Personal training has long been seen as a dream job for fitness enthusiasts. After all, who wouldn’t want to set their own hours and make a great deal of money while working in a place where they already spend a great deal of their time.
Unfortunately, while the selling points are definitely great, becoming a personal trainer is not as easy as just scouring a local gym for people willing to pay you to train them. In order to do it effectively and legally, you need to fist get certified in the industry, to prove you know what you are doing.
This is where things can get tricky, as a quick look online will bring up a host of different providers offering personal training qualifications, each claiming to be the best. For people just getting started in the industry, it is impossible to know which ones are truly great, and which should be avoided.
Luckily, it is a little easier for those of us already in the industry to tell the good from the bad. That’s why we have done the hard work for you.
In the following article on the best personal training certification to get in 2023, we will lay out all of the best options available, to ensure everyone can find the perfect option to help them take their first steps in the fun and financially rewarding world of fitness.
What To Look For In A Personal Training Certification
Before you begin looking at the individual personal training certifications themselves, we will take a look at what to look for in a personal training certification. This will ensure that you have all of the knowledge required to make the right decision for you.
Accreditation & Popularity
Certifications should be recognized and respected by an accrediting body, such as the NCAA, rather than just awarding you with a certificate of program completion. This ensures that once you are certified, you will actually be able to gain employment in the industry.
Likewise, the popularity of a course affects how many companies and regulatory bodies recognise it. The more popular a course is, the more job opportunities you will have open to you and the more desirable you will be to potential employers, giving you a significant edge over the competition.
Course Cost & Retake Fees
Personal training certifications can be quite expensive, particularly if you take your course with the top companies. This can be very prohibitive to people shopping on a tighter budget, so make sure you fully understand the cost involved with each course, before you spend time analysing it further.
This even extends to retake fees. Some certifications will allow you one or more free retakes if you fail the final exam, while others will charge you for the very first test. Make sure you factor all of these aspects in when determining the total price of each course.
Accessibility & Quality Of Study Materials
Many personal training certifications rely heavily on self-study, which is becoming more and more prevalent all the time. Unfortunately, this often means they won’t even have a facility to take your practical test in, so you will have to find a gym that will allow you to do it yourself.
To make your life as easy as possible, try to look for a provider who allows you to test on campus, at work, or at a nearby testing center.
Studying in your own time also means modern certifications often come with less study materials than they used to. If you want to give yourself the best chance of success, look out for the courses that come with a good amount of high quality resources, to give you plenty of help along the way.
Length & Primary Focus
Personal training certifications can run from anything as little as a few days to months or even years. If you are in a hurry to get started with your new profession as quickly as possible, make sure you find a course which has a length that aligns with your own timeframe.
Don’t focus solely on the length of the course though, as the syllabus can vary quite substantially from one certification to another as well.
While certifications with a broad focus will be ok for many, if you plan to go down a specific specialist route after you are qualified, make sure your chosen course gives you the certifications that are required to do so.
Customer Service & Industry Advocacy
An often overlooked aspect of choosing a personal training certification is that you should make sure to search for and select a company that you can trust.
Make sure that you select one who offers consultation with every interaction, always gets back to you quickly, and gives you all you need to complete your course as quickly and smoothly as possible.
Your chosen provider should also advocate for the industry and the professionals who are working in it. If they don’t, it should be seen as a major red flag, and you should try to avoid them at all costs.
Supporting Exam Preparation & Analytic Support
If you want to be as successful as possible, look for exam study resources that give you access to self-paced learning and real-world application of job tasks and concepts. This will ensure that you aren’t just “book smart” and can actually work effectively in the industry once you are certified.
You also want to make sure there is plenty of analytic support available as well. Your certification company should be able to give you plenty of insights to help improve your learning, performance, and overall experience throughout the duration of the course.
Exam Layout, Difficulty, Passing Grade & Pass Rate
The difficulty, layout, passing grade, and pass rate can all vary greatly from one qualification to another. When looking at a course, you need to think about things like how you personally like to learn, what sort of tests you are good at, and how important it is that you pass quickly or first time.
Having a clear picture of all of these aspects will make choosing the ideal personal training certification for you considerably easier.
Multiple Credentialing Opportunities & High Income Potential
When selecting your course, look for a provider who can help you “stack” credentials or earn more than one certification to validate an expanded skill set. This will not only expand your knowledge but also your potential job opportunities and income potential.
The 9 Best Personal Training Certifications In 2023
Now that you know what to look for in a course, we will move on to examining the 9 best personal training certifications in 2023. While they are all great options, each can vary greatly from the next, meaning each option has the potential to be perfectly suited to a particular type of person.
NASM stands for National Academy Of Sports Medicine and is an educational program that is made to teach and certify fitness professionals in the industry. Their science-based strategies add a unique value to the programs and certifications they run, which have been used by millions of people.
NASM is connected to thousands of gyms and fitness club chains around the world, to ensure help is always available to educate and certify fitness professionals in their numerous fields. It is a fabulous company for those who prefer a more scientific approach to muscular development and training.
The most popular certification they run is for personal trainers, which sees them get the knowledge they require to begin training customers or start your own personal training business. It concludes with an in-depth exam, to ensure you have fully understood everything you have learned.
They also offer a variety of educational courses to help expand your knowledge and career prospects that are suitable for everyone from newly qualified instructors to seasoned fitness professionals. The range of programs they run is extensive and includes:
- Nutrition Certification (CNC)
- Certified Sports Nutrition Coach (CSCertified Wellness Coach (CWC)
- Corrective Exercise Specialization (CES)
- Stretching and Flexibility Coach (SFC)
- Weight Loss Specialization (WLS)
- Performance Enhancement Specialization (PES)
- Home Gym Design Specialization (HGD)
- Virtual Coaching Specialization (VCS)
- Behaviour Change Specialization (BCS)
- Group Personal Training Specialization (GPTS)
- Women’s Fitness Specialization (WFS)
- Senior Fitness Specialization (SFS)
- Youth Exercise Specialization (YES)
- MMA Conditioning Specialization (MMA)
- Golf Fitness Specialization(GFS)
Requirements to begin the NASM certification are fairly minimal, with people only requiring a high school diploma, CPR certification, and AED certification. It is, however, an option better suited to those with a higher budget. The available pricing options include:
- Self-Study: $44/month or $899/year
- Premium Self-Study: $44/month or $1199/year
- Guided Study: $57/month or $1599/year
- All-Inclusive: $144/month or $2699/year
There is even a NASM Elite program available for people who want to continue expanding their knowledge and really push themselves to the max.
- NASM certified personal trainers earn more annually on average than those who certify with many of the competitors
- Different levels of expertise and various specialised courses ensure that both beginners and experienced trainers are able to find courses to help them deepen their knowledge and further their career
- NASM certification is recognized and accredited by the NCAA.
- There is minimal focus on athletic performance training
- NASM certification is usually more expensive than many of the competing companies
- The extremely rigorous curriculum means NASM has a lower exam pass rate
- Neither the hardcopy book nor certification retest option is included in the lowest pricing model, which potentially makes it even more expensive
- Certified Personal Trainer
- Corrective Exercise Specialization
- Certified Nutrition Coach
- Performance Enhancement Specialization
- Behavior Change Specialization
- Certified Group Fitness Instructor
The American Council On Exercise, better known as ACE, is a nationally recognized, non-profit organization that uses evidence-based research to help people learn how to lead healthy, sustainable lifestyles and lower their risk of developing chronic, inactivity-related diseases.
To begin your ACE certification, you simply have to be 18 years of age or older, have a high school diploma or an equivalent qualification, hold a current CPR/AED certification with a live skills check, and be able to present a current government-issued photo ID, complete with a signature.
Beyond the basic personal training certification, ACE courses also give you access to a much broader range of knowledge and qualifications. This includes courses on:
- Behaviour Change
- Cancer Exercise Training
- The BioMechanics Method
- Fitness Nutrition
- Functional Aging
- Functional Aging Group Exercise
- Functional Training
- Orthopaedic Exercise
- Pain-Free MovemenPilates Mat
- Senior Fitness
- Sports Performance
- Weight Management
- Youth Fitness
It is said to be one of the best options for those who prefer studying alone and in their own time, as well as for those who like to discuss the motivation and human aspect of training with their clients.
Unfortunately, it is again one of the more expensive personal training certifications on the market. The current packages available are the Basic, which costs $979 per year, the Plus, which costs $1,149 per year, and the Advantage, which costs $1,729 per year.
- All ACE certification programs and exams are NCCA certified
- The longer you stay with ACE, the less you will have to pay to recertify
- Certified fitness professionals can join an exclusive social platform where you can connect with more than 9,000 ACE Pros, to further expand your knowledge in your own time
- ACE certification gives you access to discounts on top organization and association memberships, athletic apparel, training equipment, and software, to help you continually grow your business.
- You will be added to the USREPS Directory upon certification, enabling you to enjoy access to your credentials digitally
- If you don’t select the highest priced “Advantage” package, you will have to pay to retake the test if you fail on your first try
- Business skills and nutrition training courses are not included in the “Basic” program packag
- ACE is not accredited by REPs, so you will not be qualified to work in the fitness industry in the United Kingdom
- Very little of the course is delivered through in-person teaching, which can make it difficult to learn the proper form on many exercises
As an ACE Certified Pro, you are widely respected as being the most qualified professional to coach clients.
ASFA, also known as American Sports And Fitness, run certification exams that are designed for fitness professionals who already have experience in the field, as well as for aspiring trainers with a very strong background in exercise or strength and conditioning
You only have to pay for the test if you pass, and the pass rate is around 70%. This makes it a very quick and convenient way to get started in the industry, which comes with very little risk or cost.
While there are recommended study materials to help you earn your certification, you do not have to read them before the test. Likewise, there are no classes or training you have to take before you sit the exam, giving you total freedom over your own career progression.
A popular option for trainers looking to get qualified to begin working in small or local gyms where they already have connections, certifications cost between 99 and $299 dollars per year, depending on your chosen specialization. The specialisations on offer include:
- Personal Traine
- Advanced personal trainer
- Master personal trainer
- Health and wellness coach
- Advanced health and wellness coach
- Master health and wellness coach
- Group fitness and boot camp instructor
- Advanced Group fitness and boot camp instructor
- Water Aerobics instructor
- Advanced Water Aerobics instructor
- Senior fitness instructor
- Advanced senior fitness instructor
- Advanced pilates
- Advanced yoga
- Sports nutrition
- Advanced sport nutrition
- Cycling instructor
- Advanced cycling instructor
- Functional fitness training
- Dance fitness and hip hop aerobics
- Self-defense instructor
- Kettlebell instructor
- Sport-specific training
- Youth fitness training
- Running coach
- Speed and agility instructor
- Stretching instructor
- Women’s fitness instructor
- Bodyweight training
- Step aerobics and cardio kickboxing
- Martial arts fitness instructor
- Tai Chi
- Tactical fitness instructor
- Core fitness training
- Health club and gym manager
- Olympic and powerlifting coach
- Competition bodybuilding training
- Balance and stability instructor
- Golf fitness instructor
- Triathlon coach
- Foam rolling
- Incredibly quick and easy to get certified
- You only have to pay if you pass
- Extremely budget friendly
- You have access to a broad range of certifications
- Not as popular as many other certifications
- The low mark required to pass makes it less respected in the industry
- Limited job options are available, as less companies recognise the certification
Specialize your fitness knowledge by becoming a certified Personal Trainer. Learn about exercise anatomy, correct exercise form, fitness routine design and more.
The ISSA is the short name for the International Sports Sciences Association, who are among the most popular and recognised certifying organizations for personal trainers on Earth. They offer many quality courses, all of which come with ample quantities of detailed study materials.
They offer courses for people of all levels, with their certifications including Certified Personal Trainer, Fitness Coach, Elite Trainer, and Master Trainer. With prices ranging from 69 to 149 dollars per month, they also have options to suit a wide variety of budgets as well.
With averages of 6 months study time, it shouldn’t cost you a fortune and allows you to get qualified relatively quickly, while a 90% pass rate should give you confidence in passing first time. Even if you don’t, retakes cost just $50, and some packages even include free retakes in the price.
There is also plenty of scope to continue expanding your knowledge and qualifications after being certified, as ISSA offer over 200 different specialised courses. These include:
- Corrective Exercise
- DNA Based Fitness Coaching
- Exercise Recovery
- Exercise Therapy
- Gluteal Development
- Group Exercise
- Health Coaching
- Indoor Cycling
- Lifespan Coaching
- Performance Enhancement
- Precision Nutrition
- Online Coaching
- Senior Fitness
- Strength & Conditioning
- Weight Management
- Youth Fitness
- 5 On 5 Training
- High quality training, support, and resources are available
- Exams have a high pass rate of around 90%
- Plenty of time is allowed to complete the courses, but they aren’t dragged out
- Features an untimed, open book exam, which allows the use of study materials
- Priced competitively to most courses of a similar syllabus and stature
- Courses are completed entirely online and at your own pace
- Certification is DEAC accredited and internationally recognised
- Wide variety of CEUs and specialisations allow you to keep extending your learning
- Great support throughout your career
- The core exams are not NCCA accredited, and this requires an additional exam to gain
- Some feel the exams are too easy and will not prepare you for the real world of personal training
- Not as popular or recognized as many similar programs
5. Action Certification
Action Certification run courses designed for people who already have a solid education in exercise and the science of the human body and simply need a certification to allow them to work with clients in the fitness industry.
The course prepares you to become a certified personal trainer with the use of online video classes, as well as practical assignments that must be completed in the real world. This is all delivered on an app that is available on all smart devices, while some packages also include a Kindle textbook.
The carefully designed syllabus gets you prepared for working with both individuals and groups. You will learn how to educate, motivate, and train clients as safely and effectively as possible. You’ll also get access to plenty of practice exams, to ensure you are fully prepared when the real test arrives.
With three pricing options that range between 99 and 249 dollars, there are plenty of options to suit all budgets. Each includes both a physical textbook and digital certification badge, while higher tiers include useful extras like professional business plans, job reference letters, and free recertification.
Most people can complete the course in roughly two months, making it very efficient, although there are no limits if you need more time.
An option to take the test online is available, although this will only get you a “certificate in personal training”, rather than a full accreditation. This is also the case for the bottom tier in general.
In order to get NCAA accreditation and ensure your qualification is recognized by all gyms, giving you the best range of career options, you will need to go with one of the upper two tiers and sit the exam in person at an official location. This will, however, incur an additional $99 test centre fee.
- Upper tiers are fully NCAA accredited
- The price of both the course and test is very affordable and budget friendly
- Features a good range of learning materials, including both physical and digital textbooks, as well as a dedicated app
- Learners can study and test at their own pace
- Some versions of the course include CPR training and a nutrition certificate, as well as extra study materials
- The syllabus isn’t as comprehensive as many other certifications
- Only the top tier includes lifetime certification
- Support is not available via any means other than online
- There are reports of some instances where the NCAA certification obtained is not recognised
The National Federation of Professional Trainers (NFPT) offer a personal training certification by way of an in person, two day course. It may not seem as convenient as doing it online but it is far quicker, fully NCCA accredited, and offers greater support and a more comprehensive, hands on experience.
The course includes all of the basics of personal training, such as human anatomy and physiology, areas of fitness, program development, and personal interaction.
Priced at $728, plus however much it costs to get to the site, NFPT is by no means a cheap course. However, this price does include all exam fees, study materials, and various extras.
For those on a tighter budget, you do have the option to study at home. This will cost you $199 if you only want to take the exam, or $349 if you need the study materials, practice tests, videos, and various other resources as well.
All versions of the course give you the ability to take the exam from home while being observed remotely by an assessor. There are also financing options and discounts available for members of the military, civil servants, and club staff.
Certification must be renewed each year, and 2 continuing education units must be passed for you to do so. However, CEUs can be obtained for free through the NFPT, which makes it easier and cheaper to expand your knowledge than with many other companies.
Unfortunately, NFPT is less known than the top brands and so not accepted by all employers. You will therefore want to check before signing up if you have a specific place you want to work in mind.
- Fully NCAA accredited
- In person training provides a more hands on experience
- CEUs can be obtained for free
- Reasonably priced, with options available to suit most budgets and requirements
- Discounts and financing options are available
- Not as well known as some rivals, so may not be accepted by all employers
- Certification must be renewed every year
From NFPT, you’ll get quality personal trainer certification programming and honest communication with no hidden fees or gimmicks. We designed our program, accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies, to strict standards to give you the knowledge you need to pass the exam and the confidence to launch your new career. Together, we’re creating a healthier future for the personal training industry, our community — and the people whose lives you lift up every day.
The National Council on Strength and Fitness (NCSF) is among the top fitness certification providers in the world. Their courses are designed to be challenging and include things like critical thinking and client interaction, in addition to fitness training, to ensure you are prepared as well as can be.
Multiple pricing tiers are available, ranging from 299 to 700 dollars. The base option is for those with prior experience and only includes the exam, while other versions have course materials like digital and physical textbooks, flashcards, practice tests, videos, review quizzes, and instructor support.
Recognized in more than 160 different countries and having over 8,000 locations in which to sit your exam, NCSF have already certified at least 300,000 personal trainers. It can then be used to progress your career, whether you plan to work in a large fitness centre chain or set up as a freelance trainer.
Most students will be ready to take their exam after studying for between two and four months, depending on their prior experience. Upon completion of the exam, you should get your physical certification in, at most, two weeks. This means you can begin working very soon after you start.
NCSF then provide plenty of opportunity for continued learning and getting CEUs, as they offer more courses, such as Sports Coach, Sports Nutrition, and Master Trainer. They also have partnerships with many top gym chains, to help get newly qualified trainers a good job as quickly as possible.
- Fully NCAA accredited
- Options are available for both solo and assisted learning
- Features one of the largest fitness exam networks of its kind
- Various different payment plans are available
- Plenty of opportunities for continued learning are available
- Deals are in place with major gym chains to help new trainers get work as quickly as possible
- Some of the top options are quite as expensive
- Outside of their partners, NCSF certification is not as widely known or recognised as some others
The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) is among the most prominent exercise science and sports medicine organizations in the world and has been in operation since 1954. Very well-known and respected, it has one of the best success rates of turning exam passes into jobs quickly.
Admittedly one of the tougher fitness certifications out there, it is perhaps best reserved for those who have previous experience in the industry but want to expand their knowledge, acquire a widely recognised NCAA accreditation, or move into healthcare or another more specialised area.
Many different packages are available which cost from 279 to 349 dollars. Each has its own unique range of study materials, like audio lessons, e-books, slideshows, and practice tests, giving you the ability to only have to pay for what you need, based on your previous knowledge and experience.
Some even have the option to attend either workshops or webinars, for those who need more support, greater detail, or some more hands on experience. There is even the option to buy some of the resources individually, for people who need something very specific.
Unfortunately, the packages don’t include the price of the test. This will cost an additional $270, and you must purchase it separately. It can then be scheduled at your closest testing site, or you can register for live remote assessing, giving you the ability to take the test from home.
With a 58% first time pass rate that drops to 42% for repeat takers, it is undoubtedly one of the most difficult fitness certifications of its kind. However, it is this fact that makes it so desirable and well respected within the industry. You will also be added to a well-respected network when you join.
There is then several advanced certifications you can choose to continue developing your skills and qualifications, all of which are equally as well received. You only need to recertify every three years, but you will be required to obtain 45 CEUs to do so, which is higher than most other companies.
- One of the longest running and most well respected personal trainer certifications in the world
- Certification is valid for three years and is recognised and accepted by virtually every fitness institution
- Offers a wide range of different resource and pricing options
- Certification gives you access to an annual educational conference, to ensure you can always stay up to date
- Various higher learning courses are run for you to keep learning and gaining the CEUs you need for recertification
- The exam is extremely challenging, with only just over 50% of people passing first time
- Packages don’t include the exam, which costs almost the same amount as the course on its own
A personal trainer certification from ACSM means that you’ll have the practical and scientific knowledge to work in a variety of fitness facilities, including health clubs, gyms, university, corporate, and community or public fitness centers, and positions ranging from freelance personal training to full-time and beyond.
The National Exercise and Sports Trainers Association (NESTA) are a great budget option to get your personal training certification, as they offer courses starting at $349 and top out with their all-in-one package, which costs $500.
The courses include all the study materials and chapter quizzes you need to pass the included exam.
This includes a digital study guide that covers business strategies, client interaction, exercise theory, and program design, while also providing unlimited practice tests and more than 10 hours of video and audio materials.
Unlike most online courses, tests must be taken in a physical location, although this shouldn’t be an issue for any U.S residents, as there are test centres in all 50 states, as well as a number of other countries. All that is required to sit the exam is a valid CPR card or an equivalent certification.
You do, however, need to pass the test with a score of 71% or better, otherwise you will need to retake the exam at a cost of $199. You then also have access to lifetime training, to allow you to keep progressing once your business is up and running.
While NESTA is not as well-known as some other certifications, it is NCCA accredited and provides much more assistance in areas like business management than you will find in most similar courses.
It is also valid for four years, which is double that of most comparable certifications, although they do require twice the amount of continuing education units (CEUs) of many.
- Certification is valid for a period of four years, which is twice that of many other companies
- The all in one package that includes everything is under $500, making it very budget friendly
- Goes into much greater detail on building a business and progressing your career than most certifications
- The training materials aren’t as comprehensive as what you get with some other courses
- They have a smaller pool of graduates compared to better known qualifications
- The price for retests is extremely steep
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQS)
Before we end our analysis of the best personal training certification to get in 2023, I want to quickly go over a few of the most frequently asked questions people have on the subject. This should ensure that everyone goes away knowing which of the 9 we have looked at is the right certification for you.
What Personal Trainer Certificate Is Most Respected?
The most respected personal trainer certifications in the industry are those that come with an option for NCCA accreditation, as the NCCA is the gold standard for third-party personal training certification. This includes personal training certifications like NASM, ACE, and ISSA.
What Is The Best Personal Training Certification To Get?
While different options will be suited to everyone, most people can’t go wrong with either NASM or ACE. Both are NCCA accredited and allow for various job opportunities and continuous education, with their high price being the only real deterrent to stop everyone using them.
Is Ace Or NASM Certification Better?
Neither Ace nor NASM is a better certification than the other, and each will be better suited to a specific person. ACE covers the overall fundamentals of health and fitness, while NASM certification focuses on corrective exercise education.
Both certifications are extremely popular for good reason and well accepted in the fitness industry. They also both offer exclusive study materials and digital education support to the candidate.
As an experienced personal trainer myself, it is an industry I can highly recommend people work in, both for the career satisfaction it offers, as well as the great financial rewards that are available. This article will hopefully have given you all you need to select a certification and get started yourself.
All you have left to do now then is sign up to your chosen course and get going. That way you can earn your first qualification as quickly as possible and start making the most of the fabulous benefits a career in the fitness industry has to offer.
Steve is a retired professional wrestler with over 10 years of experience in the personal fitness industry. He is a certified personal trainer working with a wide variety of athletes as well as a fitness writer.