Personal Trainer Certification and Requirements

Everyone has seen them at the gym -- those super fit trainers who are helping clients, either one-on-one or in a group setting, to get and stay physically fit. Whether it's working towards a personal fitness goal or training for athletic competition, clients look to fitness trainers for fitness and nutrition guidance, feedback and advice. Their responsibilities can include showing clients how to do specific types of exercises, supervising them as they do techniques while providing them with tips and pointers, and measuring their progress toward completion of a goal or program.

Personal trainers may also provide advice to clients about nutrition, lifestyle and weight control, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS.gov). In fact, a steady demand for fitness experts is expected from 2012 to 2022. This is due to a growing Baby Boomer population staying in better shape and businesses that are starting to prioritize health and fitness -- even offering wellness incentives to employees. Depending on your career goals, varying education is needed to enter the field. Usually a diploma or associate degree can provide the basic knowledge and skills, but certification can be helpful to finding employment opportunities or to showcasing skills to clientele.

Educational requirements for personal trainers

An associate degree may be helpful to entering the personal training field, according to the BLS, but a wide variety of degrees are available that range from a two-year degree in exercise science to a bachelor's degree in health and fitness. Even master's degrees in areas like health and fitness or exercise science and health promotion can be found. However, you can also find personal trainer programs available at the diploma level, often through a community college or career-oriented school, that can also supply you with personal trainer skills and knowledge. Often, at the undergraduate level, this education focuses on business management, fitness assessment, kinesiology, nutrition, and exercise program design. An externship will often be part of these programs, enabling you to gain hands-on skills working with clients, or beside a personal trainer who is already certified, in a fitness facility.

Benefits of personal trainer certification

Certification from a fitness organization may help showcase your potential to work with and successfully train clients. One of the top reasons to become certified, according to the BLS, is that employers may look to hire certified personal trainers over those who are not certified. However, there are many different types of personal trainer certifications available and you may want to find the certification (or certifications) that best attest to your skills and experiences or that a facility or gym may want to see before hiring. At the very least, most people entering the field have a high school diploma or a GED, and to sit for a certifying exam, typically need to have CPR and automated external defibrillator (AED) certification. Below are some personal trainer certifications that are available:

  • American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM): A variety of health fitness, clinical and specialty certifications are available through this organization, founded in 1954, that include certified personal trainer (CPT). Certification testing is available at Pearson VUE sites across the country, and ACSM has study guides and review materials available to help testing candidates.
  • American Council on Education (ACE): Four fitness certifications are available through ACE, including personal trainer, group fitness instructor, ACE health coach, and advanced health and fitness specialist, as well as nine specialty certifications ranging from fitness nutrition to therapeutic exercise. Computer exams are available at sites across the country, but in some cases paper examinations may be available.
  • National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM): For more than 20 years, this organization has offered certification, continuing education, and health and fitness tools to personal trainers and others interested in fitness. NASM provides a personal fitness certification as well as performance enhancement and corrective exercise specializations.
  • National Exercise Trainers Associations (NETA): More than 130,000 fitness professionals have been certified through NETA since its founding in 1977. A variety of certifications and specializations are offered, including CPT certification that can be taken either by registering for a two-day preparation workshop or by registering online to take the exam at one of more than 500 Comira testing sites.
  • National Federation of Personal Trainers (NFPT): This organization has offered certified professional trainer (CPT) credentials to entry-level trainers since 1998, and has testing available at more than 350 locations across the country. The exam has 120 multiple-choice questions based on nine content categories.

All of these fitness and personal trainer certifications require continuing education and renewal that may be needed later anywhere from one to three years. There is a cost for both the initial certifying exam as well as the renewal exam, and the training and educational materials typically have a cost associated with them as well.


ACE Certification Exams, American Council on Education, http://www.acefitness.org/certificationexams/default.aspx

Associate's Degree in Exercise Science with an Emphasis in Personal Training, International Sports Sciences Association, http://www.issaonline.edu/ces/health-fitness-sciences/personal-training.cfm

CPT Exam Information, National Academy of Sports Medicine, http://www.nasm.org/become-a-personal-trainer/personal-trainer-certification-exam

Fitness Trainers and Instructors, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2013, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/personal-care-and-service/fitness-trainers-and-instructors.htm - tab-4

Get Certified, American College of Sports Medicine, http://certification.acsm.org/get-certified

Personal Fitness, Keystone Technical Institute, http://kti.edu/diploma-programs/fitness-trainer-diploma/

Personal Trainer Certification, National Exercise Trainers Association, http://www.netafit.org/certification/personaltrainer.htm

Personal Trainer Certification, National Federation of Personal Trainers, http://www.nfpt.com/certification

Personal Trainer Schools