NESTA Personal Fitness Trainer Certification Review | Learn: Your Fitness Business Resource

NESTA Personal Fitness Trainer Certification Review

There are many factors to consider when deciding which personal training program is right for you. Not only are there dozens of program options, but the information about these programs can be overwhelming. This review will give you what you need to know about the NESTA certification. Find out if it's the right fit for you!

Tyler Spraul is the director of UX and the head trainer for He has his Bachelor of Science degree in pre-medicine and is an NSCA-certified strength and conditioning specialist. He is a former All-American soccer player and still coaches soccer today. In his free time, he enjoys reading, learning, and living the dad life. He has been featured in Shape, Healthline, HuffPost, Women's...

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UPDATED: Jun 1, 2021

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Get the Basics...
  • NESTA offers one of the many personal training certifications available.
  • There are some positive aspects and negative aspects of the NESTA personal fitness trainer certification.
  • It’s important to do your homework before you decide which certification is the best option for you.

There are numerous personal training certifications available with various costs, reputations, exam details, positives, and negatives. It’s important to review these details before committing to one certification. NESTA personal fitness trainer certification is one of many, so what sets this certification apart from the others?

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NESTA (National Exercise and Sports Trainers Association) is also known as NESTA/Spencer Institute and is an international organization known as “The Association for Entrepreneurial Trainers & Coaches.” NESTA was established in 1992.

NESTA also includes the Spencer Institute, which emphasizes coaching, personal development, and the mental aspects of success. NESTA is a for-profit organization and is a corporate member of both the IDEA Health and Fitness Association and the IHRSA (International Health, Racquet, and Sportsclub Association).

The video below gives some more information about starting a career in personal training from NESTA and the Spencer Institute.

About the Exam

To sit for the NESTA personal fitness trainer certification exam, you must be 18 years old and have a high school diploma. You must also have a current CPR or BLS (Basic Life Support) certification to become NESTA certified. You may be audited to show proof of high school diploma/GED, driver’s license/passport, and CPR/BLS certification.

The exam fees vary between three different options:

  1. The personal fitness trainer certification with all of the study materials, which are listed below.
  2. The personal fitness trainer certification with the personal fitness trainer digital manual, but no other study materials.
  3. Just the personal fitness trainer certification exam with no study materials and no manual.

The cost for the personal fitness trainer certification is one payment of $477 or four payments of $124 each, totaling $496. This package includes the exam, practice exam, NESTA personal fitness trainer digital manual, and study materials.

The study materials include:

  • NESTA personal fitness trainer digital manual
  • 10 hours of online training videos with review questions
  • Audio lessons for some content
  • Unlimited access to the practice exam
  • Lifetime access to the training materials, even after you are certified
  • 30-, 60-, and 90-day study checklists

The online study materials are accessible on iPad, iPhone, Android devices, Windows, and Mac laptops.

For the digital personal fitness trainer manual and the exam (but no additional study materials), the fee is $399. If you just want to take the certification exam without the NESTA personal fitness trainer digital manual and study materials, the cost is $349.

There is not a recommended amount or length of preparation time before taking the NESTA exam but you must take it within 90 days of purchase. If you purchase the exam with the study materials, they do include a 30-, 60-, and 90-day study plan checklist. If you miss the 90-day window, you can request an extension for $95.

The exam is 100% online and must be taken at a PSI testing facility. You can search the website for PSI testing facility locations, but there are locations in most major cities across the US.

Individuals who live more than 2.5 hours or 100 miles from the nearest PSI testing facility location can apply for a private proctor to administer the exam. This must be approved by NESTA and costs $45. They also have a request for accommodations if those are needed for the exam.

The exam is 125 questions and you must score a 71% or higher to pass the exam. You have two hours to complete the exam. The retest fee is $199 and you must wait to re-take the exam until 30 days have passed from the last exam attempt.

There are also live in-person two-day (17 hours) personal fitness trainer workshops available in a few select locations across the US. These are called “Training Made Fun” and cost $389. These workshops are meant to help prepare participants for the certification exam and also include videos and study materials, but not the certification exam.

These workshops would be beneficial to those who need extra preparation for the exam, those who don’t have an educational background in the personal training content or those who have little previous experience in personal training.

A discount code for the certification exam is sent to participants after the workshop via email. Workshops are currently held in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, New York, Oregon, Texas, and Washington.

Finally, NESTA provides an opportunity to purchase only the online practice exam for $27. This is a 125 question exam and covers the same content as the certification exam. The major difference is that the practice exam has no time limit.

The exam results are shown immediately after completion and a temporary digital certificate is awarded at that time. A certificate is also mailed to those who successfully pass the certification exam.

Exam Content

The digital personal fitness trainer manual covers the following content areas for the NESTA certification exam:

  • Chapter 1 – Introduction to Personal Training
  • Chapter 2 – Exercise Physiology
  • Chapter 3 – Kinesiology and Functional Anatomy
  • Chapter 4 – Applied Biomechanics
  • Chapter 5 – Flexibility
  • Chapter 6 – Nutrition
  • Chapter 7 – Special Populations
  • Chapter 8 – Assessments
  • Chapter 9 – Program Design
  • Chapter 10 – Exercise Application
  • Chapter 11 – Safety, Injury Prevention, and Treatment
  • Chapters 12 – Exercise Psychology
  • Chapters 13 and 14 – Business Strategies and Applications for the Certified Personal Fitness Trainer

The exam content is divided up as follows:

  • 15% Business Application
  • 25% Program Design
  • 25% Exercise Science
  • 35% Program Implementation

Recertification and Continuing Education

Most professional certifications require recertification every few years, for most personal training certifications it’s usually two to four years. This requires a fee and a certain amount of continuing education hours to maintain your certification.

If your certification expires, there is usually a short grace period, but if it is not renewed in that period then you will lose your certification and must re-take the exam to become re-certified.

NESTA requires that you complete recertification every four years. Many other professional organizations that offer personal trainer certifications require recertification every two to three years.

NESTA requires 4.0 Continuing Education Units (CEUs), which amounts to 40 hours over the four-year certification cycle. The cost for recertification is $149, with late fees added if you are 1 to 90 days past your certification expiration date.

NESTA offers discounts on some of their CEU courses for individuals who are NESTA certified.

Continuing education ensures that personal trainers are staying updated in the field of health and fitness, obtaining additional specializations or knowledge in specific areas, and being lifelong learners. The following video describes the NESTA recertification and CEUs.

The table below details the NESTA CEUs, recertification length, and cost compared to other personal training certification organizations.

OrganizationRecertification length for each cycleRecertification cost per cycleCEUs or CECs required per certification cycle
ISSA (International Sports Sciences Association) Two years$9920 hours of CEUs
NASM (National Academy of Sports Medicine) Two years$992.0 CEUs (20 hours)
NSCA (National Strength and Conditioning Association) Three years$75Between 2.0 CEUs (2 hours) 6.0 CEUs (60 hours) depending on when certification was obtained
ACE (American Council on Exercise) Two years$1292.0 CEUs (20 hours)
ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine) Three years$4545 CECs (45 hours)
NESTA (National Exercise and Sports Trainers Association) Four years$1494.0 CEUs (40 hours)

CEUs can be obtained from NESTA or another approved provider. The Spencer Institute offers a number of programs that count for CEUs. There is a listing of the other approved providers on the NESTA recertification page on the website.

NESTA offers a number of specialized courses that also count for CEUs. There are a variety of different opportunities to appeal to many different niches within fitness, physical activity, health, or personal training.

Certified personal trainers can add specialized credentials for nutrition, special populations, specific areas of fitness, trending areas, or weight management. See the table below for more details about those specialized courses, costs, CEUs offered, and a little about each one.

Name of Specialization or CertificationCostCEUs OfferedBrief Description
Triathlon Coach$2974.0Coaching and training triathletes
Pursuit Coach$2742.0Training similar to boot camps
Muay Thai Fitness Coach$2371.5One-on-one, small or large group training
Mixed Martial Arts Conditioning Coach$3794.0Training MMA athletes
Kettlebell Coach$1972.0Using kettlebells in training programs
Battling Ropes Coach$1972.0Training programs using ropes to improve fitness
Sports Injury Specialist$1791.5 Injury prevention and treatment
Physique & Figure Training Specialist$1971.5Coach and train clients for competitions or on stage
Speed, Agility, & Quickness Specialist$2501.5 Creating programs to target these three areas
Heart Rate Performance Specialist$972.0Designing fitness programs using heart rate zones
Metabolic Conditioning Coach$2792.0HIIT and metabolic training strategies and programming
Core Conditioning Specialist $1992.0Core training principles and programming
Functional Training Specialist$3594.0 Range of motion, flexibility, and body awareness
Biomechanics Specialist$3594.0Understanding biomechanics and human movement
Lifestyle Weight Management Specialist$1271.5Weight loss and weight management strategies
Kids Nutrition Specialist$1771.5Youth nutrition
Sports Nutrition Specialist$3472.0Specialized knowledge on nutrition for active indviduals
Fitness Nutrition Coach$2972.0Basic nutritional strategies
Sport Yoga Instructor$2752.0Integrating yoga into various individual or group exercise programs
Group Exercise Instructor$2752.0 Content for teaching a variety of group exercise classes
Master Personal Trainer$9978.5Advanced credential for mastery in personal training

Many of these specialization courses do not expire and do not require recertification. They are also offered in 100% online format. Many of those specialized course exams are non-proctored (meaning you can take them from your home) and offer multiple attempts to pass.

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The Positives of NESTA Certification

There are a number of positive aspects of the NESTA personal fitness trainer certification. First, the NESTA personal fitness trainer certification is accredited through the NCCA (National Commission for Certifying Agencies). The accreditation was obtained in 2017 and expires in 2024.

The NCCA accreditation means that the certification complies with rigorous standards related to quality assurance, recertification, assessment, resources, governance, stakeholders, and maintaining accreditation. The NESTA personal fitness trainer certification is also recognized by the National Board of Fitness Examiners.

Second, the cost of the NESTA exam is comparable to many other personal training certifications. Here is a comparison of the NESTA exam cost to other personal trainer certifications.

  • ACTION – $99
  • NFPT (National Federation of Personal Trainers) – $249
  • NESTA (National Exercise and Sports Trainers Association) – $349
  • ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine) – $349
  • NASM (National Academy of Sports Medicine) – $599
  • ISSA (International Sports Sciences Association) – $828

NESTA certification is good for four years before trainers have to recertify. This is a bit longer than other professional organizations that require every two to three years.

The NESTA training program is 100% online. This provides flexibility for test-takers to progress at their own speed within the 90-day window. The exam schedule is also flexible, as the test-taker will schedule it themself with one of the approved testing centers.

The study materials include a digital manual, over 30 videos with 3-D animations and graphics, audio lessons, and unlimited practice exams. This is quite a bit of information to help test takers learn and understand the content for the exam.

NESTA has a unique focus on the business aspects of personal training, which is not included in all personal training certifications. They emphasize sales, referrals, and marketing, which are important considerations for any personal trainer. Personal trainers will need business skills, like marketing, sales, and referrals in order to be successful.

The content for the NESTA personal training exam covers a variety of general and broad topics that are important for certified professionals, such as all areas of physical activity and fitness, assessment, musculoskeletal, safety, and business aspects. The specializations are a great way to get more content in a specific area, like strength training, weight management, nutrition, special populations, or sport yoga instructor, as seen in the video below.

NESTA offers a number of free webinars and web classes on their website on a variety of topics. This information would be helpful to keep personal trainers updated in their field and to continue to build their skills as fitness professionals.

The NESTA exam is GI Bill approved so military personnel can receive tuition reimbursement for the NESTA personal fitness trainer exam. NESTA offers a job board with personal trainer job postings across the US.

There are numerous CEUs (continuing education units) offered by NESTA and the Spencer Institute for their personal training certifications, so certified professionals may not have to look outside to other organizations.

The Negatives of NESTA Certification

The positives of the NESTA exam come along with some negatives as well.

First, NESTA is not known as one of the top personal trainer certifications. The NESTA personal fitness trainer certification was only recently accredited by the NCCA, so it does not have the longevity that other certifications like ACSM, ACE, NASM, and NSCA already have from their long history with certification and accreditation.

Because of the recent accreditation, the NESTA personal fitness trainer certification has not had time to build up its reputation like other organizations. Other personal training certifications, like ACE and ACSM, have a long history of NCCA accreditation.

Second, some gyms, health clubs, or fitness facilities may have a preference for one of the top five certifications for their personal trainers, which at this time does not include NESTA. It may take a number of years before NESTA has built up a reputation to compete with the other personal training certifications.

The Bottom Line

Is the NESTA personal trainer certification a good option for you?

Before choosing a personal training certification, educate yourself about the differences in the various professional organizations. Some require a college degree, whereas others do not. This is an important credential to become a personal trainer, so learn as much as you can to make sure you make the right decision.

One consideration is your background, including education, experience, skills, and knowledge. NESTA does not require a college degree and individuals who are lacking a strong fitness background might consider the live workshop or the package that includes the study materials.

Spend some time looking at job postings at organizations, health clubs, or facilities where you might like to be employed and see which certifications they prefer. Some prefer only certain certifications (ACE, ACSM, NASM, etc.) and some may not have a preference as long as it is an accredited certification, like NESTA.

NESTA also focuses more on entrepreneurship, marketing, sales, and other business aspects than other personal training certifications, which may be important if you are going to own your own personal training business or work as an independent contractor.

You should also consider your goals as a certified professional. If you are planning to own your own personal fitness business or do personal fitness training as an independent contractor, NESTA might be a good fit for you. This is a personal decision that all fitness professionals must make for themselves.

Check out the following video for even more information on the NESTA Personal Fitness Trainer Certification:

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Which personal training certification is the best one?

All of the various personal training certifications have different requirements, costs, study materials, exam details, recertification requirements, and continuing education credits (CECs) or units (CEUs). It’s important to do your homework and review all of the details before deciding on which one is best for you. The certifications that have been NCCA-accredited are more reputable than others that are not accredited because they have met a certain level of standards for the certification.

How long should I study for a personal training certification exam?

It varies among individuals. If you recently finished a degree with courses covering most of the content in the exam, you might be able to take it more quickly than someone who does not have that background. With NESTA, once you register for the exam, you have 90 days to complete the exam. Other organizations will vary on their timelines.

How much money do personal trainers make?

This varies depending on location, experience, and how many clients you are training. Check out this helpful article on personal training salaries by location.

Where can I train my personal training clients?

There are a number of places where you can train your clients like a gym, a park, your home, their home, or your own studio. For more locations and information on where to train your personal training clients, check out this article.

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