Best Personal Training Certification: Top 5 U.S. Fitness Coaching Certifications Ranked 

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Helping others to become healthier and happier can be a rewarding experience. If you have good social skills and a passion for fitness, you can do what you love and help people achieve their fitness goals by becoming a personal trainer with a personal training certification. 

Whether you are already in the fitness industry or are ready to crack on to a new field completely, there are various online personal trainer certification programs you can choose from. 

We’ve hand-picked five programs listed below because they’re all nationally accredited certifications. Suppose you want to become a personal trainer and gain employment at health clubs, start your own personal training business, launch a personal training franchise, or lead a community fitness group.

In that case, you’ll need to pass a personal trainer exam accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA). Let’s take a closer look at some of the best personal training certifications available in the U.S. 

Best Personal Trainer Certifications

Personal Trainer Certifications: Our Top Picks

1. The International Sports Science Association (ISSA)

  • Price: $79/month (Fitness Coach), $99/month (Elite Trainer), and $149/month (Master Trainer), all being 12-month Plans With No Interest
  • Length: 2-3 months
  • Accreditation: National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA)
  • Online or In Person: Online Study and Online or In Person Exam
  • Over 475,000 Students Graduated With Their Personal Training Certification
  • Certification Is Recognized and Respected Worldwide With Trainers in 174 Countries
  • Over 8,000 gym partners

The ISSA has been around since 1988 and has a good reputation in the personal training and sports science community. Since its commencement over 30 years ago, ISSA has had over 470,000 students with certifications in 174 countries. Another bonus is that ISSA offers an NCCA-accredited exam which is the NCCPT-CPT. This will open more doors and help you stand out as a trainer who has the best of both worlds. 

There are three study programs you can choose from. The Fitness Coach Program is $79 per month for 12 months (all programs are interest-free) and it gives you online textbooks, practice quizzes, audio and video lecture options, an online workbook, student forums, and CPT Bootcamp. 

The Elite Trainer Program (the most popular) is $99 per month for 12 months and it offers everything in the Fitness Coach Program and a Nutritionist and Strength and Conditioning courses. Finally, The Master Trainer Program is $149 per month for 12 months and it offers everything in the lower programs plus Corrective Exercise Specialist, Bodybuilding Specialist, and Tactical Conditioning Specialist courses.

If you want to get started working as a personal trainer ASAP you can take the Fast Track program which is a 4-week accelerated guided study with a passing promise and unlimited exam retakes. You’ll receive scheduled study assistance and this will cost $99 per month for 12 months. The ISSA is an open-book exam that can be completed from the comfort of your own home. 

If you’re looking to start your career as a personal trainer regardless of the circumstances, the NCCPT-CPT certification is a great place to look. They offer high-quality preparation materials for all types of learners and even give you a dedicated personal coach to help you study and pass your exam. 

ISSA Pros and Cons

2. The National Council On Strength and Fitness (NCSF)

  • Price: Home Study Package is $349, Home Study+ Package is $399, CPT + SNS Package is $599, and CPT + CSC is $640
  • Length: 3-6 Months
  • Accreditation: National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA)
  • Online or In Person: Online Study and Exams Can Be Taken Online or At Your Local Testing Center
  • Over 300,000 Students Graduated With Their Personal Training Certification
  • Have 8,000 Exam Centers Operating Across More Than 160 Countries Along with Online Testing Option

The NCSF personal trainer certification is recognized throughout the fitness industry as an excellent personal trainer certification for career-minded professionals. It has been around for over 25 years and its NCCA-accredited personal trainer certification will give you the credentials and recognition necessary to succeed. 

NCSF offers different study options you can choose from so you can pick the ideal for you based on your prior knowledge and experience. Some of the packages will include other certifications for specialization in areas such as Sports Nutrition Specialist and Certified Strength Coach. 

The most basic package is $349, the Home Study Package which includes a digital textbook, instructional videos, lesson notes, questions, and answers, review quizzes, instructor support, one-year membership, and a certification exam. The Home Study+ Package is $399 and it includes everything in the previous package and a hard copy textbook.

The CPT + SNS Package is $599 and it includes everything in the previous package plus a free Sports Nutritionist Course. Lastly, the CPT + CSC is $640 and it includes everything in the Home Study+ Package and a Certified Strength Coach Program. 

You can take the exam either at home or at your local test center. The Home Study and Home Study+ Package does not include an NCCA-accredited exam and therefore is not recognized by major gyms. The retest will cost $99 for U.S. and Canada, whereas for International candidates it costs $299. To be eligible for the test candidates must be at least 18 years of age, and possess a high school diploma or equivalent. 

The NCSF-CPT is a solid certification in the fitness industry that will open doors for your passion. Like all other NCCA-accredited exams, it holds the gold standard for certifications. Interested? Sign up for your NCSF Personal Training Certification today.

3. National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM)

  • Price: $599 Self-Study to $1619 All-Inclusive (+40% off with our discount link)
  • Length: 3-6 Months 
  • Accreditation: National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA)
  • Online or In Person: Both
  • Over 1,400,000 Fitness Professionals Educated
  • Over 100 Countries Around the Globe With NASAM Trainers
  • Over 10,000 Gym and Health Club Partnerships

NASAM is a respected organization and has developed the most successful personal trainers in the fitness industry for over 30 years. Also, the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) has accredited NASAM which is a big selling point for potential purchasers.

The organization offers a variety of courses for fitness experts, but it’s the most popular for the personal trainer course. There are different options you can choose from self-study, premium self-study, guided study (most popular), and all-inclusive. It’s one of the more expensive certifications and if you’ve passed its exams, it’s one of the best known. 

The self-study option is an excellent choice if you already have experience in the fitness industry or have taken other courses before. It’s 100% online and utilizes a state-of-the-art digital learning platform, and you have 180 days to complete the exam.

It depends on how much time you can devote to studying the materials, for the many people who don’t have much background in anatomy, nutrition, and human movement it might take about 15 weeks to complete as the online module is designed for. The price ranges from $599 to $1619 which would include guided-study courses, a job guarantee, exam retests, and bonus study materials. 

The Australian Institute of Fitness points out that personal trainers have the power to educate their clients on all aspects of health, fitness, and exercise. Therefore, becoming a certified personal trainer will ensure you’ll have a proper understanding of what is required for your clients to reach their goals. 

NASAM Pros and Cons

4. The American Council on Exercise (ACE)

  • Price: $489-$864
  • Length: 3-4 months to Complete and Must Register for Exam Within 6 Months After Purchasing Materials
  • Accreditation: National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA)
  • Online or In Person: Online Study and In-Person or Online Exam
  • Over 475,000 Students Graduated With Their Personal Training Certification
  • Certification Is Recognized and Respected Worldwide With Trainers in 174 Countries
  • Over 8,000 gym partners

Why ACE?

  • Over 90,000 ACE Certified Professionals
  • ACE Certification Exams Are Administered At Over 800 Proctored Testing Centers in Over 110 Countries
  • Take Your ACE Exam From The Comfort of Your Own Home

The ACE is NCCA accredited which means their program is identified as reputable and meets the criteria for what is considered a high-quality program within the personal training industry. The ACE is a nonprofit organization that seeks to get people moving worldwide. 

Just like the NASM, you can choose the study program that will give you the relevant skills to design and apply unique exercise programs based on your client’s goals, abilities, and needs. The Basic Package is $489, the Plus Package is $574 (the most popular), and the Advantage Package is $864. The expensive options will have additional study materials, webinar support, and a dedicated advantage team (one-to-one support).

To be eligible for the ACE Personal Trainer Certification exam, you must be:

  • At least 18 years old
  • Have completed high school (or the equivalent)
  • Hold a current CPR/AED Certification

After choosing the best certification program for you, the ACE Personal Trainer Study Program is designed for all learning styles by delivering content through digestible texts, charts, infographics, videos, practice tests, and on-demand study support to reinforce the material. The learning will take over 3-4 months. However, if you fail the exam, the retest will cost $249

This certification is well-known in the fitness industry. Whether you’re just starting your career or thirsty for a change, ACE can help you turn your passion into a meaningful and rewarding profession. 

ACE Pros and Cons

5. National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA)

  • Price: $300 For Members and $475 For Non-Members For the Exam (prices may vary depending on the certification you choose)
  • Length: Exams Must Be Taken Within 120 Days of Registering
  • Accreditation: National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA)
  • Online or In Person: Both
  • The NSCA Community is Composed of More Than 60,000 Members
  • Membership Benefits
  • Featured Events and Conferences are Hosted Regularly

The NSCA was founded in 1978 and it’s a non-profit organization that is dedicated to advancing strength and conditioning and related sport science professions all over the globe. Moreover, it’s an NCCA-accredited fitness training certification program which makes it one of the best personal trainer certifications. 

There are over 60,000 members and certified professionals around the world with education and certification in fitness, performance sports and scientists, personal trainers, tactical professionals, and other related roles. The NSCA offers five different certifications and each will be specific to a group of people you work with as well as typical job settings. 

The NSCA-CPT certification will be geared towards the general population; training clients (youth to seniors seeking to improve their personal health and fitness goals). The prerequisites are that the candidates must be at least 18 years old, have a high school diploma or an equivalent, and have a current CPR/AED certification. Exams must be taken within 120 days of registering. 

The NSCA’s textbook and official resources are optional tools to help you prepare for the exam. You can purchase the NSCA-CPT exam preparation materials from the store, or even attend the Exam Prep Live Clinics to help you narrow your focus of study. 

If you have a membership with NSCA, you’ll gain access to some key benefits such as discounts, journal access, access to NSCA TV, and many more. There are three types of memberships; Student Membership is $70/per year, Professional Membership is $130 per year, and CPI Membership is $418.84 per membership term. 

NSCA Pros and Cons

Personal Trainer Certification Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is a Certified Personal Trainer Program?

Certified Personal Trainer (CPT) is a term used in the personal training industry for an individual who has been adequately assessed by a national certifying organization for showing a successful demonstration of knowledge and understanding by the way of respective assessment. The best accreditation is from the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) as this ensures your certification program meets the defined standard of excellence for best practice. 

How Much Does a Personal Trainer Certification Cost?

The personal training certification programs and study materials will cost between $349 to $1619 depending on the study material and additional resources you need to prepare for the exam. 

Is It Worth Getting a Personal Trainer Certification?

Yes, if you want to work in fitness clubs and healthcare facilities, they will require an NCCA-accredited certification to work as a professional and a qualified personal trainer. Once you are certified, you will be eligible for liability insurance and have the knowledge and competency to effectively help clients achieve their goals. 

According to the Swedish Institute College of Health Sciences, a successful personal trainer is one who has the problem-solving skills to develop the best exercise program for those with specific health-related conditions and the ability to work with different personalities. A personal trainer certification will teach you these key traits to make you successful. 

What is The Best Personal Trainer Certification?

We believe that the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASAM) offers the best personal trainer certification because it is one of the most respected certifications in the fitness industry. Its NCCA-accredited personal trainer certification provides comprehensive study materials and well-designed exams to make it the best option for a prime personal trainer.

What Is Included in a Personal Trainer Certification Program?

Most personal certification programs will offer you study materials, textbooks, audio and video lecture options, workbooks, practice quizzes, and online support. Many also include the free sit for the exam when ready.  

What If I Don’t Pass My Personal Trainer Certification Program Exam?

If you do not pass your personal trainer exam, a retest can be purchased which can cost between $99 to $300 depending on your course provider. 

The Takeaway: Get the Best Personal Trainer Certification

Getting a personal trainer certification is a great way to break into the personal training space. Each program we’ve covered provides a top-notch digital learning platform, complete with study guides, textbooks, and the resources you need to pass the exam. These programs prepare you for the NCCA-accredited exams needed to meet the criteria of major health clubs, gyms, and fitness centers.

When it comes to packages, each company will offer you different tiers and ways to prepare for your exam which should cost you between $349 to $1619, and we recommend that you choose one that lines up with your career ambitions and goals. Or, better yet, sign up for multiple. More credentials never hurt! 

Personally, I recommend the NCSF Personal Trainer Certification or the International Sports Science Association for the comprehensiveness of its program, the quality of the education provided, and the industry’s respect for the NCSF and ISSA brands.

Want to take your personal training career to the next level? I recommend you stock up on some of the top-rated home fitness equipment to not only keep yourself in top shape but also to acquaint yourself with the latest training technologies. 

Personally, I recommend these three essential products for fitness professionals:

Thanks for reading, and catch you next time Gymless Heroes!


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