Update 2/4/20. So, you're under 18 and want to be a personal trainer. Can you do this? I've been a fitness trainer since the 1990s. I also teach/train personal trainers. I was once asked if it was OK if a 16-year-old could attend one of my classes. That got me to thinking if there were other young people out there also wondering if they can become a certified personal trainer too. If that's you, let me try to not only help you make sense of all this but also talk to you about other important things you need to know if you decide to become a personal trainer.
Read These Reviews Too
My goal is to help you. I want you to be qualified – not just a certified trainer. These other reviews I've written will help you:
- Too Old To Be A Personal Trainer
- Can A Personal Trainer Smoke?
- Should Personal Trainers Recommend Supplements?
- 5 Reasons Rhabdo Is Occurring in Fitness Centers
- 15 Gym Scams They Don't You To Know About
- What Is a Master Personal Trainer?
- Can You Be A Personal Trainer With A Criminal Record?
- Gym Emergency Procedures: What Should You Do
- Rhabo And Personal Training: The Facts
- Guide to Interval Training
- Violent Crimes in Gyms
- Sexual Harassment in Fitness Centers: What To Do
- Gym Safety after COVID
- Are Expensive Personal Trainer Certs Worth The Money?
How Young Can A Trainer Be?
At the end of the day, I think if your heart is in it, age really isn't a factor as long as you want to try to help others. As proof of this, I was recently contacted by a man in Tennessee who told me how a 15-year-old helped him lose over 140 pounds. This boy was not “certified” or called himself a “personal trainer.”
Rather, he just wanted to help his friend.
That said, for those young people who want to officially try to make a living as a personal trainer, you will have to take – and pass – a personal trainer certification test.
Tip. A fitness certification is not a “license.” These words are often confused – even by people who've been in business a long time. Personal trainers in the US don't have a license although in other countries they might.
There are many fitness certification organizations out there. See the next section on some of the more popular ones.
There are many organizations that certify personal trainers. Just a few you may have heard of include
There are many others too.
The table below lists the testing minimum ages for many well-known personal trainer certification organizations, along with their contact numbers. I've tried to keep this list mostly to organizations that are not online tests. See the link for more info about online fitness certifications.
Those listed in the table below are not the only organizations out there, but they are some of the more well-known and accepted certifications. If you feel I missed an organization, let me know, and I'll look into it for you.
|Organization||Youngest Age They Let You Take The Test||Organization Contact Number|
|AAAI/ISMA||at least 16||609-397-2139|
|ACE||at least 18||888-825 3636|
|ACSM||at least 18||800 486 5643|
|AFAA||at least 18||800-446-2322|
|CanFitPro||See below for more info||416 193 3515|
|Cooper Institute||at least 18||800 635 7050|
|IFPA||at lest 16. See below for more info.||800-785-1924|
|IFTA||at least 18||919-870-0600|
|ISSA||at least 18. See below for more info.||800-892-4772|
|NAFC||at least 18. see below for more info.||800-324-8315|
|NASM||at least 18||800-460-6276|
|NESTA||at least 18||877-348-6692|
|NETA||at least 18||800 237 6242|
|NFPT||At least 18||800-729-6378|
|NSCA||at least 18||800-815-6826|
|WITS||At least 18. See below for more info.||888-330-9487|
In the table above, you can see many organizations do require someone to be at least 18 years of age before they let them take the test. As you can also see, some organizations have policies for people under the age of 18.
Different organizations handle this situation differently. Below is more info on those organizations that do let people under 18 take their tests.
The Aerobics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA) told me that they do allow people age 17 to take their personal trainer certification
exam if they have parental consent. Otherwise, it's 18 years of age and older.
This is a Canadian fitness organization. In fact, CanFitPro is the largest provider of education in the Canadian fitness industry. CanFitPro has over 100,000 members, so it's possible some Americans may be certified by them too.
When I contacted CanFitPro and asked how young someone could be to take their test, they told me that those younger than 18 can take the course material. However, they must be at least 18 to take the CanFitPro certification test.
The International Fitness Professionals Association told me if you are under 18, you can take their test and if you pass, you will get a “certificate of completion.” This is not the actual certification. Once you turn 18, contact IFPA and show them proof of your age and they will give you the certification. IFPA certifications must be renewed every 2 years.
See my review of online certs for more on certificates vs. certifications
Tip. With most fitness organizations, the certifications need to be renewed every 1-2 years. Contact the organization you are interested in to find out how to get re-certified.
For example, here is the AAAI/ISMA re-certification process.
ISSA stands for the International Sports Science Association. When I reached out to them, they told me that they do let people under 18 take their exam. However, they do not issue a certification until you reach age 18.
See this ISSA review for more info
NAFC stands for the National Association for Fitness Certification. When I contacted that organization, I was informed people under 18 can take their course materials -and test – but the NAFC won't issue an official cert to the person until they reach age 18.
They will tell the person if they passed or not before they reach 18.
I spoke with Jay DelVecchio who is the President of WITTS, about this issue. World Instructor Training School (WITTS), does allow someone younger than 18 to take their course. Those younger than 18, can take the WITTS course and all quizzes and final exam. While they will not learn if they passed or not until they are 18, they will receive a certificate of completion.
A certificate of completion is not the same thing as a fitness certification. A certificate of completion only states you have taken the course and tests. It does not tell if you passed or not. If you did pass the WITS exam, when you turn 18, you will receive your certification.
See the WITS review for more info.
What Else Do You Need?
To be a personal trainer – and be successful, getting certified is not the only thing you need to know about. Let me now try to help you understand some things that you will need to know and be aware of. I'm going to tell you the stuff that gym managers might not tell you. Whether you are under 18 – or older- I want you to equip you with insights most others don't know.
CPR & AED Certs
If you are going to be a personal trainer, you will also need to have a CPR and AED certifications. CPR stands for cardiopulmonary Resuscitation and AED stands for Automated External defibrillator. Usually, a single class will include both CPR and AED certifications.
I recommend you get your CPR/AED cert BEFORE you attempt to get certified and train people. This is because:
1. Many organizations will require it before you are allowed to take their test.
2. Bad stuff happens in the gym and you may need it one day.
You can get a CPR/AED cert in YMCAs, hospitals, etc. To find them in your area go to this page of AmericanHeart.org. From there, just enter
your zip code and local classes will show up.
Don't take an online CPR/AED if you are doing this for the first time. You need a hands-on class. Don't skimp on this. No online CPR class can prepare you for giving someone chest compressions in real life or using the AED in real life. Take the class. It lasts about 2 hours and the test is not hard.
Hopefully, you'll never need to give someone CPR to keep them alive but, you never know.
For more, read Gym Emergency Procedures
How To Be a Certified Trainer?
In this post, I told you – in detail – how I would go about finding a cert if I had to do it all over again. The info I give you there will work whether you are 16 or 106 years of age. It's very detailed. Read it if you are confused about how to get a certification.
What's The Best Cert?
If you are just starting out, you have probably heard people tell you which they think is the “best” cert. I'm sure they all mean well, but trust me that there is no “best” fitness certification.
In my post, What's The Best Personal Trainer Certification, I share with you why I say this. Read it so you can avoid the mistakes so many others have made, trying to find a fitness certification. Those mistakes can cost you a lot of money too.
Do NOT go into debt to get certified, especially if you won't be able to pay off a credit card within 1 month. Some certs are very expensive.
I believe education is more important than who you are certified by. So, I recommend after you get certified, just buy the books of the different organizations and study those. If you do this, you will have their knowledge (what's most important) and you didn't spend money on their cert.
Here are the books from all the major fitness companies.
You're Certified, But You've Never Trained Anybody
Training yourself is not the same thing as training clients. This is a mistake many new fitness instructors make. While fitness organizations are great for teaching you the science of exercise, most don't teach you how to train clients.
In this post, Your Certified But You've Never Trained Anyone, I show you how you should work with 99% of the people who hire you. Just follow my guidelines and you will know more than most trainers out there.
Do You Need Insurance?
I've changed my opinion on this. While all self-employed trainers need insurance, what if you work in a gym? Yes, you should also have insurance. I am now recommending ALL fitness trainers have their own liability insurance.
I'm suggesting this because of what I have seen – instances where a trainer made a mistake, a lawsuit resulted, and the fitness center tossed the trainer under the bus to protect themselves.
See my resources page for a VERY inexpensive personal trainer insurance.
The Gym Said I Don't Need A Cert
Any gym manager or owner who tells you you do not need a personal trainer certification before you start working does not care about you. They hire people to work as personal trainers but those people are NOT certified. At some fitness centers, people are told:
- Instructors don't need a certification to train/teach a group exercise class.
- The gym says they will give you a “grace period” (usually 1-3 months) to obtain the certification.
Let me be clear. Both of these statements are absolutely stupid.
Any gym manager /owner who tells you that you don't need a fitness certification either:
- Does not have YOUR best interests at heart
- Is not putting their members first
Think about it. By allowing you can teach a fitness class or work as a personal trainer – when you are not certified – they are potentially putting YOU at risk of being sued if you accidentally injure someone.
If you are not certified, you might not be covered by the gym's insurance policy. This is another reason to have your own insurance.
Look at it this way:
- You want your doctor to know what they are doing
- You want your physical therapist to know what they are doing
- You want your hairstylist to know what they are doing
- You want your plumber to know what they are doing
So why is it OK for someone to work as a personal trainer if they don't know what they are doing?
But, you say “Joe, I've been working out for years.” That's great, but working out and knowing how to be a personal trainer are different from each other.
Don't think so? I have one word for you – Rhabdomyolysis.
Do you know what that is?
Rhabdomyolysis (Rhabdo) is one of the most serious conditions facing the fitness industry today. It's caused by too much exercise.
- People have died from rhabdo
- Personal trainers have been sued because they accidentally caused rhabdo. Lawyers have contacted me to be a consultant in these cases.
I'm the author of the first book on rhabdomyolysis. Every personal trainer and coach needs to read my book.
See the Gym Scams Review for more insights.
The Fitness Interview
If you apply for a job at a gym, you will probably go through an interview. If that happens, read my fitness interview tips review and you should be OK.
How Will You Get Clients?
Another thing to consider is that even if you get a job, do you know how to get clients? Can you make any money? Some gym managers are notorious at hiring people who don't know anything about personal training.
They say “your hired,” and give the person a short that says “Staff” or “personal trainer,” and they toss them into the gym, without any training
on how to work with people or how to pick up clients.
Some gyms don't even pay people for the time spent not training people. So you could be at the gym, trying to get clients for 6 hours – and not make a cent!
The result is that in a month or so, the gym either fires you for not making them any money, or you get discouraged and quit.
Here is my book on how to get clients. After you're a trainer, read it.
Training In Your Home
I've met people who train clients in their garages or basement. That's true for both younger people and not so young too. If you do this, I think you should have not only personal trainer insurance but you might also want to speak to your homeowners' insurance too.
If an accident occurred, your client might sue you. If you didn't have the right insurance, you could be in trouble.
What About Criminal Records?
If you have spent time in jail, becoming a personal trainer may be a problem. I think it depends on the nature of the crime. For more, see my post Can You Be A Personal Trainer With A Criminal Record.
Will Clients Take You Seriously?
Let's talk a bit about who will be the people who hire you. The person who is most likely going to hire a personal trainer is:
- A woman who is over 40
- She's a beginner
In other words, most people who hire you will be older than you are. As I mentioned in my review of older personal trainers, you need to understand older folks (not that 40 is “old” but you know what I mean…) may have kids who are your age.
As such, they may not take you seriously as a personal trainer. It's reverse age discrimination. Your youth will work against you.
The people who hire you may know more about health and fitness than you do! If you compound this by not having a fitness certification, it only increases the odds that you won't be able to make any money as a fitness instructor.
There is only one remedy for this. If you are a teenager or in your early 20s right now, the only option you have is to be as smart as you can be. That means knowing more than the fluff you see on bodybuilding websites and fitness magazines.
Some ways you can do this – besides also getting certified include:
- Watch Doctor TV shows (your clients watch them!)
- Attend fitness seminars
- Listen to fitness podcasts
- Pay attention to health stores on the TV news
See my Fitness Mentor Post.
Should You Sell Supplements?
I've been investigating supplements since the 1990s. This is one of my areas of expertise. So let me give you some insights into this.
Most gyms have a juice bar. Many personal trainers are asked about supplements by their clients and at some gyms, personal trainers may even get commissions for supplements they sell.
I think this can be a problem. Here's why:
If you are 16, 17, or 18 years, etc. you probably don't know a lot about dietary supplements except for what your friends tell you or the stuff you read on bodybuilding magazines or websites.
That's not enough to deal with the complex issues that you would need to know about when dealing with supplements. For example, suppose your client is taking a blood thinner drug. Do you know what that is?
- Did you know many supplements can interact/interfere with blood thinner drugs?
- What about fat burners? Do they work?
- Are you – as a personal trainer – even allowed to recommend supplements?
In my review Should Personal trainers Recommend Supplements, I told you how a young woman died as a result of the supplements her personal trainer recommended. I recommend that you DO NOT recommend supplements with your clients.
Personal trainer insurance probably won't protect you if you are sued over your dietary supplement recommendations.
For more info on this, see SupplementClarity.com
So, Can You Be A Personal Trainer?
Yes, you can be a personal trainer. My goal here was to help you understand there is more to it than just getting a fitness certification. My goal was not to scare you but to tell you things others might not, and to help you start thinking about how to do it the right way.
The world is full of “certified” and non-certified personal trainers. If you really want to make a career out of this – and make money doing it too – I want you to be qualified, not just certified. If you follow my advice, I think you're going to be OK, no matter what your age.
Alex Garcia says
This is an amazingly thorough article!
Alex, thanks so much! I really apprecaite you saying this. I train personal trainers so if you have any questions feel free to ask and I will try to help.
Eva O’Neill says
Hello, my name is Eva O’Neill and I’m a 12 year old from Long Beach California. I have lived with Bea Fox, world renowned body builder and her experience has got me to love the sport and business. I’m not saying that I want to train bodybuilders but I would like to train peers my age who have this desire. If you could help me in any way I would highly appreciate it! I know I’m 12 but I assure you I have a great ability to focus and would love for you to help with my dream! Thank you 🙏
Hi Eva, nice to hear from you. So I think the best thing you can do right now is to start learning as much as you can about how people can stay healthy. Exercise can be a part of that. We live in a country where many kids your age do not exercise – or eat well – so you can be a great role model for them. Have you taken a health class in school yet? If yes I bet your teachers may be able to point you to some good resources. I wrote my personal training book to be easily understood so that maybe something you want to eventually look at.
I wonder if you and Bea Fox might start a youtube channel where you both answer questions from kids about health and exercise? You already probably know a lot of questions people your age would like to know about.
When it comes to strength training, remember kids adapt differently than adults too until puberty kicks in. So when working out, there’s no need to lift heavyweights. Aim for lighter weights, lifted for more reps. One thing to do is understand where your muscles are. You dont need to know them all but be aware of the larger muscles in the body. You’ll need to know that when you become a personal trainer.
Now if you are looking to become a certified personal trainer, most organizations will make you be 18 until you can take their exam. But some may let you attend their classes without taking the exam. I believe I mentioned those organizations in the review. If you have an iPhone or iPad you can listen to health and exercise college courses. Search for “Itunes University” They are college courses but they are free and you don’t need to understand it all today.
Does this help you? If you have any questions feel free to reach out to me and I will be glad to help you if I can. 🙂
Yes, thank you this helped me very much! I will do what you said… looking up the iTunes university. I highly appreciate your help I will message you if I have anymore questions. Thank you.
I’m glad I was able to help Eva 🙂
Krista Acke says
Hi! My daughter is 17, graduated high school and is a fitness nut. She has been offered an internship by a large gym by us (Lifetime Fitness) with a job after interning is finished. Our local college offers a CPT through WITS. The problem is that WITS will not allow her to take the test until she is 18.
She might be able to test in the spring but they aren’t sure that they will have enough students to test then. Ugh! It is so frustrating. So she has to put life on hold because she won’t be 18 til January.
Above you said WITS will allow you to test if you aren’t 18, but then didn’t cover it where you went over the rest of the certifications that allow it. Do you know if that has changed or maybe, hopefully the person. I spoke with does not know. Thanks for any help.
Hi Krista, when I reached out to WITTS, I was told yes someone who was 17 could take the exam. It may be they do not release the results until she turns 18 but I am checking on this (sorry for my typo in the review. I will correct it.). I have reached out to the head of WITS, Jay Delvecchio to get to the bottom of this. I hope to hear back from him soon. When I do I will reply here again so you know the answer.
I dont know where you are located but both AAAI/ISMA and IFTA allow someone as young as 16 to take their exams. They are both 1 day courses where your daughter would study prior to taking class which at the end of the day, their is an exam. if she passes that exam, she is certified. Here’s my review of the AAAI class and Test.
Again, I hope to have a clarification on WITTS age requirement soon. stay tuned.
Hi Krista, I called WITS personally and was told your daughter has to be 18 to take the WITTS class and their test. This is different from what I was told previously. It’s looking like they have revised their policy. I have updated my review to reflect this too. I’m still wanting to hear back from their CEO about this and will write back again when I hear more.
No matter what happens, may I suggest your daughter read my book Personal Fitness Training Beyond The Basics. It’s less expensive than any cert, is easy to understand, and tells her what she should know to be a trainer in the real world. It’s the book I wished I had when I was just starting out. It didn’t exist then – and so I wrote it.
Hi Kristra, I have an update. I spoke with Jay DelVecchio. He is the President of WITTS. He told me your daughter CAN take the course and all quizzes and final exam. Because she is under 18, she will get a certificate of completion. This is different than a cert.I’ve emailed him to see if your daughter would receive a certification when she turns 18. My guess is if she passed all tests, she would get a cert.
In case anybody tells you different when you call WITTS, here is what Jay DelVecchio said to me via email
“The national exam for certification requires them to be 18 years old. They can get a certificate of completion for passing all the course quizzes and homework but that is the best we can do until they are 18.”
I hope some of this helps. I’ll be in touch with an update.
Jeremy Thompson says
My son is a fitness fan and is enjoying the practice of training someone else to their goal as he did with me. He’s thinking about whether to make it a profession as he’s enjoying it and is good at it too. Knowing that the minimum requirement for someone to get a certification as a personal trainer is at 16 years of age is a great thing for him too. I’ll try to see if I can apply him for some training and those online personal trainer certification I am hearing about. Thanks!
Joe Cannon says
Hi Jeremy, While an online fitness certification can be a good start, your son may have trouble finding a personal trainer job in a gym since most fitness centers require people to be at least 18. While there are some good online fitness certifications out there, I do think its best he have some hands-on experience too.