Which NCCA certification is best for you?

We created this essential quiz to help you choose the perfect certification for YOU based on your goals, learning style, and more.

This article compares the best NCCA-accredited personal trainer certifications, looking at each of the top CPT choices, so you can pick the best training certification for your journey as a fitness professional.

We discuss each personal training certification based on these topics:

  • Pricing for each personal trainer certification
  • Curriculum content in each certification
  • Quality of study material options
  • Exam difficulty and study time
  • Continuing education and career prospects

After you finish this review, you will know which NCCA-approved certification fits your unique needs and goals.

We also cover:

  • What is the NCCA
  • Why NCCA accreditation is important for your certified personal trainer certification
  • Some differences between NCCA accreditation and non-NCCA accreditation

We promise to help you understand NCCA accreditation and what makes it absolutely crucial in the fitness industry. The best personal trainer certifications are accredited by the NCCA.

Okay, let’s get right into it!

We highly recommend that you take our helpful quiz to find the best NCCA certification for you.

Why We are Qualified to Recommend the Best NCCA Accredited Certifications

The Trainer Academy team encompasses fitness professionals who cary many of the most regarded NCCA accredited certifications. The team has worked at gyms, and facilities around the world, helping both clients and other coaches improve performance.

We have a high level of understanding when it comes to reviewing the different personal training programs. We know how to separate the good and bad certifications and which ones businesses like to see on a trainer’s resume.

Our Top NCCA Accredited Certification

SAVE up to 60% with exclusive discounts from ISSA

ISSA Personal Trainer Certification Program

  • The #1 rated and reviewed certification program
  • NCCA Accredited, 10,000+ Gym Partners
  • Huge variety of self-paced courses that you can do remotely
  • ISSA exam is an untimed, open-book test and available online
  • Students who pass final exam are set up with a free professional website

A Quick Look at the Best Personal Trainer Certifications

  • Best overall: ISSA CPT – International Sports Sciences Association
  • Most well known: NASM CPT – National Academy of Sports Medicine
  • Best balance of price and quality: NCSF CPT – National Council on Strength & Fitness
  • Best for behavioral coaching: ACE CPT – The American Council on Exercise
  • Best for sports science: NSCA CPT – National Strength and Conditioning Association

Best NCCA Accredited Certification Reviews

Best overall: ISSA

COST
SUPPORT
CURRICULUM
flag Created with Sketch Beta.
DIFFICULTY
OVERALL

PROS

thumb_up_line Best cert for training online thumb_up_line Lowest cost cert thumb_up_line Best customer support

CONS

thumb_down_line Not as well known as other certs thumb_down_line No in-person exam options

Summary: I’ve weighed factors such as accreditation, price, curriculum, CEU requirements and more to provide this review of ISSA. With all of these factors considered (and more weight placed on certain factors such as cost and curriculum), ISSA is our current top pick for the best personal training certification for 2023. 

Their certification provides a job placement guarantee, sets you up to train in-person and in online environments, and is the most highly rated certification as indicated by third-party reviews on this list.

View Current Offers
Starting at $828

Prices listed are non-promotional, full-price, non-member prices.

The International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA) is a globally respected personal training certification organization.

Before discussing ISSA, you should know that there are two versions of the ISSA personal trainer certification, one of which is NCCA accredited. Note that there is no difference in the materials used to prepare for the exam; however, the NCCA version is a bit more difficult (but worth having the accredited status).

You will have the choice of which exam you want to take when you sign up for the ISSA CPT.

The content you will cover in the ISSA-CPT program is as follows:

  • Rich, in-depth scientific and practical principles of health and fitness
  • Program development (main area of focus)
  • Corrective exercise
  • Coaching techniques and methods

ISSA provides students with top-of-the-line study materials, which include the following

  • Current Edition Textbook
  • Online Practice Exams and Quizzes
  • Audio and Video Lecture Options
  • Online Study Guide and Workbook
  • Online Student Forum
  • Online Exam

Unlike many other personal trainer study packages which come with many different tiers, priced according to what resources are included, ISSA only has one that costs $828 and comes as a bundle.

Every two years, you must maintain your CEUs and pay a recertification fee of $75.00 to recertify.

The CEU requirements for ISSA are 2.0 or 20 hours of any continuing education coursework, be it online, from webinars or seminars, live workshops, or other certifications.

Want more bang for your buck?

You can get your ISSA-CPT certification as well as your first round of CEUs if you opt for the Precision Nutrition and ISSA CPT bundle for a discounted bundle price.

For an even bigger discount, we recommend the ISSA Elite Trainer Bundle, which includes both the ISSA CPT and Nutrition certification as well as a third certification of your choice.

This takes care of four whole years of CEUs in a single purchase.

Also, adding in another specialization will give you more tools in your trainer toolbox, and enable you to focus on a particular niche of client.

We’re here to help you succeed.

By using the Trainer Academy ISSA MVP Study Package from Trainer Academy, you are sure of a 99% pass rate in your first attempt.

Most well known: NASM

COST
SUPPORT
CURRICULUM
flag Created with Sketch Beta.
DIFFICULTY
OVERALL

PROS

thumb_up_line Exceptional OPT Model thumb_up_line High industry credibility thumb_up_line Great study resources

CONS

thumb_down_line Challenging exam thumb_down_line Higher price

Summary: 

NASM remains the most popular personal training certification in terms of enrollment figures.

NASM offers very comprehensive study materials and a slight focus on correctional exercise alongside a superb curriculum that gives you all that you’ll need to start your training career.

View Current Offers
Starting at $799

Prices listed are non-promotional, full-price, non-member prices.

NASM stands for The National Academy of Sports Medicine, which offers some of the most respected personal training certifications in the entire industry.

NASM not only provides high-quality textbooks, but practice exams, online resources, and more.

Some content you learn in this fitness training program includes:

  • Exercise Science
  • Anatomy, kinesiology, and biomechanics
  • Nutrition
  • Exercise libraries
  • The NASM Optimum Performance Training (OPT) model

In terms of test prep materials directly from NASM, you have four study package options:

  • Self-Study
  • Premium Self-Study
  • Guided Study
  • All-Inclusive

Please note that the NASM-CPT certification lasts for only two years, which means that recertification will be required.

This is done by maintaining your continuing education credits (CEUs), which can be done in any fashion, such as attending seminars and webinars, taking online courses, or going for specializations.

If you’re interested in how to become a group exercise instructor, we also recommend the AFAA group exercise instructor course, which was recently purchased by NASM.

NASM is currently running an Elite Trainer Bundle which includes a group fitness cert along with 5 other specializations! This is a deal you can’t pass up if you are interested in multiple disciplines of fitness.

The most sought-after trainers appeal to niche clientele as opposed to general fitness training.

With several certifications in your back pocket, you have so many options in terms of who you can train and how you can train them. Investing in knowledge you can use every day on the job is always a win and the more knowledge the better.

The discount is very steep as well so we recommend you scan the NASM website to see if it’s still available.

To help pass your NASM CPT exam, be sure to review our NASM CPT exam info.

You can also opt for the NASM premium MVP study package which will reduce your study time by 50 percent and give you an iron-clad exam pass guarantee.

For a deeper look at the NASM certification, check out our full NASM CPT review. If you are deciding between NASM or ACE or ISSA vs NASM we have breakdowns for you as well.

If you are already convinced NASM is the right choice, kick start your studying ASAP.

Best balance of price and quality: NCSF

COST
SUPPORT
CURRICULUM
flag Created with Sketch Beta.
DIFFICULTY
OVERALL

PROS

thumb_up_line Great pricing thumb_up_line Well rounded program thumb_up_line Easy to read text

CONS

thumb_down_line Lesser known organization thumb_down_line Fewer study packages compared to ACE and NASM

Summary: 

NCSF’s Personal Training Certification is an excellent dark-horse option for those who are simply concerned with a comprehensive CPT at a decent price.

View Current Offers
Starting at $349

Prices listed are non-promotional, full-price, non-member prices.

The National Council on Strength and Fitness serves as both a fitness agency and an accreditor.

Their personal training certification came on to the scene more recently than big names like NASM, ISSA, and ACE, and is known to lesser degree, however it’s still NCCA-accredited.

The NCSF-CPT offers great value for money as their test and study system cost only $349 together, an immense value.

Overall, the curriculum doesn’t emphasize any individual aspect, but will give you a well rounded approach to fitness and personal training.

We were particularly impressed by NCSF’s nutritional content and nuts and bolts approach to periodization, which should give any new trainer enough to get started.

Best for behavioral coaching: ACE

COST
SUPPORT
CURRICULUM
flag Created with Sketch Beta.
DIFFICULTY
OVERALL

PROS

thumb_up_line Excellent ACE IFT ® Model thumb_up_line Great online site thumb_up_line Good behavioral change skills

CONS

thumb_down_line Limited business skills thumb_down_line Less coverage on exercise science

Summary: 

ACE combines an excellent study platform and detailed motivational skills as part of its training program.

The above perks and a reasonable base price keeps ACE as a great option for newer personal trainer candidates.

View Current Offers
Starting at $675

Prices listed are non-promotional, full-price, non-member prices.

The American Council on Exercise (ACE) is another top-tier NCCA accredited personal training certification.

Founded in 1985, the ACE-CPT focuses on public health initiatives directed at improving the health, fitness, and overall wellbeing of the general population.

Please note that the ACE-CPT is available in 3 study options: Basic, Plus, and Advantage.

ACE provides you with a personal trainer manual, or study companion, which is very useful as you prepare for your exam!

Once you pass your exam and become certified, gyms and health clubs, and really any health and fitness center will be blessed to have you!

As an ACE-CPT, you must fulfill 2.0 CEUs every two years, which equals 20 active hours worth of continuing education and pay a fee of $129.00.

The following is a brief list of some of our favorite ACE CEU courses:

If you are interested in becoming a group exercise instructor, a certified health coach or you want a nutrition coach job, then the ACE CPT is a great certification to start with.

Of course, you need to pass the ACE CPT Exam before starting your ACE CEUs.

Be sure to review all of the ACE CPT exam info before taking the test.

For a comprehensive premium study guide that includes flashcards, mnemonics, and audio materials, we recommend the Trainer Academy ACE MVP Study Package.

If you want a deeper look at the ACE CPT specifically, we’ve written a comprehensive ACE CPT review.

If you’re set on getting your ACE CPT, get going on your studying ASAP!

Top for sports science: NSCA

COST
SUPPORT
CURRICULUM
flag Created with Sketch Beta.
DIFFICULTY
OVERALL

PROS

thumb_up_line Best cert for exercise science thumb_up_line Well respected organization thumb_up_line Cheaper exam

CONS

thumb_down_line Limited study options thumb_down_line Overshadowed by CSCS

Summary:

We consider the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) a top choice for anyone looking to improve sports performance.

The NSCA CPT gives you the most detailed coverage of programming, periodization, and special populations of any training program and the exam comes at a lower price, however, the study resources to prepare you for the exam are on the sparse side.

View Current Offers
Starting at $475

Prices listed are non-promotional, full-price, non-member prices.

The National Strength and Conditioning Association is a premier non-profit organization that specializes in athletic performance-related topics.

The most well-known NSCA certifications are the NSCA Certified Personal Trainer and the NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Coach.

The NSCA CPT is a standard personal training certification that is similar to the ISSA CPT and NASM CPT, although our team does prefer those certifications.

NSCA-CPTs are fitness professionals who utilize an individualized approach to, assess, motivate, educate and train clients to help them with their goals and to improve overall wellness. The primary responsibility of an NSCA-CPT is to design safe and effective exercise programs and provide guidance to clients.

The CSCS is a more rigorous certification that requires a bachelor’s degree and focuses on maximizing athletic performance in addition to a tough exercise science section. It is our top pick when it comes to the best strength and conditioning certifications.

CSCS certified coaches focus on athletic strength and conditioning to minimize injury and maximize performance across a wide range of different sports. Virtually all professional strength and conditioning coaches will need a CSCS to find a job.

If you’re wondering how to become a strength and conditioning coach, you need to look at getting CSCS certified. This is especially true if you want to earn a high strength and conditioning coach salary.

Before taking the CSCS exam, we recommend checking out our free CSCS study material, taking our CSCS practice exam, and reviewing the NSCA CSCS exam info.

If you want additional premium study materials, you can purchase our Trainer Academy CSCS MVP Study Guide, which includes flashcards, audio guides, full vocab lists, practice tests, and a comprehensive downloadable study guide.

For more in-depth information on the CSCS certification, we’ve done a comprehensive NSCA CSCS review to give you the full details.

In terms of its CPT certification, NSCA has several preparatory materials to help you pass your CPT exam. Note that these are optional and taking the NSCA CPT exam is not contingent on you purchasing study materials from the NSCA.

The main textbook costs $119 for non-members ($109 for members).

NSCA produces a study guide priced at $27 ($20 for members)

In addition, you will want to buy the NSCA-CPT Quizzes & Practice Test pack at $200 ($150 for members) and the Exercise Technique Manual, which costs $89 ($80 for members).

Additional textbook resources include:

  • Dynamic Human Anatomy 2nd Ed. By William Whiting
  • Physiology of Sport and Exercise 7th Ed. By W. Larry Kenney, Jack Wilmore, David Costill

You can check out our free NSCA CPT study guide, take our NSCA CPT practice test and review the NSCA exam information to start preparing for your NSCA CPT exam immediately.

For those of you who want to take your studying to the next level, we suggest our Trainer Academy NSCA CPT MVP Study Guide which has a 99% pass rate and a money-back exam pass guarantee.

For a more in-depth look at the NSCA CPT, we’ve done a focused NSCA CPT review to look at the content covered in this certification.

Best online training option: NESTA

COST
SUPPORT
CURRICULUM
flag Created with Sketch Beta.
DIFFICULTY
OVERALL

PROS

thumb_up_line Excellent focus on online training tools thumb_up_line Lifetime access to the study materials thumb_up_line Inexpensive

CONS

thumb_down_line No comprehensive training model thumb_down_line Less respected

Summary: 

NESTA’s personal training certification lacks some of the details of some of the other programs on this list, but gives you good value considering the low price tag.

View Current Offers
Starting at $349

Prices listed are non-promotional, full-price, non-member prices.

The National Exercise & Sports Trainers Association (NESTA) is another very popular, NCCA accredited certification.

NESTA has a focus on technology integration with fitness training. As such, it’s a good personal training certification for becoming an online trainer.

NESTA-PFT’s (Personal Fitness Trainers) learn the following in this program:

  • How to accurately assess health, fitness, and skill levels of clients
  • How to design safe and effective, science-based exercise programs based on the individual client’s needs and goals
  • How to correctly demonstrate and instruct exercise techniques in proper form
  • Coaching and motivational skills
  • Knowing and styaing withing your professional scope of practice, as well as the NESTA code of ethics
  • How to market your personal training services in order to acquire new clients
  • How to deliver proper service and maintain your client base

Upon enrollment in the NESTA-PFT, you will be granted access to a complete business system to help you jumpstart your personal training career.

Also, all coursework is 100% online and you may immediately access all training materials as soon as you register.

You’ll have access to the NESTA-PFT 14-chapter interactive PDF digital manual (easily printable), and instant online access to over 10 hours of online training videos with interactive review questions to check your progress.

You will be provided unlimited access to a NESTA-PFT practice exam, to ensure confidence in taking your official proctored exam.

NESTA provides three study options to choose from PFT Basic, PFT Plus, and PFT Complete.

Here is a comprehensive price breakdown so that you could see what each study option costs.

For any additional payment details, please refer to their website.

You get only one NCCA accredited NESTA-PFT Exam per purchase.

To renew, you must complete 4.0 CEUs over a four-year period to remain certified.

Each 0.1 CEU is worth one hour of study time or one contact hour in a live training format.

The NESTA CEUs include the Fitness Nutrition Coach, which earned itself a spot on our best sports nutrition certifications list. It’s also a great way to increase your nutrition coach salary by adding an additional certification.

Best quick certification option: NFPT

COST
SUPPORT
CURRICULUM
flag Created with Sketch Beta.
DIFFICULTY
OVERALL

PROS

thumb_up_line Free CEUs thumb_up_line Simplified study materials thumb_up_line Inexpensive

CONS

thumb_down_line Missing important coverage of topics thumb_down_line Not good for newer trainers

Summary:

NFPT gives you another inexpensive option and could be the best quick online training option.

View Current Offers
Starting at $199

Prices listed are non-promotional, full-price, non-member prices.

The National Federation of Professional Trainers (NFPT) is another popular, respected NCCA accredited program for group fitness and personal training!

Follow these steps to become certified:

  • Choose a cert package
  • Prepare for your exam
  • PASS YOUR EXAM

You have three options to get NFPT certified: Exam Only, Standard, or Premier.

While both packages may include the same study materials, only the Premier Certification Package includes extras, such as 2 practice tests, exercise animations, assessment videos, and expert support!

Once you enroll, you’ll be assigned an NFPT ID# and account login details, so that you may access all of your study materials and schedule your exam.

The combination of your NFPT study materials and your existing knowledge of the subjects will no doubt increase the chances of a passing score on your final exam.

Best exam-only option: NCCPT

COST
SUPPORT
CURRICULUM
flag Created with Sketch Beta.
DIFFICULTY
OVERALL

PROS

thumb_up_line Great with ISSA study materials thumb_up_line Simplified process thumb_up_line East online option

CONS

thumb_down_line Have to purchase study materials separately thumb_down_line Not the cheapest exam-only option

Summary:

NCCPT collaborates with ISSA to offer a quality NCCA-accredited training exam, but offers no study resources on their own, so the best way to get this certification is actually through ISSA.

View Current Offers
Starting at $599

Prices listed are non-promotional, full-price, non-member prices.

The National Council for Certified Personal Trainers (NCCPT) certified personal trainer program acknowledges those who demonstrate the competency and skills needed to be personal trainers.

The NCCPT was recently purchased by ISSA and is now offered as an accredited exam you can take after studying with the ISSA materials.

Of course, this program is accredited by the NCCA, which is a key indicator to fitness employers and other potential fitness clients that the trainer is credible and proficient in their field.

Note that the NCCPT-CPT certification exam isn’t all puppy dogs and rainbows, it is suggested that you diligently prepare and study before taking your CPT exam the first time.

NCCPT offers various exam study packages which are through NCCPT’s partnership with ISSA and other media.

Though purchasing these study materials does not guarantee a passing score or NCCPT-CPT certification, it will help you better prepare for your final NCCA accredited exam.

The total cost of this program comes to $599.00, making it creep up toward the more expensive side, considering this would be for the CPT only.

And of course, you must maintain 2.0 CEUs every 2 years to renew and keep your certification.

You’ll also need to provide AED and CPR renewal as well.

If you want to take your NCCPT exam, you can utilize the ISSA materials since the exams have been combined.

We recommend looking at the Trainer Academy ISSA CPT MVP Study Course even if you plan to take the NCCPT version.

Best inexpensive alternative: NETA

COST
SUPPORT
CURRICULUM
flag Created with Sketch Beta.
DIFFICULTY
OVERALL

PROS

thumb_up_line Complete curriculum thumb_up_line Lower cost cert thumb_up_line Easy online option

CONS

thumb_down_line Not as well known as other certs thumb_down_line Less support than other certs

Summary: 

NETA provides another lower cost training program.

View Current Offers
Starting at $549

Prices listed are non-promotional, full-price, non-member prices.

Are you seeking a personal training certification through a nationally accrediting body?

The National Exercise Trainers Association (NETA) has been successfully certifying fitness professionals for over four decades!

NETA’s NCCA-accredited Personal Trainer Certification is among the top in the fitness industry and is the perfect fit for trainers and healthcare professionals who want to work with the general population on achieving health and fitness goals.

NETA’s CPT curriculum is always updated according to the latest research and exercise and coaching techniques to help you be the best you can be in your fitness career.

You will have two study options: Option 1: Self-Study + 2-Day Live Review Workshop, and Option 2: Premier Plus Personal Trainer Certification Study Package.

We’re sure you’ll also want to know how much you’ll be forking out for each program, so here’s a comprehensive chart for you!

If you’re interested in any virtual workshops and training, please check the website for more information and pricing.

Below are the recommended study materials:

  • NETA’s the Fitness Professional’s Manual, 5th Edition – $49.00
  • NETA’s The Fitness Professional’s Workbook For Personal Trainers – $29.00
  • Personal Trainer Certification Online Review Modules – $189.00

You will cover the following content in this program:

  • Exercise science and techniques
  • Client assessments
  • Exercise program designing
  • Nutrition and weight management
  • Coaching, communication, and behavior change

What is the NCCA?

Regardless of which certification you choose, all of the best personal trainer certifications are NCCA accredited.

But what is the NCCA?

In 1977, in cooperation with the federal government, the National Commission for Health Certifying Agencies (NCHCA) was founded.

Their main mission was to create gold standards of excellence for certification programs in the health, wellness, and fitness industries.

The NCHCA then changed its name to the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA).

NCCA is a non-profit, independent organization founded in 1987 by the Institute for Credentialing Excellence (ICE).

ICE is one of the two main organizations in the United States that accredit certificates and certifications, such as personal trainer certifications.

The NCCA gives accreditation to a range of fitness-related certifications including nutrition certifications as well as non-fitness professional certifications.

The NCCA’s primary goals are as follows:

  • Establish quality accreditation standards
  • Evaluate a program’s compliance with its standards
  • Recognize programs demonstrating compliance with its standards
  • Monitor and enforce continued compliance with its standards
  • Provide the highest-quality certification to all professionals alike

Moreover, the NCCA’s Standards for the Accreditation of Certification Programs were the first set of standards developed by the credentialing industry for professional fitness certification programs.

They were developed to help enhance the safety, health, and overall wellbeing of the public, and to provide the highest-quality fitness certification programs.

As a matter of fact, NCCA has accredited over 315 programs from more than 130 organizations.

Fitness certification and credentialing programs that receive NCCA Accreditation demonstrate both excellence and compliance with the NCCA’s Standards for the Accreditation of Certification Programs.

Our favorite pick for NCCA accredited fitness certifications are the ISSA CPT, followed closely by the NASM CPT and the NCSF CPT.

You can check out our free NASM CPT study guide and NASM practice exam, as well as the free ACE guide and ACE practice test for a sneak peek at these top accredited fitness certifications.

When you start off as a young personal trainer, knowing a bit about nutrition as well can go a long way. If you have both CPT and Nutrition certs it also allows you to be a one-stop-shop for your clientele, which is why we recommend getting both when start out as a fitness professional.

Gyms will want to hire you because you can be both trainer and nutritionist and your scope of practice is much larger, meaning you have the freedom to candidly discuss all aspects of fitness with your clients.

It’s just a good idea, and you can kickstart your career and standout in a crowded fitness marketplace from the get-go.

While this might seem expensive, both ISSA and NASM have some great deals that combine both CPT and Nutrition certs.

The ISSA offers a 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.

This is virtually the same price as their CPT cert by itself so there’s no reason not to go for it.

NASM’s current offer is $999 for their Nutrition and Fitness Bundle, but make sure to check the website for any changes.

When NASM has a good offer it’s hard to pass it up.

Let’s talk about why NCCA accreditation is so important.

Why is NCCA Accreditation Important?

NCCA is the gold standard in accreditation for fitness professionals all over and ensures the programs adhere to modern standards of practice in the certification industry.

Fitness professionals and personal training certifications accredited by this certifying body are highly respected by employers, as these certifications highly exceed accreditation standards.

If you’re interested in how to become a fitness trainer when you get certified, know that ensuring you get an NCCA accredited certification will mean you can work more places.

For those who are new to the personal training career, that’s what makes NCCA Accreditation a very important factor to consider when choosing a personal training certification.

The most successful personal trainers will often go for one of these gold-standard certifications with NCCA accreditation.

Trainers with NCCA accredited certifications typically have a higher personal trainer salary than those who are non-NCCA certified.

Having an NCCA accredited personal trainer certification ensures employers that you have the highest level of competency and credibility for training clients, that you are responsible, and that you are professional and will probably be making more money as a personal trainer when you start than someone without a NCCA accreditation.

What Does NCCA Stand For?

The NCCA stands for National Commission for Certifying Agencies and is the organization responsible for ensuring that certifications meet the guidelines and standards to ensure fitness professionals, among other professions, have the skills and knowledge required to perform their on-the-job duties.

NCCA-Accredited Vs. Non-NCCA Accredited: What’s the Difference?

So we know that NCCA accreditation is important and that it matters in the fitness industry, but why?

Let’s discuss the basics, the difference between accreditation and non-accreditation.

For a fitness program to become accredited, the program must meet several standards of excellence set by an accrediting organization.

Official accreditation means that the program has been vetted for educational excellence, complies with its set of standards, and promotes student success.

On the other hand, if a program is non-accredited, there is no way to verify the quality of their education or their integrity.

In other words, it’s difficult to trust the program’s legitimacy.

Therefore, we can conclude that becoming a personal trainer and earning a certification from a non-NCCA accredited program is very risky, and will close many doors to work and employment opportunities.

Without NCCA accreditation, employers may not recognize your level of competency and knowledge in the field.

Just because a program is “accredited” does not mean that the accreditation is relevant to the ultimate use of that certification.

To set yourself apart from other fitness professionals and maintain the utmost professionalism and competency in your field, your best bet is to stick with NCCA-accredited programs for group fitness and personal training. It will ensure your personal trainer career outlook is brighter than without a NCCA accreditation.

Which NCCA-Accredited Personal Training Certification is the Most Respected?

Any program which receives a NCCA accreditation carries a certain amount of respect. Of the above programs, NASM, NSCA, ISSA, and ACE are all very well known. The others on this list all carry respect, but not the same name recognition.

Types of Personal Trainer Certification

While all CPTs cover roughly the same information, each organization offers a slightly different focus in terms of coverage.

For example, NASM’s personal training certification covers more corrective exercise content than ACE, whereas ACE’s CPT gives you the most in terms of behavioral coaching. The NSCA CPT gives you the most in terms of strength and conditioning resources, and ISSA describes how to build a fitness business better than the other programs.

So, when choosing a training certification, consider what skills you want to focus on.

What to Look for When Choosing a Personal Training Certification

The below criteria should give you an overview of some of the aspects you’ll want to consider when choosing your certification.

Accreditation

As mentioned above, an accredited certification gives you peace of mind, knowing that the program you pick has been vetted by experts. This means not only will you learn accurate information, once you’re certified, you can put your certification on a resume and this will carry some weight.

Personal Trainer Certification Cost

Each of the certifications on this list differs in terms of price. When you start off your training career you may have a limited budget so you’ll need to consider the cost before you pick your certification.

The above certifications cost anywhere from $199-$829 for the most basic plan.

While cost is an important consideration, often, you get what you pay for, and it may be worth it in the long terms to consider the pricier options like NASM or ISSA, just because of the quality you get in the long term.

Many of these programs have payment plans, which cuts down on the amount you need to pay at one time.

Personal Trainer Program Study Materials

Another key consideration you want to look at it is the study materials of the program you pick.

Some people like studying on their own with the textbook and they’ll want the minimal amount of materials. Others like the structure and the confidence they get from following a quality study system.

We feel that of all these certifications, ACE and NASM offer the most complete study packages, with ISSA coming a close third.

NASM gives you three different study package options, and they have the best online study videos of any of these certifications.

ACE also gives you the option of three study packages, and we find their web portal the easiest to navigate.

ISSA makes the process simple with one study package that gives you everything, and their online support rates the highest of all the certifications.

Exam Layout and Passing Grade

Before you choose your certification you may want to understand how long you’ll have to complete the exam, how many questions you have to answer and the passing grade you need to complete.

Exam Difficulty and Pass Rate

Each of these exams differs in difficulty. If you struggle with tests, you may want to choose an easier exam.

Of course, you may also want to prove yourself by taking on the challenge of a harder CPT test.

ISSA and NFPT give you one of the easier exams, while NASM is known as a harder exam option. NCSF is on the easy side as well, while ACE and NSCA land somewhere in the middle in terms of difficulty.

Retake Fee

You want to know how much you’ll need to pay to retake your CPT exam should you fail the first time.

Some organizations like ISSA give you a free retake, while others, like ACE, will cost you $249 to retake.

Also, when you pick your study packages some of the more premium packages often give you a free re-take, like NASM’s Premium Self-Study program.

Certification Popularity

Popularity does not guarantee quality, but it does tell you something. It tells you which certification people want, and which program people know.

We determine popularity by enrollment figures and Google search data.

Based on this, NASM comes out on top, with ISSA and ACE coming in second.

Average Income

Knowing which trainers make the most on average gives you an idea of what you might make.

On average, ISSA trainers make the most of all the certifications.

Of course, this is only a number, it does not guarantee your income.

Something you may want to consider is that both NASM and ISSA offer job guarantees with their certifications, meaning you will have an opportunity to be hired somewhere after being certified.

CEU Requirements

Each of the above certifications requires that you complete certain education courses in order to stay certified. These range from online quizzes to in-person seminars or you can even get additional certifications to help you re-certify.

Some of these certifications like NSCA give you a three-year period for recertification while most of the other make you recertify every two years.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is the NCCA?

NCCA is the accrediting body of the Institute for Credentialing Excellence (ICE). Since 1977, the NCCA has been accrediting certifying programs based on the highest quality gold standards in professional certification. NCCA accreditation ensures the programs adhere to modern standards of practice in the certification industry.

How important is NCCA accreditation?

Very. The NCCA accreditation is the gold standard for certification programs and enhances trust in the certification to ensure the trainer is current and competent in the fitness field and demonstrates the ability to work with general as well as special populations.

What is the difference between certification and accreditation?

While certification ensures that a person, product, or process conforms to specified requirements and standards, accreditation ensures a higher level of recognition than certification.  However, both are attestations made by a third party.

What does it mean to be NCCA accredited?

The NCCA is a nationally recognized third-party agency that accredits certification programs that can meet and comply with its standards. Its mission is to reinforce the public’s health, welfare, and safety through the accreditation of certification programs that assess professional competence.

What certifications are NCCA accredited?

Here are some of the best certifications which are NCCA accredited: NASM, ISSA, NSCA, NESTA, NFPT, NCCPT, NETA, and ACE. Before choosing a certified personal trainer program, be sure to check if it is NCCA accredited.

How do I get certified by NCCA?

The National Council for Certified Personal Trainers (NCCPT) currently offers five certifications that are NCCA accredited. To get certified, students must pass an NCCA-accredited NCCPT certification exam. Certifications are valid for two years.

What are the benefits of NCCA accredited certification?

NCCA accredited personal trainer certifications ensure employers that you have the highest level of credibility for training clients. Also, employers will increase your pay to acknowledge this additional credential.

Conclusion

So we covered what NCCA accreditation is and why it’s important.

NCCA accreditation, in a nutshell, is the gold standard in accreditation for fitness professionals and ensures the professionals hold utmost competency and remain intact in the field.

This is often favored by employers because it ensures them that you have the highest level of credibility for training clients and or groups.

Having an NCCA-accredited certification will definitely set you apart as a qualified fitness professional, too.

But what if your personal trainer exam is not NCCA-accredited?

Here’s what you’ll need to know.

ISSA, for example, was not NCCA-accredited at first, but then later did have an option to purchase NCCA-accredited ISSA-CPT exams.

This is great for trainers who have or are seeking ISSA-CPT certification.

Without NCCA accreditation, ISSA certified trainers may be at a disadvantage when job hunting, or trying to build their client base.

NCCA accreditation is the key to the many doors that lie ahead and await you in your personal trainer career.

Before you purchase a personal trainer program, please don’t forget to make sure your program is NCCA-accredited.

Your entire fitness career depends on this! (At least for the most part.)

By choosing an NCCA-accredited program, you are communicating to employers that you are competent, knowledgeable, and professional.

References

  1. Thompson WR, Sallis R, Joy E, Jaworski CA, Stuhr RM, Trilk JL. Exercise Is Medicine. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine. 2020;14(5):511-523. doi: https://doi.org/10.1177/1559827620912192
  2. ‌Jordan M, Wolever RQ, Lawson K, Moore M. National Training and Education Standards for Health and Wellness Coaching: The Path to National Certification. Global Advances in Health and Medicine. 2015;4(3):46-56. doi: https://doi.org/10.7453/gahmj.2015.039
  3. ‌Whitsel LP, Bantham A. It’s Time to Move: Integrating Physical Activity Assessment, Prescription, and Referral through Policy and Systems Change. Journal of Healthy Eating and Active Living. 3(1):1-6. Accessed January 5, 2024. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC10546937/

Leave us a comment and we will reply ASAP

Trainer Academy - Staff of certified fitness experts

Trainer Academy


All Posts

The Trainer Academy Editorial Process


Here at Trainer Academy, we take pride in providing the most up-to-date and correct information. That is why we have a rigorous editorial process to fact-check and review all content on our site. We only provide up-to-date and accurate information that comes from relevant and trustworthy sources. If you would like to learn more, check out our editorial process here.

Our MVP enrollments are backed by a Pass Guarantee. Complete our program and we assure you'll pass your NSCA CSCS exam. Should you not, we'll refund your entire payment and cover the $250 - $475 (whether you fail one or both sections) exam retake fee with the National Strength and Conditioning Association.

Close

How does it work?

To claim

Simply forward an email to [email protected] with your full name (which must correspond with the name and email address from your Trainer Academy purchase) and attach the proof of failure issued by the NSCA.

What happens next

We will verify your successful completion of the program through your account. Upon confirmation, we will promptly process a full refund (you will be notified via a separate email) and transfer $250 - $475 to you for the exam retake fee. Additionally, we will upgrade your account to MVP lifetime access for free. 

Our MVP enrollments are backed by a Pass Guarantee. Complete our program and we assure you'll pass your NASM CNC exam. Should you not, we'll refund your entire payment and cover the $199 exam retake fee with the National Academy of Sports Medicine.

Close

How does it work?

To claim

Simply forward an email to [email protected] with your full name (which must correspond with the name and email address from your Trainer Academy purchase) and attach the proof of failure issued by the NASM.

What happens next

We will verify your successful completion of the program through your account. Upon confirmation, we will promptly process a full refund (you will be notified via a separate email) and transfer $199 to you for the exam retake fee.

Our MVP enrollments are backed by a Pass Guarantee. Complete our program and we assure you'll pass your NASM PES exam. Should you not, we'll refund your entire payment and cover the $99 exam retake fee with the National Academy of Sports Medicine.

Close

How does it work?

To claim

Simply forward an email to [email protected] with your full name (which must correspond with the name and email address from your Trainer Academy purchase) and attach the proof of failure issued by the NASM.

What happens next

We will verify your successful completion of the program through your account. Upon confirmation, we will promptly process a full refund (you will be notified via a separate email) and transfer $99 to you for the exam retake fee.

Our MVP enrollments are backed by a Pass Guarantee. Complete our program and we assure you'll pass your NASM CES exam. Should you not, we'll refund your entire payment and cover the $99 exam retake fee with the National Academy of Sports Medicine.

Close

How does it work?

To claim

Simply forward an email to [email protected] with your full name (which must correspond with the name and email address from your Trainer Academy purchase) and attach the proof of failure issued by the NASM.

What happens next

We will verify your successful completion of the program through your account. Upon confirmation, we will promptly process a full refund (you will be notified via a separate email) and transfer $99 to you for the exam retake fee.

Our MVP enrollments are backed by a Pass Guarantee. Complete our program and we assure you'll pass your ISSA nutrition exam. Should you not, we'll refund your entire payment and cover the $99 exam retake fee with The International Sports Sciences Association.

Close

How does it work?

To claim

Simply forward an email to [email protected] with your full name (which must correspond with the name and email address from your Trainer Academy purchase) and attach the proof of failure issued by the ISSA.

What happens next

We will verify your successful completion of the program through your account. Upon confirmation, we will promptly process a full refund (you will be notified via a separate email) and transfer $99 to you for the exam retake fee.

Our MVP enrollments are backed by a Pass Guarantee. Complete our program and we assure you'll pass your NCSF CPT exam. Should you not, we'll refund your entire payment and cover the $99 exam retake fee with The National Council on Strength and Fitness.

Close

How does it work?

To claim

Simply forward an email to [email protected] with your full name (which must correspond with the name and email address from your Trainer Academy purchase) and attach the proof of failure issued by the NCSF.

What happens next

We will verify your successful completion of the program through your account. Upon confirmation, we will promptly process a full refund (you will be notified via a separate email) and transfer $99 to you for the exam retake fee.

Our MVP enrollments are backed by a Pass Guarantee. Complete our program and we assure you'll pass your ISSA CPT exam. Should you not, we'll refund your entire payment and cover the $99 exam retake fee with The International Sports Sciences Association.

Close

How does it work?

To claim

Simply forward an email to [email protected] with your full name (which must correspond with the name and email address from your Trainer Academy purchase) and attach the proof of failure issued by the ISSA.

What happens next

We will verify your successful completion of the program through your account. Upon confirmation, we will promptly process a full refund (you will be notified via a separate email) and transfer $99 to you for the exam retake fee.