Seriously ready to become a fitness pro.?

Wondering where to even start?

The first step is to get certified!

But wait…

From which certified personal trainer study program?

That’s why we’re going to help you navigate 10 of the best possible personal trainer certification programs, from the most recognized personal training programs.

We will cover the following topics on each personal trainer study program:

NCAA accreditation
Cost and quality of study packages
Exam layout, preparing for your exam, and exam difficulty
Expected income
Continuing education requirements

Upon reading this article, you will definitely learn which fitness training certification program is right for you.

Alright, let’s get to it!

Best Personal Trainer Certification Programs for 2021

NASM – Best overall
ACE – Best for basic certification
ACTION – Best low-cost certification
ISSA – Best online
NASM – Best in person
NESTA – Best For continuing education

Accreditation

One important caveat when considering which is the best personal trainer certification to go for is, of course, accreditation.

This is a seal of approval that authenticates the quality of knowledge and method of administration in a certifying agency’s curriculum.

It indicates that what you’re signing up for is a nationally recognized personal training certification.

There are 3 main accrediting bodies you need to look out for when choosing an accredited personal trainer certification.

Try and avoid anything that isn’t stamped with one of these, and these being NCCA, DEAC, and NBFE.

All the top personal training certification courses have a stamp of approval from one of these 3.

Let’s look at which accreditation goes with which certification before you actually jump into any personal trainer classes.

All these accrediting bodies are a sign of authentication which means you can trust what you’re signing up for and you can expect to be accepted into the industry.

Having said that, it’s quite apparent that NCCA is the most trusted of the 3, and having a cert accredited by them gives you a bit more leverage overall in the eyes of the industry.

NCCA stands for the National Commission for Certifying Agencies.

DECA stands for Distance Education Accrediting Commission.

Read also: Top Nutrition Certifications

Cost of Study Packages

When it comes to cost, most certifications allow you the option of choosing from several tiered packages, all different based on what study and prep materials are included.

A few, such as ACSM and NSCA, have differences in pricing based on whether or not you join the organization as a member.

It’s also fair to point out that some certifications come with an exam-only fee, meaning you only pay to register for the final exam and that registration won’t include any course material including the textbook!

For the ones that have an exam, the only option includes:

  • NCSF CPT ($299)
  • NESTA PFT ($349)
  • NFPT ($199)
  • NSCA: Non-member: ($435), Member: ($300)
  • ACSM: Non-member: ($349), Member: ($279)

Note that, as with everything in life, these prices are not permanent; they change from time to time.

So, click the respective link below to find out the most up-to-date costs:

Learn more: How To Become A Personal Trainer

Quality of Study Materials (1-10)

When it comes to getting certified, how you prep for the final exam is a major factor, one which hinges on the quality and variety of study and prep material specifically available to that cert.

That’s why we feel it’s super important to look at what you can and should get as part of your package when you sign up and purchase a course.

We will be ranking each certification’s best value study packages out of 10 based on quality and variety.

An interesting read: Best Group Fitness Certifications

ACE, ISSA, and NASM receive the top spot when it comes to in-house study materials.

Now, let’s take a look at how the break down:

ACE Study Materials

The American Council on Exercise (ACE) offers unique study packages in 3 tiers, these are of course priced accordingly.

Refer to the comparison table below!

BasicPlusAdvantage
$424.00$499.00$749.00
ACE University ACE University ACE University
ACE Certification ExamACE Certification ExamACE Certification Exam
ACE Practice Test (1)ACE Practice Test (2)ACE Practice Test (4)
ACE Personal Trainer Textbook; Digital onlyACE Personal Trainer Textbook; Digital and hardcopyACE Personal Trainer Textbook; Digital, hardcopy, and audiobook
ACE Personal Trainer Study Companion; Digital onlyACE Personal Trainer Study Companion; Digital and hardcopyACE Personal Trainer Study Companion; Digital and hardcopy
ACE Answers (Basic)ACE Answers (Plus); Live Q&A webinarsACE Answers (Advantage); Live Q&A webinars and facilitated study groups
Exercise Science 101 Exercise Science 101
Dedicated Advantage Team

If you are ready to start studying immediately, jump straight to the free ACE study guide here.

You can also see if all you’ve learned has been soaked in by using my free ACE practice exam tool.

However, I know you may not have so much time to spare, and rather want to jumpstart the process, half your study time, and pass with flying colors (with a money-back guarantee).

If that’s you, skip the wait and jump straight to the premium MVP version here.

We also highly recommend you check out a full ACE review here for more info about the certification.

Don’t forget to check out the current cost for the ACE cert here.

NASM Study Materials

For the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), we have a similar approach.

Below is a comparison of NASM’s four CPT certification program options; self-study, premium self-study, guided study, and all-inclusive:

Self-StudyPremium Self-StudyGuided StudyAll-Inclusive
$599.00$839.00$1,119.00$1,889.00
100% Online Course100% Online Course100% Online Course100% Online Course
NCCA Accredited ExamNCCA Accredited ExamNCCA Accredited ExamNCCA Accredited Exam
High-Quality Digital Learning PlatformHigh-Quality Digital Learning PlatformHigh-Quality Digital Learning PlatformHigh-Quality Digital Learning Platform
Upscale Learning VideosUpscale Learning VideosUpscale Learning VideosUpscale Learning Videos
Audio Chapter SummariesAudio Chapter SummariesAudio Chapter SummariesAudio Chapter Summaries
Exercise Demonstration LibraryExercise Demonstration LibraryExercise Demonstration LibraryExercise Demonstration Library
Handouts and Resources LibraryHandouts and Resources LibraryHandouts and Resources LibraryHandouts and Resources Library
Practice Exam, Quizzes and Knowledge ChecksPractice Exam, Quizzes and Knowledge Checks
Practice Exam, Quizzes and Knowledge Checks
Practice Exam, Quizzes and Knowledge Checks
Virtual Coaching Specialization: Train Clients in the Gym and Online!Virtual Coaching Specialization: Train Clients in the Gym and Online!Virtual Coaching Specialization: Train Clients in the Gym and Online!Virtual Coaching Specialization: Train Clients in the Gym and Online!
Job GuaranteeJob GuaranteeJob Guarantee
One-year NASM EDGE Trainer PlusOne-year NASM EDGE Trainer PlusOne-year NASM EDGE Trainer Plus
Unlimited Access to NASM Fitness ExpertsUnlimited Access to NASM Fitness Experts
Certification Exam RetestCertification Exam Retest
NASM-CPT Hardcopy TextbookNASM-CPT Hardcopy Textbook
Bonus Course: Motivational Interviewing for CoachesBonus Course: Motivational Interviewing for Coaches
NASM's Edge CPT Exam Prep
Gymternship™
Recertify for Life
CPR/AED Certification Online

In any case, if you desire to cut your study time by half, achieve a whooping 99% pass rate in the final exam, it’s highly recommended you check out the NASM MVP package here.

I have a free NASM study guide as well as a free exam practice test available for your use.

Best of all, this option comes with an iron-clad money-back guarantee.

For a fuller overview, click here for the most recent NASM review here.

Finally, NASM also offers a Group Fitness Instructor certification, too.

The NASM AFAA-GFI (Athletics and Fitness Association of America – Group Fitness Instructor) prepares trainers to lead group classes.

If interested, learn more about it!

ISSA Study Materials

The International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA) has a very straightforward, value-added package when it comes to its CPT course.

No crazy tiers to choose from, just go with the gold standard CPT package that comes bundled with the Sports Nutritionist course free of charge!

The materials you’ll find include:

  • Online Practice Exams and Quizzes
  • Audio and Video Lecture Options
  • Online Study Guide and Workbook
  • Online Student Forum
  • Online Personal Trainer Exam

ISSA is known for having one of the most comprehensive course digital textbooks out there which is what makes it shine!

Beyond these fantastic study materials, ISSA also offers one of the market’s most sought-after combo: the CPT/Nutrition certification combo.

Getting the ISSA CPT certification alongside the Nutrition certification in the buy-one-get-one-free promo is a wise choice and we highly recommend it.

This is because having specializations puts you on a higher pedestal when compared to people with only one of the two.

In other words, being a certified trainer and a certified nutrition specialist will get you more clients, considering that both disciplines go hand-in-hand, as far as the personal training industry is concerned.

The Elite Trainer package is even better. This ISSA package offers you a 3-in-1 combo!

These are the personal training cert, the nutrition cert, and one other certification of your choosing.

You can rarely find a better deal than this – anywhere!

Click here to take advantage of the ISSA combo promos (the CPT/Nutrition certification combo, and the Elite Trainer 3-in-1 package).

I know you can’t wait to get going; so we’ve committed so much time and resources to design a solid money-back guarantee ISSA MVP program.

Click this link to access the comprehensive ISSA review for more details.

For the most recent ISSA CPT price, click here.

Exam Layout and Passing Grade

The level of challenge and effort required while prepping as well as actually writing the exam is of course influenced by the layout of the paper.

The number of questions and how many of them you need to get right is the metric for this.

Most cert exams fall on 70%. Another common trend with cert exams is the inclusion of non-scored questions.

These hidden gems, or landmines, depending on your perspective, are used to test run potential future questions.

The tricky thing about these non-scored questions is you will never know which ones they are, so you will need to answer all questions regardless.

Know more about: The Best Fitness Certifications

Exam Difficulty and Pass Rate

This statistic allows us to peer more into exactly how difficult each certification exam is.

In some cases, such as with ISSA, the pass rate isn’t exactly indicative of how challenging the exam content is.

That’s because ISSA is a self-paced, open-book exam, while still maintaining the same caliber of content as most other certifications.

Surprisingly, when it comes to the most difficult to pass, it seems Action CPT has the highest barrier to success.

This could be due to the relatively lackluster study materials, which might be a symptom of teething issues since it’s such a new certifying agency.

ACE and NASM are traditionally tough, which is part of their quality control ethos and adds to the value trainers certified with these credentials have.

NSCA and ACSM are pretty difficult in most cases when it comes to their specialist offerings, such as the NSCA CSCS.

However, if you look at their general PT certifications, the difficulty level seems to be fairly moderate.

The pass rates above are the usual scores recorded over time from students who use the proprietary (and massive) study guides.

It is no surprise that people usually cannot exceed this given the loads of information they need to consume from books as big as 600-700 pages long before the exam.

To get as high as 99% pass rate while cutting your study time by half, we have created the most sought-after personal trainer materials designed in bit-sized chunks using techniques like mnemonics, spaced-repetition flashcards, and practice exams to simulate the real thing.

Click here to access these study materials and get started.

Check this out: Top Strength and Conditioning Certifications

Retake Fee

While failure is the last thing you want to entertain when taking your exam, it happens and is nothing to be ashamed of.

That’s why you can retake your exam with all the certs featured in this article.

The retake policy is however different depending on the certification, including how much you will need to pay before you can do it.

Personal trainer certification retake fees

Certification Popularity

Enrollment and search stats prove which certification is the most sought after by trainers.

The significance of this data points to which certs have the best industry recognition and acceptance.

Certification popularity I calculated in two different ways.

The first is the number of enrollments in the certification per year.

The second way is the number of people that search the certification on Google monthly.

This data will give you a good idea of how popular is desertification is.

Depending on the cert, and the layout of the study material, different prep periods are given.

You will need to decide based on the sort of learner you are, which cert presents the most opportune amount of exam prep.

Whatever certification you choose, here at Trainer Academy, we have a selection of study packages guaranteed to cut your study time down, while increasing your odds of passing.

Expected Study Time

These are expected study times as proposed by the certification body.

However, we’ve found a way around that; our bit-sized and unique study guides will help you cut these study times by as much as half, yet help you ace the exam by as high as 99% pass rate.

If you do not pass the first time, first, don’t be discouraged!

Second, please refer to your program’s retest policy, as they may differ.

Click here to access these study materials and save time.

Average Income

Unfortunately, for this particular stat, we couldn’t gather data on all the certification’s potential earnings figures for trainers.

One thing is certain, popularity has a strong correlation to earning potential showing that the popularity of certifications is linked to how lucrative the opportunities they give access to are.

Know more about Personal Trainer Salary

Primary Focus of Certification

Each Certification has its own field of focus, or at the very least, it leans in a particular direction when it comes to areas of interest or expertise.

ACE probably has the most central focus when it comes to working with the average fitness consumer.

It is aimed at fundamental goals and outcomes such as fostering good health and fitness habits.

Others such as ACSM and NSCA have a more scientific approach towards scientific principles and exercise techniques respectively.

ISSA is the best if you want to learn how to design and deliver professional programs and health/fitness plans

This is helped not only by an in-depth look into the technicalities of program design but also by the relatively more in-depth focus on nutrition.

Fitness Mentors and NESTA are great for the modern, self-employed trainer since these lean towards business and entrepreneurship, with NESTA leading the charge when it comes to technological integration.

The best in our estimation is NASM.

While it leans towards exercise science fundamentals and corrective exercise, NASM has a good foundation concerning general health and fitness concerns.

This means you’re delivering the same package of service as something like ACE, but with the foundations of NSCA in terms of helping people improve both form and function.

Read Next: Best Health Coach Certifications

CEU Requirements

CEUs (continuing education units), also known as CECs (continuing education credits), are educational credits you can and should acquire through your career and work as a fitness professional.

They help you keep your skills and knowledge sharp, but at the same time are mandatory for you to recertify.

As you know, every couple of years or so, your certification will expire, requiring you to renew it by recertification.

To do that, you need to pay a fee as well as earn a minimum number of CEUs.

Let’s check out what each cert requires.

As you can see, the majority of certifications expire within two years. There are some outliers though.

NESTA, for example, allows you to have a current certification for 4 years!

On the flip side, you have NFPT which requires an annual renewal.

CEUs are earned in various ways such as attending webinars, educational events, doing assessments, working in the field, or certifying with different credentials.

It’s important to keep this in mind and not rest on your laurels after passing your initial exam.

When it comes to recertification fees, the range of fees and criteria for what you need to pay varies quite a bit.

Some certifications have a fixed recertification fee, while others such as NSCA have a range depending on how you obtain your CEUs, the number of credentials, and what your membership status is.

Check the re-certification criteria before you even attempt your first pass at the exam.

Certification Take Away

NASM 2

NASM Certification Take Away

NASM has a great reputation, but this reputation certainly matches its value as a useful and practical way to equip yourself with the necessary tools to be an awesome fitness instructor.

With the high-quality course content, use of the Optimum Performance Training (OPT) model, and job guarantee, we rate NASM as the best all-around option for any fledgling trainer.

The support and applicability of its training principles make it a great fit for fitness experts and their prospective clients.

Be sure to check to price regularly as the listed online course and package prices often get discounted.

If you are still considering having the NASM certification, you can get a great deal by clicking here.

ISSA

ISSA Certification Take Away

With ISSA having a strong focus on program design and the practical aspect of personal training, it certainly deserves its positioning as a global certificate.

Having a strong focus on business and entrepreneurship strategies certainly makes it stand out from other certifying bodies.

If you want to take your personal training business to greater heights, I’ll advise you to click here for great deals in obtaining the ISSA certifications.

NCSF

NCSF Certification Take Away

Overall, NCSF is very popular within the fitness industry, a favorite of employees, and also acceptable in some universities as college credits.

NCSF stands for the National Council on Strength and Fitness.

It is a perfect choice if you really want to have massive practical experience during the training sessions.

Click here to find the latest NCSF CPT deals.

ACE 2

ACE Certification Take Away

ACE is a solid grounding when it comes to all-around knowledge resources for health and fitness.

It helps you deal with the average man, woman, and child, and is a good direction if your career goal is just to promote health consciousness and good lifestyle habits.

Click the following link for current deals and ACE certification discounts.

NCSA

NSCA Certification Take Away

Want to become a strength and conditioning specialist?

The NSCA-CPT is a great certification and will definitely get your foot in the door at the very least.

NSCA stands for the National Strength and Conditioning Association.

However, it is pretty tough, and it does skimp on study material compared to other certifications. For that reason, we wouldn’t recommend it as an entry-level certification.

It’s best suited for professional trainers who want to expand their training career options with a top-tier knowledge base.

We still place it as a highly recommended personal training certification.

ACSM

ACSM Certification Take Away

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) CPT is definitely placed as one of the top 5 CPT certifications.

And, that’s not even because ACSM as an organization is quite influential on all other fitness institutions and certifying agencies.

(At the same time, that very fact hinders ACSM somewhat.)

The reason it belongs on top is that it is primarily a research organization with less of an emphasis on developing the careers and approach to the business of fitness professionals.

Becoming a personal trainer with ACSM will expand your knowledge and optimize your credentials, but It’s not the ideal starting point for a career in fitness if you’re new to the game.

You can ace the ACSM certification exam with this MVP Premium Program.

It’s a money-back guarantee package that relies on mnemonics, spaced repetition flashcards, and incredible practice tests that simulate the real exam.

Fitness Mentors

FM Certification Take Away

Fitness Mentors have a great approach to the business of being a personal trainer, while still equipping you with the necessary fundamentals with regards to the science of health and fitness.

However, these are just fundamentals, and to truly harness mastery of your craft as a fitness professional, a bit more depth would be great.

NFPT

NFPT Certification Take Away

NFPT CPT is a great certification if you just want to sprinkle a little extra knowledge into your repertoire as a personal trainer.

It certainly isn’t as deep and enriching as some of the other certs.

We would suggest using this as an opportunity to gather CEUs for recertification with other more reputable certs such as NASM, ISSA, or NSCA.

NESTA

NESTA Certification Take Away

NESTA is a solid contender in the health and fitness education space.

It has a sound curriculum and has an interesting, innovative way of shepherding new trainers into the industry equipped with unique technological know-how.

NESTA is still not as polished as the more tried and trusted certifications on this list, but it is getting there fairly quickly.

Action CPT

ACTION Certification Take Away

Action CPT ticks all the fundamental boxes, but just barely.

It’s a great entry point if budget is an issue.

It’s also a great, cost-effective way to grab some CEUs if you’re ready to recertify with a more substantial, reputable cert.

Best Personal Trainer Certifications Roundup

CertificationPrerequisitesCostExam Pass RateOnline/In person
NASM-CPT1. High school diploma or the equivalent
2. Valid and current CPR/AED certification
$79966%Online
ACE-CPT1. 18 years of age
2. High school diploma or the equivalent
3. Valid and current CPR/AED certification
$59965%Online
ISSA-CPT1. 18 years of age
2. High school diploma or the equivalent
3. Valid and current CPR/AED certification
4. Government-issued form of ID
$79990%Online
ACSM-CPT1. 18 years of age
2. Valid and current CPR/AED certification
1. Non-member: $349
2. Member: $279
70%Online
NSCA-CPT1. 18 years of age
2. High school diploma or the equivalent
3. Valid and current CPR/AED certification
1. Non-member: $725
2. Member: $540
72%Online
ACTION-CPT1. Valid and current CPR/AED certification$9954%Online
NCSF-CPT1. 18 years of age
2. High school diploma or the equivalent
3. Government-issued form of ID
$68879.15%Online
NESTA-CPT1. 18 years of age
2. High school diploma or the equivalent
3. Valid and current CPR/AED certification
$39976%Online
NFPT-CPT1. 18 years of age
2. High school diploma or the equivalent
3. Valid and current CPR/AED certification
$27972%Online
FM-CPT1. 2.0 CEUs
2. Valid and current CPR/AED certification
$39978.2%Online

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Conclusion

The free study guides are nice to have when commencing your journey.

However, to accelerate your study and get certified even faster and with the highest grades you desire, we’ll highly recommend you check out the Premium Study Guides.

As far as personal training certification reviews go, we tried to give you a quick glimpse into what each of the top 10 certs presents for your knowledge expansion as well as career prospects.

Ultimately, no one cert is the best for everyone, so choose your path based on which of these best ticks your boxes.

No need to wonder what our top picks are; here are the two top personal training certifications that stand out and we highly recommend.

Click the links below to check them out.

No matter the certification you choose, our custom-designed MVP study packages will help you to drastically reduce study time and achieve a 99% pass rate – all these with an iron-clad money-back guarantee!

Click the respective links to get started:

Want to start studying and practicing the mock exam questions right away?

We’ve got you covered. Click on your choice certification below and begin today!

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