Update 7/25/19. I see a lot of people online asking “what’s the best personal training license” and almost as many fitness experts blogging about “the best personal training license” too. Most of these people don't know what the heck they are talking about! Let me try to add my 2 cents to this question and hopefully get you on the right track. After you're done here, read my post on how to be a personal trainer for more information.
License or Certification?
In America, there no such thing as a personal training license. To be a personal trainer you need a certification. Certification is different than a license. The same thing is true about group fitness instructors, yoga instructors and anyone else who is in the fitness industry.
Differences: License vs. Cert
Here ‘s the main difference between a fitness license and fitness certification:
A license means a government entity oversees the education of fitness trainers. On the other hand, when it comes to certifications, it’s a fitness organization that’s responsible for ensuring that personal trainers know what they are doing. There are many fitness organizations in the US such as
And many others
If personal trainers needed a license, then all fitness organizations would come under the jurisdiction of the government and the “licensing” would be standardized. In other words, everybody would have to “do this” or “do that” first in order to be a personal trainer.
A government-mandated fitness license might also mean an end to fitness organizations altogether.
Why Fitness Licenses Are Not Needed
The information you need to know to become a personal trainer now is basically the same no matter which organization you are trying to obtain. All fitness certifications require you to have knowledge in
- exercise science
- muscle physiology
- exercise program design
- basic nutrition
The exams of each organization, however, will differ in the questions that show up and on the particular slant (bias) of that organization.
For example, while I have never taken the NASM personal trainer test, I'm told it puts a lot of emphasis on joint angles and biomechanics. This is good information to know, however, some of the NASM trainers I've met seem to be lacking in knowledge about basic health issues like cholesterol and blood pressure and some aspects of periodization.
For more info see NSCA vs NASM: What's better?
The ACSM personal trainer test – often called the “best” certification – relies heavily on mathematic calculations that 99% of personal trainers will NEVER use. Again, it’s a fine fitness cert, but many trainers may find that what they studied for the test, never shows up in “the real world”.
Tip. If you want to learn personal training from a personal trainer, read my book Personal Fitness Training Beyond The Basics.
Certification organizations also might differ in what they require you to do before you take their exam. The National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) for example, requires that people have a college degree before they can take the CSCS test.
Most fitness organizations do require you to have a CPR and AED cert before you take the test so be sure to get these. Getting these now will save you a big headache later.
Any Advantages To Fitness License?
Conversely, the licensing of personal trainers does have some advantages. It would weed out those out of the system who were not qualified.
On the downside, licensing of personal trainers would also probably mean that each trainer would be paying the government every year or so to maintain their license. That’s in addition to what they pay for fitness continuing education classes.
A fitness license would probably also be harder to obtain than a certification. For example, one proposal in New Jersey to license personal trainers would require fitness professionals to have 500 hours of classroom experience and 100 hours of in the gym, practical experience. They might also need a college degree.
This seems to have died and is not the case any longer.
Again, while that sounds good on the surface, it does mean that personal trainers would be spending a lot of money for that license. That means gyms will no longer be able to pay a personal trainer $6 per hour. They will have to pay them more – which might mean higher gym membership rates.
In a country like the US, where most people do not exercise, I wonder if it’s a good idea to raise gym rates. In other words, would higher health club rates make it harder for someone to work out?
So, Certification or License?
There are no easy answers about this issue. The idea of a personal training license is something that will be debated for a long time. Until that day happens – if it ever does – just remember that to be a personal trainer, you need a certification – not a license. Also, see my review of online personal trainer certs for more info.