Personal training is an attractive career option for a variety of reasons. It provides the opportunity to optimize your physical and mental health and make a difference in the lives of your clients. But many people aren’t aware of the financial possibilities available through personal training. Getting certified is a great way to increase your earnings potential as a personal trainer.
While there is no universally mandated certification or licensing standard, many gyms require their trainers to have some specific certifications. Getting certified is an important step for any personal trainer, but there are a variety of certifications available.
With so many choices, how do you know which certifications are worth pursuing? In this article, we’ll cover some of the most common and valuable personal training certifications and help you make an informed decision. The right certification for each person depends on their experience, specialty, and long-term goals.
Online Personal Training Certification
The availability of online certifications for personal trainers has proliferated in recent years, and there are hundreds if not thousands of active online sites offering certifications. The issue with many online certifications is that they themselves aren’t well-known or respected, making them less valuable than more established alternatives.
The NCCA (National Commission for Certifying Agencies) is an important resource when looking at any certification, especially one that is offered online. They investigate the quality of the certification itself, so gyms are more likely to value those that are NCCA-accredited, and customers will likely pay more for trainers with those certifications.
What Is the Best Personal Trainer Certification?
Although it would be nice to have one standardized certification for personal trainers, it isn’t that simple. Different certifications represent different capabilities and specialties, and some are more respected than others within the industry. Keep this in mind as you look for the best way to get certified. These five are common choices for personal trainers.
- ACE (American Council on Exercise)
A certification from the American Council on Exercise is the closest thing there is to a personal training gold standard. It’s NCCA-accredited and a common requirement for gym employees, making it a necessity for anyone starting out at a gym. And even if you’re working independently, being certified through the ACE demonstrates to your clients that you know what you’re doing.
Depending on your specialty, you can pursue a variety of certifications from the American Council on Exercise. Beyond personal training, you may also want to become certified as a group fitness instructor, health coach, or medical exercise specialist. Each of these certifications can offer you a variety of new opportunities.
- NASM (National Academy of Sports Medicine)
Following the ACE, the NASM is one of the most widely accepted certification programs and can open more doors for you as a personal trainer. Its primary program, known as Optimum Performance Training (OPT), offers rigorous, science-based training and is very well-respected. It also acts as a foundation for other certifications and is NCCA-accredited.
- ISSA (International Sports Sciences Association)
While the ISSA certification isn’t accredited by the NCCA, it’s still a helpful program that provides an overview of what you need to know as a personal trainer. It also offers six more advanced courses on specializations like youth fitness, sports nutrition, and strength and conditioning. ISSA courses also include tips on marketing and the business side of being a personal trainer.
- ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine)
Compared to the earlier items on this list, a certification from the ACSM is relatively difficult to acquire. In fact, you will need to take an exam and demonstrate your experience before you can even begin training. New trainers should probably start with a more general and accessible certification, but an ACSM course can be very helpful for those who are more advanced.
- NSCA (National Strength and Conditioning Association)
Like the ACSM, the NSCA offers a grueling but extremely valuable certification program. Its personal trainer certification allows you to work with a wider range of clients, including pregnant women and people recovering from various conditions. You will need at least a bachelor’s degree to gain admission to the program.
When Should I Get Certified?
Even if you’re just starting out as a personal trainer, it’s not too early to start thinking about certifications. Making the right choice about certification can have an immediate impact on your ability to find clients and improve your business. No matter where you are on your journey as a personal trainer, getting certified is a great financial decision.
Your decisions should be based on your short-term needs (such as the requirements of your local gym) as well as your long-term goals (like what you want to eventually specialize in). Many gyms mandate specific certifications, so keep that in mind as you search for the right program. Don’t make the mistake of doing a program your target gym doesn’t accept!
How much does personal trainer certification cost?
This table illustrates the costs and requirements of each certification discussed above.
|NCCA Accredited||COST||Retake Fee||Primary Education Focus||Commitment Time|
|$199||Program design, implementation, & modification
|Test must be scheduled within 6 months of purchase and taken within 9 months.
|NASM||X||$799||$200||Exercise technique and training instruction||Must be completed within 6 months.|
|$149||Fitness program design
|Must be completed within 6 months.|
|ACSM||X||$520||$155||Exercise leadership and client education||6, 12, 18 or 24 month options available|
|NSCA||X||$712||$435||Exercise techniques||Must be taken within 4 months of purchasing the exam|
Acquiring certification isn’t always a short, simple process, but it can do wonders for your career as a personal trainer and help you stand out from competitors. These five programs are among the most well-respected in the industry. Whether you’re new to personal training or an established professional, any of these certifications can help you build your business.
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