How to Become a Personal Trainer in 5 Simple Steps

how to become a personal trainer

How to Become a Personal Trainer in 5 Simple Steps

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Have you always wanted to become a personal trainer?

You’re halfway there. But, as with most things in life, wanting is only the first step of the journey.

In order to become a trainer and succeed as one, you need to have the right game plan in place and follow it up with consistent action — just like your workouts. As you’ll see in this guide, there are five simple steps you’ll need to take to become a personal trainer. And we’ll be covering the best ways to tackle each one.

If you are interested in training clients online check out our How to Become an Online Personal Trainer blog.

1. Get Your Prerequisites Completed First

Before you begin with a personal trainer course, you’ll likely need to have a few items checked off before you can get certified. These are:

  1. 18 years or older
  2. High school diploma or GED
  3. CPR/AED certification

Most personal training certification bodies require these items before you sit down for the final exam. Additionally, many companies are requiring the Automated External Defibrillator (AED) Certification along with the Emergency Cardiac Care (CPR), but these certifications can usually be packaged together by the same provider.

The American Red Cross is a popular choice for the CPR/AED certification, and you can check out their website to find classes near you.

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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.

2. Nail Down the Best Certified Personal Trainer Course (for you)

What is the best personal trainer certification?

A better question is “what is the best personal trainer certification for me?” The certification body you choose is a highly subjective decision — and often a confusing one — so here are some questions you can ask yourself before committing to one over another:

How do I learn new concepts best?

Do you understand concepts better when they’re presented in-person with a teacher or can you handle learning on your own?

Personal training education isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. You actually have several options, including:

  • Certification via accredited US company (self-study)
  • Vocational college (in-person)
  • University programs with Bachelors or Masters (in-person)
  • Unaccredited online options (self-study)
  • Gym program (in-person)

Learn more about the different personal trainer courses.

How much time do you have?

Are you looking to get certified as soon as possible or would you prefer to get a college degree along with your certification? The self-study options are the quickest approach whereas the vocational college and university programs are obviously more long-term.

As you answer these questions, you should also be thinking about the differences between each personal training program.

Here are some answers to some common FAQs about becoming a trainer that may also help you decide which route you want to go:

 

Do I Need to Go to College to Become a Personal Trainer?

 

If the thought of becoming a full-time student isn’t something that interests you, you’re in luck.

You don’t need to go to college to become a personal trainer.

While a university program will give you the most in-depth learning experience, including learning subjects that aren’t solely personal-training focused, it comes at a price not everyone can afford, both in time and money.

However, if you have your sights set on becoming a personal trainer and you love school or are already working towards earning a Bachelor’s or Master’s, a college degree can strengthen your expertise and build trust with future clients.

This is especially important in the beginning of your personal training career when you’re still building your client base.

So if you don’t need a college degree, the next question is:

 

What Kind of Education Do I Need to Be a Personal Trainer?

 

As we talked about in this guide, there are five education routes you can follow to become a personal trainer:

  1. Certification by a US company
  2. Vocational college
  3. University programs with a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree
  4. Unaccredited online options
  5. Internal gym programs

Each option has its own educational program and certification procedures. By completing one of them, you’ll hold a certification from that institute to teach people as a personal trainer.

Keep in mind, only the first three options on that list are accredited.

Let’s go over the difference between an accredited and an unaccredited program so you know which sounds best for you.

Do I Need to Find an Accredited Program?

 

An accredited program, such as Fitness MentorsNASM or ACE, means that it has been credentialed by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA), National Board of Fitness Examiners (NBFE) or other top accrediting bodies. While there are other personal trainer program credentialing bodies, the NCCA is considered the gold standard.

More importantly perhaps, NCCA-certified personal training programs are generally recognized at most health facilities, meaning if you go with one of these you are almost guaranteed a job at a corporate gym.

Some of the most popular Accredited personal trainer bodies include:

• NASM ACE

• Fitness Mentors

• NFPT  • ACSM  NESTA  

• NSCA  • NCSF  • NCCPT

On the other hand, unaccredited courses may not be accepted by corporate gyms and fitness studios.

Unaccredited courses are usually better for someone who already has an established network of clients through their own training methods and has no intentions of working at a corporate facility.

The majority of potential personal trainers will want to find an accredited program.

You’ll receive a more in-depth education and will be better prepared to find a job once you pass your test.

You can opt for an accredited self-study program, such as Fitness MentorsNASM or ACE, or you can enroll in a vocational college or bachelor’s program at your local college, as mentioned earlier. Vocational schools or colleges will have relationships with accredited certification bodies so you’ll walk away with a degree and your CPT.

Once you select a program, grab a calendar and set your exam date.

3. Choose an Exam Date & Prepare

Picking an exam date is the first major step towards seeing your personal trainer dreams through.

 

Put it off and you may end up backburnering your goal indefinitely.

That’s why certain programs have you set a date right away for this very reason.

Keep in mind, you should be realistic with your date.

Fortunately, this next section can help you understand the real magnitude of the work so you can adjust your timeline and plan accordingly.

 

How Long Does it Take to Become a Personal Trainer?

 

Consider your schedule, current workload, and other obligations before setting a date that’s too close for comfort.

You should give yourself at least three to six months, depending on your certification, to prepare. Plan on committing anywhere from 75-100 hours to doing so.

Here’s a breakdown of the expected study time for each personal training program specifically:

  • NCCPT: 80-100 hours is the recommended study time
  • FITNESS MENTORS: 80 hours is the recommended study time
  • NESTA: You must complete the test within 90 days of requesting the exam voucher so study well before this time
  • ACSM: 3, 6, 12, or 24-month options
  • ACE: Schedule test within 6 months of purchase date, but you 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

With your target test date in mind, you can then work backwards to plan out how many chapters you’ll need to cover each week and month in order to be best prepared for it.

However, if you want to fast track your certification, without sacrificing how much information you’re learning, use this study schedule to knock it out in just two months:

  • Read one or two hours per day at a minimum
  • Create your own chapter-by-chapter notes from the book/coursework
  • Use study guides to review hand-picked topics for reference
  • Listen to audio lectures to review the information while driving/working out/during down time
  • Take practice tests for each chapter
  • Quiz yourself on 5-10 chapters of the book at a time every few weeks
  • Reread study guides as you build upon new concepts
  • Quiz yourself and document the questions you miss; revisit the sections of the book discussing the topics you didn’t get right
  • Take a quiz every day leading up to the final week of study
  • Sit down for an entire practice exam and write down questions you missed; revisit topics you need a better understanding of
  • Take the official certification exam when you consistently earn at least 85% passing score on practice exams

You can also use study resources to help you work out pre-test jitters while you get a feel for the test’s format.

All this can help ensure you make it to this next (huge) step.

4. Pass Your Exam

There’s nothing better than seeing the words PASS after you submit your personal training certification exam.

But you can only get there if you put in the necessary time reading and studying the material and understanding the concepts.

Practicing test questions and using practice test preps also help increase your chances of passing your exam.

And once you do, you’ll officially be ready to start working as a personal trainer.

5. Land a Job as a Personal Trainer

Before you spend countless hours applying for jobs you may not enjoy, you should take the time to figure out what you really want and think about what gets you excited first.

You’ll save time by only applying to positions that check these boxes. Or, you may decide you don’t want to work for anybody and take a more independent route.

So consider these questions:

  • Do you prefer to work primarily in-person or online?
  • Do you prefer large group training classes or one-on-one sessions?
  • Would you prefer to work for yourself or somebody else?
  • If you prefer to be employed, would you prefer to work in a big box gym, boutique gym, or some other setting?

If you’re looking to gain experience, it can also help to approach the staff where you currently work out to see if there are any openings.

Since you’re already familiar with the place and the staff may be familiar with you, you’ll boost your chances of getting your foot in the door.

The last burning question many soon-to-be trainers have is:

 

How Much Money Can You Make as a Personal Trainer?

personal trainer salary

The good news is personal trainer salaries have an average median of $58,318 and 10% make over $80,000 per year! 

When you do what you love and you truly help people become their healthiest, happiest selves, your salary may not be your top priority in comparison. But, there is no doubt you’ll be compensated well for all your hard work.

Now that you know what it takes to become a personal trainer, and you understand how to ace all five steps to get there, it’s time to start chasing your dream.

FAQs on How to Become a Personal Trainer

The qualifications most personal training certifications require include: age 18 or older, has a high school diploma or equivalent degree, a CPR/AED certification, and the passing of a certified personal trainer course.

Some personal training certifications, like the Fitness Mentors CPT, can be obtained in a month with rigorous study. Most programs, however, take 3 months or more to complete the coursework, study and pass the final exam.

On average, personal trainers have an average median of almost $60,000 and 10% of trainers make over $80,000 a year.

Becoming a certified personal trainer is not nearly as time-consuming or challenging as other professions. However, a fair amount of studying and dedication are needed to complete a course and grow and build a client base.

A career in personal training typically begins at the gym for most trainers. This is the most ideal place to learn how to train, speak with prospects, and work on your sales technique.

Research suggests one in ten trainers earn six-figure salaries.

Personal trainers can use their skills to perform other jobs such as gym managers, sales managers, fitness writers, workout program developers, and group fitness instructors..

Most gyms require a qualification from a third-party accredited personal training body or their own internal certification for trainers to gain employment.

A personal training certification is not a legal requirement in order to assist others with their fitness goals. However, the safety and wellbeing of clients is a primary concern of the industry as a whole, which is why it is such an important aspect of any certification.

Personal training can be a great part time job. As an independent trainer you are free to charge as much as you’d like, choose your hours, and try to generate as much supplemental income as possible.

 

Become a Personal Trainer Today

With all this information under your training belt, now’s the time to take action.

Start by knocking out your prerequisites.

Then choose an education route you know you’ll stick with. Work through the rest of the tips in this guide and you’ll be one step closer to passing your certification test and achieving your personal training goals.

If you are interested in getting certified with the fitness industries three most popular certifications, check out Fitness Mentors and our free and premium study guides for NASM and ACE.

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Best Personal Trainer Certification

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Best Personal Trainer Certification

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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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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.

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:

accreditation-01

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
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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.

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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.

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Personal Trainer Salary: Which Gyms Pay the Most?

Personal Trainer Salary  Which Gyms Pay the Most

Personal Trainer Salary:

Which Gyms Pay the Most? How Much do Private and Online Trainers Make?

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If the most common question I get asked about personal training is what certification to get, the second most common question has to be “how much can I make as a personal trainer?”

There are numerous ways to make money as a personal trainer, but unquestionably the most common way is to start working at a gym.

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

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If the most common question I get asked about personal training is what certification to get, the second most common question has to be “how much can I make as a personal trainer?”

There are numerous ways to make money as a personal trainer, but unquestionably the most common way is to start working at a gym.

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:

When people first consider becoming a trainer they begin to think about the major gyms and how much they pay. And as much as certification bodies like NASM want to tell you that their average trainers make $42k a year, the reality of a personal trainer salary ultimately lies in what the gyms will pay as this is the most common career route.

However, the gym route is not the only one and many existing or aspiring trainers want to venture into the more entrepreneurial routes of private, or online personal training, as higher income levels are more easily achieved.

So, to help trainers understand what popular gyms pay their trainers and to showcase some insider knowledge on what private and online trainers can make, I’ve put together this post that outlines personal trainer salaries as well as what trainers at the most recognizable gym brands around the country get paid, and how they set up their payment structure.

I’ll also discuss the three pay structures that are common to trainers and provide you with next steps from a seasoned personal trainer who has gone through the experience of getting a gym job first-hand as well as utilized the private and online routes.

Before You Get Paid, You Have to Get Certified

First things first, if you want to work in personal training or at a big box gym like 24-Hour Fitness, Equinox, LA Fitness, or the like, you’ll need a personal training certification from a credentialed fitness organization.

Gyms want their trainers to get, or have, certifications, because they provide a baseline for credibility.

We have written a very comprehensive blog on the best personal trainer certifications where you can take a look at our side-by-side analysis of 10 different, popular personal training certification organizations. If you are unsure the exact steps to become a trainer and the prerequisites — education, age requirements, CPR/AED certifications — then check out this post on the topic.

Keep in mind that many gyms may hire you before you get a certification, and some will even have you go through their internal certification, so if you have a gym in mind for your place of employment it doesn’t hurt to ask what their requirements are first. Note that a true personal training certification will allow for a job at a much wider range of locations than just that one gym, something you’ll want to consider as your career evolves.

But before you enter the personal training employee marketplace, it pays to know some of the various pay structures that are common within the personal training industry so you know what to expect going in.

3 Types of Gym Pay Structures Common to Personal Trainers

When you begin your search for gyms that will provide you gainful employment, you can expect the pay structures to fall into one of these three categories:

1. Commercial gym
2. Independent personal trainer
3. 1099 personal trainer

1. Commercial Gym Pay Structure

In the gym world, the gyms who make you get clients and don’t feed them to you will generally pay the most. The opposite is true too; the gyms that feed you clients will generally pay you the least.

Commercial gyms will typically pay you minimum wage to “work the floor” and try to drum up new clients. Once you are actually training clients, you’ll get a bit more per hour as you are increasing the gyms revenue by performing a training session. If you sell a large personal training package, commercial gyms will often give you a commission.

2. Independent Personal Trainer Gym Pay Structure

Independent pay structures, or those that pertain to the self-employed personal trainer, are much more favorable to the trainer, but the negative is that they are obviously not as exposed to as many potential clients as they would be on the floor of a major gym, and are only getting paid when they train.

When you are self-employed, or an independent personal trainer not on a gym’s payroll, you may be able to develop relationships with smaller, privately-owned gyms that will allow you to bring in your own clients.

The catch is that you have to pay the gym a fee when you use their gym to train your client. For example, I used to pay a privately-owned, non-chain gym $15 a session to bring my client in and train them.

I could ultimately charge my client whatever I wanted, and had no pressure from any boss to sell more training sessions as it was entirely up to me.

Keep in mind that with this independent structure, you are running your own business, which means you are responsible for additional tasks like accounting, taxes, marketing, advertising, sales and lead generation.

Related: How to Set a Pricing Structure for Your Personal Training Business

3. 1099 by a Gym Pay Structure

The 1099 model is similar to the self-employed trainer model except the gym has a relationship with the clients. A 1099 is a tax form given to an independent contractor as opposed to a W2 which is given to employees.

In this pay structure, the gym does not actually employ you as a personal trainer, but they contract with you so that they can make money on personal training and alleviate themselves from the costs of having an employee.

The 1099 model is like when you hire a plumber to come fix your broken toilet; they are getting paid for their service but they are not your employee.

In the contractor payment style, the personal trainer and the gym typically get a split, like 50/50, on whatever the gym charges. So, if the gym charges $60 for an hour long session, they’d keep $30 and you’d get paid $30. The gym collects the money from the client and then will pay you, the trainer, for the session performed.

With this type of structure the personal trainer will be responsible for claiming taxes on the money they make, as the gym does not set aside any income since the trainer is not an employee.

Now, you may be asking yourself, “how do I know what kind of payment structure the gym I want to work at has?” Excellent question, let’s address that below.

How Popular Brand Name Gyms Pay Their Personal Trainers

While I could have left you hanging with the above information on the three various pay structures that are common for trainers who work at/with gyms, I wanted to do a deeper dive and get some answers from real trainers who work, or have worked, at some popular gym chains.

The Fitness Mentors team reached out to several gyms chains and their current employees, as well as conducted a survey with our current and previous students on Facebook, to get currently used payment structures and insight on how various gyms pay their trainers. We have provided that information below.

If you have any experience with these gyms or would like to comment on something different, please feel free to let us know in the comments so we can update this post. 

Equinox logo

Equinox Personal Trainer Salary

Non-training payment:

Floor hours at minimum wage – typically 20 hours a week until your client base grows.

Payment structure:

Less than 42 sessions per pay period (2 week pay period):

  • Tier 1: $26 per one hour session
  • Tier 2: $30.50 per one hour session
  • Tier 3: $36.50 per one hour session
  • Tier 3+: $45.50 per one hour session
  • Tier X: $64 per one hour session

More than 42 sessions per pay period (2 week pay period):

  • Tier 1: $31 per one hour session
  • Tier 2: $42.50 per one hour session
  • Tier 3: $53 per one hour session
  • Tier 3+: $61 per one hour session
  • Tier X: $74.50 per one hour session

The average full-time trainer at Equinox performs 25-30 training sessions per week.

Equinox Income Potential

Equinox Income Potential
24 Hour Fitnesss Logo

24-Hour Personal Trainer Salary

Non-training payment

Minimum wage for non-training hours.

Payment structure:

  • 20% Commission on all individual personal training package sales paid up front.
  • 10% Commission on all TC24 group training package sales.

Also, a 5% bonus commission is added to total salary when 60 training sessions or more are performed in one pay period.

24-Hour Personal Trainer Salary 24-Hour PT Tier Structure and Associated Pay per Session:

24 Hour PT Tier Structure and Associated Pay per Session

24-Hour Bonus Structure per Training Session:

24 1

24-Hour Fitness Commission for Package Sales:

24 2

24-Hour Fitness Tiers:

24 3

24-Hour Fitness Salary Example for Entry-level Personal Trainer

An example monthly salary of a new PT 1 trainer that is building up their business at 24-Hour Fitness is shown below:
  • Example minimum wage is $10/hour
  • 120 hours worked in the month at $10/hour = $1,200
  • 60 training sessions performed in the month x $7 = $420
  • $2,500 in training package sales x 20% commission = $500
  • Total Monthly Salary = $2120

24-Hour Fitness Salary Example of a Master Trainer

An example monthly salary of a full-time Master Trainer:
  • Example minimum wage is $10/hour.
  • 160 hours worked in the month at $10/hour = $1,600
  • 120 training sessions performed in the month x $17 = 2,040
  • $5000 in Training package sales x 20% commission = $1,000
  • Monthly Salary = $4,640
  • 5% commission added to the monthly salary of $4,640 since more than 60 sessions per pay period were performed = $232
  • Total Monthly Salary after 5% bonus commission= $4,872
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LA Fitness Personal Trainer Salary

Non-training payment

Minimum wage for non-training hours.

Payment structure:
$6 – $7.50 per 30 minute session
$12 – $15 per 1 hour session

$7.50 – $15 is for larger cities with higher cost of living like in Los Angeles.
$6 – $12 is for less populated, lower cost of living areas like Arizona.

Other findings:

No findable bonus structure. Trainer turnover is very high.

Every person in the Facebook group concurred that LA Fitness is a less than ideal place to work as a trainer, but a few people mentioned they pay their group exercise instructors significantly better.

anytime fitness

Anytime Fitness Personal Trainer Salary

Non-training payment: 

Varies

Payment structure:

Varies, these are franchised gyms and each one has a different pay structure. 

Answers varied on payment structure for the trainers we surveyed:

  • 50/50 split 
  • Minimum wage plus bonuses to sign people on to monthly training packages 
  • Trainers can increase income by teaching group exercise classes

Other findings:

Collective agreement that Anytime Fitness is an enjoyable place to work. They are 3,000-5,000 sq ft gyms with only 5-10 trainers per location.

crunch fitness

Crunch Fitness Personal Trainer Salary

Non-training payment:

None
 

Payment structure:

These are franchised gyms and each location may have a different pay structure.

Here are some quotes from Crunch Fitness trainers concerning their salary. Answers varied on payment structure:

I’m only paid for hours trained and commission on sales. I’m not paid while trying to get clients.”

“I work at Crunch. Mine is a level 3 gym but because I just started I’m at level 2 for a few months. If I charge a la carte the client pays $80/hour or $50/30 minute session. Depending on my sales volume I can make between 40% and 65% of what I sell. I’m given “potential clients” but I have to sell them the personal training sessions. There’s not a sales force like at LA Fitness but the income potential is much better. I set my own hours and can work whenever I like. They encourage me to sell package deals which requires a 3 month commitment from the client. They are not allowed to cancel. Money is debited from their account either monthly or biweekly. They can also get a discount if they pay in full. For level 2, if you wanted to be trained 2x week, it would cost $504. For 3x week $697. Those are monthly rates for hour long sessions. Level 3, of course, is higher and most of the trainers at my gym are level 3. We have about 17 trainers. It’s a great place to work! Just takes time to build your clientele.” 

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YMCA Personal Trainer Salary

Non-training payment:

Minimum wage is paid when not training. 

 

Payment structure:

Basically, YMCA trainers make $15 – $28 per session/hour depending on their tier. 

We were able to find some training salary data for YMCA but it is just for the Charlotte, NC area. I assume that cities with higher costs of living would be accounted for in pay (and vice versa for smaller cities), but we were unable to find any other data on that.

The information for YMCA trainers and their tiers can be found below, respectively:

  • Tier 1 Trainer– Pay Rate: $15.89 – $19.86; Responsible for training a minimum of 2 sessions per week; Responsible for working the fitness floor 4-8 hours per week for initial 3 months
  • Tier 2 Trainer– Pay Rate: $17.48 – $21.85; Responsible for training a minimum of 5 sessions per week; Responsible for working the fitness floor 4-8 hours per week for initial 3 months
  • Tier 3 Trainer– Pay Rate: $21.00 – $26.24; Responsible for training a minimum of 10 sessions per week; Responsible for working the fitness floor 4-8 hours per week for initial 3 months
  • Tier 4 Trainer– Pay rate: $22.89 – $28.61; Responsible for training a minimum of 20 sessions per week; Responsible for working the fitness floor 4-8 hours per week for initial 3 months; Serve as a Continuing Education Provider for YMCA of Greater Charlotte teaching at least 1 workshop per year; Serve as a mentor to Tier 1-3 trainers

Other benefits include:

  • YMCA pays for all the trainers CEUs

  • The “Y” also pays the trainers’ recertification fee – approximately $100 every two years
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Planet Fitness Personal Trainer Salary

Non-training payment

Full-time minimum wage positions. 

Payment structure:

Typically no higher pay for trainers, but it is an easy job that requires no sales and just training. Decent for beginners looking to gain training experience but not really career-worthy. No commissions. No bonuses. 

Personal Trainer Salary FAQ

Yes, making good money as a personal trainer is very viable. Even entry-level personal trainers can make upwards of $25 an hour, and easily up to $100 an hour if they are experienced.
Our research indicates that personal trainers make anywhere from minimum wage up to $75 an hour, at more prestigious gyms. Private personal trainers can make even more per hour, charging up top $100 an hour.
The typical beginner personal trainer starts off their career in a gym as opposed to training private clients. On average, personal trainers make around $42,000 per year but the salary can vary by city, with more urban areas commanding higher salaries.
Personal training is a great career choice because it is constantly ranked highly for providing an excellent quality of life, flexible work hours, and a solid work-life balance.
Yes, many trainers that put in hard work can make $100,000 or more a year as a personal trainer. Personal trainers that take their businesses online also benefit from higher incomes as they can sell services while they sleep and are not limited to the available hours in a day as are in-person trainers.
No, it is not difficult to get a personal training job once you have a personal trainer certification. Many gyms are actively hiring personal trainers and the health and wellness industry as a whole is forecasted to continue its growth trend.

Private Personal Trainer Salary

It is a well known fact that private personal trainers have the potential to make far more than gym trainers.

Why? Because private personal trainers can set their own rates.

There is a catch for private personal trainers, however, and that is that they have to drum up enough business to write their own paycheck. But before we get into a sample private personal trainer salary let’s define exactly what a private personal trainer is.

A private personal trainer is a trainer that is self-employed, creates their own work schedule, and is free to choose the clients that they work with. For many personal trainers, this is the end goal of their personal training careers and is what sees some trainers working with celebrities and making big bucks.

Unlike gym trainers, private personal trainers don’t get help from the gym or get funneled clients from fitness organizations. They utilize their own networking, sales, and marketing skill sets to drive leads and ultimately generate new clients.

For that reason, many private personal trainers struggle to make a decent income. You can’t simply get a personal trainer certification and expect leads to come your way. (Check out this course to learn how to build your business and get clients). This is also why so many trainers start out in the gym, get experience, make relationships, begin taking on private clients on the side, and eventually leave the corporate gym environment behind.

 

How Much Do Private Personal Trainers Make?

 

A respectable private personal trainer can make upwards of $70,000 per year.

Compare this to the full time salary of a respectable personal trainer at 24-Hour Fitness which would likely fall in the low $40,000 range. And by respectable I mean one with a couple thousand hours of sessions under their belt and training 20-30 sessions per week. This low $40,000 range is also commensurate with what