So you want to know how to become a personal trainer. Well, the first thing you’ll need is a personal training certification.
Having your certification demonstrates a certain level of expertise to your clients and helps to differentiate your services from other personal trainers. In such a growing yet highly competitive industry, you’ll want to do your best to solidify your reputation in the market and stand out from the crowd.
Some fitness professionals will choose to pursue an even higher education, such as obtaining a bachelor’s or master’s degree in exercise science, physiology, anatomy or kinesiology. Of course, the more education you have the better off you’ll be. However, this isn’t necessarily the right path for everyone it can be a very lengthy and costly one.
Getting certified can be confusing at first, but don’t worry, it’s actually a pretty straightforward process. Here are four simple steps to get your personal training certification.
1. Select A Certifying Organization and Register
Do a quick internet search for “personal training certification” and you’ll find results of dozens of organizations offering very similar programs.
So how do you figure out which of these programs is right for you? Here are the top five certifying organizations that are most widely-recognized today.
- National Association of Sports Medicine (NASM) – Founded in 1987, this FOR-profit organization offers the Certified Personal Trainer (CPT) certification, as well as a whole host of other programs, including Corrective Exercise Specialist (CES) and Performance Enhancement Specialist (PES). With so many advanced specializations, NASM offers an excellent way to develop and expand your career.
- American Council on Exercise (ACE) – Founded in 1985, this non-profit organization was founded in response to the growing need for the US to have a centralized authority on physical activity. Often quoted in news articles, this establishment is very well known throughout the country.
- American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) – Founded in 1954, this non-profit organization was the very first to certify fitness professionals. Being the oldest in the industry, it is often seen as go-to standard.
- National Exercise and Sports Trainers Association (NESTA) – Founded in 1992, this FOR-profit organization is growing rapidly and offers one of the most affordable CPT options available today.
- National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) – Founded in 1978, this non-profit organization offers both CPT and Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) certifications. The CSCS certification requires a bachelor’s degree and is sometimes regarded as more notable than a CPT designation.
There are literally hundreds of other certifications out there, but you’re better off sticking with one of these reputable organizations. I personally chose the NASM certification based on the recommendations of my trusted mentors when I was just starting out.
There’s really no “best” personal training certification, and, as long as it is recognized by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA), your best bet is to pick the program that fits your needs and budget. Each organization offers excellent study content that, while based on slightly different methodologies, are all very similar in nature.
While the certifications aren’t exactly cheap ($200-$1,000), think of it as an investment into your career. Just as though you were attending school, you’d need to spend money on classes, supplies and books – this is no different.
Once you’ve determined the right certification for you, visit their website to register and purchase the study materials.
2. Study All The Materials
Once you’ve received the study materials, it’s time to hunker down and dive straight in.
Everyone has their own unique style of preparing for exams. For me, I need to be in the right frame of mind and remain fully focused. In order to do this, I opt for a clean, quiet and well-lit space to be free of any distractions. This helps me to avoid surfing the web, checking my smartphone or getting up for anything that does not contribute to my success.
Take advantage of all of the resources you’ve purchased. If you have access to online videos and courses, these can be invaluable to those who are more receptive to audio and visual content.
Your study materials should come with sample practice questions. Be sure to do them all. They will help to solidify the material in your mind and to get you familiar with the types of questions you’ll encounter on test day. I’ve also found that practice questions are often nearly identical to the real exam content, so much so, that you’re putting yourself at a major disadvantage by not going through this valuable exercise.
Take notes while you study. They are helpful to refer back to as a study guide when you want review the most important topics of each section. Without them, you’ll find yourself inefficiently flipping through pages and pages of information far too frequently.
Don’t forget to take short breaks in between long periods of studying. This allows you to get a drink of water, use the restroom, or simply to allow your mind and eyes a rest. Try to limit breaks to five to ten minutes in order to stay on track with your progress.
Whatever your style is, just make sure to study, study, study. Take this stuff seriously and always stay positive. You are preparing for your new career and want to do all you can to start off on the right foot.
3. Take The Exam, Pass The Exam
Chances are you probably haven’t taken an exam in a while. Chances are even greater that you haven’t taken one like this before.
I say this because you’ll need to schedule the exam at an authorized testing center in your area. This is a proctored facility with all sorts of security checks in place to prevent any sort of cheating. Don’t forget to smile – you’ll even have your picture taken.
Typically, you’ll need to bring two forms of photo ID (driver’s license, passport, etc.), valid CPR/AED card, and a printed copy of the scheduling confirmation with you. While some testing centers may offer temporary-use lockers, no other personal belongings (coats, books, and yes, even cell phones) will be allowed in the testing area, so it’s best to leave these items at home.
Be sure to call the testing center to set an appointment well in advance as they are usually proctoring many other types of exams and preferred time slots may fill up quickly.
Get a good night’s rest the night before, and whatever you do, don’t be late! Arrive early, as these testing centers have strict rules in place and will prohibit you from taking the exam even if you’re just one minute late.
During the exam, breathe, relax and always double-check your work. Spotting a few careless mistakes could mean the difference between a passing and failing grade.
If worst comes to worst and you need to retake the exam, you’ll be required to purchase a retest. Multiple retests can add up and burn a hole in your wallet, so be sure to put forth extra effort up front to score a passing grade.
4. Start Your Career As A Personal Trainer
As you can see, getting your personal training certification really isn’t that difficult at all. It’s just a matter of dedicating the time and energy to studying and passing a single exam. Find the study approach that works best for you, and you’re well on your way to your new career.
While a certification doesn’t make the trainer, it’s one of the best ways to show your clients you are an expert in your field.
Once you’ve passed the exam, you’re ready to get started with your first client. Before you know it, you’re on to your second, third and fourth clients until you’ve got a full schedule and growing income stream. Your new credential opens up so many doors, the potential is limitless.
Never stop learning and growing. It is extremely important to get recertified periodically and always stay up to date with relevant continuing education. Doing this alone can bring you immense success and fulfillment throughout your career as a certified personal trainer.
Which organization is your certification through? Do you have any recommendations or tips for other readers? Please feel free to share in the comments below!