Fitness Trainer Certification

In a largely unregulated industry, professional certification is vital to separating the qualified and competent professionals from those who blow into the profession on a whim and call themselves a personal trainer. Lucky for you, there are a host of options for earning professional validation and credibility so as to display your commitment to the profession and jumpstart your career in personal training.

But there’s a catch: personal training certification is only as good as its status in the profession and its value to you. In other words, not all certification programs are created equal, so it’s important to ensure that your credentials clearly reflect your knowledge, skills, and aptitude in personal training.

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Which Certification Option is Right for You?

The first thing every personal trainer should know about certification is that there is no one-size-fits-all certification. In other words, the ideal fitness training certification for one personal trainer may not be a great fit for another. You are best served by narrowing down your certification options based on:

  • National accreditation
  • Scope of practice
  • Industry reputation
  • Personal training specialty

Personal training certification may serve as a supplement to your college degree in an area like exercise science, exercise physiology, kinesiology, or fitness management, or it may be your singular source of education and training before you become a personal trainer. Either way, you must ensure that the professional certification you pursue is right for you and your career in personal training.

National Accreditation

National accreditation is often the first step when narrowing down your options for personal training certification. One of the largest accrediting bodies in the U.S. is the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA), which requires NCCA-accredited personal training organizations to meet a demanding set of standards.

Personal trainer certification programs that are not accredited by a national accrediting body offer little to no assurance that they will provide you with the knowledge and skills required to offer safe and effective personal training services.

Just a few of the personal training certification programs that are accredited by the NCCA include:

Scope of Practice

Certification program features often vary based upon a specific scope of practice within the personal training profession. This means the certification you choose should be in line with the type of personal training services you offer.

For example, the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) is ideal for personal trainers who are focused on strength and conditioning, while The Cooper Institute personal training certification emphasizes the promotion of health benefits for children and adults rather than improving optimal performance among athletes.

Industry Reputation

Even the seemingly best personal trainer certification is not useful to you if others in your profession do not recognize it. This means, it is often in your best interest to ask other professional personal trainers and local employers about their certification preferences. You will likely receive a short list of certification options from which you can then decide.

Some of the best-recognized certifications in personal training include:

Personal Training Specialty

Personal training is a niche of the health and wellness industry, but this profession can be narrowed down even further by specialty. This means there are several professional certification options designed specifically for the various personal training specialties.

For example, the National Exercise Trainers Association (NETA) offers specialty personal training certification in the following areas:

  • Indoor group cycling
  • Kettleball
  • Pilates mat
  • Pilates reformer
  • Wellness coach
  • Yoga

The American Fitness Professionals & Associates (AFPA) also offers specialty personal trainer certifications in the following areas:

  • Advanced personal trainer
  • Master personal trainer
  • Strength and conditioning specialist
  • Sports conditioning specialist
  • Senior fitness specialist
  • Post-rehab specialist
  • Personal trainer for special populations
  • Functional training specialist

Personal Training Certification Requirements and Features

All personal training certification programs have their own set of prerequisites/eligibility requirements, program requirements, and examination requirements.

Eligibility Requirements

All certification programs require applicants to be at least 18 years old, and most require a high school diploma or GED. Some programs require eligible candidates to possess CPR/AED certification. Further, some organizations require candidates to possess previous fitness experience.

For example, the National Federation of Professional Trainers (NFPT) requires candidates for personal training certification to possess at least two years of fitness experience.

Program Requirements

The amount of study required to take the appropriate personal training certification depends on the certifying body. The design and delivery of the study materials also often varies. For example, the American Council on Exercise (ACE) requires about 90 hours of classroom study, which is delivered via an online format, while the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) requires two days of study in a classroom setting in select U.S. cities.

A number of organizations, such as the National Council for Certified Personal Trainers (NCCPT), provide students with the option of completing an online course of study or a live workshop/classroom course of study.

The cost of taking a personal fitness certification program also varies. Some programs cost as little as $300, while others cost up to $700-$800. The program fee may include the cost of taking the certification examination, while others charge a separate examination fee that can cost anywhere between $50 and $400.

Program costs, depending on the program format and delivery method, include the cost of textbooks, DVDs, and online courses, in-person workshops and classes, and study guides.

Examination Requirements

All programs require students to take and pass an examination following the program of study so as to prove competency for the certification. Most examinations are completed at testing centers throughout the U.S., although some organizations, such as the American Fitness Professional and Associates (AFPA), allow for the completion of an online or mail-in examination.

Most examinations consist of between 100 and 200 questions and take about 2 to 3 hours to complete.

Following initial certification, you must renew it on a regular basis. Most certification organizations require renewal every 2 years.

NPTI Diploma

The National Personal Training Institute (NPTI) is a 500 & 600 hour Personal Training Program  that was developed by Eugene McIlvaine, who has been in the trade school business since December of 1980. Currently, Mr. McIlvaine operates over 30 personal training schools throughout the United States and Canada. Since 1997, his programs have been committed to health and fitness.

List of Personal Training Certification Options

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