Update 7/10/19. One of the most common questions I am asked is “What's the best personal training certification?” It's confusing because there are over a hundred different fitness organizations to pick from – and gyms often tell newbies “this one is the best.” Your friends try to help too by telling you what they think is best – but are they right? I can help. I not only teach personal trainers but I've been around long enough to see above the ocean of letters (ACE, NASM, NSCA, etc) you've probably heard of. I won't pick one organization over another. Rather, I'll give you the tools/insights you need to find a fitness certification right for you.
Fitness Certification Reviews
Here are several other fitness reviews worth looking at:
- AAAI/ISMA Fitness Trainer Cert Review
- ACE Certification exam review
- ACE Personal Trainer Review
- ACSM Certification review
- ACSM Trainer Interview
- NASM Personal Trainer Cert Review
- NASM CES Cert Review
- NASM vs. NSCA Review
- NCCPT Personal Trainer Cert Review
- NSCA CSCS Test Review
- NPTI Personal Trainer Cert Review
- Online Personal Trainer Certifications
- PTA Global Personal Trainer Exam Review
- WITS Personal Trainer Review
What Is The Best Certification?
People often ask what's the best personal training certification? To that I often reply there is no such thing as “the best cert”.
Trust me on this.
A certification only means you know the “minimum requirements” needed to be a personal trainer.
You should not believe anyone who says “this is the best fitness certification.” People who say this are often just repeating what they have heard others say. That's usually true about gym managers, who probably aren't even certified themselves.
For example, many people say the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) is “the best” organization to be certified by, but if you attempt to get this cert, you will probably have to learn all sorts of metabolic calculations. It's great stuff, but if you work in a gym or are self-employed, you will probably NEVER do those types of calculations.
I've been told the ACSM still teaches body fat testing using skin fold calipers. This is good to know, most big chain health clubs never use this method because of the liability associated with people touching people. Gyms have been sued over trainers doing things perceived as inappropriate.
Many like to say “NASM is the best”. It's a fine cert and people who have this certification usually know a lot about joint angles and biomechanics and stuff like that.
But I've noticed something interesting about NASM trainers. When NASM trainers take the AAAI/ISMA test, they usually fail it!
I know this is true because I've graded their tests.
I'm telling you this so you know that there is no “best” personal training certification. I don't want you to get caught up in what I jokingly call the fitness industrial complex.
Fitness certifying organizations are businesses. They want to make money. There is nothing wrong with this (we all need to make money). The marketing of organizations are often so good, they convince people their cert is the “best.”
Fitness trainers who are already certified by these organizations are often biased their cert is the best also. Sometimes this is because their fitness organization is the only one they have been exposed to.
For more about this see my review of the NASM TV commercial.
Be Qualified Not Certified
Always remember that Exercise is a drug. Personal trainers prescribe exercise and the benefits of exercise are many. This is why fitness trainers need to know what they are doing so they can prescribe the right dosage of exercise.
Focus on knowledge – not just a fitness certification. Be holistic in your approach to fitness and don't be dogmatic and think that “my cert is the best”. No fitness organization is the best.
Being qualified does not mean being certified by the most expensive organization. Something to consider is obtaining a reasonably priced cert and after you obtain that, buy the books of the other organizations. If you know what's in their books, you have their knowledge – and you just saved a LOT on an expensive fitness cert.
Personal Training Certification vs. License
Some people wonder do personal trainers need a license? Not in America. There is no fitness trainer license in the US. A fitness certification is not a fitness license.
How To Pick A Fitness Certification
Let me now give you some things to think about to help you pick which personal trainer certification might be best for you.
1. As a personal trainer, do you want to specialize in any particular group? In other words, do you see yourself working mostly with with athletes, seniors, kids, people with medical issues? Think about this and investigate which fitness organizations might make it easiest to help you to eventually get to that goal.
If you are just starting a career in fitness, you may not have any idea who you like to work with. This is OK. Eventually, you will.
Stick to a well rounded, recognized fitness organization rather than one that specializes in any particular area. See my guide on how to be a personal trainer for more info
2. If you want to work at a particular gym, go to the gym and ask for a list of fitness training certifications they accept. All gyms have a list of personal training certifications they accept. The
- General Manager
- Fitness Director
- Owner of the gym
usually has this list. It may even be at the front desk so ask the front desk person too.
3. What about online personal trainer certifications? Do your homework first if you are considering an online personal trainer cert.
While they can be an advantage for some people, a downside of some is some gyms may not accept online personal training certifications. I'm not biased against online certs. I've met smart trainers who went the online route. If you plan on going into business for yourself, an online cert should not be a problem.
4. Sometimes gyms will have their own “personal trainer certification”. The certs are sometimes taught by the gym staff. Be careful with this. Someone once told me they paid a gym over a thousand dollars or their “cert” only to find out later that no other gyms accepted it.
Read the review of fake personal trainer certs.
5. You need to have a CPR and AED certification in addition to your fitness certification. When you apply for a job, most gyms will ask you for this. Save yourself time and get it before you apply. Having this can also help you command more money from a gym.
Gym owners want an educated staff just in case an emergency happens (and they do…). If you are certified in both AED and CPR, they want to keep you around. This gives you bargaining power when you negotiate your rate of pay and incentives.
6. What's a master personal trainer? Some organizations offer an upper-level certification that may be called a master trainer. I'm sure these advanced courses offer additional information/insights, remember, its just a title.
Nobody is really a master. Nobody knows everything and we all can learn from each other.
I have a masters degree in exercise and have written 8 books. I don't call myself a master trainer.
In my review What is a Master Personal Trainer? I provided a short test. Ask the master trainers if they can pass that test.
7. Does the organization make you take a lower level certification before you are allowed to take the personal trainer cert? If yes, bypass that organization. Some organizations make you jump through hoops and make you obtain a certification before you are allowed to take a personal trainer certification.
8. How hard is it to get re-certified? Once you have your cert, do you have to get recertified every year, every 2 years? Also, what do you have to do to get recertified? Ideally, the organization should be pretty easy to get recertified as a personal trainer. Most do but double-check for yourself.
9. Ask your fitness friends who they are certified by AND also ask them what they like and don't like about their organization.
For example, I'm certified by the NSCA. If you ask me for the NSCA Pro and Con, I'd say:
What I like:
- Great textbooks and great publications
- Well respected organization
What I do not like:
- I don't like it that anybody with ANY college degree can now take the CSCS exam. When I became a CSCS, you had to have a college degree in a health-related field. Now, you can have a degree in accounting and obtain the CSCS certification. Eventually, the NSCA is going back to requiring a college degree for CSCS candidates.
- When it comes to getting re-certified, the NSCA counts book writing and magazine article writing in the same category. They are not the same. It takes me over 2 years to write a book and about 2 hours to write a magazine article. This makes it harder for me to get re-certified. This is baloney!
NCCA vs. Non-NCCA Certifications
NCCA stands for National Commission for Certifying Agencies. This is an organization that basically certifies fitness certification organizations (and other organizations too). Some are under the impression NCCA accredited fitness certifications are better.
I do not.
While NCCA accredited certs are more expensive, that does not mean they are better.
Getting NCCA accreditation can cost thousands of dollars -and includes large fees each year to maintain the
accreditation. So its a financial burden on fitness organizations to keep their NCCA accreditation – which then passes that cost onto you.
I've not seen any statistics showing personal trainers certified by NCCA-accredited organizations are smarter than those certified by non-NCCA accredited organizations.
Some fitness centers may require you obtain an NCCA accredited fitness certification. Others do not.
If you have your heart set on working at a specific gym and they require an NCCA cert, then you may be stuck. If you shop around though and/or go in business for yourself, NCCA accreditation is not a big deal.
So What's The Best Fitness Certification?
There is no best personal trainer certification. Get certified and strive to be qualified – and not just certified – and you will be OK. For more insights on this issue, read my review of how to be a personal trainer.