Becoming a certified personal trainer (PT) is your ticket to a rewarding career where you help people achieve their personal training goals and change their lives. It can also be a financially rewarding job if you know how to motivate your clients and get results for them. This article will break down the most common question that I get as a personal trainer: how long does it take to become a personal trainer?
You’ve probably found this article after searching questions like, “how long does a PT certification take?” or “how long does it take to become a personal trainer?”. Unfortunately, this question is not all that straightforward and there are many factors to consider like your work schedule, the amount of free time you have to dedicate to study and your own motivation levels. You also need to factor in the additional time costs of maintaining your qualification in the years ahead. Since you’ve reached this article, you are probably fairly interested in becoming a personal trainer. The most helpful articles for you to read after this one are how to choose the best personal trainer certification for you, the ultimate guide on becoming a personal trainer as well as how much money you could make as a trainer.
In order to properly answer the question of “how long does it take to become a personal trainer?”, this article will look at all the different aspects that go into estimating how long a course will take. It will also take a look at the 5 best and most popular PT qualifications and the maximum completion times each course allows. I will also give realistic estimates that take into account day to day obligations such as full-time work and extracurricular activities.
So how long does it take to become a personal trainer? Well, the general answer is about 3 to 6 months but there are a lot of variables at play which could lengthen or shorten this time. This timeframe fits perfectly with my top two favorite certifications the NASM certification as well as the ACE certification. Make sure to check out my article comparing NASM and ACE here!
How Long Does it Take to Become a Personal Trainer? — A Word to the Wise
Before discussing “maximum course times”, “prerequisites” and “continuing education requirements”, I want to quickly mention how important it is to select a “respectable” course that will be widely recognized by a number of industry bodies and potential employers. While I will deal with the five most credible PT certifications in my opinion, you should still see what’s out there and is right for you. Here are a few factors you should always to take into account when assessing whether or not a course is worth investing your time and money into.
The Quality of the Accreditation
Every PT qualification should be sanctioned by an accreditation body. These organizations act as quality control overseers to ensure a course is delivering minimum training standards for a particular industry. In my opinion, the only two credible personal training accreditation bodies out there for the United States fitness industry are the Distance Education and Training Council (DETC) and the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) — although in my opinion, the better of the two is the NCCA because of its excellent reputation and long history.
When selecting a course make sure it has a first aid teaching component such as CPR/AED, that teaches students how to deal with a person who is having heart problems or there is a first-aid incident. It is important to choose a course that teaches this component because the working environment of a PT involves people pushing themselves and their bodies to the limit and I guarantee you that over the course of your PT career you will have at least one fatigue-related or first-aid incident. Most employers of PTs such as sports clubs, community organizations and gyms will also require you to have studied a CPR/AED component in your course at a bare minimum.
After over 10 years in the personal training industry and familiarity with dozens of different accreditations, I can confidently say that the certifications with the highest industry recognition are ACE, ACSM , NASM, NPTI and NSCA. That is not to say that other certifications are not good or not worth looking into, it’s just that these five are generally considered to be of the highest quality by many players in the health fitness space. If you want to see the list of the top ten certifications in my opinion check out my article on the best personal trainer certifications as it talks about them in greater detail.
How Long Does it Take to Become a Personal Trainer? — How do Students Progress Through a Personal Training Course?
Unlike college qualifications that will usually commence at a set time and then proceed according to a specific schedule (such as semesters or trimesters), PT certification courses will usually allow you to study at your own pace and take the final qualification exam at a time of your choosing at an approved exam location.
This being said, many certification programs will have an expiry time on when you must sit the exam by. For example, the ACE certification requires students to sit the exam within 6 months of purchasing the program materials and the NFPT certification requires students to sit the exam within one year of course purchase. Other study programs like the ACSM qualification don’t have an expiry date and students can take as long as they like with the materials before registering for the exam.
This means that someone with extensive knowledge of the subject matter of a course (such as a person with lots of experience in the industry or a person with a bachelor’s degree in a health or fitness field) could prep for and take the exam within a very short space of time.
How Long Does it Take to Become a Personal Trainer? — Hidden Time Costs and Continuing Education
One thing that many students do not take into account when researching how long a qualification will take, is the “hidden time cost” of maintaining their qualification. Many courses require students to maintain their qualification through continuing education (CE), which requires people to continuously educate themselves through short courses that accrue education credits (CEC) or count as continuing education units (CEU)). These CE requirements can require a commitment of anywhere from 20 to 50 hours every few years.
These additional CEC and CEU requirements are outlined in the table below.
How Long Does it Take to Become a Personal Trainer? — Course Duration
Maximum Course Duration and Realistic Course Completion Time
Here is a breakdown of the maximum time you will have to complete the following five high-quality PT certification courses. I’m also going to make an estimate regarding a realistic completion time. While your completion time for these courses will vary according to personal factors such as your workload, amount of free time and motivation levels, I’ve based my estimates on the “average” hypothetical person working a 9-to-5 job with weekends off. Detailed reviews of all the below courses can be found here.
This PT certification from the American Council on Exercise is great for people who are just getting into personal training, as the organization’s course material has a gentle learning curve making it accessible for people from a variety of backgrounds and education levels. This qualification is a great certification to build more advanced qualifications upon and is one of the most highly sought after industry certifications and is viewed favorably by many gyms in the United States. To find out more about the ACE certification, check out my full review here. I highly suggest you check out their website as well.
How long will it take? — Students have 180 days (or six months) from the time of purchase until their exam registration expires. Because most people come to this course with little or no prior experience and the information you learn is quite general and covers many different topics, a realistic completion time for this qualification is about 4 to 5 months.
The PT certification from the National Academy of Sports Medicine is one of the best training courses out there and it has grown in recognition and credibility over the years. This course is very well run, NCCA accredited and has a strong focus on corrective exercise training for targeted demographics such as the elderly, pregnant women, people with eating disorders and people recovering from illnesses. The NASM PT certification is one of the most highly sought-after qualifications in the industry and has wide recognition amongst gyms in the United States. If you want more info about this certification check out my full review and I also suggest that you check out their official website for the latest news and up-to-date information.
How long will it take? — Upon purchasing the program materials, students have 180 days (or six months) to complete the program materials and then sit the two-hour exam. For someone coming to the course with no prior experience, there is quite a lot of information to digest (although not as much as some courses), and a realistic timeframe for somebody with average commitments is about 3 to 4 months.
The certification from the American College of Sports Medicine is widely regarded as one of the best courses when it comes to post-rehabilitation and corrective exercise training. The ACSM course is quite rigorous and it has one of the most extensive textbooks of all the courses I’ve seen You can check out my review of the course here and take a look at their website here.
How long will it take? — Students have an unlimited amount of time to work through the training materials in this course (which is a good thing because the textbook is huge!) and they can register for the exam whenever it suits them. Due to the large textbook and the fact that the course material is quite dense, this qualification would realistically take the average person 5 to 6 months to complete.
This certification from the National Personal Training Institute is a very comprehensive and credible certification for which you will actually receive a diploma. This course is very dense and will take you 500 hours of study over six months, this includes 50 hours of practice training sessions with a qualified instructor. This course is one of the most intense courses out there and it really goes into detail on biomechanics, physiology and nutrition. If you want to know more about the course, check out my review here or check out the NPTI website here.
How long will it take? — Realistically this course is likely to take you a full six months due to the very involved curriculum and the off-site training requirement. Students are also responsible for attending the final qualification exam with an off-site agency in their own time.
This certification from the National Strength and Conditioning Association has one of the most difficult exams in the fitness industry. It has an excellent and long-established reputation and was the first fitness education provider to ever be accredited by the NCCA. This course has an excellent focus on strength and conditioning training. You can check out my full review of it here and I strongly recommend that you check out their website as well.
How long will it take? — This course has a 9-week online prep component that does a great job of preparing new candidates for the final exam. That being said, you can still take the course at your own pace and once you purchase the program materials, you will have 180 days (or six months) until the course expires. A person with average commitments and spare weekends could probably complete the online prep course and sit the exam within 3 to 3½ months.
How Long Does it Take to Become a Personal Trainer? — Timeframes for Other Courses
While the above courses are more than enough to get your PT career on its way, some people may want more involved study and while most employers in the general fitness industry would still want a personal trainer to have a basic PT qualification, an associate or bachelor’s degree certainly doesn’t hurt your employment chances and will set you up for much bigger things in the future. There are also plenty of other advanced certifications that you can obtain after you have already obtained your standard certification. These will open your doors to more possibilities in the personal training world.
Some of the popular advanced certifications that I talk about on my website are the NASM PES and the NASM CES. These two certifications focus on athletic performance and corrective exercise training relatively. These two certifications are very well recognized within the industry and can greatly expand your skills as a personal trainer. The timeframe for being able to get certified with either one of these two is approximately the same as the basic certifications which is about 3 to 6 months. You can check out more information on the NASM PES from their website as well as the NASM CES.
If you want to gain much more in-depth knowledge of health and fitness and acquire a more varied skill set, take a look at an associate degree in health and fitness with a vocational school. An associate degree will usually take you to use to complete and most will be run according to a semester or trimester schedule. After you graduate, the knowledge you have should be enough to help you pass any general PT course relatively quickly.
This qualification is an excellent way to set yourself up for a serious and more flexible career in the fitness industry. While a bachelor’s degree may be overkill for someone who simply wants to be a PT, you may find it useful if you are thinking of having a broader career in the fitness industry with subject studies including general education, anatomy, physiology, nutrition, injury prevention, program creation and fitness assessment as well as many other fitness related subjects.
This may also be a good option for somebody who would like to start their own business in the fitness industry or take on more advanced courses such as the NSCA’s advanced strength and conditioning course CSCS which requires a bachelors degree as a minimum qualification.
How Long Does it Take to Become a Personal Trainer? —Conclusion
So how long does it take to become a personal trainer? About 3 to 6 months is the general answer, but as you can see, it really depends on how much time you have. I would actually suggest treating all PT qualifications as a six-month course by default.There’s no point rushing through a course only to fail the exam and then have to pay the hefty recertification fees and sit the exam again. 6 months will give you more than enough time to go through all of the material slowly and methodically and make sure you are 100% ready for the exam.
now that you know how long it takes to become a personal trainer, you should check out my article on how much personal trainers can make as well as the ultimate guide on how to become a personal trainer.
Overall there are a few really good programs with the top two in my opinion being the NASM program in the ACE program. Click on the links to check out their websites for more information or click on the links below to read my individual reviews on those five certifications.
The above courses are just a few suggestions and my personal favorites, there are many other good PT certifications out there being offered by other bodies that I’ve also reviewed, such as the courses offered by the NCSF, NFPT, NESTA, ISSA and AFAA.