So, you're under 18 and want to be a personal trainer. Can you do this? Recently, I was asked if it was OK if a 16 year old attended a personal training certification class I was teaching. That got me to thinking if there were other young people out there also wondering if they can become a certified personal trainers too. If that's you, let me try to not only help you make sense of this but also talk to you about other important things you need to know if you decide be a personal trainer. After reading this, also see my post, Too Old To Be A Personal Trainer.
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 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 USA 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 ACE, IFTA, AAAI/ISMA, NASM and NSCA. 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|
|NSCA||at least 18||800-815-6826|
|WITS||Can take if under 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. However, as you can also see, some organizations do have policies for people under age 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 a 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 its possible some Americans may be certified by them too.
When I contacted them and asked about how young someone could be to take their test, they told me that people 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 that 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, fitness certifications need to be renewed every 1-2 years. Contact the organization you are interested in to find out how to get recertified.
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 the person reaches age 18.
NAFC stands for the National Association for Fitness Certification. When I contacted them for this article, I was informed that 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.
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 other 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 certification. 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 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 its not hard.
Hopefully you'll never need to give someone CPR to keep them alive but, you never know. For more on this do 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 on how to get a cert.
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.
Update. Ive written an entire book to help you pick a certification. Its called How To Become A Personal Trainer.
I don't want you to go into debt to get certified especially if you won't be able to pay off a credit card within a month. Some certs are very expensive.
I believe education is more important than who you are certified by. So, I recommend that 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.
You're Certified. Now What?
After you become a personal trainer, you will have your first client. What will you do? Fitness certs are great for teaching you the science of exercise. But most of them don't teach you how to train somebody.
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 other trainers out there.
Do You Need Insurance?
There is personal trainer insurance. Do you need it? Well, if you work in most of the bigger, well known gyms, you will probably be covered by their insurance policy (always ask the owner/general manager to make sure) but if you are self employed or if you work at a smaller, independent gym or they say you are a “sub contractor,” then you may need to have your own insurance.
Fortunately this isn't too expensive. I recommend CPH Personal Trainer Insurance. It's less expensive than most others and it will serve you well as a fitness trainer.
Bookmark that site so you have it when you need it.
The Gym Said I Didn't Need A Cert
I know there are people out there who say they are personal trainers – even though they are NOT certified. Unfortunately, some health clubs are to blame for this by telling people that:
1. They don't need a certification to train/teach a class.
2. They say 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:
1. Does not have YOUR best interests at heart.
2. Is not putting their members first.
Think about it. By telling you that 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 gyms insurance policy.
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 hair stylist to know what they are doing
- You want your plumber to know what they are doing
So why is it OK for a 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.
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.
My practice test can also help you understand how much about fitness/health you know.
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 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 garage 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 home owners 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 They 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 that older people (not that 40 is “old” but you know what I mean…) may have kids who are your age.
Because of that, they may not take you seriously as a personal trainer. It's a reverse age discrimination. Your youth will work against you.
The people who hire you may know more about health and fitness than you do! And, 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 getting certified include:
- Watch Doctor TV shows (your clients watch them!)
- Attend fitness seminars
- Listen to fitness podcasts (email me I can tell you some I like)
- Read personal trainer books (here's the book I wrote)
- Pay attention to the health stores on the TV news
I covered more ways in my Fitness Mentor Post.
Will You Sell Supplements?
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 about how a young woman died as a direct result of the supplements her personal trainer recommended. The trainer should have known better…
Because of this, my thoughts are that you not recommend or discuss supplements with your clients.
For more info on this, see my supplement website. I've spent over 15 years investigating them.
I get asked all the time about whats the best supplement and my usual reply is “Eat a salad” or drink a fruit/vegetable smoothie.”
Fact. Personal trainer insurance probably won't cover you if you are sued due to dietary supplement recommendations.
So, Can You Be A Personal Trainer?
The short answer is sure, you can do it. But, if you decide this is what you really want to do, please do it the right way. My goal in writing these words were 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. If you want more help,Here is my personal trainer book.