Since I have been seeing a ton of questions regarding becoming a personal trainer and what national certification to get, I decided to put together a FAQ to answer questions about where to start and what direction to go. If anyone has any first hand objective info to add please do so as I do not have all 300+ national certifications out there. Also note, this thread is aimed towards the average personal trainer working with average gym member clients, not towards those who want to train elite level athletes or professionals.
Where do I start?
The easiest place to start for someone who has zero personal training experience is to call around to local gyms and find out if they are hiring. Yes, gyms will hire you with no experience and no certification. Some fitness managers even prefer it because they get to train you themselves and can dictate the way they want you to work. Most major health clubs have an in-house training program which they require you to pass. Then you can start doing some work on the floor while you work towards your national certification. Many gyms also prefer one certification over another and may even help you pay for it. I got both my certifications through a PT company I was working for and both times they paid for up to half of it. Also, the company I was working for required a specific certification to progress to the highest level of trainer and the higher pay scale.
What certification is best?
This is the biggest question out there and the answer is really quite simple. You have about 3 nationally recognized certs that IMO are hands down far and away above any other cert. You then have another handful which are recognized by name. And anything after that youíre simply getting certified to say youíre a CPT. Most clients just want to know that youíre a CPT. If you have a degree in the field, even better. A select few of educated clients will really hound you on both your experience and your education. On the other hand most fitness directors or gym managers will recognize one cert above another but will also have preferences regarding your certifications and should evaluate you on other things also. Iíll get into that later. Back to the certs. IHRSA recognizes exactly 6 certifications internationally and I would rank them in this order:
1. ACSM-requires a 2-year or 4-year degree in a health related field or requires the candidate to be in the last semester of his/her program. Also requires current CPR. Hands down the industry standard. Any reputable certification teaches the ACSM guidelines for exercise.
2/3. NSCA or NASM. I rank these 2/3 as I think they are equally good.
6. Cooper Institute (Unless you live in Texas youíre not getting this one).
Like I said, after that everything else is to learn a little and say youíre certified. Most of the other 300+ odd certifications teach you basic anatomy, biomechanics, cardiovascular and strength training guidelines, and maybe a little about proper diet (When I say proper I mean the food guilde pyramid. Donít expect anything profound).
What about the personal training schools?
I devoted a special section to these because I am very opinionated about them. These seem to be popping up all over the place these days. They are normally 6-month courses than can cost thousands of dollars to get hands on personal training experience. They claim youíll get experience working with clients, gain valuable knowledge, all while getting yourself into shapeÖ.blah blah blah. I think these are a huge waste of money. Instead of paying out $5,000 to get 6 months of basic experience you could be getting paid to gain experience. Most ďfloor trainersĒ can at least get paid minimum wage to work towards becoming a trainer and work with the fitness director. Not to mention the money and time youíll save. They do have their benefits but I donít feel the cost/benefit ratio is even close. I steer new trainers away from these programs. I hope I donít offend anyone that is involved in these programs and youíre welcome to debate their validity with me. I however would not recommend them as a top choice.
What about a CSCS?
People always confuse a CSCS with a CPT. A CSCS is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist. It is a specialty certification offered through the NSCA and is not necessary, nor designed for your everyday personal trainer. It does require a degree to sit for the exam though oddly enough it does not have to be a health related field. It is probably the most well known of specialty certifications though many others are offered through different organizations. NASM used to offer a similar cert called a PES (Performance Enhancement Specialist). They eliminated that now and offer an SFS (Sports Fitness Specialist) which isnít as comprehensive as the PES. Iíve seen both.
Should I work in a gym or on my own?
Another good question. Both have their pros and cons though what it really boils down to is client volume versus hourly rate. Unless you have a ton of clients lined up or donít want to work many hours chances are you at least want to start in a gym. The gym provides a lot of benefits such as a steady flow of clients, constant exposure to clients, and usually a degree or credibility. The way it normally works is that as new members join a gym they get a free session or two, with a trainer, as part of their membership. That is your chance to pick up a new client. In a high volume gym you could see as many as 20-30 of these new members a week. Even a slightly competent trainer should be able to close 1 out of every 5 new members. That means you could pick up 10-20 clients your first month. The downside is that the gym is going to tell you how much you can charge and theyíre going to take a portion of your money. The upside is that youíre always going to have clients until you donít want/canít handle anymore. Also, working in a gym you have unlimited access to equipment. Another benefit is that everytime you step out onto the floor with a client, you and your client are advertising for you as a trainer. You better believe people are watching your training methods and your clientís results. I think everyone understands the pros and cons of working in a gym environment by now. Just think, you can always start in a gym, build a nice client base, and they take all your clients somewhere else. A lot of places will have you sign a non-compete clause but that usually doesnít encompass training clients in home or at a neutral site.
The major benefit to training people in-home or in a studio is that you can charge a higher rate and you keep all the damn money. The only downside is that you have to go out and find your own clients. Once you establish yourself this should be no problem. Youíll hopefully get tons of referrals. When youíre first starting though this can be a little tricky.
How do I choose a gym or PT company?
When you go for an interview there are a couple key questions you want to ask to determine how well the environment sets a trainer up for success.
1. As a new trainer what kind of training program can I expect and will you help me get certified? A good company will have their own in-house training program, ongoing education with the fitness director and trainers and will often help you get certified.
2. If not, what certifications do you prefer?
3. How do you pay your trainers? Some companies pay on a percentage scale, some pay a flat rate. Some companies pay to train you, some donít. Find out exactly how much money you can expect to make. The manager should be able to give you a ballpark figure. You should also have an idea of how much money you want to make. That was a key question I used to ask potential new trainers. I want someone that wants to make $80,000 a year not someone who wants to make $30,000. There is money in PT, especially per hour worked, you just have to know how to get it.
4. How many trainers do you have? And maybe more importantly, how many are still picking up new clients? See next question.
5. How many new members do you get on a monthly basis? This is important because if a gym gets 60 new members a month and has 10 trainers looking for clients youíre going to struggle for appointments. Conversely, if a gym sees 250 new members a month and has 5 trainers looking for clients youíre going to have your hands as full as you want them.
6. What is your month PT revenue and what percentage of your members participate in PT? This is going a little further but if youíre serious about being successful quickly they are good things to know.
I hope this helped some people who are starting out. Thereís probably tons of things I missed so either ask questions here, PM me, or add to the thread. Best of luck.
Results 1 to 13 of 13
10-17-2004, 05:50 PM #1
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Getting Started as a Personal Trainer FAQ
11-09-2004, 07:00 PM #2
Thanks so much...I just passed my NSCA exam and will start interviewing at prospective gyms next month. You brought up some good points that I had not thought of!
11-22-2004, 02:15 PM #3
do you have to be a "certified" personal trainer, to be a trainer? are there any liabilities of not being certified?1 year out!
"The important thing is this: To be able at any moment to sacrifice what we are for what we could become."
"If your out of breath, dizzy, feel like vomiting, can't remember your name, you are on the right road".
12-12-2004, 10:24 PM #4
I am currently attending PFI out of Olathe, KS. It is one of the 6 month programs you were talking about, and it offers either NSCA or ACE certification. Since I live in a small town at the time being, I think it is a great program, since gyms of the caliber that you were talking about are not so common. It is an online course, consisting of two parts Anatomy and Physiology, one part Kinesiology, one part Clinical Pathology, and one part business. Hands on experience is obtained through a fifty hour externship and a 6 day 'bootcamp' in Las Vegas. It sounds like you know what you are talking about, and I am young, but since I live in smalltown, KS, its about the best program offered. If anyone is interested, you can call PFI at (866) 209-5145. My referral number is 6739-123, if you wouldn't mind mentioning it to them. They are extremely easy to talk to. Their web page is www.pfww.com. Thanks for the thread. I did learn some stuff from it even though I am four months along in this program already.
03-28-2005, 10:47 PM #5Originally Posted by LadiesLoveMe
ACSM Personal Trainer:
* A high school diploma or equivalent AND
* Possess current Adult CPR certification that has a practical skills examination component (such as the American Heart Association or the American Red Cross)You need to go back to school and learn how to spell before juicing. -Drake
12-27-2008, 10:53 PM #6
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Getting Started in Personal Training"Do what you love and you'll never have to work a day in your life" - either Confucius or the Dalai Lama - I get them confused -
12-28-2008, 10:19 AM #7
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Terrible article. ACSM CPT does not require a degree, their HFS does. As a fitness director I've personally read manuals of all the major certifications. I've posted before, different certifications tend to specialize in certain areas of fitness. For Example
NSCA-CPT : Their CSCS specializes in training athletes, but their cpt tends to be a watered down version of the CSCS just geared towards the general population. With that being said books for both tests are identical on some pages in reference to ex phys, cardiorespiratory ect. I'm actually helping a friend study for this exam and there are very similar questions that were on the CSCS on the cpt practice exam. Widely accepted at any gym, great reputation.
ACSM: The ACSM produces great research and pretty much all other certifications cite references from their research. Personally i feel their information is too technichal at times, especially for a gym setting. I have 2 of their books from college that I use in reference to those with certain diseases. This is probably the hardest exam in terms of how in "depth" they go. Anyone looking to get into cardiac rehab would want to go down this road of being certified. Those who do obtain their cpt or HFS are very serious about fitness and would most definitely be accepted anywhere.
NASM: I personally believe that NASM is the best cpt in terms of how to pick up clients and work in a "gym" setting. Also, their periodation model, (OPT model) is great for beginers who need help with program design. They don't go as in depth in terms of ex phys as some of the other certs, but really tend to focus on corrective exercise and "prehab" as NSCA calls it. This certification is accepted at mostly all major gyms for a reason. I took this cpt after my CSCS and it was pretty easy for me, but the section for professional development was great.
ACE: A very good certification that is recognized around the country. The top personal trainer at my facility is actually ACE certified. Ace goes really in depth in terms of anatomy and ex phys and can be very tough for a begginer with no college courses in anatomy or nutrition. When I helped someone study for this exam some of the material I believe wasn't practical in a "gym" setting. I do like ACE alot and whenever I see applications with people ACE certified I know they how a very good understanding of fitness and nutrition.
IFPA: This certification isn't as widely known as some of the others, but I do believe it is a good one. I actually sat in on a workshop for IFPA with Dr. Bell presenting. He is a very intelligent man and he told me his goal for creating this cert was to make it more "practical" than the others. I do like his approach to picking up clients in the certification as well, but there are some major differences between this cert and NASM in terms of how to train beginner clients. Overall I like the cert and it is NCCA accredited.
ISSA: The ISSA is a good cert and even though it isnt NCCA accredited, it still holds value in many gyms. This certification can be done online and with the essays included in the exam, it's not as easy as opening up the textbook to look for the answer. ISSA is also one of the more expensive certifications, so when applicants have this cert, I know they are serious about training. The fact that it's online makes is user friendly, especially those with extremely busy schedules.
AFAA: This is a good cert to "get your foot in the door." It's very basic and doesn't go overboard with information. One of my buddies who is AFAA certified is actually studying for his NSCA-CPT. He took AFAA just to gain some knowledge, get hired in a gym setting and gain practical experience before taking the NSCA-CPT.
Certifications i don't have as much experience dealing with and I wouldn't be able to give you an honest review would be NESTA, NCSF, NFPT, ect. If I come across the material for these certs, I will post it. Hope this helps.B.S. Exercise Science, CSCS, NASM-CPT, CES
01-30-2013, 04:57 PM #8
(2014.06.20) - First ᕙ(ᓐᓑᓒ)ᕗ
03-26-2013, 06:52 AM #9
05-04-2014, 09:39 AM #10
don't know how nobody visits this thread, before posting questions about certification. Really quality read.
07-23-2014, 02:00 PM #11
This was a good read. When I was getting certified at the beginning I had a lot of similar questions
03-17-2015, 09:56 PM #12
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I'm taking my NASM test next thursday and hop to jump into a larger gym. Great read. thx
03-29-2015, 03:53 AM #13
Can anyone pm me a write up similar to this but in relation to Australia. Would greatly appreciate it!!" You can't spell Caucasian without Asian, nomsayin' "