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Getting Your Personal Training Certification: What You Need to Know Beforehand

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Getting Your Foot in the Door

National Certifications are the basic personal training certifications which are required for employment at most gyms and health clubs.  In other words, it is your ticket for entry and is the bare minimum any trainer should start with.

It is also in our opinion the most unexciting part of the education process.

Why You Need a Certification

A nationally accredited personal training certification gives you the legal requirements to work as a personal trainer.  It is required for almost any job you will be hired for, and it gives you a baseline of knowledge to go off of before you start training clients.

Which One Is The Best

There is no right or wrong answer to this.  

Over the years the NSCA, NASM, and ACSM have gotten a lot of attention for the quality of their certification process, and you really can’t go wrong with that name recognition.  I have taken the base personal training certification from three different organizations including NASM, AFAA, and NCSF. They were all at different times in my career, but I really can’t say that the material in one of them was head and shoulders above the others.  

Each certifying body has its own methodology and system of learning. Choosing the one that is right for you will be what makes it the best.

Which One Do Clients Prefer

Nine out of ten clients won’t have any idea what your certification is or who the organization is that you got it from.  What they will care about is that you have a certification, and that you can help them reach their goals. Over the course of 15 years of training I can count on one hand the number of clients who knew anything about how trainers were certified or what organization they were certified with.

Which One Do Gyms Prefer

This is all going to depend on the gym you are applying to.  Many gyms have a list of the certifications they accept or recommend and may even have relationships with the organizations to give you a discount on your purchase.  There are also gyms that require a particular certification so it’s always best to contact the company you would like to work for ahead of time.

When in doubt almost every gym is going to accept certifications from NSCA, NASM, The Cooper Institute, ACSM, and ACE.  Some of the better companies are also starting to realize that the basic certification doesn’t define a trainer and they are starting to accept a wider variety of certifications at the time of hire.  There are even gyms that will allow you to start work with a timeline of when you must be certified by.

What It Qualifies You For

Not a whole lot!  I’m not going to rip on national certifications (too much) or take the approach that they aren’t needed.  They definitely are needed to set a standard in the industry and there are a ton of very smart people working for these organizations.  

With that said your first certification is there to get you in the door, and is your ticket to entry in the field. Most national personal training certifications will simply take you from being a new or not very experienced trainer to an average one at best.  None of these certifications will establish you as a top professional or as a go to resource for clients.

It’s what you do after you get this certification that defines how good of a trainer you will eventually become.

11 of the Most Prominent Personal Training Certifications

We’ve listed 11 of the most notable certifications in the industry along with a brief description for each.  Most gyms will accept these certifications, but as mentioned above it’s always best to reach out to the company you want to work for ahead of time. Before we get into the certifications we’ve listed certification notes to help you decipher what will work best for you.

Study Packages

Most of the organizations have varying levels of study packages designed to give you access to more information and support.  In the majority of the cases this is an attempt to up-sell the candidate and is not required. Going with the base study package is almost always the best option to gain access to the certification.  If you learn better with live access then upgrading to a more “premium” package may be a good option for you.

Getting the Best Deal

If you are currently employed at a gym make sure to check if there are any discounts available for the certifications listed.  Many times corporate gyms will have a relationship with certifying bodies and provide heavy discounts off the cost.

Also be sure to use Google as a resource to search for coupons or discounts before purchasing.

Personal Training Schools

There are many personal training schools out there that provide you with hands on experience in a classroom or gym setting.  They are usually much more expensive than a base national certification and in the end leave you with the same certification.  I’ve seen some very good trainers come out of these schools, but in my opinion it wasn’t a result of the school but rather from the dedication those trainers showed in getting better.  I haven’t listed these schools here because I believe your money is better spent in a self study program, and then in turn using the extra money to spend on future education.

Ace Fitness

The exam is taken at a testing center and requires you to be 18 years of age and hold a valid CPR and AED.

Aerobics and Fitness Association of America

The exam is taken online and monitored by a 3rd party. You must be 18 years of age and hold a valid CPR and AED.

American College of Sports Medicine

There exam is taken at a testing center and you must be 18 years of age and hold a valid CPR and AED.

The Cooper Institute

There exam is taken at a testing center and you must be 18 years of age and hold a valid CPR and AED.

International Sports Sciences Association

The exam is taken online and you need to hold a valid CPR and AED to complete it.

National Academy of Sports Medicine

The exam is taken at a testing center, and you must be 18 years of age, hold a valid CPR and AED, as well as High School Diploma or GED.

National Council on Strength and Fitness

There exam is taken at a testing center and you must be 18 years of age, hold a valid CPR and AED, as well as High School Diploma or GED.

National Exercise and Sports Trainers Association

The exam must be taken within 90 days and at a testing center. You must be 18 years of age, hold a valid CPR and AED, as well as High School Diploma or GED.

National Federation of Professional Trainers

The exam is taken at a testing center and you must be 18 years of age, hold a valid CPR and AED, as well as High School Diploma or GED.
N

National Strength and Conditioning Association: Certified Personal Trainer

The exam is taken at a testing center and you must be 18 years of age and hold a valid CPR and AED.

National Strength and Conditioning Association: Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist

This isn’t technically a personal training exam, but it is widely accepted at most gyms and even considered a more desirable certification than the others on this list.

There exam is taken at a testing center and you must be 18 years of age, hold a valid CPR and AED, as well as Bachelor’s Degree from an accredited institution.

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