Training Tips

The Best Personal Trainer Certification Path for Top Success

Careers in fitness and training are on the rise as more people become interested in healthy lifestyles. The industry needs more qualified, trained, and expert leaders to guide clients in setting and meeting their health and fitness goals. You may be the right person for this kind of career. 

But what does it take to become a personal trainer? If you’ve been thinking about turning your love for fitness and sports into a career, you may have a lot of questions: 

  • Do I have to be certified? 
  • What are the best certification programs? 
  • How much does it cost to become a certified personal trainer? 
  • How do I choose from all the program options? 

We’ll run through some of the basics with you here so you understand what it takes to become a trainer. It’s important to feel confident in choosing the right path and program for your future career. 

Why Become a Certified Personal Trainer? 

If you are passionate about health, fitness, and athletics and enjoy working with and helping people, you already have two great reasons to choose personal training as a career. A personal trainer is a leader, a coach, an educator, and a motivator. They help clients determine their goals and then realize them. What could be more meaningful or rewarding? 

There are also plenty of pragmatic reasons to get into personal training: 

  • You don’t need a college degree to begin working as a trainer. 
  • This means you can start working and earning much faster than you could for many other skilled jobs. 
  • As a personal trainer, you’ll have options, including working as an employee or becoming an entrepreneur and starting a small business. 
  • Work with clients in person or online. Enjoy the flexibility to choose your hours and set your rates. 
  • The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that careers related to fitness and recreation centers are growing at a rate of 15 percent or more, much faster than average job growth (1). This means finding work should be easy, and you’ll enjoy career and income stability. 

Why Get Certified? 

The fitness industry isn’t strongly regulated. That means you don’t technically have to be certified to work as a trainer. But if everyone else is certified, who do you think clients will choose to work with? You may also find that gyms and other employers only hire certified personal trainers. 

If you really have a passion for fitness, exercise, and health, you should also be interested in your own education and training in the field. The right certification program will teach you so much about the fundamentals of fitness and how to guide clients successfully and safely to their goals. 

The Best Personal Trainer Certification Paths

Certification and education are important, but there are a lot of different options. From mentorships and college degrees to online self-study, you have choices to meet your needs. If you have begun a search of programs, you already know how overwhelming it all is. 

To make the best choice for your future career in fitness, training, and coaching, consider your goals, needs, and limitations. It also helps to understand all the various possibilities, what they are, what kinds of careers they lead to, and what makes each one different. 

The Best Certification for Becoming a Versatile Trainer

If you know you want to work in fitness but aren’t exactly sure what that will look like, choose a general certification program. These courses will provide you with the foundational knowledge to work as a trainer immediately: 

  • In-depth study of the musculoskeletal system and how the body moves and responds to exercise
  • Assessing new clients in detail to help them set goals
  • Developing client programs tailored to each one’s unique needs and goals
  • Ongoing assessments and strategies for determining when to change a training program
  • Proper exercise form and detailed information on instructing and educating clients
  • Educating clients about healthy lifestyle habits
  • Motivating clients
  • Business skills for entrepreneurs

A program and exam that covers these comprehensive topics will make you a desirable candidate for jobs with gyms and other employers. It will also set you up to complete specialization programs. These will expand your career choices and offerings for clients. 

Certifications for Specialists

If you already hold a certification as a personal trainer but want to advance your career, consider a program in an area of specialization: 

  • Strength and Conditioning. Choose this specialization if you want to work with athletes, training them for competitions and to stay strong in the off-season. 
  • Yoga Instructor. Join the ever-popular yoga industry as an instructor. 
  • DNA-Based Fitness. Lifestyle DNA tests are now affordable and can provide information to maximize an individual’s workouts and diet. 
  • Lifespan Coach. Learn how to work with special populations to meet their unique needs. 
  • Corrective Exercise. Learn how to correct movement dysfunctions to help clients relieve pain and heal from or prevent injuries. 
  • Sports Nutrition or Weight Management. Focus on nutrition to help coach clients with their specific dietary needs and weight or health goals. 

The ISSA offers several different specialization courses and certification programs from lifespan coaching to DNA-based fitness. 

The Best Personal Trainer Certifications for Getting to Work Sooner 

If getting to work and earning as soon as possible is important, don’t skimp on education but do choose a program designed to move quickly. A great option is an online personal training course. These are usually self-paced so you can finish as fast as you want. Most take less than two months to finish but can be even faster if you have the time to devote to it. 

As you look at different schools and programs, you’ll find that many offer an accelerated, or fast track certification program. It will get you certified and working sooner, but the trade-off is that it may cost more. 

The Most Cost-Effective Option for Personal Training Certification

The costs of earning a personal trainer certification varies significantly by school and type. Hands down, the most cost-effective way to get certified is to complete an online program. Not only are the actual tuition costs lower, but the programs can be completed at your own pace. The faster you get it done, the sooner you can work as a personal fitness trainer and start earning money. 

A typical onsite program might cost up to $2,000, or even more. and take one or two months to complete. Online programs are usually less than $1,000. In-person trainer programs are available at community and career colleges, although most are not degree programs. Some larger, chain gyms also offer training programs to get you certified. 

Certifications That Guarantee a Job

If you’re worried about being able to find work as a trainer, look for certification programs that give you a job guarantee. Some programs provide this guarantee by placing those who successfully completed the courses and exam with affiliated employers, like gyms. Some even offer to refund your tuition cost if you do not land a job within a certain amount of time. 

The Education That Will Give You More Career Options

Most personal trainers choose the convenient and quick option of becoming certified online. It’s an excellent way to get educated and certified. Many programs are accredited and widely-recognized, and they provide you with the credentials you need affordably and to get started working immediately. 

If you’re certain about being a trainer and are ready to begin earning, a degree isn’t necessary. But, if you want to have more opportunities for advancing your career, for instance getting into gym management, retail, or leadership roles, a degree can help. 

A good choice is an associate degree because it will take two years to complete rather than the four years for a bachelor’s degree program. Look into local community colleges for degree programs in things like personal training, sports medicine, exercise science, kinesiology, physical education, or health and fitness management. 

An associate degree can be a stepping stone to a four-year degree and more advanced careers in fitness, health, and athletics. Just keep in mind that it will take more time and it will cost more money, up to or even over $10,000, depending on the school and program. 

The Best Certification Meets Your Needs and is Accredited

Clearly there are many types of personal trainer certifications. How to choose a personal trainer certification program is about finding the one that works for you and your career goals. However, there is one other factor to keep in mind: the validity and quality of the program and its certification exam. 

A quick search online turns up hundreds of programs claiming to be able to prepare you to become a personal trainer. The best way to know if a program is going to provide you with a valuable, high-quality education and a credential recognized by employers is to look for accreditation. Any program you choose should be accredited by one or more institutions recognized in the education, fitness, and online education industries 

Becoming a certified personal trainer may be the best thing you ever do for your career. It is so rewarding to work with and help people get healthier and happier with their bodies. Do your homework before choosing a certification program, and then select the one that will best help you meet your career goals 

Check out the ISSA’s Certified Personal Trainer – Self-Guided Study Program. It’s one of the best most versatile programs available for becoming a certified personal trainer within a matter of months.



1. Torpey, E. (2020, January). Strong Growth Projected in Fitness and Recreational Sports Centers, 2018-28. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved from