Top 5 Personal Training Certifications
Personal Training
5 minute read

Top 5 Personal Training Certifications


1. NASM (National Academy of Sports Medicine)


First up, National Academy of Sports Medicine. NASM is nationally recognized and NCCA-accredited. If you’re looking to jumpstart your personal training career, this one’s for you. In practice, this certification helps you create programs for your clients that improve flexibility, core stability, strength, power, and cardiovascular endurance.


NASM’s self-study program is currently going for $489. The site offers multiple program packages, so you can pick a package that works best with your learning style and budget.

Time Investment

You can expect to spend about 10-12 weeks to complete the NASM certification. All of your hard work culminates in a 2-hour exam with 120-questions. NASM’s Exam Prep Guarantee proves that second chances do exist. If you don’t make it the first time, you’ll receive a free retest.

OPT Model

The OPT model is built on scientific evidence and principles that help you progress your client through 5 training phases:

  • Phase 1: stabilization endurance (stabilization)
  • Phase 2: strength endurance (strength)
  • Phase 3: hypertrophy (strength)
  • Phase 4: maximal strength (strength)
  • Phase 5: power (power)

Simple and powerful, the OPT model helps clients of all fitness levels achieve their goals. Want to learn more? Here is our full deep dive into the NASM-CPT.

2. ACE (American Council on Exercise)


Next up, American Council on Exercise. Similar to NASM, ACE is a nationally recognized and NCCA-accredited program, designed around the “Integrated Fitness Training” model. If you’re interested in working with a wide variety of clients, this program is a solid option.


ACE’s basic study program comes in at $598, with a Plus option available for $798. Both packages offer in-depth resources to give you the confidence to ace that exam and kick off your personal training career.

Time Investment

Preparation for ACE involves about 80-100 hours over a 3-4 month span of time. To help you in the training process, ACE offers numerous tools such as ACE Answers, a self-service resource center and ACE answers on Facebook, a social study community.

ACE Integrative Fitness Training (ACE IFT) Model

When you think ACE, think science and research. But if we’re getting specific, ACE is based on the ACE IFT model–– a systematic approach to designing programs based on the unique abilities, needs and goals of the person you’re training.

3. ISSA (International Sports Sciences Association)


International Sports Sciences Association certification is accredited with Distance Education Accrediting Commission, another well recognized certification in the personal training industry. Plus, ISSA has a strong focus on the business aspect of personal training. You’ll learn how to develop and hone your brand in the personal training industry.


ISSA’s Self-Guided Study Program runs for $799. If you’re looking for additional options, ISSA offers an Assisted Fast Track and Full Training Experience option.

Time Investment

The Self-Guided Study Program is a 10-week program, while the advanced programs involve 4 weeks or less of study time. Whether you’re taking your time or expediting the process, ISSA has options to work with your comfort level and schedule.

Core Values

ISSA’s core values include

  • Prioritize Personal Connection
  • Share Wellness
  • Grit to Great
  • Enjoy the Drive

4. ACSM (The American College of Sports Medicine)


The American College of Sports Medicine is a corrective exercise certification and perfect for anyone who’s interested in working in a healthcare setting. ACSM has gained a lot of attention in the exercise science field and is even leading the charge in exercise science research.


An ACSM exam is $349 for non-ACSM members and $279 for ACSM members. While there aren’t a lot of ACSM training materials, you can purchase *ACSM's Resources for the Personal Trainer* for $79.99, practice quizzes (3 months: $64.99, 6 months: $74.99 and 12 months: $84.99 access options), or join the Certified Personal Trainer Facebook Study Group. A second chance at this certification will cost you––an ACSM retest is $175. Study up!

Time Investment

The time it takes to prepare for this exam is up to you and what resources you decide to use. The exam itself is comprised of 120-questions, and you’ll receive 2.5 hours to answer all of them.


They say it best: “The American College of Sports Medicine advances and integrates scientific research to provide educational and practical applications of exercise science and sports medicine.”

5. NSCA (National Strength and Conditioning Association)


The National Strength and Conditioning Association is a performance-focused personal training certification. If your goal is to complete your CSCS certification (certified strength and conditioning specialist) and one day train athletes as a strength and conditioning coach––ding ding! This certification is probably for you.


The NSCA-CPT Essential Package sells for $290.70 (non-members). For non-members, the exam cost is $435.

Time Investment

When you sign up for the NSCA certification, you have 6 months to complete the exam. When it comes time to take the exam, you’ll have 3 hours to answer 140 questions. If needed, you’ll have to wait 90 days to retake the NCSA exam.


NSCA’s personal trainers use an individualized approach to assess, motivate, educate and train their clients on personal health and fitness needs. Through safe and effective exercise programs, NSCA personal trainers provide their clients with guidance that will help them achieve their personal health/fitness goals and respond appropriately when emergency situations arise. NCSA trainers also recognize the extent of their knowledge and will refer clients to healthcare professionals, if necessary.

*Note: We also have a full in depth review of the NSCA-CSCS.


In the realm of personal fitness certifications, the possibilities are endless. What matters most is that you do your research and find the certification(s) that work best for your lifestyle, budget and career path. When you find the certification that’s for you, it’ll click. Did we leave off your favorite certification? We want to hear about it. Give us all the details in a comment below!

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