Choosing a Personal Training Certification

Are you passionate about health and fitness? Do you find yourself thinking or talking about diet and exercise almost on a daily basis? Do you have a passion for helping others? Or, have you recently completed your own weight loss journey and you’d like to share your knowledge and experiences with others? If you’ve answered yes to any of these questions, a career as a Certified Personal Trainer may be right for you.

The fitness industry is booming! Currently there are over 260,000 employed fitness professionals and that number is likely to increase due the rise of chronic disease, obesity, and the advancing age of Americans (1). Gyms, health clubs, universities, nonprofit and corporate wellness programs are all in need of qualified fitness professionals to join their organizations. However, prior to acquiring a job as a Certified Personal Trainer, the first step toward your new career is earning an accredited certification.

Personal Training Certifications

There are a variety of credentialing organizations, each offering different home-study materials, live workshops and exam formats for getting certified. When choosing a personal training certification is it important to look at a variety of factors including, the depth of the curriculum, types study materials offered, national recognition, and accreditation status.


Certified Personal Trainers have many roles and responsibilities. As such, when choosing a personal training certification, you’ll want to review the curriculum being offered. It is best to choose a credentialing organization that offers a robust curriculum relevant to the personal training profession. This is not the time for short cuts. When it comes to successfully working with clients, you need to know more than counting reps or copying routines from a popular fitness magazine. Instead, you need to be well versed in nearly every aspect of the personal training profession. This requires rigorous study in a variety of topics including anatomy, exercise physiology, kinesiology, nutrition, fitness assessments, exercise application, and personal training business practices (Table 1).

Table 1. Personal Training Recommended Topics of Study
Exercise Physiology
Fitness Assessments
Exercise Application
Personal Training Business Practices

Study Materials

After reviewing the curriculum, switch your focus to the study materials offered. Accredited personal training exams are high stakes; meaning you have one shot to pass the test. If you do not pass, it will likely result in an additional fee to retake the exam. Consequently you’ll want to review the various study materials offered by the credentialing organization. For most people, using an assortment of exam preparation materials, in a variety of formats, helps foster learning and retention. Using multiple study materials can help create a richer understanding of the information and also provides you the ability to practice and familiarize yourself with new concepts and unfamiliar vocabulary. These study materials may include a textbook, study guide, videos, practice exams, and live workshops (Table 2).

Table 2. Recommended Exam Prep Study Materials
Study guide
Practice Exams
Live Workshops

National Recognition

Even if a personal training certification offers a robust curriculum and a variety of study packages, it won’t be much help if it isn’t recognized by potential employers. It is best to do your due diligence and choose a certification that is accepted by the company you’d like to work for. Visit local clubs in your area and ask the fitness manager what certifications they accept. Ideally you’ll want to choose a certification that is accepted by a variety of health club chains such as LA Fitness, 24-Hour Fitness, Gold’s Gym, World’s Gym, Equinox, Crunch, Spectrum, and Bally’s.


The fitness industry is unregulated, and as a result there are no federal standards for earning a personal training certification. However, employers prefer to hire personal trainers who are certified through an accredited organization. The International Health and Racquet and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA), a trade association serving the health club and fitness industry, also recommends gym owners and fitness managers to hire personal trainers who have obtained at least one accredited certification (2).

Many credentialing organizations offer an accredited certification. These organizations have earned accreditation through one of the three primary accrediting agencies; National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA), Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC), or the National Board of Fitness Examiners (NBFE) (Table 2). Before choosing a personal training certification it is important to determine if the certifying organization is accredited by one of these agencies.

Table 2. Accreditation Agencies
National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA)
Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC)
National Board of Fitness Examiners (NBFE)

Accreditation Defined

Accreditation is a term that is often used, but seldom completely understood. Accreditation is a third-party review of the education offered by an institution such as a university, community college, or credentialing organization. Accreditation is the primary way for the public to know that an institution provides quality education (3).

Accreditation has two purposes. First, accreditation is a third party review process to ensure the education institution meets predetermined standards of quality set forth by the accrediting agency. For example, the accrediting agency may have specific rules regarding the personal training exam process, such as requiring the exam to be taken at a proctored testing site to ensure no cheating can take place. The accrediting agency may also evaluate curriculums, study materials, faculty qualifications, and verifying the institution’s business practices (3).

Second, accreditation helps ensure the institution will continuously review, evaluate and update curriculums, processes and procedures to enhance the quality of education provided. The educational institution must reapply for accreditation and is subject to an audit. In short, accreditation is a form of checks and balances to protect the general public from diploma mills.


The personal training industry is booming and likely to grow. As such the fitness industry is in need of qualified personal trainers. If you’re interested in becoming a personal trainer, the first step is to earn an accredited certification. When choosing a certification, look for a certification that offers an in-depth curriculum, a variety of study packages, is nationally recognized, and is accredited by the NCCA, DEAC or NBFE.


  1. 1.U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, Fitness Trainers and Instructors. Accessed July 8, 2015.
  2. 2.International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association. Accessed July 6, 2014.
  3. 3.Distance Education Accrediting Commission. Accessed July 9, 2015.