10 Best Personal Trainer Certifications

If you seriously want to become a fitness pro, there’s one thing you cannot and should not avoid.

What is that you might be wondering?

Well, If the title of this article didn’t make it obvious, it is, of course, to first become a certified personal trainer.

Knowing that you need to get certified is one thing, but learning which personal trainer certification programs are right for you is another.

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

Here are the 10 best personal trainer certifications I will be comparing.

  • NASM CPT
  • ACE CPT
  • ISSA CPT
  • ACSM CPT
  • NSCA CPT
  • Action CPT
  • NCSF CPT
  • NESTA CPT
  • NFPT CPT
  • Fitness Mentors CPT

In order to get the most accurate personal trainer certification comparison, I will be comparing these 10 certifications on The 11 most important factors.

11 most important factors

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, its 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.

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 organisation as a member.

It’s also fair to point out that some certifications come with and 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!

The ones that have an exam only option include:

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

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.

ACE, ISSA, and NASM receive the top spot when it comes to inhouse study materials. Lets take a look at how the break down:

ACE Study Materials

ACE’s study packages come in 3 tiers, these are of course priced accordingly.

Basic

  • ACE Academy Elite 
  • ACE Answers 
  • ACE Certification Exam
  • 1 Practice Test
  • ACE Personal Trainer Manual
  • ACE Essentials of Exercise Science for Fitness Professionals
  • ACE Study Companion

Plus

  • ACE Academy Elite 
  • ACE Answers 
  • ACE Certification Exam
  • 2 Practice Tests
  • ACE Personal Trainer Manual
  • ACE Essentials of Exercise Science for Fitness Professionals
  • ACE Study Companion
  • ACE Applied Exercise Science Workbook
  • Getting Started Video

Advantage

  • ACE Academy Elite 
  • ACE Answers 
  • ACE Certification Exam
  • 2 Practice Tests
  • ACE Personal Trainer Manual
  • ACE Essentials of Exercise Science for Fitness Professionals
  • ACE Study Companion
  • ACE Applied Exercise Science Workbook
  • Getting Started Video

NASM Study Materials

For NASM, we have a similar approach as follows:

Self Study

  • 100% Online Course
  • NCCA Accredited Exam 
  • NASM-CPT Digital Textbook
  • Content Learning Videos
  • Exercise Video Library
  • Practice Exams & Quizzes

Self Study Premium

  • 100% Online Course
  • NCCA Accredited Exam 
  • NASM-CPT Digital Textbook
  • Content Learning Videos
  • Exercise Video Library
  • Practice Exams & Quizzes
  • Exercise Coaching Demonstrations
  • Job Guarantee 
  • One-year NASM EDGE Trainer Plus 

Guided Study

  • 100% Online Course
  • NCCA Accredited Exam 
  • NASM-CPT Digital Textbook
  • Content Learning Videos
  • Exercise Video Library
  • Practice Exams & Quizzes
  • Exercise Coaching Demonstrations
  • Job Guarantee 
  • One-year NASM EDGE Trainer Plus 
  • 10-Week, Instructor-Led Course (Optional/Flexible) 
  • Certification Exam Retest
  • NASM-CPT Hardcopy Textbook
  • Access to Fitness Experts 
  • Business Accelerator 

All-Inclusive

  • 100% Online Course
  • NCCA Accredited Exam 
  • NASM-CPT Digital Textbook
  • Content Learning Videos
  • Exercise Video Library
  • Practice Exams & Quizzes
  • Exercise Coaching Demonstrations
  • Job Guarantee 
  • One-year NASM EDGE Trainer Plus 
  • 10-Week, Instructor-Led Course (Optional/Flexible) 
  • Certification Exam Retest
  • NASM-CPT Hardcopy Textbook
  • Access to Fitness Experts 
  • Business Accelerator 
  • NASM EDGE CPT Exam Prep 
  • Gymternship™ 
  • Recertify for Life 

ISSA Study Materials

ISSA has a very straight forward, value-added package when it comes to their CPT course.

No crazy tiers to choose from, just go with the 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 Exam

ISSA is know for having one of the most comprehensive course textbook out there which is what makes it shine!

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.

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.

Exam Difficulty and Pass Rate

This statistic allows us to peer more into exactly how difficult each certification’s 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 of 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.

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 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

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.

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 area of interest or expertise.

ACE probably has the most centered 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 fundamentals 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 programming, 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. It leans towards corrective exercise but has a good foundation with regards to 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.

CEU Requirements

CEUs or continuing education units 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.

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

Lets 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 educational events, doing assesments, 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

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.

We rate NASM as the best all-round option for any fledgling trainer.

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

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

ACE 2

Certification Take Away

ACE is a solid grounding when it comes to all-round 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.

NCSA

Certification Take Away

The NCSA CPT is a great certification and one which will definitely get your foot in the door at the very least.

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 those who want to expand their career options with a top tier knowledge base.

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

ACSM

Certification Take Away

ACSM is definitely in the category of top CPT certifications.

We would place it as one of the top 5 and that’s not even considering the fact that 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.

That’s because it is primarily a research organization with less of an emphasis on developing the careers and approach to the business of fitness professionals.

It’s a great cert to 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.

Fitness Mentors

Certification take away

Fitness Mentors has 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

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

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

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.

Conclusion

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.

Find out if our study system is right for you!

Close

Try the NSCA MVP for free 🤓

Find out if our study system is right for you!

Close

Try The NASM MVP For Free 🤓

Find out if our study system is right for you!

Close

Try The ISSA MVP for free 🤓

Find out if our study system is right for you!

Close

Try The ACSM MVP For Free 🤓

Find out if our study system is right for you!

Close

Try The CSCS MVP For Free 🤓

Find out if our study system is right for you!

Close

Try The ACE MVP For Free 🤓