There are certain personal trainer education requirements before you get started in your career. These include either a formal personal trainer degree or a personal trainer certification to officially become qualified to develop exercise programs and supervise clients.
Many established universities and colleges will offer some sort of associate’s, bachelor’s, or master’s degree programs in the field, emphasizing physical education, exercise science, kinesiology, strength and conditioning, sports and fitness nutrition, sport psychology, and athletic training.
Similarly, there are a variety of personal trainer certifications, both general and focused, that can be obtained through numerous certifying organizations. While it is not absolutely necessary for personal trainers to be licensed or certified to service clients, it is usually difficult to find gainful employment or succeed as an independent personal trainer without some form of credential. If your clients were to ask how you are accredited, it’s much better to have something to show other than a blank stare.
In addition to personal training, there is a whole host of other career options you can pursue with a degree or certification including yoga guru, aerobics instructor, athletic coach, physical education teacher, sports coordinator, and corporate fitness consultant.
Personal Trainer Degrees
It is rare for gyms and fitness centers to insist on a full-on university degree, but personal trainer degree programs are available in fitness-focused subjects like nutrition, exercise physiology, and even physical therapy to help clients rehabilitate and recover from injuries.
The typical prerequisite at most universities is simply a high school diploma to obtain either an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. To enter a master’s level program, most universities require a bachelor’s degree in sports medicine, exercise science or similar.
Areas of study include some general core requirements plus a concentrated study of nutrition, physical education, exercise science, and kinesiology. Students learn to design and evaluate fitness programs. Aspiring personal trainers are provided with a formal education in human anatomy, fitness, first aid, weight training, athletics, aerobic exercise, and sports nutrition.
At the bachelor’s level, in-depth study of the theory of exercise, weight management, and health analysis comprises the curriculum. At the master’s level, coursework can include a comprehensive study of physiology and other advanced topics like sports psychology, biostatistics, and epidemiology.
Personal Trainer Certifications
While a personal trainer certification is not an absolute requirement, most clients and employers will want to see some credential behind your name. Several organizations offer personal trainer certifications, including:
- National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM)
- American Council on Exercise (ACE)
- American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM)
- National Exercise and Sports Trainers Association (NESTA)
- International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA)
- National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA)
Good certification programs cover the general principles of anatomy, physiology, biomechanics, client assessment, exercise program design, nutrition, client motivation, special groups like youth and senior populations, and injury prevention. Depending on the certification programs completed, certification recipients are qualified in the science and practice of personal training, fitness, nutrition, and exercise therapy, and are trained to assess, supervise, motivate, and guide the general population of clients.
Other personal trainer education requirements include successfully obtaining a CPR/AED certificate. This can be obtained by taking a cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) course and automated external defibrillator (AED) course offered through various organizations such as the American Heart Association. This is generally $40-$60, depending on where you live.
Personal trainer certification exams are administered and conducted by specialized testing centers across the country to ensure consistency and integrity of the testing process. Additionally, continuing education and the ongoing updating of credentials, or recertification, are typically required every 2-4 years. The continuing education coursework can often be completed at your own pace by taking the certification exam online or in person.
Which Certification Is Best?
There are countless options to becoming certified as a personal trainer and choosing the right one for you can feel overwhelming. Here are some questions to help you decide on the right program and institute:
- Is the program accredited by a nationally-recognized organization?
- Is the cost in line with industry averages? Online certifications can be found for as little as $50, but often lack industry credibility.
- Is it widely accepted in the fitness industry?
- Is it accepted at the specific organization where you wish to pursue a career?
- Is it recognized internationally?
- Does the certifying organization offer a wide range of programs?
- Does the program offer self-study or guided-study? Online programs or classroom study?
- Is the course material comprehensive?
- How is the exam administered?
- Does the organization offer career placement services or guarantees?
Degree Versus Certification
To decide between a personal trainer degree and a personal trainer certification, consider the following pros and cons:
Advantages of certification programs:
- The cost of personal trainer certification is considerably less than a degree. The cost of study material usually ranges from $500 to $800 and testing from $200 to $400. On the other hand, an associate’s or bachelor’s degree can set you back by $10,000, $20,000 or even $40,000 per year. (TIP: You can often save a few bucks by finding the textbook and other useful materials at online retailer such as Amazon.com)
- The time investment for a certification is far less than is required for a degree. For an associate’s degree, you’re looking at 2 years, a bachelor’s degree 4 years, and a master’s degree 2 additional years. A certification can be had within a much more reasonable 3-6 months.
- Clients do not usually care about a degree and will be equally impressed with a good certification, testimonials, word-of-mouth reputation and your personality.
- It is possible to be hugely successful without a costly personal trainer degree simply using a combination of good fundamental knowledge obtained through your certification and training experience, combined with a bit of business-savvy that can be learned throughout this website.
- Some gyms require a personal trainer certification even if you already have an exercise science degree.
Advantages of a degree:
- The majority of hospitals medical facilities will require a degree level education and will not accept a basic certification.
- High-profile coaching jobs for athletes or sports teams usually require a degree.
- If it turns out personal training is not your permanent career path, a degree may open doors to other related careers.
- A degree program offers a greater depth and scope of study.
- A degree is more universally recognized and accepted than a certification.
The Right Credential For Your Business
Because of the difference in cost and time commitment, it is generally recommended that independent personal trainers obtain a personal trainer certification rather than a degree. Of course, it depends on what type of career you eventually want to pursue, but a personal trainer degree is quite costly and takes years to complete.
At the end of the day, it is your ability to motivate and encourage your clients to see results that will create success in your independent personal training business. So, whichever route you decide to take, just remember to continuously focus on building your training and business skills in order to offer the best possible product to your clients.