Student, Professional, or CPI (which also includes liability insurance). Membership will give you access to professional development and education content, as well as NSCA TV where you can stream education videos, watch clinics, conferences, career videos, and member-generated content.
NSCA offers a unique selection of certifications with a narrow focus on career-related jobs and knowledge. For example, if you want to work with the military or law enforcement, you can get a tactical strength and conditioning facilitator certification.
Other certifications they offer require a bachelor’s degree in order to qualify.
The NSCA content focus is primarily on training for athletes, as well as career coaches. Certification fees are broken up between exam registration and preparation materials, where you have different tiers of options for studying. They provide helpful tools to help decide which certification makes sense for you based on real-world career goals.
Best budget: Action Personal Trainer Certification
Why it made the cut: Action Personal Trainer Certification made our top choice for budget because the program cost is the lowest that we reviewed. APTC allows you to register for a basic inexpensive course for $99 and/or register for the exam for a separate low $99 fee.
- Prepare for two options: Prepare for NCCA accredited ACTION-PT certification or just earn an online Certificate in Personal Training
- Tiered learning: Choose from basic training to a more comprehensive Platinum level which includes simulations and practical training courses
- Free trial: Register to try Action Personal Training for free for 10 weeks
- Mobile app allows you to learn on the go
- Basic plan doesn’t include a lot of training or test prep
- No phone support offered
- Separate registration is required for exam, with a $99 fee
- No job placement
Action Personal Trainer Certification is a budget affordable option that is best for self-motivated students that don’t need any hands-on training. The company allows you to only register for the NCCA accredited Action Personal Trainer Certification Exam for $99 without purchasing any study guides. There is no guarantee, so this would only make sense for those who have obtained education and training for the exam in other methods.
The tiered education courses are all self-directed with no in-person or phone support. They are very affordable, ranging from $99 to $250. The company also provides affordable insurance for personal trainers that will cover working with clients in multiple locations, including at home, gyms, online, or outdoors.
Q: How much does personal training certification cost?
Personal training certification costs can vary widely between organizations, depending largely on the amount and type of exam preparation you need and the additional resources and guarantees they offer. The least expensive we reviewed was Action Personal Trainer Certification, where one exam with bare minimum preparation will cost you about $200 and there are no guarantees associated with this certification. Most other certifications will cost between $400 and upward of $1,000. Be sure to understand what is included; not every program includes the exam registration fee and some have additional retake fees if you fail the certification exam the first time. Many certifications offer tiers where you can decide which features and benefits are important to you, as well as take advantage of interest-free payment plans. Continuing education CE is required every two years to maintain active certification; some outlets offer tiers of membership where these additional classes are included in the overall fee structure.
Q: How much does NASM personal training certification cost?
NASM personal training certification will cost between $674 to $1,889, or $32 to $99 a month with their finance plan. They offer four options that vary in price and perks: Basic, Premium Self-Study, Guided Study, and All-Inclusive. At the time of publication, these were the current rates available on the nasm.org website. Keep an eye out for promotions and deals, as they will help lower overall costs. If you are interested in multiple certifications, NASM offers a lot of bundle deals that make these more affordable.
Q: What other certifications should a personal trainer have?
Personal trainers should consider other certifications on top of their accredited personal trainer certification, depending on their career goals and interest. Having multiple certifications may make you more desirable, as it will give you more expertise to offer clients. For example, personal trainers can also become certified nutrition coaches, sports nutrition coaches, wellness coaches, group fitness instructors, stretching and flexibility coaches, or explore corrective exercise specialization, behavior change specialization, performance enhancement specialization, and weight loss specialization to name just a few.
Final thoughts on the best personal trainer certifications
The most important decision in becoming a personal trainer is finding a well-suited, accredited certification program that works with your individual career goals. NASM is our top pick for best personal trainer certification because of their reputation in the industry as well as their combination of remote and in-person opportunities. NASM not only prepares you for a personal trainer career but will guarantee job placement.