Best Personal Training Certifications

best personal training certifications

Table of Contents

In continuation of the personal training series, it is crucial to address an important question; what are the best personal training certifications? As a potential client, knowing what the best personal training certifications are will help you make an educated choice when choosing your personal trainer. This article is exclusively written for future clients who are interested in hiring a personal training, thus, the perspective and format of this post are written accordingly.

There are many personal training certifications out there, all claim to be better than the other, however, to make everyone’s life easier, I will only be cover 5 different personal training certifications. Those 5 certifications are what I consider to be the best based on my experience, other people’s experiences, organization’s philosophies and procedures, curriculum taught by the different organizations and application of their educational material in real life. Keep in mind that just because someone is certified doesn’t mean he is qualified to train you. Nonetheless, a certificate is a bonus or almost a guarantee that the trainer in question was taught basic elements about training and nutrition. Let’s start.

1)ACE – American Council on Exercise

Best personal training certifications
The American Council on Exercise is a non-profit organization that aims to get the public moving in an attempt to decrease the numbers of inactivity related diseases 20 years from now. Not a bad vision, indeed. ACE aims to equip their potential trainers with scientifically proven nutrition and exercise techniques to create highly educated individuals who are capable of training others safely and help them improve the quality of life. ACE was founded in 1985. ACE is also accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA), which is a “governing body” that sets the standards for personal training certifications. ACE is also accredited by the European Health & Fitness Association (EHFA)!

ACE provides a multitude of different tools and resources that their trainers can access anywhere to further educate themselves. ACE offers the following educational material to their students:

  • A dedicated student resource staff.
  • 24/7 phone and email assistance for free.
  • Self-study programs, where ACE provides students with the course material and students learn at their own pace.
  • Easy access to regularly-updated online content.
  • Exam reviews and practice tests.
  • Online Courses.
  • Flash Cards.
  • Standard study guide and an interactive study guide.
  • Regular textbooks and digital material on CD’s and DVD’s.
  • Weekly meetings to interact with experts from the industry and ask questions.

There are currently 38,841 personal trainers certified by the American Council on Exercise. In addition to the many tools and educational resources ACE provides, they also provide live workshops and webinars for their students to ensure highest level of education. Further, ACE has specialty programs where a trainer could specialize in one branch such as; strength training, conditioning, endurance, nutrition…etc. this program allows a trainer to be highly qualified in a specific category of the fitness world.

Fitnotice’s rating: 5 stars

I personally think ACE is the best certification program for both personal trainers and trainers’ potential clients. But since we are focusing on a client’s perspective in this article, I shall explain what reasons went into the verdict.
ACE offers two crucial elements; access to a wide array of educational material/resources and support. ACE offers an often-updated education material in all forms; textbooks, digital, researches, access to experts, 24/7 support…etc. this ensures a high level of educational material to be taught. ACE’s special programs are also another option that allows trainers to further educate themselves on certain aspects of fitness and nutrition which gives students the opportunity to focus on one thing at a time.

What does this mean to you (the client)?

While a personal training certificate is not a guarantee someone is highly qualified, I believe ACE’s certification guarantees that your trainer will at least have basic up to date knowledge about exercise and nutrition, which will allow him to help you achieve your fitness and aesthetic goals. In addition, the fact that ACE is a non-profit organization accompanied by low certification costs ensures that they focused on teaching their certified trainers as opposed to just collecting money. In fact, ACE is the largest non-profit certifying organization in the world!

2)ACSM – American College of Sports Medicine

Best personal training certifications
The American College of Sports Medicine is another reputable non-profit organization that provides one of the best personal training certifications in the industry. The American College of Sports Medicine was founded in 1954 and has approximately 14,000 certified trainers around the globe. ACSM is accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA), however, unlike their competitor, ACE, they are not accredited by the European Health & Fitness Association (EHFA). ACSM’s goal is to make a difference “in the lab and in life” by conducting advanced research in human physiology and different diseases.

In fact, ACSM offers specialty programs in exercise physiology and cancer training physiology, which offers a variety of educational materials to their students as well as their personal trainers. ACSM served as a gathering point for many personal trainers, students, physicians and research nationally and internationally; bringing together an arsenal of highly qualified individuals to exchange education and offer education to the public.

Like ACE, ACSM provides different educational material and resources that their trainers can access anywhere to study for their certifications. ACSM provides the following resources for their students:

  • A dedicated student resource staff.
  • Self-study programs to allow students with busy schedules to study at their own pace.
  • Easy access to regularly-updated online content.
  • Access to new research on health and nutrition.
  • Exam reviews and practice tests.
  • Online Courses.
  • Live workshops.
  • Live webinars.
  • Weekly meetings to interact with experts from the industry and ask questions.

There are currently 25,000 fitness instructors certified by the American College of Sports Medicine (including the 14,000 personal trainers). Additionally, ACSM provides their trainers/students with access to current university curriculum to advance their education. ACSM also provides students who seek specialty programs with access to fitness conferences which gives them the opportunity to meet with the most qualified experts in the industry.

Fitnotice’s rating: 4 stars

ACSM seems to want to serve science per say more than ACE, and for that reason I gave it a high rating. Potential clients of ACSM certified trainers can be sure that their trainers have received high levels of education and were exposed to experts in the industry.

ACSM health and research programs are what makes this well-respected institution stand out among the other organization. ACSM wants to serve science and the public by developing individuals who are potentially capable of comprehending and even conducting research. ACSM may not offer direct phone and email assistance to their students, but they offer live workshops and webinars which are essentially the best alternative to direct assistance. The different resources available to ACSM’s students make the learning process easy and fruitful. Since ACSM does not offer direct support to their students nor a standard study guide or digital educational material, they only deserve 4 stars. This lack of technology utilization could serve as an inconvenience for their students who are willing to learn.

What does this mean to you (the client)?

Rest assured, an individual who was certified by the American College of Sports Medicine has a good foundation of training clients. Optimistically, the students exploited the access to the multitude of tools, resources and industry experts to develop themselves. A certification by the ACSM is nationally recognized and respected, thus, know you are in good hands when training with one of their certified trainers.

3)NETA – National Exercise Trainers Association

Best personal training certifications
The National Exercise Trainers Association offers some of the best personal training certifications as well. NETA is another non-profit organization that was founded in 1977 with more than 130,000 certified fitness instructors nationally. Since we are strictly talking about personal training in this series, the number of personal trainers accredited by NETA is currently more than 2800 trainers all around the U.S. NETA is accredited by the NCCA, but they did not meet the standards of the EHFA. Further, NETA is a member of coalition of the registration of Exercise Professionals (CREP); another well-respected fitness organization.

NETA has an easy yet indulging educational process. NETA offers their students (trainers) the following resources:

  • 24/7 toll free phone number to further assist the students and address their concerns for free.
  • 24/7 Email assistance for free.
  • Standard study guide.
  • Regular textbooks and digital material on CD’s and DVD’s.
  • Additional reference textbooks.
  • Live workshops only.
  • Review questions.

NETA claims to be dedicated to creating a highly-qualified breed of trainers that forwards up to date knowledge about health and fitness. NETA counts on its trainers to improve the public awareness of exercise importance.

Fit Notice’s rating: 4.5 stars

I think NETA is a great institution with an honorable vision. The fact that NETA is non-profit confirms their dedication to fulfilling their claims. I gave NETA a higher rating than ACSM due to the variety of resources and educational material available to their students. Providing access to educational material through different methods creates a convenient and highly engaging environment where personal trainers can get the education they deserve. In addition, NETA offers fitness conferences and specialty programs for their trainers, however, they do not offer advanced programs. For these reasons, NETA deserves to be recognized as an institution that offers some of the best personal training certifications around.

What does this mean to you (the client)?

As a client, know that your NETA certified trainer may not be a scientist or a researcher, however, he probably has a good base of knowledge to guide you in the right path. If you are a client who are interested in personal training later, NETA could give you one of the best personal training certifications that will also be widely recognized.

4) ISSA – International Sports Sciences Association

Best personal training certifications
On a global level, the International Sports Sciences Association is a well-respected personal training institution that has certified more than 180,000 fitness professionals around the globe. Additionally, the ISSA currently has a roster of 200,000 students! The ISSA is a for profit organization that was founded in 1988. One thing that stands out about the International Sports Sciences Association is the fact they publicly name some of their staff/instructors, which happen to be some of the most educated trainers in North America. So, it could be said that the ISSA backs up their claims. Ironically, the ISSA is not accredited by the NCAA and the EHFA.

While the aforementioned organizations had some advantages in common, ISSA is a little special. First, let’s see what type of resources they provide their trainers and students with:

  • Dedicated student resource staff.
  • Email assistance.
  • Hot line for phone assistance.
  • Self-study programs which allow the trainers to focus on the educational material and study at their own pace.
  • Online tools and courses.
  • Review questions.
  • Assessments.
  • Study guide, textbooks, and digital material.

Another exclusive element about the ISSA is that they are mainly a “distant certification system”, which means that trainers can earn their certifications online with no problems and you don’t have to physically attend a testing session.

Fit Notice’s rating: 5 stars.

The convenience and availability of educational materials and variety of sources that the ISSA provides their students with are unrivaled. The ISSA bases its curriculum on scientific research and real world experience that their instructors has accumulated over the years.

Anecdotally, I happened to be getting ready for a conditioning phase recently and I hired a well-respected ISSA certified personal coach and I must say, the guy was fantastic! That gentleman whose name I shall not disclose now had outstanding knowledge. Note; I will not fully attribute my former coach’s knowledge to the ISSA educational material, because he is also a scientific researcher and author, thus he also developed his own knowledge through the clinical trials he has read/conducted and real world experience through training many clients.

What does this mean to you (the client)?

If a trainer tells you he is accredited by the ISSA, be sure that he earned one of the best personal training certifications in the industry, period. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the ISSA’s trainers have a better scientific understanding of modern exercise and nutrition techniques than most of the other institutions’ trainers.

5)NASM – National Academy of Sports Medicine

Best personal training certifications
Finally, we have NASM; the National Academy of Sports Medicine. The National Academy of Sports Medicine if a for profit institution that has been in the personal training industry for over 29 years! Yes, they are old. NASM is accredited by both NCCA and EHFA, thus, they are considered to have met the standards, although this is not an indicator of professionalism.

NASM provides students with many programs such as personal training program, continuing education program and a specialty program. NASM, just like many of the professional organizations, makes the learning process as convenient as possible. This convenience of learning process could be attributed to the variety of resources available to the students, such as but not limited to:

  • Live workshops.
  • Phone and email assistance.
  • Study guide and reference books.
  • Online courses and access to online scientific content.
  • Access to experts in the industry. 
  • Access to the latest fitness industry news.

Fit Notice’s rating: 4.5 stars

The National Academy of Sports Medicine aims to set the standard for the quality of education their personal trainers receive. They believe that they can make a difference in peoples’ lives through equipping trainers all over the nation with scientifically backed training techniques and dietary tactics. In fact, NASM was first recognized for creating the first clinically proven training program; optimum performance training. Thus, this gives their claims some credibility.

What does this mean to you (the client)?

NASM is yet another reputable training institution that has many accredited trainers across the nation. NASM certifications are nationally recognized and accredited, thus, it can be concluded that NASM provides some of the best personal certifications in the fitness industry.

In conclusion

Hopefully, you are now more educated on the differences between many of the best personal training certifications in the personal training scene. You cannot go wrong with any trainer who is accredited by these institutions. You can now make a more informed choice when hiring a trainer, instead of shooting an arrow in the dark and accidentally hiring a stupid trainer. However, I’d like to remind you that a certification is not equivalent to qualification, but it lays a good foundation for choosing a trainer. You can have individuals who are not accredited at all and still know more about exercising and nutrition simply because it’s their passion or they have been in the industry for too long! Stay tuned for part 4 ;).

If you liked this article, comment below and tell me what you liked about it and share it with your friends, por favor. If you didn’t like it, kindly, tell me why and I will try to address your issues. Cheers!

ACE. (2016). PERSONAL TRAINING CERTIFICATION COMPARISON. Retrieved from American Council on Exercise:
American College of Sports Medicine. (2016). American College of Sports Medicine – Certification. Retrieved from American College of Sports Medicine:
ISSA . (2016). ISSA . Retrieved from ISSA :
NASM. (2016). National Academy of Sports Medicine. Retrieved from NASM:



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