How to Become Certified Personal Trainer: The Complete Guide

Personal Trainer Certification courses fitness training gym trainer

Getting enrolled in personal trainer certification programs is a great way to become a certified trainer. If you love to stay fit and like to help others achieve their fitness goals, this might even be your lifelong passion. Moreover, You can also make a good living out of your fitness trainer career. And, You will also be able to explore the world of healthy living even better while helping others.

Opting a personal trainer career will give you the opportunity to gain immense knowledge and experience. However, looking at a personal fitness training career from the outside may look very satisfying and flexible but it can also get equally challenging.  To become a full time or part-time personal trainer, you need to take certification tests that are recognized and accredited.

Before we move to the certifications for becoming an accredited personal trainer, let’s look at some advantages and disadvantages of choosing personal fitness trainer as your ultimate career.

Advantages of a Personal Training Career

1. Playing a Huge Role in Someone’s Life

People who hire personal trainers have some goals that they want to achieve. You will get to train many people, who want to lose weight, gain strength, improve overall fitness, train for a tournament, or recover from an injury. You will have a direct role in shaping a person’s body and life ultimately.

2. Flexibility

Personal trainers are either hired by gyms or they work as private contractors. The flexibility of working this job attracts most people. You will be required to stay at the gym for prescribed hours and have certain responsibilities depending on the types of personal trainer certification programs you have taken. While working with private clients, you will require to have arrangements to train them at the gym or at home for agreed hours.

You get to be your own boss. And if you can schedule your work hours effectively, you will be able to save a lot of time each day to indulge yourself in other activities that you like.

3. Independence

Working with your clients will give you the opportunity to devise solutions for them. You will not be taking orders from a boss or hating your job while typing reports at an office. As a personal fitness trainer, you will have the independence of choosing, who you want to work with, and when you want to work.

4. Growth and Progress

As a personal trainer, there are numerous opportunities for growth and progress in your field. You can become a blogger, launch your own business, start a YouTube channel, or become a health writer. Or you can also find High-net-worth clients to step up your income. A ghostwriter or even you can write a book to get high paying clients and earn a royalty.

5. Connect with People

If you are someone, who gets along with people really well, at the gym you will be able to build relationships with people. These people can help you gain more clients or find trustworthy people for getting things done in life. You will meet people from all walks of life and if you are a friendly person, you can make great friends for life.

Disadvantages of a Personal Training Career

Unstable Income

Your income will be tied to how many days you work and for how many hours. The reality of a personal trainer salary ultimately lies in what the gym or the clients are willing to pay. The income may fluctuate from $15 an hour to $100 or above depending on your experience, clientele and area.

No personal trainer wants to work like a donkey; therefore, they find the right clients and try to sell their services to higher-paying individuals.

Getting Overworked

It is easy to get overworked if you are working as a personal trainer. If you go on working 10 hours or more a day, you may get drained physically and emotionally. Because the job is strenuous and requires a great deal of physical alertness at all times. It is recommended to keep everything in mind while making the final career change decision.

How to become a Certified Personal Fitness Trainer?

The most important thing while making career plans is to understand which certification is right for you. There are 5 main categories of health of fitness:

  1. Personal training
  2. Group fitness
  3. Clinical exercise physiology
  4. Fitness coaching for athletes or
  5. Exercise specialty.

You may want to work with patients at a hospital as a physiologist, or as a certified personal trainer for helping people lose weight and tone up the body. Both scenarios are different and but require you to undergo different certifications.

Here is a list of all the certifications you can acquire for getting different jobs as a fitness coach, certified personal trainer, physiologist, gym trainer and fitness trainer:

1. Certified Personal Trainer CPT

Many personal trainers do not acquire formal training and work with gyms and other businesses after receiving approval from them. But then there had been numerous incidents where due to the negligence or incapacity of the personal trainer, people suffered injuries during workout. The injured guy has no one to blame but his personal fitness trainer.

It may not be necessary for you to acquire certification in the setting you want to work at. But becoming an authorized personal trainer will further educate you and give you an edge over other personal trainers who are non-certified. These incidents probably won’t occur if you have the right knowledge, gained through a personal certification course.

To become a certified personal trainer, you will have to acquire a certification that is accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA). NCCA is the gold standard for accrediting health and wellness trainers. There are several NCCA-accredited organizations that offer CPT certification such as the American Council on Exercise (ACE), National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) or the Cooper Institute (CI).

Other organizations that are not accredited by the NCCA are also offering certifications that are recognized and are very popular in the fitness world.

1. American Council on Exercise (ACE)

ACE certifies around 90,000 fitness and wellness professionals each year. It is one of the most reputable personal trainer certification institutes that provide top-notch certification for professional fitness trainers. ACE certification has one of the most difficult tests for professionals. So, before enrolling in the ACE certification make sure that you have a basic or standard level understanding of health and fitness as a personal trainer.

2. National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA)

Because NSCA certification is more about performance-based training. It is suitable for athletes. NSCA certification provides education on anatomy and physiology which step up the fitness game for training athletes. NSCA exams are held in 5 foreign languages besides English: Chinese, Italian, Japanese, Korean, and Spanish.

3. National Academy of Sports Medicine NASM or the Cooper Institute (CI)

NASM emphasizes on Optimum Performance Training (OPT) model, which is all about overall fitness. The ultimate goal of NASM certification is to teach balancing endurance, strength training, hypertrophy, highest strength, and power training.

4. National Exercise & Sports Trainers Association (NESTA)

For entrepreneurs and starters, NESTA is the best option because everything is accessible online, and you will receive the post-exam kit which includes a business and career system to implement once you’re certified.

5. National Council on Strength and Fitness (NCSF)

NSCF offers two packages that teach individuals in live workshops as well. If you are someone who wants to learn from professionals in a college setting NCSF is the one. The NCSF workshops will also hone your skills of critical thinking, client communication, and creative exercise programming.

6. National Federation of Professional Trainers (NFPT)

NFPT allows you to study for the exam for one year. The difficulty level of the NFPT exam is one of the highest and because the certification is accredited, it meets the highest standards of personal training.

7. International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA)

DETC is also a trustworthy accrediting organization. The International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA) is accredited by DETC which provides CPT certification.

8. American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM)

ACSM is one of the most reputable organizations who have members from every field of fitness and medical health. The most essential lessons taught during ACSM certification are client dealings and fitness assessment, exercise programming and execution, exercise leadership, and legal and professional responsibilities of a CPT.

2. Group Personal Trainer (GPT)

Personal trainer certification programs are different from group fitness trainer programs. If you are an energetic trainer who likes to cheer and motivate the whole fitness class then you should acquire specific certification for that.

For becoming a GPT, the ‘gold standard’ certifications are those which are again accredited by National Commission for Certifying Agencies NCCA. There are only two certifying bodies that are accredited by NCCA, NETA and ACE. Both NETA and ACE provide premium trainer certifications that are fully accredited.

Other certifications that are not accredited by NCCA but provide similar group fitness certifications are ACSM and NASM. If you want to fitness train a large group of people, then NASM certification may not be right for you because the certification allows you to train a group of no more than 5 individuals. So, the NASM’s GPT certification program is quite similar to a CPT trainer program because it limits the number of people you can train at a time.

3. Health Fitness Specialist (HFS)

A health fitness specialist is the one who works with medical conditions, or had been through physical trauma in the past. HFPs work in a clinical environment to provide advanced personal training to a particular clientele who are seeking health and fitness.

If you are interested to become a physiologist, or clinical exercise physiologist, you will be required to undergo proper training. Following is a list of training programs offered by the accredited institutes:

  • ACE and ISSA offer clinical certifications called Medical Exercise Specialist and Fitness/Exercise Therapy. It allows trainers to work with people who have medical conditions. ACE also offers programs for Therapeutic Exercise specialty which allows the health and fitness professionals to have a supplementary credential.
  • ACSM also offers certification program for Certified Exercise Specialist CEP.
  • ASCM Certified Clinical Exercise Physiologist (CCEP) or Registered Clinical Exercise Physiologist (RCEP) is for those who want to become dedicated physiologists. RCEPs are qualified to carry out exercise testing and prescription, counseling, evaluation and education. RCEP can only be taken by individuals who already have a Master’s in exercise science, exercise physiology or kinesiology along with six-hundred hours of documented clinical work experience.

As a clinical exercise physiologist, you will be able to do lifestyle coaching and rehabilitate people at-risk of cardiac, pulmonary or metabolic disease(s) as well as those who have been through surgeries and lost function in limbs.

4. Fitness Coach

If you want to coach athletes whether on high school, collegiate, amateur or even professional level, the ‘gold standard’ is NSCA’s Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist CSCS. It is considered as the benchmark in fitness coaching standards for several years.

To undertake the NSCA’s CSCS, one must hold a bachelor’s degree in a strength and conditioning field. There are numerous categories based on which group of individuals partaking in different sports, you want to train.  

Although unaccredited by NSCA, PES cert offered by NASM is gaining a lot of popularity lately in the sport’s world because most fitness coaches working with National Basketball Association NBA have the PES cert.

For training athletes at all levels, the best certification is NSCA’s Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist. Other certifications offered for different types of coaching are:

  • ISSA also provides Strength & Conditioning Certification S&C cert.
  • NASM offers Performance Enhancement (PES)
  • NASM also offers programs for Mixed Martial Arts MMA and Golf Specialist certifications GSC.
  • ACE provides Sports Conditioning cert.

5. Exercise Specialist 

An exercise specialist works with clients who are of a specific gender, or age group. They further specialize in doing a particular field of health and fitness such as weight loss, strength training, bodybuilding or any other.

If you are someone who likes to work as a fitness expert, who knows everything about their field, you should get enrolled in a personal training certification program. ACE and NASM offer numerous specialty certification programs for trainers.

  • ACSM provides a unique program called Certified Inclusive Fitness Trainer CIFT. CIFTs can work with people who are suffering from chronic disabilities.
  • NASM offers its Corrective Exercise Specialist.
  • ACE provides several certifications for Orthopedic Exercise and Functional Training. These certifications allow exercise specialists to help people align posture, solve biomechanical complaints and help patients recover after orthopedic surgeries.
  • ACE, ISSA, and NASM offer Fitness Nutrition specialty certifications.
  • ACE, ISSA and NASM provide certification courses for youth and senior individual’s fitness training.
  • Only NASM provides specific women fitness training certification.
  • NSCA provides Special Population Specialist certification for different population groups.
  • ACE and NETA provide mind and body fitness certifications.

Average Salaries

Your salary as a certified trainer will depend on the type of clients you work with, your location, and expertise which will decide the hourly rate for your services. A personal trainer working in a gym situated in a posh locality will be earning higher than a fitness coach at a public school.

However, we have provided a list of average salaries based on researches from the glassdoor and salary.

  • A certified personal trainer makes $27,000 to $61,000 per year.
  • The average salary of a fitness coach is $41,810 per year.
  • An average exercise physiologist earns $47,929 and $62,323 per year.
  • Exercise Specialists in the U.S earn $54,132 on average per year.
  • An average group personal trainer earns $36,000 per year.

Length of Personal Training Certification Courses

Most personal trainer certification courses are only 8 to 10 weeks long.

  • Some certification courses such as ISAA’s personal training certification allow you a limited period of 4 months for studying after the purchase of study material.
  • Although, if you need more time, you can extend the study period to up to 2 months for free.
  • Some programs allow longer periods, for example, ACE allows a study period of 6 months after the purchase and NFPT allows a period of one year.

Difficulty Level of Personal Training Certification Courses

The difficulty level of each program differs but one can have an idea of how difficult each test is by looking at the average pass rate of each.

  • NASM certification tests have a pass rate of 65%.
  • The pass rate of the ACE certification tests was at 65% in 2017 and it is mainly because it is one of the most difficult certifications to pass.
  • The pass rate of ASCM revolves around 68% for all types of certifications. However, for first-time test takers, the pass rate is 54%.
  • ISSA has a pass rate of 89.9%, it is considered the highest among other certifications.
  • NASM also has a pass rate of 65% percent like ACE.
  • NETA is the easiest as compared to other fitness training certifications.


If you love fitness and training, then a career in the same field will be a great way to stay connected to the fitness world. You can avail numerous opportunities to increase your knowledge and understanding. Choosing the right career depends on who you want your clients to be, which work setting suits you, and which certification you want to opt for.

There are endless opportunities to grow as a certified personal trainer, fitness coach, exercise physiologist, exercise specialist and group fitness trainer. Choose the right certification to excel in your field and dive into the world of fitness.

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