Get the Basics...
  • You must complete the appropriate certification program and exam to become a CPT.
  • Before enrolling in a program, you should make sure you have fulfilled the prerequisites.
  • Most organizations offer bundle packs to help you save money.

If you’re a fitness enthusiast who wants to inspire others, becoming a personal trainer is a good choice. But the first step in learning how to properly train clients is earning your personal trainer certification.

At this point, you may be asking why you need this. Even if you’ve helped trained friends in the gym or actively coached sports, you still need to demonstrate that you’ve completed the appropriate coursework to find a high-paying position.

And if you’re planning on opening your own business, having certification from an accredited organization is a must.

But even before you start your personal trainer certification courses, you need to complete several prerequisites. For instance, every program does require that you are 18 or older and have completed CPR certification. Some programs may also require that you have AED (automatic external defibrillator) certification as well.

Although each organization’s programs have similarities, many of them have different syllabi. To help you turn your passion into a rewarding career, we’ve compiled a list of the best personal training certification programs:

National Academy of Sports Medicine

The National Academy of Sports Medicine offers online courses and study guides. Starting at $489, you are privy to a self-paced online course with a guaranteed exam pass. Their program provides one-on-one mentoring, a textbook in hardcopy and PDF, lecture videos, flashcard bundles, and practice exams.

For $699, you have online access to study guides, flashcard bundles, and practice tests, but you also have anatomy memorization activities and other learning activities as well. The most expensive option NASM offers costs $1399, which is all-inclusive. If you don’t pass your exam the first time, you have a retest voucher, a CPT development program, and a job guarantee.

American College of Sports Medicine

ACSM offers their test-preparation bundle for $135, in addition to three workshop options that prepare you for the certified personal trainer exam. Three days of in-person workshops cost $375, one in-person workshop is $129, and the online webinar series will cost you $240. Testing with ACSM is $299, but if you attend the three-day workshop, you’ll receive a $50 discount. Total cost to you is under $900.

National Strength and Conditioning Association

NSCA certification program costs $300 for members and $435 for non-members. They also offer a large variety of personal training study guides, which include their own Essentials of Personal Training Guide, workbooks, multimedia CDs and audio, and practice tests. NSCA’s study guide includes an enormous amount of information, such as:

  • testing protocol
  • safety guidelines
  • client assessment
  • modifications for clients with special needs
  • full-color photos demonstrating specific exercises

American Council of Exercise

ACE has many resources you can choose from to suit your learning needs. In addition to several online programs, they also offer exam review with practice tests. ACE ranges from $699 for the standard package to $799 for premium packages. The exam itself costs $399.

You also have admission into the ACE Resource Center, which gives you access to study counselors. ACE offers its students three books for their online program, which include:

  • Personal Trainer Manual Set
  • Essentials of Exercise Science Flashcards
  • Master Manual of Personal Training

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Continuing Education and Recertification

Regardless of which program you choose, you’re required to maintain CPR certification and continuing education credits. Typically, all certifying organizations will accept the same things as credit, which include completing an in-person or online course and attendance at relevant conferences.


ACSM offers the least expensive recertification program at just $30 every three years. They do require that you earn 45 continuing education credits during that period.


The recertification fee with ACE is $129 every other year. They only require 20 CECs for recertification purposes. ACE offers in-person workshops, online courses, a variety of specialty certifications. They also hold an ACE symposium which is a large personal training conference.


NASM requires 20 hours of continuing education credits every two years, and recertification costs $99, but if you choose, you can pay a one-time fee of $299 for lifetime recertification.


NSCA offers the lowest recertification fee of $50 for every two years. Similar to the other organizations, they require at least 20 continuing education credits for recertification purposes.

Additional Types of Certification

In addition to personal trainer certification, each organization offers additional types of certifications that can propel you forward in your career. And although some of the certifications are more general, others are more specific, such as NSCA’s tactical strength certification.

ASCM’s certification programs include health fitness specialist and group exercise instructor, both of which teach you the skills needed to work with people with certain medical conditions.

ACE offers group fitness instructor, health coach, and advanced fitness and health specialist certification.

NSCA focuses primarily on conditioning and strengthening, so additional certification through them will focus specifically on that. Furthermore, NCSA also offers a program for tactical strength trainers, who are equipped to train military personnel, law enforcement officers, and fire and rescue squads.


But how do you know if an organization is accredited? Understanding what accreditation is can be confusing.

For an organization to become accredited, it needs to undergo review by an accrediting body, which sets standards for certification programs.

ACE, ACSM, NSCA, and NASM are accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies. All organizations accredited by NCCA must undergo a primary evaluation and renewal process on a regular basis.

The Cost Factor

Earning your personal trainer certification isn’t free, but each organization does offer bundle packs that make learning affordable. And although becoming a personal trainer does require a significant amount of time and money, it will be worth it once you start building your business and help your clients live a healthier life.