Get Paid to Train: The 11 Best Personal Trainer Certifications to Get Before Starting Your Career

male personal trainer with female gym junkie

Do you want to make a difference in people's lives through your work? Are you tired of being stuck in an office all day?

It's time for a job change. One job that allows you to change lives and get paid is a personal trainer. It pays well and there is plenty of room for growth.

Personal trainers get paid about $40,000 a year. Demand is growing exponentially, thanks to an increasingly obese population.

Before you jump into your new career, you need to know what the best personal trainer certifications are. There aren't legal requirements to become a personal trainer.

You do need to get certified. Many of these programs give you the tools that you need to get started as a personal trainer. What is the best personal trainer certification program to jump-start your new career?

Keep reading to find out.

1. ACE

The American Council of Exercise is frequently cited as the best personal trainer certification. It's a quality program that gives you the basic knowledge to train clients.

ACE shows you how to program, which is one of the hardest skills for new personal trainers to learn. You have the confidence to go into a gym and train general population clients.

You can get certified in 3-4 months. The program comes with a few books and you learn completely online. You'll get a Certified Personal Trainer (CPT) designation.


The National Academy of Sports Medicine certification gets compared to ACE and ISSA. It ranks among the best personal trainer certifications because it focuses on corrective exercise as the foundation of movement.

The program teaches you the most common muscular imbalances from sedentary lifestyles. You learn how to build programs to work with and correct these imbalances.

The NASM Certified Personal Trainer program is self-study. You'll get books and study guides, along with videos to watch.


A personal training certification from the International Sports Sciences Association is also recognized as the best personal trainer certification course.

ISSA also focuses on general population clients. You'll learn how to program for general fitness clients, but you'll also learn more about athletic performance.

What's different about ISSA is that the exam is an open-book exam. ACE, NASM, and other CPT programs have proctored exams.

They have multiple choice and essay questions, while the proctored exams are multiple-choice only.


The American College of Sports Medicine certification program is one of the hardest to compete. Out of all of the CPT programs, it has one of the lowest exam pass rates.

How does it compare to other certifications? ACSM aligns closely with NASM's CPT program, as they both focus on functional training and corrective exercise.

Which one is better? It depends. Most gyms and gym managers recognize NASM, which ACSM is recognized in academic settings.


A certification from the National Strength and Conditioning Association prepares you to design programs for your clients.

It emphasizes athletic performance, so if you plan to work with athletes of any kind, this is a program to consider. Trainers often start with a general fitness CPT certification and then get an additional certification from NSCA.

6. Community College Program

Are you thinking of getting a degree in exercise science, but aren't sure if you want to make the commitment? You can go halfway and get certified as a personal trainer through your local community college.

A growing number of community colleges offer certificate programs. Some programs have courses in kinesiology and anatomy. You can transfer credits to a degree program.

7. StretchCoach

One of the forgotten aspects of fitness is flexibility. You'll get a basic overview of general flexibility in Certified Personal Trainer courses.

If you want to deliver high-quality training with the knowledge you gain in your CPT program, learn how to develop a client's range of motion.

A stretching certificate from StretchCoach prepares you to take your clients' performances to the next level.

8. TRX

As a personal trainer, it helps to be known for something. Some are experts in Crossfit or specific modalities. You can become an expert in TRX.

Suspension training is a great way for your clients to build strength and learn basic movement patterns. You'll know how to train people and run TRX classes at your gym with this certification program.

9. Precision Nutrition Level 1

Most of your clients will want to lose weight. Weight loss success comes from eating well as much as it does from exercise.

The CPT courses are great for learning about exercises, but they only give a general overview of nutrition. ACE, NASM, and ISSA have separate nutrition certifications.

If you want the most advanced nutrition certification possible, look no further than Precision Nutrition.

You'll learn how to approach nutrition from a behavioral perspective. You won't teach clients the latest fad diet, but how they can modify their behaviors slowly.

You won't learn how to put meal plans together for your clients. That's actually out of your scope of practice and something that Registered Dieticians should do.

10. Kettlebell Certification

Another specialty to look at is kettlebell training. Kettlebells are great for strength, endurance, and performance. They're also great for beginners because they're easier to work with than barbells and dumbbells.

Strong First and IKFF are a couple of the top kettlebell certification courses.

You do have to train for a kettlebell certification. Most certifications expect you to perform the movement you teach.

11. Online Trainer Academy

What do you do once you train clients for a year or two? You should have a plan to grow your business and scale-up. You could decide to open your own boutique gym.

It's possible to create a business that's location-independent with online training. Online personal training became a necessity during the pandemic. It's also a nice income stream.

The Online Trainer Academy assumes that you already know how to train people. They recommend that you have at least a year of experience training people in person.

What the Online Trainer Academy shows you is how to build your business. You learn how to create your service packages, price them, and sell them.

You also get great tips to deliver quality training online.

Picking From the Best Personal Trainer Certifications

As you can see, there are so many options when you're getting certified as a personal trainer. Which one is right for you?

It depends on a few factors. The first is your career path. Ask yourself where you see yourself working and what kind of clients you want to work with.

If you want to work in a large gym, most require either ISSA, ACE, or NASM certifications. Other facilities are more flexible in their hiring requirements.

If you want to work in an athletic environment, then get certified with NSCA.

Take a look at the requirements to get certified through different organizations. They usually require a CPR/AED certification, and you only have a certain amount of time to complete the course (about 6 months).

Take a look to see if there are any exam fees for the course. Most include the first exam as part of the certification course. However, you'll have to pay a retake fee if you fail the first time.

Compare the cost of the certification packages. Be aware that different certifying bodies have sales on their programs. Sign up to their email lists to get notified of these sales.

Some might offer a package that includes a nutrition or group training certification with the CPT program. You'll want to weigh these different options and ask if they offer payment plans.

Finally, check the continuing education requirements. Getting certified as a personal trainer is only the first step. You're expected to build your knowledge and grow as a trainer.

Learn to Sell

The downside of certifications is that they don't prepare you to work in a gym. Most big box gyms will hire you to work with clients.

They give you limited training and support to work with clients. You're also expected to sell. That's right, get ready to become a salesperson.

Large gyms are membership-based, where members pay a monthly fee between $10 and $100 a month. They pay for personal training separately.

The percentage of users that hire a personal trainer is low. About 12% of fitness gym members and 15% of multiuse facility members hire trainers.

If you're planning to get a job in a gym, you'll need to learn how to sell. Read business books and learn everything you can about selling.

It will serve you well throughout your career.

What Is the Best Personal Trainer Certification?

The best personal trainer certifications in this article show you that you have several options to kickstart your personal training career.

Think about your clients and your training environment. Pick one of the CPT certifications that help you prepare for that environment. Then grow your career with specialty certifications.

If you like learning about personal trainer certifications, you'll enjoy the other health and fitness articles on this site. Be sure to read them today.


Share this article!

Follow us!

Find more helpful articles: