How to Pick a Personal Training Certification Program

Blog by: Suryakant Tripathi


Part of the path toward becoming a personal trainer included a step I found possibly more daunting than the training itself: Picking the right certification organization.

Let me just admit right up front that the names and acronyms of the most credible organizations are confusingly similar. ACE, NASM, ASCM — oh my!

Luckily, I’m familiar with those and a few others from my work here and probably have gleaned a little more than your average Jane about their reputations. When I did a little poking around online, those same few reputable organizations kept popping up, solidifying my opinion that I had four possible choices:

  1. American Council on Exercise (ACE)
  2. National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM)
  3. American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM)
  4. International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA)

I spent some significant time toying around with this nifty comparison tool from the ACE. It allows users to compare up to three organizations at a time on metrics such as eligibility requirements, exam format, and price.

Then I got into some pretty serious cyber stalking (sorry!) and examined the email signatures, LinkedIn pages and other credentials of a handful of personal trainers I know, finding a pretty even split between ACE and NASM. Finally, I talked to a few of those fitness fans about what they liked and didn’t like about their respective programs.

Of course, the real conundrum in making this decision — and it’s a tricky one! — is that everyone is inherently biased. No one gets certified by more than one of these organizations (and I don’t think anyone’s going to think that’d be a fun experiment to try), so it’s virtually impossible to compare each experience. Almost everything I read or heard from other trainers was that it comes down to a personal preference. But that platitude is hardly helpful if you don’t know what to base that preference on. I found this blog post a helpful place to start, thanks to the in-depth list of questions to ask yourself about what you’re really looking for.

My choice is by no means the right choice for everyone, but I decided to go with the NASM. I heard only wonderful things about the highly-scientific basis (and this money back guarantee certainly doesn’t hurt). I was swayed, in the end, by the one-time certification fee, which will allow me to pay my dues up front for my continuing fitness education until the end of time. Or at least until the end of my ability to squat.

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