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Comparing Personal Training Certifications

author image Michelle Matte
Michelle Matte is an accomplished fitness professional who holds certifications in personal training, pilates, yoga, group exercise and senior fitness. She has developed curricula for personal trainers and group exercise instructors for an international education provider. In her spare time, Matte writes fiction and blogs.
Comparing Personal Training Certifications
Whether training clients at home or at the gym, trainers should be certified. Photo Credit Chris Clinton/Photodisc/Getty Images

A career as a personal trainer can be interesting, gratifying and lucrative. Successful trainers often make upwards of $50,000 a year. Although policies vary, in most states personal trainers are not regulated by law. Employers and clients will expect you to be certified. Selecting a certification program is an important step in launching a successful career.


When selecting a certification program, your personal educational and vocational background are central considerations. If you have a bachelor's degree in exercise science or if you are already working as a trainer or group exercise instructor, certification is the icing on an already-baked cake and may be as simple as sitting for a written exam. But if you require further education and experience, you need a program that offers training before the exam. Other considerations governing your decision are your geographic location and budget. All certification programs require CPR certification. Most certifications are good for two years and require continuing education credits to renew.

Home Study Programs

Many certification programs are self-study, requiring you to sit for an exam administered by an official testing service. While convenient from a time standpoint, the disadvantage is that you will need to muster the self-discipline to study and grasp the material in the weeks leading up to the exam. In reputable programs, you must thoroughly understand fundamental exercise science including anatomy, physiology, kinesiology and nutrition to pass the exam. If you are the studious type with a well-regimented life, you might consider the National Strength and Conditioning Association, the American Council on Exercise and the American College of Sports Medicine -- three of the most high-profile home study-based certification programs.

Workshop and Classroom Programs

Certification programs with a live instructor range from one-day workshops to college-based courses taught over a six-week period. The exams are usually administered on site. In workshop-type classes like those that Aerobics and Fitness Association of America offers, you should study course materials at home before attending the workshop. The Cooper Institute and the World Instructor Training Schools offer in-depth classroom instruction by academically qualified teachers and include hands-on lab experience. The WITS program features a 30-hour internship.

Cost and Future Considerations

Certification programs range in price from $99.00 for AAAI/ISMA to up to $999.00 for the National Academy of Sports Medicine CPT Premier. Most programs require textbooks and other course materials that are not included in program fees. Although personal trainer certification is loosely regulated at present, a movement is afoot to require licensing or other professional credentials similar to those of athletic trainers or physical therapists. On October 6, 2008, New Jersey legislators proposed Senate Bill 2164, the "Fitness Professional Licensing Act." The bill requires that a governor-appointed board be established to oversee the licensing and regulation of group exercise instructors and personal trainers. Legislators in other parts of the United States are considering similar bills. Selecting a certification program that provides in-depth education may lay a foundation that will come in handy if and when more rigid legal parameters are imposed on the profession.

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