Best Online Personal Trainer Certification

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Best Online Personal Trainer Certification

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There has never been a better time to invest in a certification as an online personal trainer. 

Not only is the industry as a whole earmarked for expansion — the BLS forecasts a 13% growth rate through 2028 — but the success of brands like Peloton, Mirror, and other online fitness options showcase America’s desire for convenient and at-home training. 

Couple this with the closure and uncertain future of many gyms due to coronavirus and you have a cocktail of opportunity for those trainers who are able to adapt to the times.

That said, it may seem like a no-brainer to get an Online Personal Trainer Certification but therein lies the question: what is the best online personal trainer certification and which is right for me?

Luckily for you, Fitness Mentors has done the heavy lifting for you and compiled this list of the best personal training certifications based on the following objective criteria:

  • Accreditation: third-party certifying bodies who ensure the health, safety, and standards for the industry.
  • Price: the costs associated with the online CPT cert.
  • Mentorship Structure: the interaction you can expect with mentors.
  • Primary Focus of Education: the primary educational focus you can expect from a particular certification.
  • Program Duration: how long the program takes to complete.
  • Location of Certification: the country the certification derives from.
  • Sign-up Process: what can you expect from the sales and onboarding process.

Today we’ll be looking at these popular online personal trainer certification options:

But before we begin, let’s distinguish some very important characteristics of online personal training certifications and personal trainer certifications you can get online. 

Online Personal Trainer Certification VS Personal Trainer Certification Online 

Our focus today is on online personal trainer certifications, or certifications that help you learn how to train clients online. Personal trainer certifications online refer to the standard in-person personal training certifications with online study options. An example of the latter would be the Fitness Mentors Certified Personal Trainer course, a class dedicated to certify trainers with the needed credential to train in-person clients.

Now that we are all clear on the differences between the two, let’s learn more about the best online personal training certifications. 

Related: How to Become an Online Personal Trainer

Accreditation

Accreditation is one of the most important aspects for personal trainer certifications as it sets the stage for trust and authority. Without an accreditation, trainers (and clients) won’t really know if any professional organization has reviewed the certification curriculum to determine its efficacy. 

For consumers, this also ensures their online trainer has gone through the required education to ensure their success and safety. There are certain limitations that exist with an online training environment and a certification helps trainers safely deal with those challenges through additional perspective and understanding of variables — such as form, injury prevention, and communication — that don’t exist as clearly via online mediums.

As it stands today, Fitness Mentors is the only company nationally recognized by the National Board of Fitness Examiners (NBFE), or any other esteemed certification body, to offer an online personal training certification.

Unfortunately, all other online training programs are not third-party reviewed or certified. This is partly due to the fact that online personal training is so new and likely due to the fact that a third-party accreditation is not free for a certification body. Thirdly, most online personal trainer courses are not steeped in science backed information but rather marketability, which makes them unlikely candidates for a third-party accreditation.

Personal Trainer Takeaway: A online personal trainer certification is not a requirement to coach online, however, it does showcase the quality and credibility of a certification as it relates to the trainers and the emphasis on science, business/marketing skills and a college-level curriculum. If this is important to you, the Fitness Mentors Certified Online Personal Trainer is an ideal choice.

Price

The Price includes the cheapest study option and final exam, where relevant. Keep in mind, however, that each of these products is not a formal certification, some are geared to be marketing tools above all else. They are noted accordingly.

Fitness Mentors: $699. Option to add a weekly mentorship program for $199/month.

TribeFit: $3,500 (3 month coaching program). Not a certification.

Online Trainer Academy: $799 for shortened course and $1,999 for complete course. Also offer level 2 Mentorship for a Monthly fee (Estimated at $400-$1000 per month)

Online Trainers Federation: Their bare bones intro course (not a certification), OC 101, is $199. It only runs twice per year, with the goal to upgrade you to the Elite which is estimated to run $300 – $600 per month.

PT Distinction University: Various courses with a la carte pricing. $1,100 for complete course package. Not a Certification.

Personal Trainer Takeaway: There are a lot of options for courses and the depth of the educational options are reflected in the costs. If you are just looking for one-off courses on very specific knowledge, the PT Distinction University has the lowest barrier to entry in terms of cost. You’ll sacrifice depth of knowledge here, however. If you are looking for in-depth knowledge from the ground up on how to become an online trainer, create a business, and market it, the most comprehensive courses are the Fitness Mentors COPT and Online Trainer Academy.

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Mentorship Structure

Today’s trainers may feel a bit overwhelmed when trying to take in all the components of online training. In addition to knowledge in program design, physiology, injury prevention, and client achievement, certain aspects of online training can be particularly challenging.

For example, learning how to set up your business for online training, taking your business online if you have existing in-person clients, learning how to generate online leads, and caring for clients via online mediums can be a struggle for many trainers unaccustomed to these challenges. 

Each program may have different approaches in terms of access to mentors versus having students solely rely on the digital assets they are provided. 

The Fitness Mentors Certified Online Personal Trainer has roots in college-level curriculum creation and has established real trainers as mentors into its program. In addition to access to instructors via phone or email, students can also leverage Facebook support groups to ask questions and help them gain real-world understanding of course contents.

TribeFit is thought to provide email access to a competitor. It was difficult to find any info on the site. 

The Online Trainer Academy also provides direct access to fitness business mentors via online chat and phone, as well as engagement with Facebook. Their Level 2 appears to have a weekly mentorship call, but exact information is not posted on their site.

Online Trainers Federation: Students have access to a Facebook group with non-paying students and paid students as well as the option for a weekly call that is only included in the Elite Program. Difficult to find any info on the site.

PT Distinction University has little to no mentor interaction as it seems the entire suite of coursework is built into their bundles or modules.

Personal Trainer Takeaway: The concept of online personal training can be daunting for some and access to real mentors invaluable in determining success. For trainers who are interested in a legit point of contact that is dedicated to your understanding of important concepts, opt for a certification with access to mentorship. 

Primary Focus of Education

As you can imagine, there is a lot of overlap in terms of some of the education you’ll take away from each course. Rather than focusing on the similarities, below is an overview of what makes each program unique:

Fitness Mentors Certified Online Personal Trainer: Fitness Mentors’ COPT goes in-depth on business structure and learning how to build and sell an online business based on one of the six business models online trainers use (or the combination of the six). Additionally, they provide info and all templates on nutrition programs, online assessments, structuring memberships, affiliate programs, and other monetization models. Also included are brandable program design templates so you can start training immediately online. View their entire curriculum here. 

TribeFit: TribeFit’s focus is on marketing your business and building out your online training sales funnel. Difficult to find any further info on the site.

Online Trainer Academy: OTA provides access to a physical textbook (digital as well) that some students really like. Their course also includes sales scripts, social media scripts and other documents that you can use to operate your business.

Online Trainers Federation: OTF is geared towards health and fitness professionals that have experience with in-person clients but want to help scale their business to service online clients. They admittedly mention that if you are not a coach already, the program probably is not for you.

PT Distinction University: PTDU provides students access to modules they can leverage as they see fit. A particularly unique option is the course with access to previously recorded webinars from fitness gurus.

Personal Trainer Takeaway: Each trainer is unique in their approach and goal with online personal training. Those that want a ground-up baseline for building and scaling their business should go for one of the programs that focus on all aspects of online training such as FM COPT or the OTA. If you are a trainer that is more concerned with marketing an existing online business then TribeFit, OTF, or PTDU may be a better fit.

Program Duration

Program duration refers to how much time it takes to complete the course or the investment of learning you can expect from each course.

  • Fitness Mentors: 60-80 hours or one to two months, self-paced.
  • TribeFit: 3 months
  • Online Trainer Academy: 32 hours of content, self-paced.
  • Online Trainers Federation: 2 weeks for OC 101 introductory course. Elite course is continuous weekly meetings.
  • PT Distinction University: A la carte courses with varying lengths, self-paced.

Personal Trainer Takeaway: Consider the length of the course into your final decision as it relates to how quickly you may be able to monetize online training. However, consider that the more knowledge-rich courses will obviously demand a greater time investment for good reason.

Location of Certification

The Location of Certification refers to the country where the certifying company is located.

Fitness Mentors: USA

TribeFit: AUS

Online Trainer Academy: Canada

Online Trainers Federation: Canada

PT Distinction University: UK

Sign-up Process

We found that many courses have a considerable amount of salemenship involved in the sign-up process. Some students interviewed did not like that they were pressured to purchase a course via a sales call and preferred the straightforward approach of an easy checkout process. In the Online Training Education industry sales calls are used for very high ticket products to try and build the most value. 

  • Fitness Mentors: Open enrollment, start when ready, proceed at your own pace. No pushy sales calls.
  • TribeFit: Introductory call and then a sales call.
  • Online Trainer Academy: Open enrollment, start when ready, proceed at your own pace. No pushy sales calls.
  • Online Trainers Federation: Enrollment once every six months for intro course. Sales call required for the Elite program.
  • PT Distinction University: Open enrollment, start when ready, proceed at your own pace. No pushy sales calls.

Personal Trainer Takeaway: When it comes to the online world, many of us like it because it is convenient. Numerous students we spoke to strongly disliked having any sort of sales calls involved to get started with a course and preferred options where they could checkout online and interact with mentors on an as-needed basis.

Online Personal Trainer Certification FAQ

How do I become an online personal trainer?

To become an online personal trainer it is advisable to first have a certification in personal training. Then, it is up to you to choose the type of online training you want to offer clients and how to market your services.

How much should I charge for online personal training?

The amount you charge for online personal training greatly depends on the service you offer, your experience as a trainer, competitor rates, the economy, the target population of your services, and your cost to train a client.

How big is the online personal training and coaching space?

There are 330,000 personal training jobs forecast in the US by 2026. The exact number practicing online training is unknown.

What is the most effective approach to starting an online personal training business?

The best approach to starting an online personal training business is to transition your existing in-person clients over to online clients. This allows you to get better at online training and expand your existing services to further monetize existing clients rather than starting from scratch.

Is online training as good as in-person training?

Online training has many advantages over in-person training including: time-savings, flexibility, recording options, cheaper training sessions for clients, sharing of digital assets (meal plans, DIY workout programs, etc). They are different but can be equally effective in terms of client  results.

So What is the Best Online Personal Trainer Certification?

The best online personal trainer certification is the one that is best for you. Each course has its own unique product position as well as educational focus. Some focus on the full stack of knowledge you’d want to know about understanding the industry, focusing on a niche, and building a business from scratch. Others assume you already have training experience and are just adding another element to your offerings in the digital space. Other certs focus extensively on marketing and bypass business development fundamentals altogether.

At the end of the day the choice is a subjective one. You have to ask yourself what you want to get out of an online personal training certification and then find the course that works best for your specific goals.

If you have any questions about any of the courses we covered or want to provide some suggestions based on your experiences with the course, please leave them in the comments below.

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Best Personal Trainer Certification

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Best Personal Trainer Certification

Last Modified On:
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What Cert is Best for You?

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

Table of Contents

To help aspiring personal trainers choose the best personal training certification, we’ve decided to put together a list of (mostly) objective criteria we believe trainers are most concerned with. While there really is no “best personal trainer certification,” there are different factors that may better resonate with certain people.

Personal Trainer Certifications we Analyzed: (Click below to learn more about each certification)

Also be sure to join the conversation with hundreds of fitness pro’s, six-figure personal trainers, fitness mentors and coaches on our discord here:

  1. ISSA – International Sports Sciences Association (See Exclusive Offers)
  2. FM – Fitness Mentors (See Promotions)
  3. NASM – National Academy of Sports Medicine (See Promotions)
  4. ACE – The American Council on Exercise (See Promotions)
  5. NCSF – National Council on Strength & Fitness (See Promotions)
  6. NSCA – National Strength and Conditioning Association
  7. NESTA – National Exercise & Sports Trainers Association
  8. AFAA – Athletics and Fitness Association of America
  9. NFPT – National Federation of Professional Trainers
  10. ACSM – American College of Sports Medicine
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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 by certification based on actual user feedback from reputable website Payscale.com.
  • Retake Fee: if you fail the exam the first time, the price to retake the exam again.
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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.

Let’s clear up some Personal Trainer Certification FAQs before diving in.

1: How do you get certified to be a personal trainer?

To be eligible for most certified personal trainer exams, you typically need to meet the following criteria:

  1. Be 18 years old
  2. Have a high school diploma or equivalent certification
  3. Have a Emergency Cardiac Care (CPR) or Automated External Defibrillator (AED) certification

These requirements may vary from certification to certification, but these are the basic guidelines for a CPT. From there, you simply register for an exam, study, pass, and begin your career.

2: How much does it cost to get certified as a personal trainer?

We cover the specifics of how much each certification body charges for the exam and study materials below, but the range is between $399 and $799.

So, you can figure it will cost you around $500 to get certified as a personal trainer for most certification bodies.

3: How long are personal training certifications good for?

The personal trainer certification length is good for life provided you keep up with continuing education requirements of your certification. Another way of explaining this is that you’ll have to understand that each personal trainer certification company has different requirements for their trainers to maintain their certifications. The general rule of thumb is a certification must be renewed every two years and is done so by taking continuing education courses. See our chart and description below to learn more about each certification.

4: What is the cheapest personal training certification?

The Fitness Mentors Personal Trainer Certification is the cheapest personal training certification at $399 including the digital textbook, 8 types of study materials, and the exam. This option is completely online and therefore does not have some of the unnecessary costs associated with the others.

5: What is the easiest personal trainer certification?

Based on the exam pass rate of 89%, Fitness Mentors boasts the highest likelihood of a student passing. This may be due in part to an at home exam and/or a higher quality of study materials, along with direct guidance from their mentors. Join their discord here to see their mentors in action. 

6: How long does it take to become a personal trainer?

There are five basic ways you can become a personal trainer and each will vary in the time it takes to start the process to get your certification. You can theoretically get a personal trainer certification in as little as a few hours, but this method, available through unaccredited online companies, would be unlikely to help you get a job or equip you with any real knowledge. Furthermore, this method is not recommended by Fitness Mentors.

The other options and general timelines to get certified are:

  1. Self-study: Certification via Accredited US Company — 6 months +/-
  2. Certification via Vocational College — 30 to 42 weeks
  3. Certification and Degree via University Programs — 4+ years
  4. Certification via Gym Program (usually unaccredited training programs, not certifications) — 90 hours +/-

7: What personal trainer certificate is most respected?

The personal trainer certifications with an option for NCCA accreditation are the most respected in the industry. The NCCA is the gold standard for third-party personal training certifications. Some of these certs include, NASM, ACE, Fitness Mentors, and ISSA.

8: Is it worth it to get a personal trainer certification?

The investment in a personal trainer certification is worth it no matter which way you look at it. Most CPTs are $400 to $800 and full time trainers can expect to make this money back their first month. The education you get will also ensure a healthy knowledge for personal gains as well.

9: Do you have to be fit to be a personal trainer?

Personal trainers will be expected to be fit enough to demonstrate the exercises they are recommending to clients. While there is no fitness test to become a personal trainer, being in-shape would certainly help you attract clients.

10: What certifications do most gyms accept?

Gyms tend to accept personal trainer certifications that are NCCA Accredited (like NASM or ACE), those that are accredited by the National Board of Fitness Examiners (like Fitness Mentors or NESTA), or those with a DEAC Accreditation (like ISSA).

 

Accreditation

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:

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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.

Price

Most of the personal trainer certification bodies sit around the $500 price range for the exam and the study materials. For the least expensive yet highly reputable option, the Fitness Mentors CPT at $399 is a popular option. The only other sub-$500 option is AFAA at $499, while ACE ($509), NSCA ($587), and NASM ($674) all sit between the $500 to $600 range. 

ACSM ($619), NCSF ($419), and ISSA ($828), are amongst the most expensive of the certification options.

Keep in mind that these prices fluctuate regularly and include pricing at the time of writing, factoring in current promotions.

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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).

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 (ISSANASMACE) it will cost more. If you only need an inexpensive, accredited certification for quick employment, look toward the less expensive certifications (Fitness Mentors, NFPT, NESTA).

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.

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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.

AFAA: N/A

 

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

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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

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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:

NASM: 22,304 attempts per year

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. 

Average Income

While the personal trainer certification bodies don’t publish this information, we are able to average data from self-reported data on reputable websites.

At the top tier of income is ISSA, NASM and ACE, at $49, 290, $41,598 and $41,546, respectively. NCSF comes in at $35,061, the lowest of incomes we were able to find data on.

For NESTA we were unable to find data but are able to estimate based on the popularity of the certification and the income reported for that cert. We estimate that these individuals, on average, make:

  • NESTA: $37,531
average-income-01

Personal Trainer Takeaway:

These incomes are averages of about 30+ different people holding the same certification working as fitness professionals. We know trainers that make $200,000 per year as well as $20,000 per year all of which have the same and/or different certifications. Your success as a business person is determined by your drive, knowledge of key business and sales techniques, location and various other things. To find out how to optimize your success we recommend this online course.

Also recently Online Personal Training has lead to a larger population of trainers making $100,000 or more. To become certified to train online and learn how to make six-figures we recommend this certification.

Retake Fee

Should you fail the exam the first time around, most certifications bodies charge to retake it. NSCA, the provider with the most expensive retake fee ($435), charges almost eight times more than the cheapest provider Fitness Mentors ($50), while the bulk of the other providers are in the $100 to $200 range. UPDATE: ISSA does offer a free retest with their packages.

retake-fee-01

Personal Trainer Takeaway:

The takeaway here is to prepare for whatever test you take, and make sure you pass the first time around!

Who to Pick for the Best Personal Training Certification

Again, choosing a personal training certification is a very subjective decision and certain factors may weigh more heavily with specific individuals. For example, if price is a factor, then NASM may not be the best option for you. However, when you look at income, ISSA and NASM personal trainers tend to make the most, showing that this is likely the best investment in your future.

If you are a terrible test taker, the Fitness Mentors CPT exam may be appealing to you as it is open book and has a nearly 80% pass rate.

The amount of CEUs required, as well as the recertification fee, are also an important consideration as this is required by all the certification bodies.

The point is you should be objective in your selection and determine what factors are most important to you. Talk to some other trainers and ask them what cert they have, if they like it, and if they’d recommend it to you. But remember, any trainer you ask advice for will likely be partial to whatever certification they have.

If you are interested in two personal training certifications for the cost of one, the NFPT and Fitness Mentors have partnered to provide the best education experience in the industry with the power of earning two CPT Certifications at once.

The Fitness Mentors CPT Certification is also recommended by Personal Trainer Pioneer, one of the best review sites for personal training certifications. Learn more about their recommended packages here

I hope that this post has helped you make the decision to choosing the best personal training certification for you that much easier. If you have any questions, or would like to see anything else added to this list, please contact us today.

Table of Contents

Top 5 Exercise Science Careers and The Best Education Paths

Exercise Science Careers

Top 5 Exercise Science Careers and The Best Education Paths

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Watch Our Video: Best Exercise Science Careers – Are you considering an Exercise Science degree?

Are you considering an Exercise Science degree or asking yourself “what can you do with an exercise science degree?” to help plan for your future?

Whatever your stage in life — consideration, current Exercise Science student, or recent grad — this post is for you. 

Be sure to take our quiz too!

As a previous Exercise Science graduate, I can give you a little taste of the college route (as well as other education paths) and provide insight into the options for Exercise Science careers.

But first, let’s define what Exercise Science is.

What is Exercise Science?

Exercise Science describes the study of the body under the stress of exercise including acute and chronic adaptations like the effects on overall health parameters, pathologies, and its potential to reduce, or reverse, disease progression.

Some other areas of study within Exercise Science vertical that you might see at various educational institutes are:

  • Kinesiology
  • Fitness & Health
  • Exercise Physiology
  • Biomechanics
  • Exercise Nutrition

You can also expect a strong educational emphasis in the areas of anatomy, physiology, chemistry, biology, and oftentimes, physics.

What can You Do with an Exercise Science Degree?

If there is one thing I want to emphasize about studying Exercise Science is that the majority of careers in the field require additional graduate school coursework. Yes, that is worth repeating.

Exercise Science is a common prerequisite for graduate level programs in careers such as:

  • Doctor (MD)
  • Exercise Physiologist
  • Registered Dietician
  • Occupational Therapist
  • Physical Therapist
  • Physician Assistant

The important takeaway here is that for most, the bachelor’s degree in and of itself does not get them to the career that they want. Additionally, and as I will get into more below, the career you want might not require a four year college degree in Exercise Science.

However, if you are interested in some of the above careers that require education beyond a B.S. degree, by all means continue on the path that makes the most sense for you.

I emphasize this point because I have met many people who studied Exercise Science in college only to find that they either did not realize they needed additional education to get the career they wanted, or realized there were quicker, more affordable ways to get into the career they wanted.

That said, listed below are some careers that you can get without additional education after your Bachelor’s in Exercise Science degree, including:

  • Athletic Director
  • Community Program Director
  • Massage Therapist
  • Recreation and Sports Director
  • Sports Coach
  • Sports Facility Manager
  • Strength and Conditioning Coach

Provided below are the most popular career paths in Exercise Science, which may or may not include a college education, are below.

Top 5 Exercise Science Careers

Personal Trainer

By far, the most common career path chosen by people looking to have an Exercise Science career, as well as who are currently studying Exercise Science, is personal training.

The benefits of a career in personal training are numerous and can even be aligned with that of any of the other careers on this list.

For starters, you don’t need to get a bachelor’s degree to become a personal trainer. In fact, there are five separate ways you can become a personal trainer, ranging from certification from accredited companies, to vocational college, to university programs, to online options, and internal gym programs.

If your heart is set on becoming a personal trainer it certainly would be helpful for you to understand your options for certification beforehand.

Now, I am certainly not knocking university or college-based personal training certification options — I got my B.S. at a university and was a college instructor afterward — but I do understand that it may not be an option for everyone.

But what if you want a career that requires a college degree? Would it still be beneficial to consider a personal training certification?

Let’s say you choose any of the aforementioned education routes for your career in Exercise Science: college degree or not.

Either way, you can benefit from a personal training certification no matter what route you take. If you are wanting to have a career as a personal trainer, you can get certified in as little as two to five months and start making money right away.

If you are in college and are studying Exercise Science, it is still a good idea to get a personal training certification because you can begin gaining experience within your career immediately and can even pay for your education, through your personal training income.

For example, while I was in college I used my personal training certification to my advantage. I was able to train clients around my school schedule given the flexibility of the career. This provided me industry experience, but also allowed me to pay my way through college.

I also became certified as an Online Personal Trainer and trained clients through the internet, which gave me even more freedom to complete my studies and enjoy the college experience. 

Top 5 Reasons Personal Training is a Popular Exercise Science Career

So, no matter what your long-term goals are, getting a personal training certification can help in the following ways:

  1. Puts money in your pocket
  2. Allows you to gain experience in the Exercise Science field
  3. Helps pay for college (if you are shooting for a B.S., or advanced degree)
  4. Provides a strong foundation to further your exercise science studies

Top 3 Personal Training Certifications

Below are the best certification options to choose from:

  1. NASM
  2. Fitness Mentors
  3. ACE

Physical Therapist

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), a career in Physical Therapy has some very promising advantages.

For starters, the median pay approaches $90,000 per year, is expected to grow 28% by 2016 (which is much faster than average), and consistently ranks as one of the best jobs in healthcare for work-life balance.

Physical therapy jobs tend to require a doctoral degree (DPT), although some may accept a master’s degree. CostHelper.com says that doctoral physical therapy degrees can cost $35,000 (such as the doctorate in physical therapy at the University of Illinois at Chicago), or much more for out-of-state students, such as The University of Delaware’s doctoral program which costs over $75,000. That is on top of the money you spend for your bachelors degree.

Athletic Trainer

Athletic trainers also rank high on this list as the profession is similar in scope to that of personal trainers, yet requires a formal bachelor’s degree in a specialized program and the passing of a state licensure exam. Athletic trainers have a median income of $46,630 per year according to the BLS, and have a rapid rate of employment at 23% when looking out to 2016.

One of the coolest things I find about athletic trainer careers is that they often work alongside athletes within educational settings such as colleges of universities.This often means these professionals are the ones who work hand-in-hand with some of the best up-and-coming athletic talent in the country.

They can also work with younger students, within hospitals, or even for professional sports teams.

Exercise Physiologist

With a median pay of just under $50,000 per year, and a faster than average job outlook, a career in exercise physiology is a popular choice for many looking to put their Exercise Science degree to work.

This type of career typically requires a Masters in Exercise Physiology, which on average takes 6 years of total college time as well as requires board certification through the American Society of Exercise Physiologists.

Another interesting aspect of this career is that about half of all exercise physiologists are self-employed. So if you have an entrepreneurial spirit and enjoy the freedom of owning your own business, you may be able to do well in this career.

PE Teacher

According to ZipRecruiter, PE teachers make about $42,500 per year. While this is the lowest salary on this list, you have to remember that these teachers tend to have summers off and benefit from all school holidays as well as teacher pensions.

Typical education requirements for this career include a bachelor’s degree in exercise science as well as a teaching credential or a masters in education. Often times a personal training certification will enhance the likelihood of employment as well.

We also can’t forget that PE teachers get to hang out in gym clothes all day, coach fun sports like kickball and dodgeball, and even be physical fitness role models for many of their students.

Granted there is some give and take for each of the professions on this list in terms of knocking off all the boxes of the most ideal career, but the daily life of the PE coach can be very rewarding.

Exercise Science Degrees and Educational Considerations

As we have learned above, not all careers within Exercise Science require a full-fledged bachelor’s degree. Similarly, we’ve learned that many sought after degrees within Exercise Science require advanced degrees such as master’s or doctoral degrees.

With that in mind below is a comprehensive list of the many careers and their educational obligations. Note that some of these careers may overlap in multiple categories.

Exercise Science Careers that don’t require Degrees

  • Personal Training
  • Aerobics Instructor
  • Fitness Coach
  • Gym Manager
  • Massage Therapist
  • Physical Therapy Assistant

Exercise Science Careers that require Bachelor’s Degrees

  • Athletic Director
  • Community Program Director
  • Kinesiologist
  • Massage Therapist
  • Athletic Trainer (ATC)
  • Physical Education Teacher
  • Recreation and Sports Director
  • Registered Nurse
  • Sports Coach
  • Sports Facility Manager
  • Strength and Conditioning Coach

Exercise Science Careers that require Master’s or Doctoral Degrees

  • Doctor (MD)
  • Exercise Physiologist
  • Chiropractor (DC)
  • Registered Dietician
  • Occupational Therapist
  • Physical Therapist (DPT)
  • Physician Assistant
  • Exercise Physiologist
  • Physical Rehabilitation

FAQs for Exercise Science Careers and The Best Education Paths

The most common way to make money with an Exercise Science career path is personal training. While personal training doesn’t require a degree, those who get certified are able to put money into their pockets quickly and build a strong foundation for further career advancement.

Exercise Science generally offers courses in Anatomy, Physiology, Kinesiology, and Nutrition. Jobs can range from personal trainers and strength and conditioning coaches to physical therapists and physician assistants – so Exercise Science can be lucrative.

Not quite. Kinesiology is a more broad study that focuses on human movement and its effects on an individual’s health. Exercise Science is a sub-field more fine-tuned into learning and influencing human responses to exercise.

Bachelor’s degrees will open you up to mid-level jobs in the fitness industry. Examples of these degrees include Bachelor’s in Sports Management, Health Sciences, Nutrition Science, or Health and Wellness. Graduate degrees, like master’s and doctorate, qualify for higher-level positions. These programs might include a master’s in Exercise Science and Wellness or Human Performance, an MBA in Health Care Management, a Ph.D. in Education for Sports Management, or a medical degree in Sports & Athletic Management. While personal training only requires a certification, you can also get an associate’s degree in Exercise Science, giving you a solid foundation to start personal training.

 

Closing Thoughts on Exercise Science Careers

You should now have a better idea of what you can do in the exciting field that is Exercise Science. For many, a bachelor’s degree at a college or university is the path that they will take to become educated in the many areas of movement and exercise. For others, the bachelor’s is just a stepping stone for a more advanced degree as in the case of physical therapy, physician’s assistant, or doctoral paths. Others may be surprised to learn there are many rewarding careers in Exercise Science that do not require a college degree, and the most popular career in this field, a certified personal trainer, demonstrates that.

When considering your education and career path, keep in mind the following:

  • The education required
  • The financial commitment
  • The time investment
  • The typical salary
  • Your passion for the career

With these considerations in mind, you should be able to paint a great picture of where you want your career to take you.

What is your experience with jobs and education in the Exercise Science niche? Is there any tip you wish you knew before you started your studies or career? Let us know in the comments.

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