Last updated on August 29th, 2023.
If you are interested in becoming a personal trainer, you will need a certification from an accredited organization to legally and adequately train clients. Some certifications are held to a higher standard than others and are more respected in the industry.
The three most respected personal training certifications are from:
These certifications will allow you to work in any fitness establishment or as an individual personal trainer.
Read on to discover more about these three certifications and what qualifications they will give you. We will also discuss some different career paths that certified personal trainers with NCCA accredited certifications can take in the fitness and exercise science industries.
What Is a Personal Training Certification?
Personal training certifications are much like any other certification you would receive from an accredited organization. Personal training certifications online are much faster paced than a degree in exercise science, and typically offer an online aspect to learning. They can be earned in addition to a degree in exercise science or can stand alone as a qualification to become a personal trainer.
Certifications give you the knowledge and accreditation to work in a fitness environment and safely train clients. Depending on the accreditation of the organization you receive your certification from, you can do several things after becoming a certified personal trainer, including:
- Be employed by a gym or fitness center
- Work as an independent contractor at a fitness center
- Work as a freelance personal trainer
These three options are all options for certified personal trainers, but it is ultimately up to them to choose what path works best. Some may choose to continue their education or take adjacent career paths in the fitness industry. Let’s look at some of the advantages of using your personal training certification to take any of these paths.
Using Your Certification to Be Employed By A Fitness Center
Suppose the idea for your journey is to use your training certification to be employed by a fitness center or gym. In that case, you need to carefully choose which personal training certification you attempt to receive. Gyms typically accept only personal training certifications recognized by the NCCA or The National Commission for Certifying Agencies.
Most organizations that provide personal training certifications are recognized by the NCCA, but there are some out there that are not, so be sure to do your research when searching for an organization to obtain your certification from. Fitness centers require only the most basic education as a certified personal trainer, and fitness centers already draw in a clientele. Searching for prospective clients is not usually done by certified personal trainers employed at a fitness center.
Using Your Certification to Become an Independent Contractor
Becoming an Independent Contractor as a personal trainer will require a bit more knowledge on the business aspect of the industry but will allow you more freedom when working. Choose your personal training certification by which accredited organizations offer more entrepreneurial education, like setting your prices and finding prospective clients.
Independent contractors usually pay a fee to work out of a specific gym. They could be required to carry their liability insurance if not covered by the gym they are paying fees to. Certified personal trainers have the freedom to create their schedule and prices but must work to find and retain their client base.
Using Your Certification to Work As A Freelance Personal Trainer
Freelance personal trainers have the most freedom in the industry and need the most thorough guidance in the education department to be completely prepared. Much like those desiring to be independent contractors once they are certified, freelance personal trainers should choose a certification that focuses on the business aspect of the industry.
Freelance personal trainers should seek out the highest level of education possible and look for organizations that focus on the business aspect. Freelancers should specifically seek out organizations that include entrepreneurial practices and liability insurance coverage in their courses. Freelance trainers have complete freedom over their work and typically do in-home personal training in addition to being an independent contractor at a fitness center. Freelancers must work the hardest to find and retain their client base.
What Can You Do with A Personal Training Certification?
Aside from working as a personal trainer in a gym or independently, there are several career paths you can take after receiving a personal training certification from an accredited organization. Let’s look at some of the most common specialized career paths for certified personal trainers in the fitness industry.
Certified Personal Trainers As Corrective Exercise Specialists
Corrective Exercise Specialists teach clients how to spot muscle imbalances when performing and exercising incorrectly or inefficiently. They are there to safeguard their clients from potential forms that could cause them pain or injury. Corrective Exercise Specialists can often work with clients with mobility roadblocks, including the elderly, and must be educated further on that specific client base’s restrictions.
Certified personal trainers can use their certifications to obtain a career in the corrective exercise sector of the fitness industry. Being a corrective exercise specialist involves giving constructive feedback to help clients perform exercises correctly and enable them to recover from workouts more quickly and easily.
Certified Personal Trainers as Performance Enhancement Specialists
Certified personal trainers with accredited certifications can easily opt for a career path in the athletic industry. Performance Enhancement Specialists design effective training programs for athletes in various sports looking to improve their performance.
These training professionals will evaluate exercise techniques and execution for athletes in their specific roles. This career path could take certified personal trainers into many avenues of the industry. Athletic trainers require a degree and licensure and cannot be done with just a certification…also quite common in professional sports. Though that may require additional licensure, a certifications and a degree, this can still be an advantageous avenue to take.
Certified Personal Trainers as Nutrition Coaches
Nutrition coaches work specifically with ANY type of client to teach and coach them on the basic nutritional needs and practices for a healthy lifestyle based on each individual. Nutrition coaches teach their clients about healthy eating habits and give them the tools and knowledge to implement them in their everyday lives.
Nutrition coaches typically have a passion for nutrition or a passion for working with the weight loss community. This career path is an excellent way for a certified personal trainer to make a difference in the lives of their clients by teaching them the proper way to improve their health through nutrition.
Certified Personal Trainers as Group Fitness Instructors
One of the most common routes for certified personal trainers to take, especially those employed by gyms, is to take on the role of a group fitness instructor. Group fitness instructors lead group exercise classes like aerobics or spin. Group fitness instructors have the freedom to teach many different courses that they may have a passion for. Standard group exercise classes include:
- Spin Classes
Group fitness instructors typically enjoy a more energetic environment with choreographed classes. Classes consist of small intimate yoga groups or large groups in a dance or Zumba class.
The Three Most Respected Personal Training Certifications
These three personal training certifications are some of the most respected in the fitness industry. They are all accredited by the NCCA, which is the industry standard for most acceptable personal training certifications. Certified personal trainers will also need certifications in CPR, or cardiopulmonary resuscitation, and AED, or automated external defibrillation.
1. The National Academy of Sports Medicine Certification
The National Academy of Sports Medicine offers a personal training certification that has developed some of the most successful personal trainers in the industry. To be eligible for the personal training course provided by NASM, you must have a high school diploma or GED and already be certified in CPR and AED.
The NASM certified personal trainer certification must be recertified every two years to stay up to date with the latest industry practices. NASM is in its thirty-fourth year of operation and is accredited by the NCCA. NASM offers an online certified personal training program that uses science and evidence-based research.
NASM offers four different bundles for learning that include a digital learning platform and textbooks. NASM offers practice quizzes and a step-by-step learning model.
2. The American Council of Exercise Certification
The American Council of Exercise offers a Certified Personal Training that is certified by the NCCA and also recognized globally by iCREPs, or International Confederation of Registers of Exercise Professionals. This certification will give you respected credentials that will allow you to work successfully in the fitness industry.
ACE’s certified personal training course teaches you the responsibilities and business ethics of a personal trainer in the fitness industry. ACE also covers career development for freelance and independent contractors in the industry, including:
- Effective Communication
- Goal Setting
- Client-Personal Trainer Relationship
ACE’s certified personal training course uses a multimodal approach to cater to different learning styles. From video and audio courses to interactive activities, ACE’s coursework is ideal for anyone. ACE allows you to pick between a 100% online experience, or a hybrid learning experience with digital and hard copy aspects.
3. The International Sports Sciences Association Certification
The International Sports Sciences Association is another organization that offers a certified personal training course accredited by the NCCA. The ISSA course is created with the latest in health and fitness research and is regularly reviewed by the organization to be up to date with the latest industry knowledge.
The ISSA-certified personal training course will give prospective personal trainers the knowledge and skill to provide their clients with customized training programs based on their current health and restrictions.
The ISSA-certified personal training course comes with a complete guide textbook and digital learning material, like audio lectures and activities. ISSA provides a free accredited exam with the purchase of the Certified Personal Trainer Course.
When ISSA Personal Trainers become certified, they are provided a free website to support their online career. The ISSA also provides their personal trainers with what they call the 5-in-5 program, a program that helps personal trainers find five clients in just five weeks.
(Want an easy laid out path to getting certified? Check out these easy steps to certified as a personal trainer!)
These certifications are accredited by the NCCA, or National Commission for Certifying Agencies. An NCCA accreditation is widely renowned and accepted in fitness centers and gyms across the country. Special attention to the business aspect of personal training is a good idea for those who desire to become independent contractors or freelance personal trainers.
(If you want to study exercise physiology online, check out that article!)