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The Best Personal Training Certification Programs In America

Personal Training

If you are passionate about helping others create physical and mental change for the better through health and fitness, personal training may be the perfect career for you. Becoming a certified personal trainer (CPT) is a challenging process that can create a flexible career you love. Trainers can become self-employed, work in well-known gyms, create online fitness programs, and develop long lasting relationships with clients.

To be a practicing CPT, you must earn certification and pass the exam recognized by the National Commission of Certifying Agencies (NCCA). There are plenty of certification programs online available to support your studying and provide the tools you need to master personal training. The best certification programs should offer a variety of study tools, mentorship, business and marketing education, and assist you in finding your first job.

If you’re looking to compare the best personal trainer certification programs on the market, here are the three programs that set the gold standard in training.

American Council on Exercise

The most popular and well-respected personal training certification program in the country is also one of the oldest: the American Council on Exercise (ACE). ACE offers a comprehensive training program designed to teach you personal training as well as career success skills you’ll need to brand yourself well. The ACE program is fully online with more than 75,000 successful certified graduates of their program. You will learn the foundations of personal training with online test preparation tools such as flashcards and test simulations.

This self-study approach is blended with the option to take advantage of expert mentorship from ACE staff through weekly check-ins and workshops. Additional curriculum for certain programs includes fitness math and business development. If you are looking for a guarantee of exam success, ACE offers a re-test voucher as well.

Highlights of ACE: ACE has some of the strongest gym relationships in the country, being the recommended certification program of choice for Gold’s Gym and Crunch. These relationships are especially important if you hope to increase your chances of employment in a recognized gym. ACE also offers an Interview Guarantee service if you follow required criteria, which is essential for new trainers without an extensive network in the fitness community.

You will also benefit from the multimedia learning methods used, which are online and flexible for any style of learning. The added accountability from support staff will help address your individual questions with the personal attention you need to succeed in the course.

Investment: $699-899 for entire course package with payment plans or $110 for the ACE manual and $399 for exam. ACE runs sales practically year round (which usually makes them the most affordable program on this list), so check out their website for the most updated prices.

National Academy of Sports Medicine

If you’re looking for the absolute highest quality personal training certification on the market and price is no obstacle, look no further than National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM).

NASM is a challenging science-focused certification program that is perfect if you love exercise physiology and bringing a technical focus to your clients. You can expect to learn a comprehensive introduction to personal training through the Optimum Performance Training Model (OPT) NASM has developed as their standard of teaching.

The learning methods available through NASM are varied, with online learning, group classes, and live workshops for skill building. There is also an option to enroll in its 9-week self-study online course if you require a flexible learning schedule or do not need individual assistance. You can also opt in to specialization certification programs including martial arts and youth personal training.

Highlights of NASM: Personal trainers who appreciate the nuances of exercise science are a great fit for NASM. The rigorous curriculum is challenging, but you will feel prepared to work with complex fitness program delivery in the future.

This program is also a great option if you are planning to specialize in a niche topic such as golf fitness. Specialties are a powerful way to stand out in a saturated market or create a fitness program that sells. These additional certifications offered by NASM are a targeted approach to continuing your education after you earn your CPT certification.

Investment: $699-1999 for full program packages with singular purchase alternatives ranging from $199-599.

International Sports Sciences Association

Last but not least, the International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA) provides great job placement services for students who need it. Along with its connections to well-known gyms, the ISSA CPT certification program will prepare you well as a new trainer. There are various methods used to deliver its curriculum including practice tests, videos, teleconferences, DVDs, and more.

You can also access ISSA staff for questions; however the approach is not through mentorship as it is in other programs. ISSA is ideal if your preferred learning style is self-study driven and you are excited by varied online learning methods.

Highlights of ISSA: ISSA provides one of the most complete support services for students requiring job placement assistance. Its Job Promise guarantee offer refunds students if they meet all criteria and have not successfully placed in a job after test completion. ISSA also prepares students for both employment and self-employment with its business and marketing tools. These lessons show you how to brand yourself as a personal trainer and build a system of finding and retaining clients.

Additionally, ISSA provides access to a complimentary website for you to showcase your new marketing skills and begin exposing your training practice to customers. The marketing approach and job application guidance provided by ISSA is perfect for students who need business skills built into their personal training certification.

Investment: Packages starting at $799, with the option for alternative payment schedules.

If you are passionate about exercise science and interested in a specific specialty, NASM will provide you with a challenging and rewarding approach. ISSA is a great option for students with little business background who will benefit from the job placement skill building just as much as learning the science of personal training. ACE is arguably the most comprehensive of the programs, with its connections to well-known gyms, expert mentors, and high quality curriculum setting the standard for CPT programs for years.
Your choice will largely depend on your preferred learning style, need for additional support, and interest in the add-ons offered for each program. By comparing these programs and doing your own research, you can feel confident your certification program is preparing you for a successful launch of a career as a personal trainer.


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Alexandra Dimitropoulou
Deputy executive editor at the ​CEOWORLD magazine. Writer, internet person, professional restaurant recommender, and native New Yorker. Passions: health & wellness, coffee, running & dogs.
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