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How to Become a Certified Personal Trainer

How to Become a Certified Personal Trainer & How Long Does It Take

Reading Time: 6 minutes 49 seconds


DATE: 2023-12-19

Are you ready to learn how to become a personal trainer? It's a good time to get into the fitness industry. One reason is that jobs for fitness trainers and instructors are expected to increase 19 percent by the year 2031. This means 57,800 new job openings in the next few years. (1)

Another reason the fitness industry is becoming more appealing is you can do more online. Fitness trainers are no longer available only in the gym. Now you can be an online personal trainer. This opens your client base beyond your local area, giving you a broader market to work with.

If you're interested in becoming a fitness instructor or trainer, you may wonder, "How long does it take to become a personal trainer?" Answering this question tells you when you can expect to start doing a job you'll love. It also gives you some idea about how to budget before you begin to get paid.

Although that is a great question, there's something else you must consider first. That is whether becoming a fitness instructor is the career path you should follow.

Personal Training - Is This Career Right for You?

Fitness trainers and instructors can find these positions rewarding. How do you know if you would find these fitness industry positions the same? Qualities of a good personal trainer or fitness instructor include:

  • being genuinely interested in health and wellness

  • like working with and helping other people

  • enjoy fitness and working out

  • being fun and energetic

Do any of those resonate with you? Can you say that you agree with many of these personal training characteristics?

Even if you do, a little voice may pop into your head. This voice may tell you that you don't have what it takes to work with the best fitness trainers and instructors. But here's what they know that you don't: there's room in the fitness industry for everyone.

So, before you count this career option out, here's a list of things you don't need to have to become a certified personal trainer:

  • Pre-existing experience in the fitness industry

  • Years of experience working out

  • A muscle-bound weightlifter body

  • A perfect body

  • A bachelor's degree

If you don't need these things, what do you need to provide personal training services?

How to Become a Certified Personal Trainer

Here are the 5 essential steps to become a certified personal trainer:

  1. Get Your Prerequisites

  2. Choose and Enroll in a Personal Trainer Certification Program

  3. Prep for and Pass Your Certification Exam

  4. Find a Job

  5. Maintain Certification with Continuing Education and Specializations

Working as a fitness trainer requires a deep knowledge of how to work out effectively. It also involves knowing how to lead and guide others. So, becoming a successful personal trainer starts with education. And to enroll in a program, in most cases you only need a high school diploma.

Some organizations offer this training in person. Yet, this can create problems. Maybe the training is too far away. Or perhaps you're already stretched on time. Because of issues such as these, completing an online personal training program is a common way to become certified as a personal trainer.

You probably already have a good understanding of fitness basics. What you need to learn are more technical details, and that can easily be done through online courses that you finish at your own pace.

How to Choose Personal Trainer Courses

When looking for an online program, like ISSA's Personal Trainer Certification program, keep in mind that they're not all the same. Look for these important factors when picking a program:

  • Accreditation. Accreditation means that the program meets minimum training standards. The most commonly accepted personal trainer certifications are those associated with the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA). ISSA’s subsidiary, the National Council for Certified Personal Trainers (NCCPT) offers several NCCA accredited exams which enables ISSA to offer fitness professionals a wide variety of fitness certifications.

  • Professional affiliations. Online trainer programs should be connected to well-known fitness and athletic groups. The International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association is one to consider.

  • Organizational history. There should be information on the program's website about who founded the program and the guiding principles and mission.

  • Adequate study materials or instructor-led online personal training programs. These types of fitness education programs will help ensure your success with various exam preparation materials such as study guides, practice exam, lecture videos, and even live study sessions with fitness experts (ISSA's CPT Bootcamp).

  • Extra perks. Extras like small business training, marketing education, and partnerships with gyms will help you learn the business of training and lead you to your first gig.

When the personal training program is online, it makes it even more convenient to start. Plus, it's one of the fastest ways to become a personal trainer because many programs are self-paced.

The cost of a personal trainer program will depend on which one you choose. Most general programs run between $500 and $1,000. Find out what is included before you make your choice. There may be extra fees for books, technology costs, certification exam fees, or extra specializations.

Many online fitness schools will work with you to make monthly payments too. This helps the budget since you don't have to pay the entire cost upfront.

What Kind of Certifications Do You Need to Be a Personal Trainer?

State and local governments don't require that personal trainers have any specific type or degree of training, certification, or licensing. However, employers like gyms may have requirements. And certainly, clients hiring you will want to know that you have your certification.

To get certified, you'll need to take the courses so you can pass the certification exam. If you choose to specialize in certain areas like nutrition or bodybuilding, an additional exam will be needed for these certifications.

You may also work toward achieving elite or master personal trainer certification. These certifications demonstrate that you have gone beyond basic training and have more extensive knowledge of fitness and specialty areas.

Additionally, you'll need your CPR/AED certification.

Reasons to Become a Certified Personal Trainer

Certification isn't required to provide personal training services. That said, there are a lot of good reasons to become a certified personal trainer, starting with the ability to make a career out of what you love doing.

Working out, helping others, and promoting health and fitness are what this career is all about. Being able to be a part of it is the greatest reward. And certification gets you there

Another important benefit of obtaining your personal training certification is that you get a flexible career. You also have control over how you work. You make your own schedule. You can work part-time or full-time. And you set your own rates.

Certification also enables you to specialize. Focus on nutrition, strength, professional athletes, older adults, or people with disabilities. Certification tells these populations that you are educated in these areas.

Certification as a personal trainer can also lead to other areas. These include becoming a fitness instructor, athletic trainer, weight loss coach, wellness coach, and physical therapy assistant.

Or maybe you plan to use personal training as a stepping stone into sports medicine. Sports medicine involves helping injured people restore function and ability. In sports medicine, you can work with patients of all ages.

Being a fitness professional opens more than just one door to a new full-time career.

Continuing Education and Specializations

A basic certified personal trainer program is an excellent place to start your new career. It will teach you all the basics of working with clients:

  • Basic anatomy and physiology

  • Exercise science and kinesiology

  • Assessing fitness, health, and exercise needs

  • Creating individualized exercise programs for clients

  • Aligning nutrition goals with fitness goals

  • Working with special populations, like senior clients or prenatal women

  • Starting and building a successful personal training business

  • Landing a job at a gym or fitness center

Specialized certification courses will delve more deeply into different aspects of training. These will allow you to help more people and will also benefit your business as clients will come to you looking for the specialized training they need. You can earn specializations right away or take the courses later as a part of your continuing education.

Here are some ISSA specializations that you may consider:

  • Fitness nutrition or sports nutrition coach

  • Corrective exercise specialist

  • Group fitness instructor

  • Exercise as therapy

  • Bodybuilding specialist

  • Fitness for seniors

  • Youth fitness

  • Certified strength and conditioning coach

So... How Long Does It Take to Become a Personal Trainer?

With ISSA, you can get certified in as little as four weeks with the Fast Track program! But ultimately, the timeline is dictated by your needs and limitations. You can keep working at your current job and focus on your courses on evenings and weekends, which may take longer but will still help you get to your goal.

Once you become a certified personal trainer, the next step is to consider whether you want to work at a gym or open your own business. If you start your own business, you can provide services in person or act as an online personal trainer.

Starting a training business is a great goal to hit, but it can be challenging too. You need to be insured; you may have to register in the state in which you work; and you'll have to build up a client base.

Instead of starting a business right off the bat, you may want to consider getting a job at a gym or health club and putting in a couple of years of experience and work with clients before heading off on your own. Some gyms hire and pay personal trainers, while others rent space and time in the gym for you to train your own clients.

Finding that first job can be challenging, but the demand and the need are there. Start with your school and find out if it offers any assistance with job placement. Many online programs are affiliated with gyms and clubs and can get you interviews. Also, strike out on your own to see what's available. Be prepared to present sample workouts or a fitness assessment, and ideas for how you will train clients with different needs.

Becoming a certified personal trainer is a worthy goal. If you love working out, have a passion for fitness and health, and enjoy working with and helping people, this is a great career choice. As people become more interested in losing weight and being healthy, qualified and committed professional trainers will continue to be in demand.

Kickstart your exciting new career in personal training with ISSA's Personal Trainer Certification. You can take the course online from your own home and study at a pace that works for you. What are you waiting for—get started today!

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ISSA | Certified Personal Trainer

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  1. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Fitness Trainers and Instructors, at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/personal-care-and-service/fitness-trainers-and-instructors.htm (visited January 26, 2023).

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