If you’re passionate about helping others feel great and look even better, the time is now to turn your love of fitness into a powerful career. Today, with social media as your most effective marketing tool (before and after shots, client progress, YOUR fitness journey), becoming a certified personal trainer is a chance to share your knowledge with thousands of people at once. If you love helping others feel confident and empowered, you enjoy exercise and transformation, and you’re patient enough to take someone through the sometimes grueling journey of fitness… personal training may be the most fulfilling career for you.
To be competitive in the industry, you’ll want a comprehensive training from a legitimate Certified Personal Trainer (CPT) program. The industry standard is currently accreditation by the NCCA (National Commission of Certifying Agencies), which essentially guarantees you a job or at least the level of authority you’ll need to find success as a trainer. Luckily, you have numerous options with diverse studying methods and each one will arm you with the tools you need to become successful. Choosing one depends on your studying style, budget, and career objectives. The direction you go with your certification is as unique as your goals, and fortunately there are a handful of accredited, well-known programs to choose from.
The Best Programs
Elevator Pitch: ACE prides itself in providing 1:1 mentorship support for students as well as recognition from major gyms looking for newly-certified CPTs.
Focus & Specialization: If you’re looking for a gold standard certification, ACE will provide. ACE is arguably the most established CPT program, so much so that it is a Gold’s Gym official recommendation. Other notable gyms who recognize ACE include Crunch, OrangeTheory, and Anytime Fitness. The non-profit allows a wide range of specialization such as individual training, group training, medical exercise, and health coaching. With over 75,000 certified fitness professionals graduated, ACE has proven itself to be competitive with impressive study tools and support included in its simple programs.
Study Tools & Support: ACE provides a well-rounded lineup of study tools and materials for your use, including online preparation, practice tests, and a comprehensive manual. You’ll benefit from access to 1:1 support and if you’d like even more, you can set up weekly check-ins with ACE’s support team to stay on track. In addition to the already diverse range of tools ACE provides, they are known for their extensive flash card collection to support your studying. Other optional perks include a re-test voucher, a client consultation course, a fitness math course, and an Interview Guarantee.
Cost: $699-899, with 3 bundles to choose from.
Re-certification: $129 every 2 years
$399 for exam alone
$110 for ACE manual alone
Pro-Advantage and Pro-Plus bundles include payment plans
Elevator Pitch: A competitive Exam Pass Guarantee, diverse packages, and ability to choose unique specialties make NASM your program if your career vision is clear.
Focus & Specialization: NASM is a science-based program known for their Optimum Performance Training Model of education (OPT). With this course, you can opt in for the sought-after Exam Pass Guarantee for their 9 week online course and a diverse selection of delivery options for their coursework. If you complete all NASM Exam Pass criteria in your course, you are guaranteed a refund if you do not pass the CPT exam. NASM provides traditional personal training education as well as specialty certification options such as mixed martial arts, golf fitness, and youth personal training. Thanks to these unique options, NASM would be a great course if you are looking to niche down to a specialty for your training.
Study Tools & Support: Depending on your preferred style of learning, NASM has options for you. You can take a 9 week online course, you can choose in-person prep classes, and of course access print study tools. Depending on the course package you choose, you can also take advantage of live workshops, flash cards, study guides, and online interactive discussions with fellow students. NASM has slightly more package options than its competitors, which would work for a student with specific learning style preferences.
Cost: $699-$899, with 4 packages to choose from.
Re-certification: $99 every 2 years or $299 for “lifelong” re-certification costs covered
$349 for 9-week online course (Exam Pass Guarantee)
$199 for ½ day test prep workshop
$599 for exam alone
Elevator Pitch: Whether you need business training or a Job Promise, ISSA has the tools to make your post-certification steps reliable and easy to make.
Focus & Specialization: Since you have the option to become employed or self-employed, ISSA equips you with business tools to make you stand out in the fitness industry along with your training. ISSA focuses on a modern and well-rounded delivery of the traditional personal trainer certification, which is a powerful way to learn if you are looking for a school that will prepare you as a future business owner and trainer. ISSA also boasts a money-back Job Promise for recent graduates to earn employment in a gym post-certification. By completing the course, applying to 3 jobs within 60 days (and meeting all criteria), you are guaranteed a refund if you do not find a job.
Study Tools & Support: ISSA administers traditional study tools such as online classes, multimedia lectures, practice tests, an online exercise lab, DVDs, and a study guide. Your course would be completely online, which is helpful for students needing a flexible study routine. Tools that make ISSA competitive if you are looking to grow your personal training business include its marketing and business training and access to a free website to market yourself as an expert trainer, which are not provided by all personal training programs.
Cost: $599, with one package.
Re-certification: $75 every two years
6 and 12 month payment plans available
Currently promoting a Free Apple Watch to a limited number of new students
Elevator Pitch: Students who are passionate about science and have a potential hospital or rehab career in mind will thrive in this CPT course.
Focus & Specialization: Known as the most rigorous and difficult (but arguably most comprehensive) program out there, ACSM will train you in extensive human body science and physiology. ACSM has earned a reputation for its challenging program, but if you pass, you’ll have a powerful scientific education to support your clients’ results. You’ll also have opportunities to specialize in certifications such as group training, health and fitness training, or one as specific as “cancer exercise training”. Of course, sports medicine can be a lucrative specialty if you choose to work with professional athletes. ACSM offers multiple options for its course and would be a great program for you if you have a scientific mind and love learning the complex ways of the human body.
Study Tools & Support: ACSM will equip you with three books to study with: Resources, Testing Guidelines, and Review. This traditional method of learning is helpful if you are a self-starter looking for an organized and straightforward way of studying. ACSM also has a number of workshop options for you: a 1-day live workshop, a 3-day live workshop, and an online workshop to help you prepare.
Cost: $279-349, exam only
Re-certification: $30 every 3 years
$ 135 for test prep
$375 for 3-day live workshop
$129 for 1-day live workshop
$240 for online workshop
Elevator Pitch: Building strength is the NSCA specialty, with options to niche down even further if you already know a conditioning training career is for you.
Focus & Specialization: If you are passionate about strength and conditioning, NSCA is a strong fit for you. Athlete and bodybuilding trainers gravitate toward the specialization of this certification, and you’ll need to work hard to pass the exam as the program is comprehensive. When you do, you’ll also have the option to continue to specialize in areas such as tactical strength where you can qualify to train special populations such as the military.
Study Tools & Support: NSCA offers online study packages with tools such as workbooks, DVDs, the “Essentials of Personal Training” book, and more. You’ll also have the option to access its Live Clinic Series if you prefer a classroom-like study environment and access to educators who can answer your individual concerns.
Cost: $300-435 for exam only
Re-certification: $50 every 2 years
$177-361 for member study packages
$285-530 for non-member study packages
$235 for a member paper exam up to $420 non-member online exam
Choosing the Right Program
Each of these programs will provide you with a powerful knowledge of fitness, exercise science, and how to transform your clients’ bodies and minds. Use your own personal study preferences to decide if you’d be successful in an online program or a blend of live classes as well. Depending on your job goals, you may want to choose a program with marketing training or go the purely scientific route to prepare yourself for a specialty. Either way, you can be confident that the programs on this list will arm you with evidence-based techniques for success in the industry.
Most people can grow a personal fitness routine and look like a bodybuilder, but you’ll have the authority to help others create their own progress with a professional certification. This education will separate you from the pack and provide you with science-backed tools to create results that are attainable and long-lasting. One thing to note before applying to a program is that these require CPR certification and at minimum, a high school diploma. Combined with your new certification, these tools will turn your fitness tips into full programs that make you stand out as an expert in the fitness industry.
Cost is a major factor for many aspiring students, and you can be relieved to consider your payment plan options if they make your training affordable. For example, ACE provides payment plans along with bundles at different price points. Although its bundles are certainly an investment, you can take into account the depth of studying tools provided to give you the biggest return on that investment: passing the exam. You should also consider your prior experience with the industry to assess how large of a study package you truly need to pass the exam.
The last factor to consider is your studying style. If you enjoy taking things at your own pace online and on your own schedule, a package such as the NASM 9-week online course could be a perfect fit for you. As mentioned, this program has a diverse mix of learning styles available to you if you are specific. You may be a student who learns best with questions and individual support, where a hybrid program would be ideal. A certification such as the ACE (with 1:1 and online support) or NSCA (also with hybrid options) lets you study at your own pace and supplement with mentoring and interaction. Regardless of your learning style, you have flexibility with these top programs.
Your next steps as a new personal trainer are exciting and extremely personal. You’ll explore the options of working in a gym, taking the entrepreneurial route, and whether or not to take your training online. You’ll be able to use social media to share your expertise and find plenty of clients who are excited to transform. Learning as you go in your early stages will help you develop your method, ideal client, and voice as a personal trainer. Regardless of your path, becoming a certified personal trainer will prepare you for a challenging and extremely rewarding career and the chance to change the lives, confidence, and health of others.