How To Become A Certified Personal Trainer

If you have dreams of one day becoming a Certified Personal Trainer (CPT) this post is for you! I have been a CPT for over 14 years and actively training in some form or fashion for 10 of those years. I have completed 3 different certifications, as well as multiple fitness certificates.

Today I want to share with you what I did to get my certifications, as well as what the best certifications are based on what your goals may be.

I will also share some tips I've learned and wish I'd know during the process of becoming a Certified Personal Trainer.


First, What is a Personal Trainer?

A personal trainer is defined as, "a person who works one-on-one with a client to plan or implement an exercise or fitness regimen".

Personal Trainers also work with clients to establish their fitness goals and motivate them through their fitness journey. Some Personal Trainers recommend eating guidelines but usually do not prescribe a diet to their clients.

Personal Trainers work for a gyms, recreation centers, medical institutions or for themselves, running their own Personal Training business. This list is not all inclusive.

I have done all of the above with the exception of working at a medical institution.

I firmly believe a Personal Trainer should be motivating, encouraging, and an advocate for health and fitness. Most of all I believe a personal trainer should love helping people.

My Personal Training History/Methods of Receiving a Certification: 

I earned my first certification through The International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA) in 2000. I did this through their self-study program while I was still Active Duty Air Force. At the time, this was a popular certification and had military friendly programs. It took me close to a year to study and complete the certification exam.

I did not perform any personal training with this certification. I sought this certification because I really loved exercise and it was something I really wanted to have. I also knew that one day I wanted to do personal training.

I would recommend a self-study program to someone who is somewhat familiar with exercise, the way the body and muscles function as well as creating basic exercise routines.

Self-Study programs requires you to memorize a lot of information and does not provide hands-on experience. Many self-study programs now however offer webcasts, these allow you to see exercise demonstrations, form corrections and more.

My second certification is from the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA). I have renewed my certification through AFAA every two years since I first received it in 2004. I am still currently certified through AFAA and I like them.

I have done both a live 2-day In-class certification, as well as a self-study renewal or re-certification through AFAA.

The In-class certification was very informative and I learned a lot. I was able to practice and demonstrate exercises on my fellow classmates.

I also liked that I was able to ask questions on the spot from the instructor.

I decided to switch to AFAA because they focus a lot on group exercise which I was teaching more of at the time. This certification was beneficial to me as a physical training leader in the Air Force, as well as for running my own bootcamp business.

I also received  a bootcamp certification through the American Council on Exercise (ACE) and I also have a TRX certification.

Both of these were received at an on-site certification class.

What to look for:

There are several organizations offering personal training certifications on the market today. Some good and some not so good. I consider an organization "good" when it is reputable and accredited.

The organization should provide certifications that teach accurate, scientific information backed by research. They should also offer support services to people who certify through them.

You don't want a certification from a company that is not updating their materials and are teaching outdated information.

Look for a certification from a company that remains updated and "hip" to current trends, workouts, certifications and the fitness industry in general.

Things are always changing in this industry and you should have a certification that adapts.

How to choose:

If you are planning to use your certification at a gym, research and find out what certifications they look for when hiring. Most of them will tell you on the application.

This also applies if you are trying to work at any other institution that requires a certification. Having a certification high on their lists of preferred, will help you possibly get the job over someone else that does not have a preferred certification.

If you are planning to use your certification to run your own business, get a certification that suits your needs and offer continuing education units (CEU) that appeal to things you want to specialize in at your business.

I have never once in all my years of training have a client say, "I can't hire you because you have this or that certification". Actually I have never had them even ask where my certification was from.

They were  just happy that I was knowledgeable, professional and got them results.

I'd say overall research all of the certifications out there. See what trainers that you admire have, and ultimately pick one that feels right to you. The certification is not cheap so pick one that you feel is worth investing in.

Speaking of price, I have found that certifications can range from $250-$600 maybe higher. It all depends on the organization and how they sell their certification packages.

Getting Certified:

Once you decide on a certification and received your materials, you need to study. I suggest getting note cards to write down body parts, definitions and any other material that you would need to memorize.

Try to get a family member or friend to let you practice on them. Go to the gym and try out the moves you are studying about, also create some workout routines.

All of these things will give you experience and help you when taking your test.

Taking the Test:

You will either take the test in the classroom on the last day of your certification class, or If you are doing a self-study you will need to schedule a proctor to watch you take the test.

Proctors can be set up numerous testing locations suggested by the organization.

Most organizations will allow you to take the test twice before failing you.

If you do fail many organizations will have you to review the materials and try again at a later time.

Sometimes this requires you to pay an additional fee as well.

Getting your Certificate:

If you are taking an on-site class you should be able to receive your certificate on the spot, that is if you pass the exam and turn in your CPR/AED certification.

When you go the self-study route you usually have to submit your test and mail in a copy of your CPR/AED certification. You then have to wait 4-6 weeks to receive your certification in the mail. The times may vary.

What else do I need to know:

Get CPR/AED Certified

In order to receive your certification you will need to have a current CPR/AED certification. The American Heart Association offers these certification just about every where across the United States and offer them quite often. The certification is usually good for 2 years and is around $50.

I would suggest you have this certification before you take your CPT test. This will save you time and get your actual certificate sooner.

Get Liability Insurance

I suggest that every personal trainer have liability insurance of their own. Even if you work for a gym that has coverage, I still recommend you have your own.

This is especially true if you have your own business. Having this will protect you and your clients. DO NOT go without insurance!

If you run your own business I also suggest you have your own health history forms, consent and liability release forms.

These release you of any responsibility due to illness or injuries caused to your clients by starting a new exercise plan. You should also request clearance from their doctors before prescribing them a plan.

Whats next?

Once you have your certification, you are ready to train. Make sure you stay educated and updated ever after you have your certification.

You will be required to renew it every two years or so. It is important to get your continuing education units (CEU) completed throughout that time.

This will keep you from allowing your certification to expire, and having to complete the entire process all over again.

I am always reading and educating myself on you exercise trends, what successful trainers are doing and finding ways to better myself as a trainer. I would suggest any new trainer do the same.

I hope this post has been helpful to someone and will help you on your journey to become a certified personal trainer.