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Which fitness trainer certification is the best?

Posted by Pascal Landshoeft

Feb 12, 2018 10:00:00 AM

Which fitness trainer certification is the best

Which fitness trainer certification is the best


If you found this article you are considering to take up a career in the fitness industry. You will have trained, improved and found a passion for training. Another option could be that the doors of higher education have closed for you. This might be due to age or prior qualifications.

This article will outline the research which I have done when I was considering to get certified. For me, it started with losing weight. From there I moved on to increase performance in the gym and finally ended up in a second career.

Whatever you want to do, the keys are proper planning and execution.


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Questions to ask yourself


To plan and execute in your own best interest it is important to reflect on why you want to get certified. Here is a list of questions to help you with that process:

  • Why do you want to get certified?
  • What are your goals?
  • What are your plans?
  • What are your challenges?
  • By when do you want to reach your goal?
  • What activities do you need to do on a daily basis to get to your goal?
  • Which are the biggest milestones to reach your goal?
  • How do you like to work?
  • Where do you want to work?
  • Which people do you want to work with?
  • What will make me unique?
  • How do you want to learn?
  • How much time can you invest?
  • How much money can you invest?


A detailed plan will make it more likely for you to succeed. Writing it down and reflecting will strengthen your commitment to the plan. Share it with others. Use their feedback. If you want to make sure your money and time are well invested, take the time to reflect.

You will find further information on this infographic from fitness mentors

Best personal trainer certifications


Stay motivated for your clients, not your badges


A certification, like a college degree, is only the start of your journey. Once you get it, the real work begins. Do not be upset or disheartened when you start out and get rejected. You have not trained any clients yet and no results to show.


Most institutions will not work with you when you are not certified. This is the bad news. The good news is that a positive, motivated trainer will get results for his/her clients. Once you have a certification, your clients only care about results. If you help them along the way, you will get references. The more references you have, the less important your certificate becomes.

Thus, always seek out the training which will enable you to help your clients better. A Ph.D. is impressive. It is even more impressive i half the town recommends you. Certification does not equal qualification. A very impressive example of this was this guy:

Obama sign language

While this guy made a killing on his first contract, he will never get any more work from the American government. Not a smart way to make a living. A certification will help you to get the foot in the door. From there embrace a culture of learning to improve. Avoid resting on your laurels. Learn from others and above all from your mistakes.


One of the best ways to stay motivated and on target for me is to use a best self-journal for weekdays and a separate one for weekends. Knowledge begets more quality knowledge. You achieve mastery by hours and hours of working on your craft. Stay on track.


Are you CPR/AED certified and over 18?


If you are not 18 yet you can not get any of the certifications which will allow you to work in a gym as a trainer. Again, do not be discouraged. There is a lot to learn. You can start researching for books, magazines, and blogs which help you to get better right away.


Two sources which are great beyond the beaten track are Joe Cannon's and John Goodman's blog and books.


Once you are eighteen you need a CPR and AED certificate. These are prerequisites for most certifications.


CPR is short for cardiopulmonary resuscitation. This is the maneuver which you see in any movie scene involving a person drowning. Some countries need this certification for a driver's license. Here is the Baywatch CPR supercut for you for fun.

Baywatch CPR Supercut

The Hoff at his best. AED stands for an automated external defibrillator. This is a small version of the machine you see whenever someone on television gets to the emergency room. Like this scene:

ER defib with man on fire

For a successful career as a Personal trainer, it is in your best interest to learn how to do these techniques. You will not go far if you set your clients on fire or let them suffocate. In a gym, it is a serious matter and you should know how to do CPR for a real-world scenario. I had to it for my driver's license in Germany when I turned 18. The two bodies to get the CPR certification in the USA are the American Heart Association and the Red Cross.

Both organizations can get you certified on CPR and AED for about a 100 Dollar. The process is not completely online. You have to show that you are able to do the maneuver in reality. A certified trainer has to be present. If you want more detail visit their websites or read AHA vs. Red Cross CPR Training programs.


Which programs are out there?


This is an overview of the programs which you will find mentioned most online. A combination of what the official bodies write about themselves and what you find in summaries. Keep in mind that once someone has taken a certification they are likely to be biased.

The mentioned prices are subject to change and give you a rough estimate. Expect to pay between 200$ to 1500$ dollars for your personal trainer certification. Most exams and materials are also available online. For the more prestigious programs, the prerequisites are higher. Be prepared that the test can not be taken from your home. In most cases, you have to travel to a certified test center. This makes sure to check your identity and puts you in a controlled test environment.

Tests take 1 to 3 hours and include 100 to 300 questions depending on the certificate. Individual courses might vary.



Ace fitness website


ACE stands for the American Council on Exercise. ACE is one of the most known accrediting bodies for fitness trainer certifications in the US. When you do your research you will find them mentioned in any comparison. Some of their competitors are not mentioned that often.

With an ACE certification, it is most likely that it will be acknowledged in most gyms. So this is a good bet if you want to make sure that you get work. If you want to do specialized work with the elderly or with sports teams ACE might not be the best choice for you.

ACE offers certification in these different areas:


  • Fitness Nutrition
  • Functional Training
  • Group Exercise Leadership
  • Mind Body
  • Orthopedic Exercise
  • Senior Fitness
  • Sports Conditioning
  • Therapeutic Exercise
  • Weight Management
  • Youth Fitness


Some of the titles you can get with them are:


  • Personal Trainer
  • Group Fitness Instructor
  • Health Coach
  • Advanced Health and fitness specialist


The packages they offer come in three flavors. Standard comes in at 599$, Premium 699$ and Premium Plus at 799$. The package deals are better value for money than the modules which can be purchased. If you are starting out you might be well advised to get one of the packages. If you already have a basic personal trainer certification look for a module that opens up new doors.

The recertification fees are 139$ every two years. You have to approximately invest 20 hours education within this timeframe. ACE is a good option for you if you want to build a very broad customer base. Opt for something else if you prefer to be more specialized.



NSCA website


The National Strength and Conditioning Association is the leading human performance research organization in the world. 45.000 members work to help others discover and maximize their strengths. You will find many strength coaches sports bearing the CSCS stamp. Browse through the articles of breakingmuscle and t-nation to get an idea. John Goodman also started out with a CSCS Certification out on his fitness journey. He started the personal trainer development program.

Members of the NSCA get discounts on their certifications. The fees to become a member range from 47$ to 65$. A membership saves you about 200$ on the certification.

Recertification has to be done every 2 years and includes 60 hours of education. This can be done with specific NSCA material or other fitness sources like books and courses. Check for details on their website or get in touch whether something can be recognized or not.

The NSCA is the association which you will find mentioned the second most in your research. In the beginning, a further prerequisite to become certified was to hold a college degree. This is not the case anymore. You will find that members of the NSCA arOmit of higher standards.

If your goal is to coach a professional sports team with performance focus the NSCA is one of the best bets. Inquire with some of your local teams first to be sure. I won't be surprised if the CSCS certification will be mentioned often. Some of the titles you can get with this Association are:


  • Personal Trainer
  • Strength and Conditioning Specialist
  • Special Populations Specialists
  • Tactical Strength and Conditioning



NASM Website

The National Academy of Sports medicine is around for more than 30 years. Their target group is broad and they are more health-focused than ACE and NSCA. In their programs you will find a stronger emphasis on:


  • Human performance
  • Injury prevention
  • Corrective exercise for clinical population
  • Recreational competitive athletes
  • Functional exercise, performance, nutrition, special population


If your aim is to train a track and field or gymnastics team you might want to have a closer look into NASM. Ask local trainers in this field to get more information. Wellness and boutique gyms are also more likely to ask for NASM instead of ACE as a need to work for them. Think of sports injuries when you opt for NASM. The NASM certification makes a point of being scientific. This is also reflected in their pricing.Here are some of their packages:


  • Self Study 749
  • Self Study with Live Workshop 899
  • Self Study without Online course 999
  • All Access with job guarantee 1299


One of the unique options in the industry is the option for a placing in a NASM associated gym. Even though this is one of the priciest options out there this is a good option to kickstart your career. Based on my experience the right work ethics keep you in the job you are being given through such a program.

Recertification has to be done every 2 years and sets you back 99$. Another special with the NASM is that you have the option of paying a one-off fee of 299$ to be certified with them for life. As with others, you have to show 20 hours of further education during this two year period. Here is selection of specialized courses which are available through NASM


  • Group Personal Training
  • Weight Loss
  • Fitness Nutrition
  • Performance Enhancement
  • Corrective Exercise
  • Golf Fitness
  • Women's fitness
  • MMA Conditioning
  • Senior Fitness
  • Youth Fitness
  • Behavior Change



IFPA website


The International Fitness Professionals Association has some of the lowest fees for becoming certified. It has over 300.00 members worldwide. It is also accredited by the National Commission of Certifying agencies.

There are over 70 certifications available and recertification takes place every two years. The IFPA strives to be convenient, affordable, accredited and practical. The IFPA might be the right choice for you if you do not know yet in which country you will be working as a fitness trainer. Also, this might also be a good option when you have limited time and budget to do your certification. This might be the fast track stamp you need.

The IFPA will not pop up as much in a online research for you. This might already be an indicator. The people who hire you and the field you want to be active in are the most relevant factors for a certification.




ACSM website


The academic college of sports medicine is one of the largest fitness communities in the US. It is deemed to be one of the most academic certification programs that you can get. Established in 1954 it is also one of the oldest institutions in this field. like the NSCA the ACSM offers discounts to their members. Yearly membership sets students back 10$ and professionals 230$. The exam costs 279$ for nonmembers and 219$ for members. Recertification takes place every three years and costs 30$. IN this time you need to cover 45 hours of continuous improvement.

The ACSM makes a statement by publishing their books through Wolters Kluwer. They are one of the main medical publishers in the world. You should look at ACSM if you want to work in a hospital, clinic or university. Fields in which the ACSM offers courses are:


  • Personal Trainer
  • Group Exercise Instructor
  • Health fitness specialist


Titles you can get through ACSM:


  • Certified Clinical Exercise Specialist
  • Registered Clinical Exercise Physiologist
  • Certified Ringside Physician
  • Certified Inclusive Fitness Trainer
  • Certified Cancer Exercise Trainer
  • Physical Activity in Public Health Specialist


The ACSM certificate is a good option when you want to take care of cancer patients rehab. It is also an entry point to help people with disabilities to move more freely.



NESTA website


The National endurance and sports trainers association are based in southern California. It has over 60.000 members of which roughly 10% are from outside the US. Their CEO DR. John Ellis Spencer enjoys celebrity status and has authored and many books.

Founded in 1992 recertification takes place every four years. You will not find a lot of material about NESTA in a general internet research. Please refer to their website for more detail. If you want to be part of a community that is based in California NESTA might be a good choice for you. Based on their trainer profiles they are also a good choice to learn how to build a personal brand.




NFPT website


The National Federation of professional trainers was established in 1988. Its founder is Ron Clark, a former member of the U.S. Marine Corps. After an accident in service, he discovered his love of weightlifting. From there he got certified and found the need to improve standards in the fitness industry.

The exam costs 329$ and retest are 85$. Recertification happens on a yearly basis. If you are interested in bodybuilding the NFPT might be for you. This is how the founder built his fitness career.



ISSA Website


The International Sports Science Association is recognized as an academic institution. Their mission is geared towards body composition of non-athlete clients. There are 200.000 certified trainers in over 91 countries according to their website. IT was founded in 1988 by Dr. Sal Arria and Dr. Frederick Hatfield. One of its proclaimed strengths is long distance learning. Certification costs 499$ and recertification 75$ every two years. You have to accumulate 20 hours of education in this time. The titles you can get with the ISSA are


  • Elite Trainer 1
  • Elite Trainer 2
  • Master Trainer
  • Exercise Therapy
  • Fitness Nutrition
  • Senior Fitness
  • Sports Nutrition
  • Strength and Conditioning


The ISSA might be an option for you if you want a higher quality online certificate when strapped for time. There also many upgrade paths and titles available.


International certificates

Fitness trainer certification Germany


Take care when you plan to train people in different countries. If you are about to move it might be better to take a personal trainer certification in your target country. In Germany, the market is a lot more regulated with a standardized fitness trainer license coming in levels of A, B, C.

Whatever you want to do think about location, audience and long-term developments. If you ate marathons there is no need to invest in a lot of qualifications around this. Clients will smell a rat.


How much money is granted for education?


If you are considering to go with a scholarship for sports and develop fitness training as a backup plan you need some information. Here is an overview from Ohio University. It outlines ow many scholarships are there and what you need to do to get one. Hope this helps for your future and let me know if you have any questions under





The question of which fitness trainer certification is the best is incomplete. Better trainers will put time and effort into finding the certification best for them. If quality and being specific are your guiding principles you are set up for success. If you take shortcuts and try to be cheap about expertise, expect to get clients who think along the same lines. Start like you want to end.

Further reading


Topics: Kettlebell, Fitness