Getting certified as a personal trainer is the most effective way to establish yourself as an expert in your field, as well as ensure that you’ll be able to train clients in a wide variety of settings–whether you’re looking to work in a gym, health center, corporate environment, or even a client’s home.
So, how long does it take to become a certified personal trainer?
It’s a good question, and the short answer is usually about three to six months. The long answer is a bit more complex, and we’ll try to answer it here.
How Personal Training Certification Works
Unlike most normal college courses that begin on a definite date and move through a curriculum that is based on chronological syllabi, most training fitness certifications allow students to move at their own pace after purchasing courses of their choice. Most even give students the freedom to choose the types of tools and resources they’d like to use.
Generally, there’s an online portal available where candidates can choose which options work best for them, add them to their shopping cart and purchase the materials they need with a few easy clicks. Most personal training programs are self-guided and students are able to get started right away.
In the age of COVID-19, the ability to complete your entire workload from home is a definite plus for any students looking to kickstart their careers as soon as possible.
Programs provide resources like extensive written texts, online portals, community support, and practice exams. Once students feel comfortable with the knowledge they’ve acquired after completing the curriculum, they are then ready to schedule a date to take the corresponding exam. Students are only allowed to take the exams after fulfilling the necessary eligibility requirements–usually including CPR and AED certificates and/or completed high school education.
After passing the exam, most organizations will either mail a physical certificate of completion to newly certified trainers or present them with a digital copy.
In determining how much time it will take to become certified as a personal trainer, it’s a good idea to consider the many types of program options that are available. Different certifications present information in different ways and with different time frames. Let’s explore a few of the more popular certifications as well as the estimated length of time it takes to complete each one.
The NASM certification is good for those wanting to specialize in corrective exercise and performance-based training. They are best known for their Optimum Performance Training (OPT) model that places a heavy emphasis on stability training as the foundation for building successful fitness programs.
Students who purchase this exam are granted twelve months from the date of purchase to complete their program. Their curriculum is very dense and thorough but their self-guided study option gives students the freedom to work entirely at their own pace. On average, trainers who choose this course complete the program in three to four months.
Recognized as one of the prominent leaders in human sports performance, NSCA’s certification is rooted in preparing trainers for coaching and training athletes at the collegiate and professional levels. Their curriculum strongly emphasizes the significance of power, speed and agility training. If you are someone who is interested in a career in the sports medicine field, this program may be ideal for you.
Students have exactly six months from the date of registration to complete the program and take the exam. They operate mostly on a membership basis where members are offered special advantages and benefits like cheaper program options and access to additional resources.
One of the oldest and most established institutions, like NASM, ACSM also reigns in the area of corrective exercise. Mostly recognized for its trailblazing influence in exercise science research, this program might be most ideal for those looking to work in different healthcare settings like hospitals, special clinics or wellness centers.
ACSM is unique in that its training course does not come with an expiry date after registration. Students are granted as much time as they need to complete the program. This is great for those who may not have much time daily to give to the course.
Like NASM’s OPT model, ACE is most known for its integrated fitness training (IFT) model. They focus mostly on teaching students the importance of prioritizing safety and injury prevention. With their mild emphasis on functional and cardiorespiratory training, this program is suited for those interested in working with members of the general population; including those who lead sedentary lifestyles who desire long-term change.
Students will have six months from the date of registration to complete this course.
ISSA is the first-ever international organization to accept eligibility from trainers all over the world. Their curriculum is mainly focused on improving body composition on non-athlete adult clients. ISSA is also one of the only organizations to offer extended education at the collegiate level. They offer both associate and bachelor degree options in exercise science.
ISSA has two types of self-paced programs that vary in length. One is six months in duration and the other is twelve months.
Although they offer different program variations, because ISSA’s full curriculum and final exam are entirely online, students tend to complete this course a little faster than others. Their exam is also open-book. On average, students will take anywhere from two to three months to complete this course.
After studying for months on end, it can also be helpful to know just how long the exam part of the process will take. Here are the allotted test times for each of the programs we covered above.
NASM — 120 questions. Allotted time: 2 hours.
NSCA — 140 questions. Allotted time: 3 hours.
ACSM — 120 questions. Allotted time: 2.5 hours.
ACE — 125 questions. Allotted time: 3 hours.
ISSA — 160 questions. The test is open-book and not timed.
Advanced Degrees and Certifications
There are options at the collegiate level for those who may be interested in a broader curriculum that is spread out over a longer period of time. While most gyms prefer to accept certifications from accredited organizations, some will equally accept degrees in exercise science.
An associate’s degree in exercise science will typically take two years to complete. A bachelor’s degree will run anywhere from four to six years.
As mentioned earlier, ISSA offers its own associate and bachelor programs that have a variety of unique curriculums to choose from. To learn more about their options for this, visit them here.
CPR + AED Certification
CPR and AED certifications are required for all of the above-mentioned programs. These can usually be obtained in a matter of days and are often offered locally, in-person as well as online. It’s important to note that, upon hiring, some gyms will only accept CPR/AED certifications from classes completed in person. This ensures that trainers have gathered the necessary hands-on knowledge around some of the more physical aspects like performing mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
Once you’ve completed a training certification program, on average, almost all of them require re-certification after a period of two years. Most will ask for a certain amount of credits or hours toward continuing education to be completed before trainers can obtain their re-certification. For example, NASM requires students to complete 20 hours of continuing education.
There are no wrong decisions when it comes to choosing the course that best complements the time you have to dedicate toward pursuing a personal training certification. Some factors to consider when deciding on a program include:
- what type of clients you’d like to work with
- what type of work setting you see yourself in
- what type of special knowledge you’d like to gain from a particular program
The average student will take anywhere from three to six months to complete any one of the programs we discussed here today.
Building a career in the fitness industry extends far beyond the scope of time it takes to acquire the basic and fundamental knowledge. As any experienced trainer will tell you, completing your certification is the beginning of your education, not the end of it. The time spent with clients well past your studying days will ultimately be the determining factor of your success as a personal trainer.