Personal Trainer Certification - Which Program Is Right for You?

So you want to be a personal trainer. Great choice. You’ll have the chance to work with all types of people and help them reach their fitness goals. Before you can work with anybody, however, you’ll need to get certified. The question is where. Which organization provides the most reputable certification? You’ll find quite a few opinions out there, and they’re divided fairly equally.

There are a number of organizations that provide personal trainer certification, but five in particular generally seem to come up the most:

  1. American College of Sports Medicine - ACSM
  2. International Sports Sciences Association - ISSA
  3. National Academy of Sports Medicine - NASM
  4. National Personal Training Institute - NPTI
  5. National Strength and Conditioning Association - NSCA

Truth be told, a certification from any of these organizations will be enough to satisfy any client concerns. Generally, a client who asks about your certification just wants to know that the organization that certified you has credibility within the industry; you likely won’t find anybody with an affinity for any one organization.

With that said, each organization has its own unique training program, and what you’ll learn will help you in different ways. Here’s a breakdown of the best options for you depending on your needs and interests:

Trainers Who Want to Work with Non-Specialized Clients:

For trainers who mostly want to work with clients who aren’t professional athletes or bodybuilders and who won’t need clinical programs developed for them, two choices that may be right for you are ISSA and NASM. Both focus on corrective training programs to help clients get in shape.

ISSA and NASM are two of the largest organizations for personal trainers in the nation, and you likely won’t run into any issues in your career having been certified by either one of them.

Trainers Who Want to Work With High-Level Athletes:

If you’re hoping to work with athletes, whether it be in a team sport setting or as bodybuilders, NSCA is your best route. They’re generally recognized as leaders in human performance research. If you’re hoping to take your NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) exam, this is the recommended choice. If you’re hoping to become a strength coach, for example, this is the certification program for you.

Note, however, that NSCA is also regarded as one of the most difficult certification courses to complete. If you’re hoping to get certified quickly and relatively easily, you may have a harder time with NSCA.

Insurance Canopy does not cover personal trainers providing sport-specific training.

Trainers Who Want to Work With Clinical/Medical Patients:

If you’re hoping to work with clients who are coming off of injury or surgery, or clients who are currently struggling with an illness, ACSM will be your best choice. They’ll provide training on working with clients such as these. Their research and training guides have been so expertly done that they’re widely used in clinical settings and even in universities. In fact, many hospitals and wellness centers require ACSM certification.

Trainers Who Want to Work in a Team

If you prefer working face-to-face with instructors and other aspiring personal trainers, NPTI is your best bet. With offices all over the country, you’ll have the chance to go to classes in person and get more of a practical learning experience. Of course, online options are available as well, so if completing your training in person doesn’t fit your schedule at the moment, NPTI still has something for you.

Additionally, NPTI’s certification diploma programs don’t require you to recertify, so once you’ve been through the program once, you’re good to go.

How to Make the Right Choice—And Pass the Test

We’ve given you a brief overview of what these major certifying organizations have to offer. For a deeper dive, check out this article that our friends at Fitness Mentors put together. There, you’ll find a breakdown and side by side comparison of accreditations, prices, popularity, and more.

Of course, simply deciding on a certification to pursue isn’t enough. Fitness Mentors can help here as well—check out this step by step preparation guide they’ve put together that will take you through everything from test prep to landing your dream job.

Once You’re Certified, Get Covered

Once you’re on the job, you’ll face a lot of risks. From client injuries to property damage, just one slip-up (which can happen to anybody) can end up with you being the target of a lawsuit. Personal trainer insurance can protect you from these suits.

Don’t let a lawsuit ruin your personal training career before you even get the chance to enjoy it. Get covered as soon as you get to work.