Which Personal Training Certification is the Best?

“If I don’t have any experience or certifications for Personal Training, how do I compete with others and where do I start?!“

You’ve already started. The fact that you are here is a step in finding the right path for you. However, I want to be clear and emphasize this;

Certifications/Education gets your foot in the door, they do not represent your actual skill set.

I have trained alongside people with who have their Masters in Exercise Physiology, and held a dozen top level certifications costing more than 5k collectively, who have had trouble booking 10 sessions a week. I have worked with Yoga instructors coming off of 2 years of specialized training who couldn’t fill a class of 8. I have worked with Registered Dietitians who averaged one appointment a day, because they could not connect with people on a psychological level.

You are stepping into an industry where people trust you with their bodies, and subsequently with their mental health also. Learning ways (which I go over extensively in my E-Book) and enjoying the process of building connections will be of much more value than endless certifications, most of which the paying clients won’t even be familiar with.

If you plan is to work as your own boss in your home or elsewhere, you may not need any specific certification. If you decide to work for someone, the business typically requires you have one. Which one? That depends on the specific business.

Do you own an I-phone or Android? After you answered that, you probably inferred that I was going to judge you on your choice. Why? Because people are tribal by nature and we instinctually pick teams.  Typically, the certification held by the highest level employee is the most respected for that specific business.

If I am a Director of a Fitness Facility and I hold an ACE certification for Personal Training, I know what ACE teaches, understand their concepts, and trust them. Therefore, I am more likely to hire someone with the same certification. That is why it is important to dig into the businesses website of your preferred studio/facility or call them to find out what certifications their managers or top level instructors hold.

I have a list of certifications in the Personal Training Industry at the very bottom, in an easy to read table ranking 6 different certs by their; Prestige, Price, and Difficulty (concerning passing their tests) and other useful info. Feel free to skip straight there. However, I also go into depth about the accreditation, continuing education (to keep your certification active), and general information about each if you are up for more details.


This shouldn’t be too much of a concern for most people, but I do want to explain the process behind this in order for confusion to be lessened here. The market of certifications for Personal Training is more or less decentralized. It can look like the Wild West from the outside, but there are some program steps and protocols that are set by what is considered an accrediting body. If the accrediting body feels the entity (i.e. NASM) has met certain standards of program development, professionalism, governing, and continued customer/membership responsibilities, they can be rewarded and hold this accreditation. On top of the initial accrediting, there are typically regular evaluations to ensure these entities are upholding the standards.

The National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) accredits ACSM, ACE, NASM, and NSCA.

There are other accrediting agencies, but ironically in my opinion none in which have any merit to actually accredit. Furthermore, the legitimacy of the afformentioned certifications above typically hold more weight and clout with Fitness Directors/Managers hiring for positions.


NASM – (National Academy of Sports Medicine) The study options are endless for this certification which I deem the best overall. Starting with the NASM CPT text book, video guide, and online printable text. On top of practice quizzes (10 questions) after each chapter there is a comprehensive 100 question test prep exam. There are also online flash cards, interactive discussion questions, and 1-day live workshops. NASM provides top level customer service, and offers 6 months upon purchasing the program to pass their test. The test is proctored and taken at a local testing location.  

ACE – (American Council on Exercise) ACE is equal to NASM in its professionalism and dedication to members. It has a various resources that you can use to help you study. They also offer several online programs that will help you prepare for the test, including an exam review and practice tests. They have a competent resource center with Study Counselors to help you review particular questions you may have. It is recognized industry wide as one of the top certifications.

ACSM -  (American College of Sports Medicine) This non-profit has three resources here you can get through the established and well respected program. ACSM’s Resources for Personal Trainers, ACSM’s Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription, and ACSM’s Certification Review. They also offer an adaptive quiz platform for studying, and charge a bit less than the previously covered certifications.

ISSA – (International Sports Sciences Association) ISSA will send you a hardcopy along with an online copy of the main course text, a study guide and workbook, practice exams, a reference DVD, web support and social opportunities, and an animated online exercise lab that will give you the key information on 250 exercises. A marketing and business guide is also given which is unlike many of the other certs

NSCA -  (National Strength and Conditioning) NSCA-Certified Personal Training certification course really help trainers design safe and effective exercise programs. The have great study materials, including NSCA’s Essentials of Personal Training, workbooks, practice exams, multimedia CDs, and audio CDs. The safety guidelines are top notch and they go into depth concerning essentials such as modifications and assessments, training special populations, and even exercises programs to use.

IFTA – (Interactive Fitness Trainers of America) This is a lesser known certification, but one worth looking into. They are not nearly as established as the other certifications. However, they do a fantastic job with their CPT on-site one day certification. You are sent a hard-copy book in advance to study. The day of you meet at a location to go over test prep questions. After review and the subsequent taking of the exam, you do a small practical in the fitness facility. They demonstrate a true hands on feel and mimic day to day personal training. It is by far the least expensive also. If you plan to work out of your own home, or just part time this isn’t a bad certification to start with.


Personal Training Certifications Ranked

* Information accurate as of 9/18/18

* Information accurate as of 9/18/18