The Ultimate Guide to Choosing a Personal Training Certification 

You’ve decided to pursue a career in personal training. You want to get started but don’t know where to begin. You may have heard that you need to get certified before you can seek employment or start a fitness business, but the large variety seems overwhelming.

The reality is, a certification won’t make you a good trainer. But it is the minimum requirement that will allow you to get to work. 

But passing your exam isn’t even the hardest part. Arguably, the most difficult aspect of becoming a certified personal trainer is finding the right certification for you. 

That’s why we’ve gathered everything you need to know about the top 5 personal training certifications, to provide you with a comprehensive guide that will help you find the best fit for you! 

1. NASM 

The National Academy of Sports Medicine is a staple certification that is best suited for the general all-purpose trainer. It focuses on muscle imbalance and corrective exercises, which is why it will give you the most diversity. There is a broad base of knowledge that you can take and apply to whatever you decide to pursue.  If you’re looking to suit a diverse clientele, or you’re not sure what your ideal client looks like, it’s a good idea to consider obtaining a NASM certification. 

NASM certifications are on the costlier side of the spectrum. Taking the exam will cost you $599, but the study materials vary depending on the package you choose (however they can range from $699 to $1,999, exam included). 

Exam requirements are usually similar across the board, but for NASM the pre-requisites you’ll need is a high school diploma or a GED, you need to be first aid certified (CPR/AED), which you can obtain in a day. Most importantly, you need a valid ID! All are simple to obtain but necessary nonetheless. 

Finally, NASM’s program can take up to 180 days, with a 2-hour exam that covers 120 questions. 


If you learn better in a one-on-one environment, then pursuing an ACE certification might be the right move. The American Council on Exercise Certification is best for a one-on-learner since their Facebook study groups give you access to study coaches and live virtual study sessions so that all your questions can be answered. 

Writing the exam will cost you $399, while study packages range from $699 to $999 (exam included). 

To become an ACE certified trainer, you need to be 18 years old, have a valid ID, obtain a high school or GED diploma, and CPR/AED training. 

The ACE certification program can take up to 6 months, with a 3 hour and 150 question exam. 


The International Sports Science Association is best suited for the rookie personal trainer. It includes a free professional website, job search assistance, and a money-back job promise. If you’re not sure about where or how to get started, this certification is the right fit for you, as it will help you every step of the way. 

ISSA doesn’t provide an exam only cost, so you’ll have to purchase their study package, which comes at a flat rate of $799. 

To get certified, you only need a high school diploma or a GED, and of course, your CPR training must be completed. 

The program can last for 6 months, but if you require an extension, you can obtain one for two months. Meanwhile, the exam structure has recently changed but comprises of 200 questions. 


According to Jonathan Goodman, the Athletics & Fitness Association of America certification is best suited for the virtual virtuoso. The course is based online (even before COVID-19 hit). Video lectures are downloadable, as well as the study guides. 

AFAA’s study package (exam included) costs around $578, including the textbook. To register for the certification, you have to possess a valid ID and complete your high school diploma/ GED. Just like most certifications, you also need to complete a first aid class. 

The program can take up to 1 year to complete, with the final exam consisting of 120 questions and practical questions. Because of the online nature of the certification, the online exam is proctored through a webcam and microphone. 

5. Strive Life

A Strive Life certification is perfect for you if you want to get started on training right away, or if you’re a certified trainer looking to expand your expertise. It is best paired with another certification because this will allow you to apply the theoretical lessons into a more practical setting. So, if you’re looking for a practical, hands-on certification, this is the right fit for you. 

Since a Strive Life Certification is different from your typical certification, it uses a blended learning format of online education with over 20 modules to complete the online portion of the course paired with an in-person/virtual practical coaching Session to learn by doing and coach in a variety of real scenarios.

The standard prerequisites are required — you must be 18 years old, have a valid ID to enroll in the certification and the study package retails for $850-$999. The program lasts for 7 days including the additional practical coaching session.

We’ve recently announced our
partnership with Strive Life certifications. If you choose to enroll, FitDrive trainers will receive a 10% discount on all certifications offered by Strive Life. Strive Certified trainers will receive a free one week in-depth course on how to train their clients online and structure their business for long term success and will be able to train their first 2 clients for free using our software.

To make it easy for you to compare certifications check out this comparison table below:

Next Steps: 

Now that you’ve had a brief overview of each certification, you can sign up for a certification that you feel fits your needs best. We’ll be providing more in-depth individual reviews in upcoming posts! 

If you need any direction, feel free to book a consultation with our team today to learn how we can help you save time and scale your business online.

Also, be sure to follow us on Instagram at @myfitdrive to see other tips on growing your fitness business and using technology to improve the way you train your clients.


Stay Safe and stay fit,

The FitDrive Team