How to Become a Personal Trainer Part I: WHAT’S THE BEST PERSONAL TRAINING CERTIFICATION?

How to Become a Personal Trainer Part I: WHAT'S THE BEST

PERSONAL TRAINING CERTIFICATION?

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You've done your research, right? You typed in Google, “How to become a personal trainer” or “What's the best personal training certification” and then I am guessing some version of the following steps popped up:

  1. EARN A HIGH SCHOOL DEGREE

  2. COMPLETE AED/CPR CERTIFICATION

  3. CHOOSE A FITNESS SPECIALTY

  4. PREPARE FOR CERTIFICATION

  5. TAKE AND PASS CERTIFICATION EXAMINATION

  6. APPLY FOR JOBS AND BUILD A PORTFOLIO.

Some of you may have even gone as far as to speak with a certified personal trainer at one of the larger gyms like Equinox, Lifetime Fitness, Crunch, or Crossfit. And I am assuming they said something like, “You need to get certified, I got X, so you should too.”

Unfortunately, their advice and the process set forth by an internet search sets you up for failure as a personal trainer.

Did you know that 80-90% of trainers quit within 12-months of getting certified? I personally have surveyed managers at Equinox, Lifetime Fitness, 24-Hour Fitness & Crunch Fitness and that's the consensus from 2020.

You've probably come across Fitness Mentors article on certifications (seen here) or The PTDC (personal training development company) article on personal training certifications here, but when it's all said and done, you want to choose a certification that is EASY, CHEAP, and accredited (more on that in just a second.)

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Here are the top five certifications that I would suggest. Don't spend more than 30-days studying rather, buy a study guide (our ONLINE internship has a $50 tier that allows for weekly Q&A's to help you pass them all) to pass it quickly so you can focus on becoming a GREAT trainer:

1- NSCA,

2- ACSM,

3- NASM, ACE, ISSA

1 & 2 are respected within academia, 3's are the easiest and most popular&(PS. Ted Bundy is the most popular serial killer lol!)

Let's dive in, shall we?

NSCA-CPT

The National Strength and Conditioning Association is a non-profit organization. They have one of the top journals of science, the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research-JSCR. When you see the word “journal,” it's not what Becky and Sam are using to write down their thoughts. A journal is a monthly or quarterly publication intended to progress science with the newest studies. The NSCA has the Certified Personal Training (CPT) and Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) exam. The CPT is a 155-question exam geared to work with athletes. You need to be 18 years of age and currently, CPR/AED certified. The majority of the exam is based on assessments, programming, and proper exercise technique. The CPT is a tad bit easier than the ACSM-CPT but still very challenging. The price of the CPT is around $400.

NSCA-CSCS

If you want to work with collegiate or professional athletes, you should ONLY consider the CSCS within the United States. There are better hands-on learning opportunities via EXOS, Eric Cressey Performance, and Mike Boyle Strength & Conditioning, but as for certs, the CSCS is considered by many to be the Gold Standard because you need a college degree. It's a 4-hour, 200+ question exam with a scientific portion and video analysis. I was impressed with the scientific questions that were asked and the detailed athlete profiling. To pass the test you need to know what a good 40-time is, vertical jump, bench press, and squat for Division 1 male and female athletes. Two negatives to the CSCS are that the degree doesn't need to be science-related until 2030 and you don't need to attain hands-on experience. Weird, right? Also, if you fail a portion of the exam you will need to retake the entire thing once more. The price of the CPT is around $475.

ACSM

The American College of Sports Medicine is also a non-profit organization. Their exam is 115 questions long and you need to be at least 18 years of age and currently, CPR/AED certified. The questions are pretty evenly distributed across the board in client assessments, programming, legal, business, and advertising. The big emphasis is around Coronary Artery Disease Risk Stratifications-e.g., how many risks does a client have if they have a blood pressure of 135/88 mm Hg, BMI of 31, exercises three times a week for 30 minutes for the previous 2 months, and their mother had a heart attack at age 62? Based on this information you will need to be able to deem their risk stratification. The ACSM is for individuals who want to work in a clinic with exercise physiologists addressing the disease. In my opinion, I felt like this was the most challenging exam. The price is around $400.

NASM

The National Academy of Sports Medicine is a for-profit organization owned by Ascend Learning who was acquired by Blackstone Group L.P., a publicly-traded company. NASM uses outdated science from Dr. Vladimir Janda who tries to blame pain on poor posture while identifying overactive and under-active muscles (here's a video with The PreHab Guys, Physical Therapists debunking the science behind Upper Cross, Lower Cross & Pronation Distortion Syndromes).

The exam has 120 questions and you need to be at least 18 years of age and currently, CPR/AED certified. Due to the large financial backing, NASM markets themselves extremely well and is, therefore, able to get in front of the majority of aspiring trainers. Their ubiquitousness is the beauty of a free market and the ability to pay for exposure. NASM has numerous certs that they encourage you to take e.g. CES, PES, FNS, WLS (these each cost between $300 and $500.) These particular exams are taken at home, with an open book, and then you'll attain the title of a “Specialist.” The CPT is biased towards the OPT model (Optimal Performance Training) and the acute variables within. When I took this exam, I felt they focused more on their fancy language over scientific principles like anatomy or the foundation of movement (they don't have Henneman's Size Principle or the mechanisms of hypertrophy in the 6th edition textbook.) Contrary to popular belief, I encourage people to take the NASM-CPT because they have great payment options, and the exam is extremely easy to pass – even more so if you use our study guide. There's no need to waste three or more months studying the textbook cover to cover because the information is outdated and poor, at best. I tell our interns to put the “NASM hat on” and answer the questions as they want them to be answered, then once you pass, throw the textbook away and focus on gaining supervised experience. You can easily pass it within 30-days – the fastest I've seen someone pass this test, with our guide, is 7-days! The price is around $500.

ISSA & ACE:

The International Sports Sciences Association & American Counsel of Exercise are two institutions that are recognized internationally. As of 2021, I have only taken the ISSA-Corrective Exercise certification due to Chad Waterbury writing it – Here's a great video on the Size Principle from Dr. Chad and an article that he wrote from T-Nation HERE. I typically don't hear much in the debate of top certifications outside of NSCA & ACSM (most respected) and NASM (most recognized.)

VIDEO BREAKDOWN OF THE BEST PERSONAL TRAINING CERTIFICATIONS

WANT TO BECOME A TRAINER? SCHEDULE A CALL WITH CHRIS TO DISCUSS OUR 2-MONTH PERSONAL TRAINING INTERNSHIP PROGRAM IN SANTA MONICA, SAN DIEGO, WEST HOLLYWOOD, AND ONLINE. WE WILL THEN SCHEDULE A TIME TO SEE THE GYM AND MEET THE INSTRUCTORS. HERE'S HIS CELL 530-520-2664, TEXT FIRST!

Author: Chris Hitchko – CSCS, BS Kinesiology. Taught over 700 personal trainers at NPTI & Show Up Fitness Internship. Owner of gyms in Santa Monica, West Hollywood & San Diego. Voted best personal training internship in the nation. The only hands-on learning internship where you get to train actual clients part of the 2-month internship. Has helped 1,100 pass NASM-CPT with our study guide. Expert contributor to STACK.COM