The internet has brought a wealth of joy into our lives (my bugs?). It has also become a place for rampant misinformation and confusion. The personal training industry has not escaped this. Plenty of non-qualified individuals calling themselves ‘trainers’ are running all over the world wide web. 

The upside for upstanding people like you is that many people know to look for proper credentialing and training when it comes to fitness professionals.

So, how do you go about beginning your journey into personal training? We’ll break it down in five steps. 

1. Prerequisites & eligibility 

To become a personal trainer, you must seek licensure through a governing body. To seek licensure, you must first possess several things:

  • GED or high school diploma
  • CPR (Cardiopulmonary resuscitation) certification
  • AED (Automated External Defibrillator) certification 
  • Be 18 years of age or older

CPTs do not need to complete a four-year undergraduate degree, though basic biology and physiology would be very helpful. There are, however, some certifications in the fitness field that do require a four-year degree. For example, if you want to become a certified strength coach, you’ll need that bachelor’s degree. 

If you plan on a four-year degree and know you want to be in the fitness industry, here are some recommended areas of study:

  • Kinesiology
  • Exercise science
  • Sports medicine
  • Physical education

2. Research your preferred certification

The number of different types of certifications can be overwhelming because there are many different certifications and even more focus areas. Spend some time reading about different organizations and talk to PTs if you can. Google physical therapists in your area and see what kind of certifications they have. 

Here are several well-known organizations to start with and basic facts: 

How do I pick a program?

Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer here. The short answer is do your research and base your certification selection on what fits for you now and in the future. Here’s a quick comparison on some of the most popular CPT certifications: ACE vs. NASM vs. NSCA CPTs. 

Think about your future goals – do you want to work at a gym and train clients? Do you want to work at a college and help athletes? Do you want to work in an assisted care setting with older clients? Each organization has a specific focus on their methodology and learning. Find one that aligns with how you want to use your certification. 

3. Take a course and find quality exam prep

How you prepare for your exam will depend largely on your background and knowledge. Perhaps you’re someone who worked in an athletic training room in college and majored in sports medicine. You may already have a solid grasp of concepts and body mechanics and won’t need as much study time in these areas. 

But if you are brand new to the fitness industry, a structured course might be helpful. 

Most governing organizations offer courses that prepare you for their specific certification. As with most professions, these courses cost money. ACSM’s course currently costs $529 which does not include the exam registration fee. ACE has a few different options that range from $489 to $864. NASM is on the higher end with costs ranging from $599 to $1619.

If you want to take a course, carefully compare your options. Think about your budget and the time you can dedicate to your studies. 

Can you prepare on your own? Yes – absolutely. 

Gather your books and make yourself a study plan. Review your chosen exam’s content outline.  This is going to be more involved than simply reading a chapter here and there. You need to know your material inside and out. Peruse social media for leading influencer advice and browse Reddit for topic help when you hit a snag. You’ll have to be more vigilant with your time, but it’s doable. 

4. Registration 

Once you have a preparation plan, you’ll need to register to sit for your exam. 

Most CPT exams have the option of at-home with online proctoring or in-person at a designated testing center. Online proctoring gives you more flexibility but also requires more discipline of your surroundings. 

To register for your exam, you’ll likely need to set up an account and log in to a student portal. You will have the option of becoming a member for whichever organization you choose. It’s not free, but members have added benefits, and there will be a discounted exam fee. From there, you’ll select in-person or online and then pick a date. Most organizations will let you schedule one to three months in advance. 

5. Exam day & licensure

Exam day is stressful. Make sure you’re prepared and that you know what to expect from the actual testing environment. Most testing centers forbid any personal items in the testing room (sorry, no cell phones). Review your exam components to know if there’s a hands-on portion, how long you have for your exam, and if there’s a break. 

While these may be small details, knowing what to expect will help you focus on the actual exam rather than worrying about parking and running your phone back to your car. 

Hopefully all goes well and you pass your exam. Once you have your results, you will officially be a Certified Personal Trainer from the governing body of your choice. Remember that you’ll need to complete continuing education hours every few years to keep your certification current. 

Job outlook 

The personal trainer job market is projected to grow 19% between 2021 and 2031. Many personal trainers will start their careers in large gyms to get their foot in the door. There are no shortcuts – experience builds knowledge in this industry.