Best Personal Trainer Certification


Best Personal Trainer Certification of 2023

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To help aspiring personal trainers choose the best personal training certification, we’ve put together a list of our top picks as well as (mostly) objective criteria we believe trainers are most concerned with. 

With multiple certification options available, we’ve made it simple to understand some of the major selling points of each certification and why it may be beneficial to you, the future personal trainer of the world.

While there really is no “best personal trainer certification,” there are different factors that may better resonate with certain people.

Before we dive in, if you’re looking to be a part of a community of coaches and trainers building their careers, join our discord, here.


What Cert is Best for You?

We designed this quiz to help you choose the perfect certification based on your learning style and goals.

Why I am qualified to recommend top personal trainer certifications

Hi, I’m Eddie Lester, the founder and CEO of Fintess Mentors. I’ve been a personal trainer for nearly two decades and have eight personal training certifications. In addition, I used to be a personal trainer certification teacher at a vocational college making me highly familiar with the educational materials and learning styles of each major CPT body and prospective students, respectively.

We, Fitness Mentors, were the first company to cover this topic in-depth and one of the few that actually have experience with all the certifications mentioned here. Other websites that cover this topic offer very little substance in terms of actual experience, making this guide the best of its kind on the web.

A Quick Look at the Best Personal Training Certifications in 2023

Best Personal Training Certification Reviews

Best overall

International Sports Science Association (ISSA)













Summary: I’ve weighed factors such as accreditation, price, curriculum, CEU requirements and more to provide this review of ISSA. With all of these factors considered (and more weight placed on certain factors such as cost and curriculum), ISSA is our current top pick for the best personal training certification for 2023. 

Their certification provides a job placement guarantee, sets you up to train in-person and in online environments, and is the most highly rated certification as indicated by third-party reviews on this list.

Starting at $828
Prices listed are non-promotional, full-price, non-member prices.

ISSA stands for The International Sports Sciences Association. Founded in 1988 by a team of fitness experts and exercise scientists, their personal training certification is recognized worldwide.

Once a student takes and passes the ISSA exam, which covers a wide array of fitness topics, you are qualified to offer fitness and personal training services. Exam topics include Anatomy & Physiology, Kinesiology and Biomechanics, Health and Physical Fitness, Nutrition, and General Fitness.

The ISSA CPT is my top pick for a personal trainer certification program compared to other options available for a number of reasons.

First off, the ISSA’s certification program places a strong emphasis on both theoretical and practical knowledge in the personal training field. This includes an extensive curriculum that covers topics such as nutrition, program design, exercise science, and business principles.

Moreover, the ISSA’s certification program is accredited by the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC), which is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. Such an accreditation may lend additional credibility to the certification in the eyes of prospective clients or employers. The CPT also provides an opportunity to get a certification by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA), the gold standard in certification bodies.

Furthermore, the ISSA provides a range of specialized certifications in areas such as corrective exercise, strength and conditioning, and fitness nutrition. This may appeal to individuals who seek to develop their skills and knowledge in a particular area of personal training.

Finally, the ISSA offers ongoing resources and support to its certified personal trainers, such as access to a network of professionals in the fitness industry and opportunities for continuing education. Such assistance can enable trainers to remain current with the latest trends and research in their field and may contribute to their success as personal trainers.

Best for entrepreneur & online trainers, & lowest cost

Fitness Mentors













Summary: Originally known as a study guide provider for NASM and ACE, Fitness Mentors decided that it was time to provide better value to the personal trainer of today. This meant creating an original curriculum and certification that catered to online training and trainers who sought an entrepreneurial route.

With a certification focused on mastering all the roles of a personal trainer – business owner, coach, scientist of the body, and mentor – it is unique in that it is specifically catered towards program design and business success. As the lowest cost personal trainer certification, it is also a viable option for those looking to get started with minimal investment.

Starting at $499
Prices listed are non-promotional, full-price, non-member prices.

The Fitness Mentors CPT is the new kid on the block in terms of training certifications, giving it an edge in terms of curriculum without the brand recognition of the bigger players.

It is known for being the best value certification around, while boasting the highest exam pass rate due to the company’s background in education. What separates Fitness Mentors’ certified personal trainer certification is their excellent customer service and included lifetime expert guidance as well as business coaching.

It is Fitness Mentors’ view that to be a successful personal trainer today, they need to know program design and fitness fundamentals, but also important business growth and marketing principles. Whereas other programs tend to focus on programs and exercise physiology, Fitness Mentors provides that education and more at an unmatched price and with human support.

Most respected

National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM)













Summary: As an aspiring personal trainer, there is a good chance you’ve considered a NASM certification to add to your list of professional accolades.

There’s good reason too, NASM is considered to be a global leader in credentialing fitness professionals, and their wealth of certifications will prepare you for a promising career in personal training or one of their other areas of specializations.


Starting at $999
Prices listed are non-promotional, full-price, non-member prices.

NASM stands for the National Academy of Sports Medicine, a 30-year old company best-known for their Certified Personal Trainer (CPT) program. Within the last 10 years, NASM has certified and recertified more personal trainers than any other personal training company, helping nearly 200,000 obtain, or maintain, their CPTs all across the globe.

NASM is also NCCA-accredited, meaning they have the National Commission for Certifying Agencies credentials, the first standards ever developed to ensure a fitness certification body has the essential elements of a high-quality program.

NASM has pioneered what is called the Optimum Performance Training (OPT™) model, a comprehensive training system that is heavily versed in scientific, evidence-based research. According to NASM, the emphasis on science makes OPT ideal for program design and delivering consistent results.

Best holistic approach

American Council on Exercise (ACE)













Summary: ACE is NCCA accredited, meaning the National Commission for Certifying Agencies has identified its coursework as reputable and meets the criteria for what is considered a high-quality program within the personal training industry.

This also means that this CPT gives you a high likelihood of getting you a job within a gym.

Starting at $979
Prices listed are non-promotional, full-price, non-member prices.

The American Council on Exercise (ACE) CPT is one of the most popular of the personal trainer certifications, with our research indicating that there are over 13,100 tests taken each year.

The cost of ACE’s study materials and test are a bit higher than most with the cheapest study package and test sitting at $599, whereas some of the other CPTs fall around the $500 range.

While slightly more expensive up front, ACE looks to be a good investment as the average income of an ACE personal trainer is amongst the best in the industry.

ACE also has modest continuing education (CEU) requirements. Trainers are required to take 20 hours of CEUs and the current cost is $129 to recertify every 2 years.

Best for training athletes

National Council on Strength & Fitness













Summary: The National Council on Strength & Fitness (NCSF) is an NCCA accredited certification from a reputable company known for its focus on exercise prescription and programming considerations. They are middle of the road in terms of cost and amongst the lowest in terms of exam pass rate.

A popular choice amongst those who don’t enjoy continuing education, their 10 hours every two years makes them a strong consideration from a time and investment perspective. 

Starting at $699
Prices listed are non-promotional, full-price, non-member prices.

The National Council on Strength & Fitness (NCSF) CPT is a globally recognized certification that is known for its emphasis on training athletes.

With both online and in-person exam options, they boast the industries largest exam network that encompasses over 160 countries. This network is popular amongst trainers outside the United States who want to be sure their credentials are respected wherever they are in the world.

Additionally, NCSF maintains memberships with industry-leading health clubs, facilitating career opportunities for trainers who are focused on gym environments.

What to look for when choosing a personal trainer certification


Watch Our Video: Best Personal Trainer Certification

Want to know which certification is right for you? Take our Quiz by clicking here.

We put together the following factors based on feedback from existing personal trainers and found as much data as possible so we could quantify our research:

  • Accreditation: most gyms only accept personal training certifications that are NCCA, NBFE or DEAC – recognized so this is an important factor for aspiring trainers. These certifying bodies are considered the gold standard for fitness certifications.
  • Price: includes the cost of the test and the cheapest study materials.
  • Pass Rate: the total test takers divided by the passers.
  • Expected Study Time: this is the time you have to take the exam from the time you purchase the study materials.
  • Number of Test Questions: all tests are multiple choice, and we report on the amount of test questions for each exam. We also cover the total time allotted as well as the minimum passing score.
  • CEU Requirements: amount of Continuing Education Units required to maintain certification.
  • Popularity of Certification: indication of the amount of people who have a cert and take the test every year.
  • Primary Focus of Education: while this topic may surprise some, each program varies slightly in what their education process concentrates on teaching you. This information is pulled straight off their catalogs.
  • Average Income: average annual income from reputable sources.
  • Retake Fee: if you fail the exam the first time, the price to retake the exam again.

Want to know which certification is right for you? Take our Quiz by clicking here.

Check out our infographic that covers the objective items mentioned above. Below the image is a list of all the items with a breakdown.

Best Personal Training Certification: An Objective Look into 10 Key Criteria

Below we summarize the data contained in the infographic, diving into highlights from each section, explaining why some companies vary so much, and giving an honest assessment of why each of the companies ranks where it does.

We also include a “Personal Trainer Takeaway,” from me, a longtime personal trainer who has worked in almost every facet of the business (big box gym, one-on-one, group fitness, business owner, etc.). This section is a bit more subjective, but will help you consider some things that a purely objective analysis might not.

In some instances, we were not able to find data for each of the certifying bodies and we made estimates. This estimated data is not presented in the infographic but we make mention of it here.


Accreditation standards are developed by several third-party credentialing organizations to maintain a level of professionalism within the fitness industry. These designations showcase that a certification body has created a high-quality program that ensures the safety and wellbeing of the public. Fitness certifications that wish to be accredited have to submit their programs and final exam to be evaluated on an individual basis. This ensures that they meet the highest standard and validates that the aspiring trainer has the competency for entry level employment.

With the exception of AFAA, every personal training certification body on this list has the option for a National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) accredited exam, which is the gold standard for fitness certifications. This is important to trainers because most gyms will only accept personal trainer certifications that are accepted by an NCCA-accredited body. So, if you are like many trainers who want to jumpstart their career by working in a gym, you may want to avoid a cert that is not NCCA-accredited.

If you are looking for a more entrepreneurial route other than working in a gym, the FM-CPT is known for having the most business emphasis in their education. AFAA is currently rebuilding their program so that they will be accredited, but their main emphasis is their group fitness certification. ISSA does have additional accreditation with Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC) and National Board of Fitness Examiners (NBFE), and is accepted at most gym chains.

Personal Trainer Certifications with the option for NCCA Accreditation:

Personal Trainer Certifications with National Board of Fitness Examiners (NBFE) Affiliation

Personal Trainer Certification with DEAC Accreditation:


Personal Trainer Takeaway:

Be sure to check with your top employment options to find out which certifications they accept, as that may limit your certification choices. For example, if you have a friend that works at 24-Hour Fitness and says he can get you a job if you get certified, get a list of the certifications they honor so you know you’ll be a shoe-in.

Similarly, if you plan on working at a smaller shop with other personal trainers, inquire with them first if they will accept the personal training certification you are leaning towards. Bottom line, determine where you want to work, then see if those places have requirements on the types of PT certs they accept for employees.


Most of the personal trainer certification bodies are between $600 to $1,000 for the exam and the study materials. Many of these companies offer periodic discounts, and some offer membership pricing.

For the least expensive yet highly reputable option, the Fitness Mentors CPT at $499 is a popular option. The only other sub-$500 option is AFAA, also at $499.

NASM is the most expensive option, but frequently goes on sale. ACE is also on the upper end of the pricing spectrum, but they too offer frequent promotions.

Prices listed are non-promotional, full-price, non-member prices.


Personal Trainer Takeaway:

You should determine what matters most to you: prestige or cost? If you want to go with a more recognized name in the industry (NASM, ACE) it will cost more. If you only need an inexpensive, accredited certification for quick employment or for the entrepreneurial route, look toward the less expensive certifications (Fitness Mentors, AFAA).

However, also consider CEU requirements, income, as well as the above accreditation factors before you pull the trigger. While price may be the most important factor to you, all the factors on this page may influence your final decision beyond your initial investment.

Pass Rate

The cert with the best pass rate is Fitness Mentors at 89%, while ACSM, at 54%, sits on the bottom end. 

There is no data on the Pass Rate for the AFAA because they are rebuilding everything to get NCCA accredited.


Personal Trainer Takeaway:

Some tests are much harder than others. If we use pass rate as our main reference point, it would appear that ACSM, NSCA, and NCSF have the most difficult tests. This can mean these tests are the hardest to pass or the educational experience provided is not sufficient in preparing students for the subject matter on the test.

Or, it could mean these tests tend to focus on more difficult subjects like anatomy, physiology and biomechanics. The study experience — books, study guides, practice exams, access to instructors, etc. — from fitness organizations can vary widely. The feedback from students is that some study curriculum does not fully prepare a student for a final exam as well as it could, while others find that the preparation materials provided fully prepare them for the final exam. This is why students often use third-party educators like Fitness Mentors to provide education for multiple certification exams like NASM and ACE.

Expected Study Time

The expected study time is inferred from the time the certification bodies give you when you buy the study materials until the time you have to take the exam.

Fitness Mentors: 6 Months with 80 hours of recommended study time.

NESTA: Study as long as you need but must complete the test within 90 days of requesting the exam voucher.

ACSM: 3, 6, 12, or 24 month options.

ACE: Schedule test before 6 months of purchase ends but can take it before 9 months.

ISSA: 6 months to complete.

NASM: Must complete in under 6 months.

NCSF: Must complete in under 6 months.

NCSA: 120 days after purchasing exam.

NFPT: 12 Months after purchasing exam.


Personal Trainer Takeaway:

The timeline you have to complete the test matters depending on your situation. Are you currently unemployed and need a training job as soon as possible? You would then want the shortest study time and easiest test. Are you looking to become certified without the need for immediate employment? Maybe a longer study time would be needed since you are less motivated for immediate results. Also, keep in mind how much time you have to put toward your studies? If you only have two hours a week, you may not be able to complete your studies in the allotted time.

The main takeaway here is to not just look at the exam with the least amount of study time and say, ‘that’s for me!’ Instead, take an honest assessment of your current financial situation and the certification you really want and make the best decision for your future.

Number of Test Questions

Below: Number of test questions / total test time / minimum passing score

Fitness Mentors: 100 questions / 120 minutes / 70% or higher is passing

NASM: 120 questions / 120 minutes/ 70% or higher is passing

ACSM: 120 questions / 120 minutes / 68.75% or higher is passing. 800 points available based on scaled questions, 550 points needed to pass

AFAA: 120 questions online exam / 120 minutes / 70% or higher is passing

NFPT: 120 questions online exam / 120 minutes / 70% or higher is passing

NESTA: 125 Questions / 120 minutes / 69% or higher is passing

NCSF: 150 questions / 180 minutes / 62% or higher is passing

ACE: 150 questions / 180 minutes / 62.5% or higher is passing. 800 points available based on scaled questions 500 points needed to pass

NSCA: 155 questions / 180 minutes / 70% or higher is passing

ISSA: 160 questions / unlimited time / 75% or better is passing


Personal Trainer Takeaway:

What type of test taker are you? A confident test taker will not need to worry about the length of test or number of questions. Someone whose mind goes blank because of testing anxiety may want to consider the shorter test like Fitness Mentors, NASM or ACSM. Or, if you have an extreme fear of tests consider Fitness Mentors or ISSA as the tests are open book. Just make sure your potential employer approves this certification.

CEU Requirement

The NCSF has by far the least amount of CEUs required at 10 credit hours. At the other end, NSCA trainers are required to obtain 60 CEUs. However, these numbers alone don’t tell the whole story, you should also consider the time periods in which these hours are required, as well as the costs to recertify.

Fitness Mentors: 20 hours of CEUs and $99 to recertify every 2 years

NCSF: 10 hours of CEUs and $50 to recertify every 2 years

AFAA: 15 Hours of CEUs and $99 to recertify every 2 years

NASM: 20 hours of CEUs and $99 to recertify every 2 years

ACE: 20 hours of CEUs and $129 to recertify every 2 years

ISSA: 20 hours of CEUs and $99 to recertify every 2 years

NESTA: 40 hours of CEUs and $149 to recertify every 4 years

ACSM: 45 hours of CEUs and $30 to recertify every 3 years

NFPT: 10 hours of CEUs and $50 to recertify every year

NSCA: 60 hours of CEUs and $50 to recertify every 3 years


Personal Trainer Takeaway:

Recertification is required by all certifying bodies. The process of recertification varies slightly, but one common ground is that they require you to continue your education and show proof of this newly obtained knowledge via CEUs or Continuing Education Units.

Also, there are typically 1,000s of courses to choose from to continue your education and we have compiled a list of our favorites here. Another consideration is that the more CEUs that are required by a provider the more money you will spend on recertifying (roughly $20 per contact hour) which makes NSCA (60 hours) and ACSM (45 hours) less appealing financially. Hopefully, this will not matter if you are successful in your personal training career. To ensure that you are successful check out this highly recommended business and sales course for personal trainers.

Popularity of Certification

The popularity of a certification is based on the number of trainers with a specific cert in the field as well as the number of test takers per year. Not reported in the graph is the number of tests taken per year.

NASM is by far the most popular of all personal training certifications at over 22,000 attempts per year. NSCA, who is also the second-most expensive certification, has the least amount trainers with their cert. This is a bit odd considering NASM, a brand with lots of interest, can justify this interest by charging more.

AFAA said they have 350,000 certified but for a different group fitness certification. Thus, we didn’t include it on the reporting of the infographic.

The number of tests taken per year is provided below:

ACE: 13,103 attempts per year

ISSA: 10,696 attempts per year

ACSM: 5,226 attempts per year

NFPT: 2,684 attempts per year

NCSF: 2,455 attempts per year

NSCA: 1,529 attempts per year

NESTA: 1,515 attempts per year

Fitness Mentors: 1037 attempts per year

Personal Trainer Takeaway:

The way that we look at this statistic is mainly by determining the recognition for each certification body. It is assumed that the more people that take a certification the more well-known that certification is. Popularity can be seen as a reputation builder meaning that more people trust that company, but it also can be determined by the volume of marketing and advertising a company puts in.

To give a brief example of this, NASM advertises on TV and radio in our local area. This leads to more people in general recognizing the NASM brand and name. When trainers say they are NASM-certified, their clients typically recognize the brand name because of the abundant advertising and that makes the trainer more reputable, even though the client knows nothing about the quality of education NASM provides.

On the other hand, some progressive companies, like Fitness Mentors, have introduced a relatively new certification. For this reason, they don’t yet have the same number of tests taken as organizations that have been around for dozens of years. The benefit of some of the newer certifications, however, is that they are able to fill voids where some of the older organizations lag. Fitness Mentors is 100% online, boasts more study materials than many of the other certifications, offers personal mentorships, and provides access to instructors. ISSA is also a 100% online option, rounding out the more progressive companies that are keeping up with modern demands of trainers who capitalize on online learning and test-taking.

The question you must ask is ‘do I care if my clients recognize the name of my certification?’ If so, choose a certification with more popularity. Just keep in mind that most clients don’t know and don’t care what certification you have, but employers do so make sure your chosen employer accepts the cert.

Primary Focus of Education

This information was taken straight off the catalogs of the certification bodies.

Fitness Mentors: Fitness Program Design and Business Success

ISSA: Fitness Program Design

NASM: Exercise Technique and Training Instruction

ACE: Behavioral Modification for Fitness Goals

NSCA: Techniques of Exercise

ACSM: Exercise Leadership and Client Education

NESTA: Business Applications

NCSF: Exercise Prescription and Programming Considerations

NFPT: Goal-oriented Program Design in User-friendly Format

Personal Trainer Takeaway:

Most of the certifying bodies will be very similar in their balance of educational topics, due to the NCCA regulation that forces companies to do a Job Task Analysis. This Job Task Analysis determines the most important knowledge to have to be successful in the field and is typically the same across the board. Therefore, each company is required to have the same topics of education.