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The 5 Best Online Personal Trainer Certification Programs

Aug 20, 2023

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If you enjoy exercising, have a good rapport with people, and want to help them meet their fitness goals, becoming a personal trainer may be a good profession for you. Whether you already work in the fitness industry or are feeling ready to jump into a new field entirely, there are several online personal trainer certification programs you can choose to take your career goals to new heights.

Figuring out which online certification course is best for you can be tricky, so I spoke with two certified personal trainers — Evan Williams, CSCS, CPT, and CEO of E2G Performance and Kristie Alicea, CPT, NCSF, ACE, AFPA, and co-founder of ABC Fit Collective — to provide insight and tips on what to look for when deciding on an online personal trainer certification.

"One of the most fulfilling aspects to being a trainer is seeing your clients reach their goals," says Williams. "As trainers, we play a big role in how they approach and view fitness so it's important to deliver an exceptional experience while educating them on how to safely attain their goals in the most efficient way."

For Alicea, the best part of her career is making a positive difference in a person's life. "Watching my clients, many of whom are pregnant or postpartum, feel strong in their body and confident in their lives truly continues to fuel my passion," she says.

Williams and Alicea both shared their advice on what you should keep in mind before you even look for programs, what legitimate programs should have as requirements, and their own recommendations for some of the best programs.

The fitness industry is competitive, and becoming a personal trainer requires plenty of studying and, once you've obtained your certification, looking for a job or taking the steps to start your own personal training business.

Williams is frank about what it's like in such a competitive field, especially when you're starting out: "Being a personal trainer is a grind." Alicea agrees that it can be difficult at first. "Just like any other industry, the beginning is challenging, but once you get your footing you find, there's so much to learn," she says.

It's also important to know that a typical schedule is the opposite of a nine-to-five job. "As a personal trainer we work outside of normal hours: Think early mornings, after work, and weekends," says Alicea.

With plenty of personal trainer certification programs to choose from, it can be difficult to decipher between the ones that are legitimate and worth the money and time commitment.

Williams and Alicea break down what you need to know to ensure you choose a program that fits your needs and professional goals:

As with any profession, jobs for personal trainers usually require specific studies or certifications in order to be considered. Williams recommends perusing personal trainer job listings to get a sense of what qualifications are necessary for the position to help you decide what may be the best fit.

Professional personal trainers go through lots of studying, training, and examination before they can start working with clients.

"You should look for a nationally accredited certification: One that has a curriculum that focuses on anatomy, science, trusted methodologies, and movement patterns," Alicea suggests.

With so many different institutions offering online personal training programs, sometimes it can be challenging to distinguish what is legit and what isn't. But there are a couple of things to pay attention to.

"You should have to take an exam in order to receive your certification," says Alicea. One warning sign that it's a certificate instead of a certification is the time it takes. "No program should promise that you can get certified in a day," she adds.

"Some things to look out for are certs that are really easy to get and require little to no preparation or knowledge to obtain," Williams says. Unfortunately, there are places offering certifications "that want to just collect money and could care less about you being prepared and knowledgeable," he adds.

The good news is there are a variety of legitimate certification programs available, but not all of them are one-size-fits-all.

Williams recommends that you know what type of work you want to do within the personal training field and the types of clients you'd like to work with. "I work with professional athletes, so it was imperative that I got my CSCS certification (Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist) from the NSCA, he says.

Price: $340 for members and $475 non-member price for the exam

Length: Not stated, but you must pass exams within a year of signing up

NSCA is a non-profit organization that focuses on training and educating professionals in different sport science careers. "It is arguably one of the most well-respected associations in the fitness industry," says Williams. "They have tons of courses, quizzes, books, and content to help pass their exams."

Learn more about the NSCA here.

Price: $899 self-study to $2699 all-inclusive

Length: Minimum of 4 weeks

NASM is well-known in the world of sports medicine and fitness and offers a range of personal training programs online. "NASM is very well-respected and one of the most popular academies," says Williams. "They offer a ton of content and resources [and] they have great pricing and bundles that they offer."

Learn more about NASM here.

Price: $899- $1499, depending on program

Length: Study at your own pace, but you must take the exam within 6 months of signing up

A non-profit organization, ACE is dedicated to exercise and health coaching through its various programs from personal trainer to health coach. Alicea and Williams both recommend ACE because it's been around for decades and is well-respected in the industry.

Learn more about ACE here.

Price: $69/month for 12 months

Length: 4- 12 weeks and up to 6 months to complete and take the exam

Created in 1988, ISSA is known internationally as a source for fitness trainers and sports scientists. It offers a range of personal trainer programs, depending on your professional goals. Alicea mentions that ISSA is known in the industry and its certification is accepted at most gyms.

Learn more about ISSA here.

Price: $699-$899

Length: Self-paced

In business for over 25 years, NCSF is dedicated to educating and training sport and exercise-focused professionals. It offers personal trainer certifications as well as strength coaching and sports nutrition. Alicea suggests the NCSF because it's been around for a long time and offers comprehensive courses.

Learn more about NCSF here.

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Evan Williams Kristie Alicea What to know before you look for or enroll in a personal training program: 5 tips for choosing an online personal training certification program: 1. Check out job listings to learn what your ideal employer is looking for. 2. Look for a nationally accredited certification. 3. Only consider programs that make you take an exam to get certified. 4. If a program seems too easy, it might be a scam. 5. Think about your long-term goals. Price: Length Learn more about the NSCA here. Price: Length: Learn more about NASM here. Price: Length: Learn more about ACE here. Price: Length: Learn more about ISSA here. Price: Length: Learn more about NCSF here.