Deciding on the best personal trainer certification for your needs can be an overwhelming task. It’s your future career at stake so is a pretty important decision. You don’t want to spend hundreds or even thousands on course fees, only to find that it doesn’t meet expectations.

In this article – learn how to select the best personal trainer certification for your study needs, budget, and fitness career aspirations.

Personal training remains one of the hottest fitness industry trends so there’s plenty of client demand. With so many different types of fitness certifications available, you’ve never had more study choices.

But it can also make it difficult to compare options and get a clear idea of exactly what you’ll get for your money. So, we’ve done the heavy lifting for you and thoroughly researched the options available globally. 

We’ll walk you through the leading courses currently available so that you can be confident that you’re investing in the right training. Whether you’re based in the US, UK, or China, we’ve got the top personal training certifications for your region…

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This article was prepared by a certified personal trainer. We may earn a commission if you click some of the course links but this never influences our editorial choices. 

Choosing the Best Personal Trainer Certification for Your Needs

Wondering which CPT certification is the best overall? The truth is, there is no single answer to this question. Your career needs and learning style will be different from other people’s so it’s impossible to pick one that is best for everyone.

However, there are a number of factors that you can look at to determine the best certification for YOUR specific needs. Here are the main ones that will influence whether a particular certification is right for you…

  • Respectability – is the course accredited and respected by potential employers?
  • Price – does it offer value for money and fit within your budget?
  • Customer Service – are the online reviews and experiences of other PTs positive?
  • Learning Format – do you want to learn from home in your own time or attend practical workshops?
  • CPD – how much time are you prepared to spend on continuing professional development (CPD) after you’ve become certified?

By asking yourself these questions, you’ll be able to narrow down which training courses are most appropriate.

You might also like… How to become a personal trainer – a complete guide.

Personal Trainer Course Comparison

This guide is designed to make it easier for you to choose the best personal trainer course for your needs. Everyone has different preferences and requirements, so we’ve simplified the essential information into a handy comparison chart. It summarises the most respected training providers, costs, and study options available…

Personal Trainer Certification Comparison

Leading Certification Organisations Globally

Here are the top fitness certification organisations in the USA, UK, and Asia…

These are listed in alphabetical order and not ranked by preference. Here is some more detailed information on each of the training organisations and the certification courses they offer…

American Council on Exercise (ACE)

The ACE personal training certification is globally recognised and highly regarded in the industry. It’s been completed by over 53,000 people and is sought after by leading gym chains like 24-Hour Fitness and Orange Theory.

ACE fitness courses provide an ideal combination of easily accessible study options with exceptional value pricing. They offer the best online personal trainer program in terms of content quality and prices start at $599.

Being an ACE personal trainer also gives you access to their resource centre which is packed with useful tools (including an exercise library, research studies, and continuing education courses).

American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM)

The ACSM personal training certification is known to be harder than others in the industry but this means it’s well-respected. If you’re prepared to put in the extra work, then you’ll learn about the latest scientific research and evidence-based approaches to fitness training.

The study materials cost $179 and exam costs $349 which makes it one of the cheapest options. However, the ACSM requires an average of 15 hours of CPD each year which is 50% more than ACE, making it costlier to maintain over the long term.

National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM)

The NASM personal trainer course offers some of the best value live workshops at $1299. You’ll get the opportunity to interact directly with the instructors, so you can ask questions and clarify anything that you don’t understand.

Live workshops are ideal for people who learn by doing (as opposed to reading or listening) because they enable you to put the theory into practice. Because the NASM certification provides practical experience, it’s also highly valued by potential employers.

Future Fit

Future Fit is a UK-based training company with courses run from leading gym clubs like Pure Gym, Nuffield, Banantynes, and JD. They offer a CIMSPA-approved course in personal training  which will take you all the way from zero fitness knowledge to qualified PT.

Personal Trainer Certification Requirements

Personal trainer certification requirements vary between training providers. However, most will require you to be at least 18 years old and hold a CPR/AED first aid qualification.

Some need you to have a High School Diploma or equivalent, as concepts like heart rate training involve maths. Others will recommend that you have prior education (like a sports science qualification) or experience in the field.

If you don’t meet the entry requirements, then don’t be put off – call or email your preferred training provider and talk it through with them. They’ll often make exceptions based on your real-world experience.

PT Certifications – Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some of the most common questions that come up about choosing the best fitness certification…

What’s the best way to become a personal trainer?

The best way to become certified is to complete a course by an accredited training organisation. Some employers will provide training apprenticeships or sponsor the cost so you can earn while you learn. There are also government-funded schemes available too. 

However, you’ll often be tied to working for them for a specific amount of time. If you leave earlier than agreed, then you’ll have to repay the cost of the course.

Can you be a personal trainer without being certified?

Gyms won’t hire you as a personal trainer without the right certifications. You may feel like you know a lot about fitness but a professional course will teach you how to coach others safely. Although you may be able to train people informally without being certified, you won’t be able to work for a gym or get insurance.

What personal trainer certificate is most respected?

The most respected personal trainer certification is delivered by The American Council on Exercise (ACE). It’s renowned globally for producing highly qualified trainers and is recognised in many countries outside of the USA (particularly in Asia).

The fact it requires ongoing CPD ensures that its trainers continually stay up-to-date with the latest scientific developments. Is NASM a good certification? Absolutely. But it’s not as widely respected and doesn’t offer the same level of student resources.

Which is the easiest personal trainer certification?

The ISSA personal trainer certification is generally regarded as the easiest to pass. This is because the exam doesn’t have a time limit and can be completed at home.

Should I study online or attend workshops in person?

This will depend on the way you learn best and any constraints on your time. Studying for a personal trainer certification online means you can fit it around other commitments (ideal if you’re very busy).

However, studying in person allows you to learn the correct positioning and technique for exercises – something that can be difficult to master by distance learning. But if you’re unsure, then this is a simple way to decide…

  • If you like to learn by doing – go for a live workshop option.
  • If you prefer to learn by reading or listening – an online self-study option is ideal.

How much does a personal trainer certification cost?

It ranges from $399 to upwards of $3000 depending on the training provider and study method you choose. American training organisations tend to be much cheaper than European or Asia equivalents. Online courses are usually significantly less than live workshops.

What’s the cheapest personal training certification?

ACE offers the cheapest personal training course at just $599 (or $399 for the exam only).

Can I do a personal training certification online for free?

You can learn about exercise and coaching techniques for free but you can’t get a recognised certification without paying. Check out our list of free personal trainer courses for more details.

Can I specialise in different types of fitness training?

Yes, there are lots of different courses that can help you to specialise in training niche populations or specific activities. ACE and NASM both offer a wide variety enabling you to work with a range of people, from athletes to older adults.

You can also learn to deliver specialist training, like MMA or group PT. For diet-specific training, check out our article on the best nutrition certification for personal trainers.

You’ll need to have passed a generic PT certification before embarking on a specialisation, but they accept graduates from other training providers. Each course costs around $499 and contributes to your continuing education credits.

Choosing the Best CPT Certification

Choosing the best personal training certification doesn’t have to be complicated. Start by working out your requirements and preferences, then find a course that meets them. Whether you opt for an ACE certification, NASM course, or ISSA program, you can be confident that you’re choosing one of the best personal trainer courses available.

So, pick a certification and then commit. Register for the one that ticks your boxes and start training for a career you can be passionate about…

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Best Personal Training Certifications Requirements

Caroline @ Wellness Creative Co

Qualified personal trainer (BSc Sports Science) & nutritionist (MSc Human Nutrition) with 15+ years of fitness & wellness marketing experience working with global brands.