6 Cheapest personal training certifications in 2022 - Let's go!

Welcome to the Trainer Academy breakdown of the cheapest personal training certifications.

When it comes to getting certified as a personal trainer, the cost of your certification is an important consideration when selecting your certifying organization.
The overall personal trainer certification cost differs from organization to organization.

In this article, we look at the following aspects of the cheapest certifications:

Content covered in each certification
Exam difficulty and study time
Continuing education requirements
Discounts and promotions for each CPT

Once you finish reading, you’ll be ready to select which CPT makes the most sense for your goals.

Let’s do this!

Best Fitness Certification Quiz
Best Fitness Certification Quiz

Top CPT Certification Picks

CPTCPTFeaturesPrice
ISSA CPT ISSA CPT
  • Excellent coverage of technique and aerobic training
  • Good programming and periodization
  • Minimal corrective exercise
$828 for ISSA
NASM CPT NASM CPT
  • Solid corrective exercise
  • Versatile OPT model
  • Solid behavior change coaching
Check NASM Pricing
ACE CPT ACE CPT
  • Complete skillset for healthy clients
  • Great IFT model for programming
  • Excellent Mover Model for behavior change
  • Less corrective exercise coverage
  • No sales skills
Check ACE Pricing
NCSF CPT NCSF CPT
  • Lower cost than comparable certifications
  • Contains essential knowledge for CPTs
  • Less brand recognition
  • Lacks behavioral coaching and business skills
Check NCSF Pricing

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If you plan to get certified with one of the best personal trainer certifications, you will end up paying anywhere from $800-$1200 by the time you purchase the CPT package, textbook, exam registration, and whatever additional study materials you need.

While this might sound expensive for a single certification, you can frequently find great deals on bundled certification packages that include nutrition certifications or specialties such as group fitness certifications on top of the personal training certification.

In fact, stacking a nutrition certification on top of your CPT certification is a great way to both save money on each individual cert and kick start your career in the fitness industry.

After all, physical training is just one aspect of getting results in the gym. You need to address nutrition as well, and the combination of nutrition with your personal training certification lets you offer more services, deliver better results, and ultimately make more money as a personal trainer.

The good news is that two of the top fitness certification organizations offer the best deals in the industry.

The ISSA offers buy-one-get-one-free on the ISSA CPT and Nutrition Coach for a total of just $828 or $69 per month over 12 months.

NASM frequently runs discounts on the NASM CPT and CNC as well, so if that is the organization you want to pick, you can check the NASM website for current deals.

If NASM is running a discount, its tough to pass up.

Let’s go through each of top fitness certifications and how much it will cost you to join and become a personal trainer!

NCSF CPT

NCSF Overview

The National Council on Strength and Fitness (NCSF) is a less well known organization. It is both a community-driven health initiative from South Florida and a certifying agency, helping the National Commission of Certifying Agencies (NCCA) accredited credentialing programs and advocating for fitness professionals around the globe. 

NCSF Content coverage

NCSF does a fine job of laying out the basic exercise science, biomechanics, behavioral changes, programming and techniques needed as a personal trainer. 

A NCSF review will highlight how the information is laid out in a really clear, easy-to-understand format, especially the exercise coaching instructions.

NCSF CPT content coverage back squat

The main thing lacking in its content is the business skills coverage; things like sales, which are a huge part of the practical applications needed as a personal trainer.

If you are starting out on your own or even working for a gym, knowing how to both attract clients and manage your current clientele is an invaluable skill in your personal training journey. 

The only other downside with this certification is that they are not as big a name in the fitness industry as some of the other certifications listed below. They are NCCA accredited, which is the gold standard of quality, but they are just not a huge household name. 

For instance, every year their CPT exam is attempted 2,455 times versus an organization like NASM where their personal trainer exam is attempted 22,000 times.  

NCSF Pricing

The Certified Personal Trainer (CPT) exam by itself will cost $299. Their study packages at the time of this article are between $419 and $649, which is extremely reasonable compared to other certifications. 

Home Study ($419)

Home Study+ ($479)

CPT + SNS (Sports Nutrition Specialist) ($599)

CPT + CSC (Certified Strength Coach) ($649)

NCSF Exam difficulty, study materials, and pass rate

The NCSF CPT exam has a 78% pass rate, which makes it one of the easier certification exams to pass.

If you want to do their Home Study program, the only difference between the Home Study and Home Study+ package is that the plus contains a physical textbook along with the digital copy, so if you don’t mind going digital, save the $60 and get the Home Study package. 

The online study materials are also pretty limited, but straightforward and easy to use. They have flashcards and two practice exams you can take.

NCSF CPT exam content coverage

NCSF Continuing education

NCSF requires 10 CEUS every two years, which is roughly 20 contact hours, similar to other certifications like ACE or NASM. 

Best Fitness Certification Quiz
Best Fitness Certification Quiz

ACSM CPT

ACSM Overview

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) is the oldest personal trainer certification, and it has deep roots in promoting and conducting clinical sports research. 

ACSM CPT Content coverage

Because of the American College of Sports Medicine’s emphasis on research, there is a lot of detail in the information covered on health screening clients and on physical fitness testing. 

ACSM also has a really in-depth look at behavior change science and work with special populations and exercise prescriptions for people with different diseases or conditions.

ACSM CPT content coverage

On the negative side of the ACSM review, there isn’t much emphasis on actual exercise technique and program design, which can be frustrating because those are some of the major tools you’ll need as a personal trainer in the real world. 
Also, some of the information is presented in a very dense manner, which might be a little challenging to unpack for some aspiring personal trainers.

ACSM classification of LDL, total, and HDL cholesterol

Overall, this fitness certification would probably be best for anyone looking to pursue a personal training career related more closely to the medical field or in research and you may want to also look elsewhere for more in-depth program design and exercise technique knowledge.

ACSM CPT Pricing

If you are looking for ACSM CPT exam info, here are the current rates, which are subject to change. The ACSM CPT exam costs $349 without a ACSM membership and $279 if you are a Member Candidate. The membership costs $20 for the first year if you are a student and $99 or greater depending on what level membership you want for anyone else. 

They also have an online ACSM course which costs $270.

Exam difficulty, study materials, and pass rate

The ACSM exam has a 69% pass rate. That rate is slightly easier if you compare ACSM vs ACE, and much easier than NASM if you look at NASM vs ACSM. The organization does not provide too many of their own study material besides the textbook so make sure to check out a good ACSM study guide and ACSM practice test.

ACSM Continuing education

Every 3 years you are required to recertify, with 45 contact hours, which is quite a lot.

NSCA CPT

NSCA Overview

The National Strength and Conditioning Association was the first organization to be approved by the NCCA (National Commission for Certifying Agencies). It has a great focus on strength and conditioning and is a global leader in research, practical application, continuing education and strength and conditioning coach networking. 

NSCA CPT Content coverage

Here’s a brief NSCA CPT review. It has great overall coverage in terms of strength training, coaching, and work with special populations, but there is a lot of information to digest for someone preparing for their personal trainer exam.

Some of the exercise biomechanics sections have a lot of depth that will definitely benefit your knowledge as a personal trainer, but this information is not always necessary when you are starting out.

NSCA CPT Content coverage

However, the program design and periodization information NSCA includes is among the best you will find in a CPT certification and will definitely give you the tools to help your training clients improve their performance and physique.

NSCA cpt  squat progression table

The only thing lacking in the NSCA CPT certification is that while it teaches you the fundamentals of training clients, there is minimal information on how to grow your Personal Trainer business and go out and find those clients.

If you decide you want to pursue specifically training athletes, the NSCA CSCS (Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist) is one of the most respected strength and conditioning certifications out there and is well worth your while, although it is a very challenging test so make sure to pick up a CSCS study guide and a CSCS practice test.

NSCA CPT Pricing

The CPT exam by itself costs $435 as a non-member and $300 if you join the NSCA. Prices to join the NSCA are $70 per year as a Student, $130 per year as a Professional, and $209.42 per half year for the CPI membership, which includes liability coverage and many other perks. 

Exam difficulty, study materials, and pass rate

The certification exam pass rate is 72%, which is a bit easier than some of the other organizations covered for a personal trainer test. 

NSCA Continuing education

Every 3 years you are required to do 6.0 CEUS to hold on to your certification, which equates to 60 contact hours.

Best Fitness Certification Quiz
Best Fitness Certification Quiz

ACE CPT

ACE Overview

The American Council on Exercise (ACE) is one of the most popular, recognized names on the list. It’s accepted in North America and parts of Europe 

ACE CPT Content coverage

Our ACE CPT review agrees that ACE does a great job at teaching the basic skills and concepts necessary for personal training. They use the Integrated Fitness Model (ACE IFT) as the framework for learning these tools. ACE also has an excellent library of exercise videos, complete with descriptions.


Some of their content regarding behavioral change is really well detailed and will serve you as a personal trainer, in order to get clients moving towards their fitness goals.

ACE CPT content coverage

This is a great option for trainers who are newer and are looking for a good base of knowledge to build off of.

The main downside of this certification is that ACE, like NSCA, doesn’t provide too many sales resources for trainers looking to learn about how to grow their personal training business.

ACE also has an excellent certification for Group Fitness Instructors, so if you think you might want to exclusively teach fitness classes, you can take that certification exam along with their Basic package for only $269.

ACE CPT Pricing

Here’s the ACE CPT exam info based on current prices. The American Council on Exercise CPT (certified personal trainer) exam only costs $499.

Currently, the study packages range from $587 to $1037.

Basic ($587)

Plus ($689)

Advantage ($1037)

Exam difficulty, study materials, and pass rate

The ACE exam has about a 65% pass rate, making it kind of in the middle in terms of difficulty. The study materials in their packages are very thorough, and their online website portal is probably the easiest to operate of all the certification organizations, but the highest tier is definitely priced higher than most people will need for the information provided to pass their certification exam. You may want to add in an additional ACE study guide and an ACE practice exam if you want as much help as possible before you attempt the exam. It’s always good to be prepared.

ACE CPT exam difficulty

ACE Continuing education

ACE requires 2.0 continuing education credits every two years, which equates to 20 hours of contact.

NASM CPT

NASM (The National Academy of Sports Medicine)

NASM is one of the most well regarded certification programs. One of its highlights is its strong corrective exercise base. 

NASM CPT Content coverage

We at Trainer Academy agree in our NASM review that the National Academy of Sports Medicine is an excellent choice and covers most of the material needed for new personal trainers, using exercise science principles you can use to help your clients get great results in their training sessions.

They use the OPT model (Optimum Performance Training) model, which takes you through the many phases you might put your clients through, covering stabilization, strength endurance, hypertrophy, maximal strength, and power.

NASM CPT OPT Model

Additionally, they include special population and behavioral instruction, along with basic business skills you might need in your career. 

On the negative side, the NASM personal trainer certification does not include much nutritional information, unless you are specifically getting their NASM Nutrition Certification. Their OPT model is also a bit restrictive and you might find that you can’t use it in every situation with your everyday clients. 

NASM CPT Pricing

It’s not listed on their website, but here is the current NASM CPT exam info: the cost of taking the exam without any prep course is $599. 

Their courses cost anywhere between $699 for the basic study package up to $2024.

The exact pricing of these courses may vary depending on whatever deals are available at the time, but he’s a breakdown of the different options they provide:

Self Study ($699)

Premium Self Study ($1049)

Guided Study ($1349)

All-Inclusive ($2024)

Exam difficulty, study materials, and pass rate

The exam pass rate is 60% for first time test takers, which can look daunting to some. If you’re serious about doing well on this one, make sure to study for at least a few months and master a NASM practice test because the retest fees are expensive as well ($199).

NASM’s study materials are excellent, like ACE. Their website is a little less intuitive to operate if you compare NASM vs ACE and some of the NASM video modules feel a bit outdated. You may want to consider an additional NASM study guide to help you pass the test because it’s always good to have as many resources as possible.

NASM Continuing education

After you pass your exam, the certification is valid for 2 years. During that time you have to complete at least 2.0 continuing education credits along with a $99 recertification fee if you want to hold onto your certification.

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ISSA CPT

ISSA Overview

The International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA) is an excellent option that is all online. They have a great reputation for good support services and they offer great package deals with their specialization certifications. 

ISSA Continuing education

ISSA has two different versions of their certified personal trainer exam. They offer NCCA accredited certifications or a distance education accrediting commission version of the exam (DEAC), which is much easier to pass, but less respected. 

Our ISSA review covers the pros and cons of this organization. In short, ISSA has a really good emphasis on exercise programming, periodization, and resistance techniques; however, less time is given in terms of correctional training, which can be important as a health coach or trainer, especially if you are working with clients with previous injuries, which is common in the real world. 

There is also a really good emphasis on business skills, which for a budding fitness instructor, can be integral to your practice. ISSA’s coverage on this is way more detailed than most of the other organizations, like if you compare NASM vs ISSA on this topic.

ISSA CPT content coverage

ISSA CPT Pricing

If you want to get certified through ISSA, the only way to take the exam is to also do their study program. The total for that is $869, which you can pay in installments of $69 for 12 months. 

They also offer a Master Trainer plus Nutrition certification where you can pick from 4 specializations for $1850, which is $149/month for 12 months.

Exam difficulty, study materials, and pass rate

The non-NCCA exam is open book and has a 90% pass rate, while the NCCA exam is quite harder with a 65%-70% pass rate. Their online study materials are very easy to access and they have all the lectures available in audio format, which is nice if you prefer to learn on the go. 

ISSA Continuing education

Every 2 years, 20 hours of continuing education is required to renew your certification along with the $75 recertification fee.

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Conclusion

One of these organizations is the right one for you, but you have to make that decision. When you consider the prices of each CPT certification and the type of information you want to learn to start off your fitness career, pick the best option for you. 

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