How to Get Certified as a Personal Trainer

Most people don’t realize that becoming a personal trainer doesn’t require years of schooling and preparation. If you are already committed to your own fitness and passionate about helping others attain their wellness goals, you can become a certified personal trainer (CPT) in as little as three months. Though it’s not a job for the faint of heart – requiring plenty of hustle, self-motivation, and an unconventional work schedule – it can become a sustainable and meaningful career if you’re willing to apply yourself. Wondering where to get started? This guide will give you the steps you need to begin your journey towards becoming a CPT.

How to Get Certified as a Personal Trainer in Five Steps

Step 1. Pick your certification route.

The National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) offers one of the oldest and most widely respected personal trainer certifications available. Their program is known for being rigorous and detail-oriented, with an emphasis on training populations most in need of personal training – overweight clients, people recovering from injuries, and those who are new to fitness. A NASM certification will get you through the door at most personal training jobs and it’s definitely worth the extra study time.

NASM offers a variety of study assistance options to accompany the test, ranging from a relatively bare-bones, study-on-your-own option (coming in at approximately $600) to a $1300 option that includes access to a study coach and post-certification employment support, as well as other aids. Take your time reviewing the various options and be honest with yourself about your study habits and your knowledge of fitness and the human body. It’s better to spend a little more up front than risk the additional – and high – cost and stress of retesting.

Step 2. Get CPR/AED certified.

You must have a current CPR/AED certification before you take your NASM test. At redcross.org you can find certification programs in your area. Both classroom and online/classroom hybrid options are available. Your workplace or school may also offer programs, depending on your job or field of study. Get this out of the way early so that you’ll be prepared once your CPT testing time comes around.

Step 3. Study!

This is the actual work of earning your certification. NASM requires you to complete your test within 180 days of buying the program. It’s up to you to determine whether you need the full time or if you’re positioned to take the test with less than six months of prep time. Many CPTs complete their certification within 10-12 weeks.

Though everyone’s study style and habits are different, most students will need to do the following tasks in order to properly prepare for the NASM test:

  • Read through the entire NASM textbook.
  • Watch the accompanying informational videos and take notes.
  • Read the study guide and use flashcards/apps/other memory aids to memorize pertinent information – the study guide is indispensable and worth focusing on in your study time.
  • Take all of the practice quizzes and tests – as many times as needed until you can pass them easily.
  • Practice all of the exercises and perform all of the fitness assessments found in the textbook on yourself or with a mock client (commission a family member or friend who’s trying to get fit!). The importance of practicing what you’re studying can’t be overstated. It will truly help the information “stick” in your head.

Pocket Prep offers over 500 questions and detailed answer explanations. The Exam Readiness section will help you focus on the areas in which you’re the weakest. Each explanation comes with a corresponding page number to the NASM textbook so you can maximize your understanding of the material.

Don’t cut corners, especially when it comes to the fitness assessment and muscle imbalance portions of the textbook/study guide. The NASM test places a lot of emphasis on these two important topics.

Step 4. Take your test.

Keep in mind that you’ll need to schedule your test a month or two in advance in order to get the testing time and location that you prefer. Pay attention to the details when preparing to attend your test – what you can and can’t bring, where specifically you need to be and when, and so on. It pays to be a little obsessive about this information in order to avoid last-minute stress that could compromise your test results!

Be sure to eat a meal with plenty of protein and healthy fats prior to your test and to get a good night’s sleep the night before. Trust yourself and your commitment to the study process! The test is challenging but very doable if you prepare sufficiently.

Step 5. Maintain your certification.

Passing your NASM test is the only the beginning of your educational journey as a CPT. Beyond the basic requirements of continuing education (up-to-date CPR/AED certification and 20 hours of continuing education credits [CECs] every two years), it is so important to educate yourself independent of any industry requirements. Strive to stay up to date on the latest research and methodology within the fitness world.

Consider acquiring one of NASM’s advanced certifications, which include programs focused on corrective exercise, performance enhancement, and special populations. The more specialized education you can offer your clients, the more your niche value will go up and the easier time you’ll have finding clients who will stay committed to you for the long haul.


You’re Certified – What’s Next?

Once you’ve achieved certification, the next step is finding a job and building a career. This is a less linear process than getting the certification itself. A career as a CPT offers a lot of flexibility and potential directions of employment, but a wide variety options can send some people into paralysis. Keep the most important thing in mind when you’re starting out: Strive to get as much experience as possible. Whether you work for yourself or at a gym, most everyone has to “do their time” at the beginning of their CPT career. This means long hours, less-than-ideal pay, and catering to a wide variety of clients.

Strive to connect with every person you train and to learn something from them, however small. Clients are looking for connection and support, so be there for them. Really listen to their goals, struggles, and feedback, and educate yourself in order to best serve their needs. Go the extra mile and work to add a dose of positivity, reassurance, and direction to your client’s time spent in the gym. Being a CPT is all about relationships, and the more you can build, the more your momentum will build on itself.

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