The Best Personal Trainer Certification Programs



Training Tips

The Best Personal Trainer Certification Programs

Reading Time: 9 minutes


Date: 2019-06-27T00:00:00-04:00

So, you're looking for a top-notch personal training certification course? Well, we're happy you landed here. In this article, we want to help you choose the right course for you. We will try to leave out any bias and instead offer insights and tips to guide you towards a path that will help you achieve your goals.

But first...what brought you here?

  • I'm new to health and fitness and want to learn more so I can improve my health.

  • I've just graduated high school and don't want to take the traditional college route.

  • I've always been into fitness and have lots of people asking me to help them. I want to learn more so I can be a better role model.

  • I'm retired and want to stay active. I'd like to make a little money on the side and help my peers stay active, too.

  • I just left the military and want a job that is flexible, pays well, and that I can jump into without having to learn a bunch of new skills.

Whether or not one of these applies to you, we hope you'll find this article valuable. And if you have any questions, just click the chat box and we'll be happy to help you!

Why Take a Personal Trainer Certification Course?

To get fit and remain fit takes time, effort, and for most people, a whole lot of trial and error. A professional fitness trainer helps clients avoid the common mistakes people make when trying to get fit. They come alongside their clients to coach and teach them about the principles of health and wellness. Fitness professionals help their clients sift through the false or misleading information they encounter online, in magazines, on social media, etc. Fitness professionals inspire, motivate, and educate clients so they can reach fitness goals and live a healthier lifestyle.

To be this kind of leader, personal fitness trainers must

  • Apply concepts of physiology and kinesiology to design and implement safe and effective fitness programs

  • Understand and apply principles of nutrition to equip clients with the knowledge necessary to make healthy choices

  • Describe why and how specific programs work to help motivate clients to achieve fitness goals and integrate fitness into their lifestyle

However, gone are the days of counting reps and prescribing rigid meal plans.

Today's successful fitness professionals also employ psychological techniques to coach clients to make better decisions. They help clients build competency and autonomy. They create an environment where clients feel connected, challenged, and engaged.

These are common skills among top fitness professionals, but they didn't come naturally. Nor are they static concepts. These skills are learned and must be consistently practiced.

However, the fitness industry is not regulated. There are no requirements to become a personal trainer. There are trainers out there who train based on experience. They probably grew up playing sports and know their way around the gym. Experience is a valuable trait...but it is a weak foundation to build a successful career upon.

Fitness trainers must know the science behind exercise. They need to think critically and give sound advice to clients. What works for one person may not work for another. That is why it is best to take a personal training certification course. That is also why many certification organizations require their fitness trainers to take continuing education to maintain certifications.

A formal education is the best way to gain the skills necessary to be a successful personal trainer. There are many options available, which we'll discuss in this article.

Although the fitness industry is not regulated, many top employers require their fitness trainers to be certified. A certificate means you're more than just a fit body with a heart to help people. Becoming a certified personal fitness trainer means you have the requisite knowledge to support clients on their fitness journey. And if you want to work as a personal fitness trainer, a certificate boosts your competitive edge.

Types of Personal Trainer Certification Courses

There are currently four paths to becoming a certified personal trainer:

Mail-in exam:

It is as simple as it sounds. On this path, you buy the course and write in your answers on the exam form. Mail the exam back to the school and they will grade it and let you know whether you've passed.

Pros: Quick. Simple. Low-cost.

Cons: Industry pros look down upon trainers with these certificates as the answers can be copied from others, found online, or simply looked up in the textbook without learning the concepts.

Weekend or multi-session training classes:

Often run as workshops, these classes are good options for learning about specialized populations. However, pre-requisite knowledge is necessary. Many classes tend to be more for exam-prep than teaching and learning.

Pros: Interact with instructors. Exam-prep. Meet other professionals.

Cons: Pre-requisite knowledge and skills necessary. Fairly expensive.

Online personal training course studies:

Learn at your own pace with interactive platforms offering content via video, audio, and text. Take quizzes to test your knowledge. Join discussion forums to chat with current and past students.

Pros: Great for those with busy schedules. Go as fast or slow as you like. Multiple formats to meet multiple learning styles. Cost effective.

Cons: Limited interaction with instructors. Printed materials may cost extra. Not the best choice for those who want accountability to complete the course.

Undergraduate and graduate degrees programs:

The traditional education route for those who want to work for large organizations, in clinical practice, or in a sports medicine role.

Pros: A degree is highly regarded by many employers.

Cons: Unlike personal training, jobs available after earning an Associate or Bachelor's degree are regulated and require licensure and continuing education to actively practice. Requires at least four to six years of education. Very expensive.

Now that you know what kinds of programs are available, here are some other topics for you to consider while choosing the right one for you.

Learning Style

There are many different styles of learning.

Visual: You prefer pictures and learn best when you can see the step-by-step process for how something is done.

Aural: You learn best by listening to lectures. Adding music to study sessions also helps you figure things out.

Verbal: Reading and writing notes are the best way for you to learn.

Physical: You prefer hands-on experience and learn best when you can do what you learn.

Think about how you learn best. Most people prefer one learning style over another, but often learn best when they can mix styles. For example, maybe you like to write technical definitions in your own words to help you understand them better. But you also want to get hands-on experience when learning how to perform a movement or conduct an assessment.

Before choosing a personal training certification course, make sure they offer training materials that are compatible with your learning style.

Future Career

Where you want to work and the clients you want to serve should be major factors in choosing the right program. Certified personal fitness trainers can work at many different locations:

  • Large or small gyms

  • Group fitness studios

  • Resorts

  • Cruise ships

  • Local parks

  • In-home fitness studios

  • In clients' homes

  • Online

Pursuing a Bachelor's degree in sports medicine or athletic training further broadens your opportunities. You can work for:

  • Local school athletics programs

  • College sports teams

  • Professional sports teams

  • Clinical practices

  • Hospitals

Timeline for Completion

How much time can you dedicate to learning a new skill?

How soon do you want to become a certified personal fitness trainer?

Look for certification programs that fit into your lifestyle and get you to your goal in the timeline you're comfortable with.

For some, an open-ended course offers the freedom they need to fit studying into their busy lifestyle. Others need the added accountability of a structured course, like a 6-month or 12-week study program.


What kind of experience and knowledge are required for you to enroll in the course?

If you are interested in taking a specialized course to train, for example, seniors or pre-natal women, are there courses that you need to take before you enroll for the specialty course?

Many programs offer stand-alone courses that will teach you basic requisite knowledge and then move on to specialized instruction. However, college courses are structured differently, and you may need to take certain courses before choosing a specialty. For example, you may need to take an anatomy and physiology class, then a bioenergetics class, before being allowed to take a course on athletic training.


Before getting excited about a program, ask these questions:

  • How much does the course cost?

  • Are there payment options?

  • Is there a money-back guarantee?

You should consider how much you can afford and how long it will take for you to recoup your investment. Look for satisfaction guarantees and ask about the requirements for getting your money back if the program isn't what you thought it would be.

Also, keep in mind that the cost of a course isn't always an indicator of the quality of the content. Some courses are very expensive but very low quality.

What are the Best Personal Trainer Certification Courses?

We would love to tell you that the ISSA offers the best certification courses on the planet and that you should sign up and get certified with us. But the truth is, we're not a good fit for everyone and not everyone is a good fit for us.

What makes a course "the best" is different for everyone. So, how do you choose the best program for you?

How to Choose a Personal Trainer Certification Course

There is one way to choose the best personal trainer certification course for you.

1. Read the reviews.

Look at the customer ratings of the organization. Based on a five-star scale, where do they fall? Are they below four stars? That's not good.

Why? People are two- to three-times more likely to rant about bad experiences because it caused them pain. Psychologically-speaking, we tend to analyze experiences that hurt so we can learn from them. Then we share those experiences so others don't get hurt. Since there is no pain in a positive experience, people simply don't share. Apparently, it's a "survival" trait.

What drives a customer to leave a five-star review? Research suggests that the really great reviews come from people who purchased a product or service more than three months ago. This means they've had the opportunity to fully engage with the product or service.

But that isn't enough to leave a five-star review. Think about the last coffee mug you bought. You probably didn't leave a review even after you'd been drinking from it for a few months.

When someone leaves a shiny, five-star review, it's because the product or service impacted their life beyond reasonable expectation. In other words, the experience was so extraordinary, they felt an intrinsic desire to help others feel amazing, too!

Take, for example, this review from ISSA Certified Trainer, Liesa Wayson:

Only 2 months after being certified I got hired as a Fitness Coordinator and starting making my income as a fitness trainer for Marines and Civilians. The knowledge I have gained by getting certified through ISSA has laid a solid foundation for further certification I got afterward.

It is remarkable (although not uncommon for ISSA alumni) to be hired so quickly after successfully completing a class. Liesa was so excited she had to share!

Edith Rodriguez shares how impressed she was by the depth of understanding she gained from the CFT course, even being a seasoned exercise enthusiast:

I've been exercising for years and it's crazy how much I learned. Pretty great to learn how and why things happen. Definitely recommend for people that want to train or even just want to expand their knowledge.

Negative reviews are just as valuable as positive reviews. They let you know the shortfalls of the product or service. For example, Emily Parker says that online learning wasn't the easiest way for her to learn:

I liked the course, it was hard and I feel like I learned a lot. I learned that an online course wasn't gonna be easy. I value my education I got through this course and can't wait to see what opportunities lie ahead for me!!

Hard-core studier, Nofar Dahan, offers these insights:

I wish the book had more of a easier vocabulary (especially for those who first language wasn't English) and it should be hard cover... I opened up the book sooo many times it got destroyed. But other wise the chapters were greatly divided and pictures were helpful as well

By the way, the ISSA is working on delivering different learning formats for different learning types. We're also working on making our textbooks more easily accessible for students who are not native English speakers.

According to a recent article, it takes four five-star reviews to make up for every one-star review. And it takes 40 positive customer experiences to generate enough five-star reviews to cancel out the one-star review. If a course has anything less than four stars, their positive-to-negative customer service experiences are tipping the scales the wrong way. You may want to keep looking.

Best personal Trainer Certification Infographic

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