Who Certifies Personal Trainers?

Commercial Fitness

Who Certifies Personal Trainers?

Whether you're looking to hire a personal trainer or studying to get a personal trainer certification, where that certification comes from says a lot.

The following fitness organizations offering personal trainer certifications are accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA), a division of the Institute for Credentialing Excellence. In real-world terms, that means that each organization has been subjected to a third-party audit to verify the excellence of the certification program -- exactly what you want for the person who's going to safeguard a client's progress and well-being in the gym, or if you're going to be that person yourself.

The Most Recognized

Although more than a dozen personal trainer certifications are accredited through the NCCA, four of them are universally recognized -- and respected -- by every gym out there. They also pack quite a bit of name recognition with consumers.

  • The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) enjoys a long-standing reputation as the largest and most respected exercise science organization in the world. They set the policies and release the studies that steer, or at least inform, many of the other certifying organizations.
  • The American Council on Exercise (ACE) also focuses on a science-based curriculum, including plenty of original and ACE-sponsored research on whether common exercises and the latest fitness trends are truly effective.
  • The Collegiate Strength and Conditioning Coaches Association (CSCCa) certification is one of the most demanding fitness certifications you can get.
  • The Cooper Institute's personal training certification also has an excellent reputation. It's based on the clinical studies and research of the non-profit entity of the same name, which has accumulated a reference library of patient records and genetic data on more than 100,000 subjects.

Best for Athletes and Athletic Clients

If you hope to work with highly athletic clients or possibly train competitive athletes, any of the certifying organizations above are a great bet. Other NCCA-certified organizations that cater toward the more athletic, competitive end of the spectrum include the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) and the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA). With that said, the NASM also does an excellent job of teaching their trainers how to work with sedentary clients, which may represent the majority of the population that comes searching for your help.

Lesser-Known Certifications

The following organizations are recognized by the NCCA, but may not be quite as quickly recognized by some gym managers or clients:

  • Academy of Applied Personal Training Education
  • ACTION Certification
  • National Council for Certified Personal Trainers
  • National Council on Strength and Fitness
  • National Exercise and Sports Trainers Association
  • National Exercise Trainers Association
  • National Federation of Personal Trainers
  • PTA Global, Inc.

What to Look For

NCCA accreditation aside, other signs that you're getting a quality personal training certification include:

  • Intensive study requirements
  • A hands-on component to the test (although some very well-respected organizations no longer require this)
  • Continuing education and recertification requirements
  • Specialty certifications

However, keep in mind that some gym managers may choose to accept personal trainer certifications from only a select few groups. So, if you have your eye on working at a specific gym, check with them to see what they'll accept -- or aim for the four most recognized certifications listed above, just to be safe.

Finally, remember that no matter what sort of personal training certification you get, it's only as good as what you do with it. Also, once you're actually working with clients, you'll find yourself picking up all sorts of nuanced skills and information that can only be learned hands-on; so don't be afraid to let your on-the-ground experience inform the "academic" knowledge you got from the certification curriculum.