Personal Training Certifications: Everything You Need to Know

by Ed2Go

Whether you’re just starting to think about a career as a personal trainer or you’ve worked in the industry for years, personal training certifications can help you reach your professional goals. From foundational programs that prove your knowledge to specializations that could take your career to the next level, there are tons of certifications out there.

So which personal training certification is best? That depends on your goals and interests. We’ve broken down the most popular personal training certifications and specialties, so you can make an informed choice.

Basic Personal Training Certifications

If you’re just starting out, it’s important to get the foundational education needed to become a personal trainer. First, make sure you fulfill the basic personal trainer certification requirements — typically, you must be CPR and AED (defibrillator) certified, and some programs require a high school diploma or GED. From there, you’ll need to choose your program. Here’s an overview of the five best personal trainer certifications.

National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) certifications are well-recognized throughout the United States and the world as providing comprehensive knowledge. The NASM-CPT (Certified Personal Trainer) certification teaches you how to evaluate a client’s current fitness and build a program around them. From there, you have options for specialization and further career development.

The most popular National Strength and Conditioning Association or NSCA certification is the NSCA-CPT. It focuses on performance enhancement and working with athletes. Trying to decide between NSCA vs. NASM? Both are accredited and respected in the industry, so simply consider your goals. And keep in mind that while membership is not required, the NSCA certification cost will be lower if you become a member of the organization.

Founded in 1954, the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) is one of the oldest organizations on our list; more than 45,000 certified professional trainers have completed the program. ACSM certification is known to be very technical and academically minded — and the exam is one of the more difficult on this list. The ACSM certification cost for the CPT test is discounted for members, and if you need to take a re-test, you won’t be charged the full price a second time.

ACE stands for American Council on Exercise, one of the largest certifying bodies for personal trainers. The ACE personal trainer exam is very highly regarded in the industry, demonstrating your knowledge in a variety of areas. ACE also offers some unique specializations, like group fitness instruction. However, ACE certification is one of the more expensive options, so if cost is a factor, there are other programs that may be a better fit.

The International Sports Science Association (ISSA) offers personal training certification online, making it a convenient choice. Students should keep in mind that ISSA certification is not as well-recognized as other programs, though it still offers a strong assessment of your knowledge. If employers in your area are seeking more mainstream credentials, you can enroll in other similar online fitness instructor courses from ed2go to prepare you for any of the personal training exams.

Personal Training Specializations

Once you have your basic personal training certification, it’s time to start thinking about taking your career to the next level. You can improve your certified personal trainer salary and continue gaining knowledge by choosing a specialty. These are some of the most popular specializations for you to consider.

Corrective Exercise
NASM’s Corrective Exercise Specialist program (known as NASM-CES) is a top personal training certification for those who want more in-depth knowledge on how to assess fitness and help clients improve mobility and strength using the Corrective Exercise Continuum (CEx).

Performance Enhancement
The NASM Performance Enhancement Specialist (NASM-PES) certification was created for personal trainers who work with athletes and “weekend warriors.” You’ll focus on improving speed, agility, and power to help your fitness-minded clients improve their sports performance even more.

Personal Training for Older Adults
Seniors are a fast-growing segment of society; combine that with increasing awareness about the importance of fitness, and you’ll see why the Personal Training for Older Adults specialty is a smart choice. This intensive course for personal trainers provides you discounts for several exams, including those from the American Senior Fitness Association (SFA) and the Aquatic Exercise Association (AEA).

Fitness Business Management
Interested in working as an independent operator or becoming a health club manager? The Fitness Business Management program is a must-take. Learn about strategy, marketing, customer relations, and more in a curriculum designed by the IDEA Health & Fitness Association. This program counts toward 50 continuing education credits through ACSM, and you’ll receive a certificate at the end of the course.


As you explore your options for becoming a personal trainer, you’ll find there are many paths you can take. The best personal training certifications come from accredited organizations and are well known and trusted in the industry. When you’re choosing your path, simply follow your passions toward a fulfilling and rewarding career.


Explore your options with our online courses today!


Published on 7/27/2020

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