The 9 Cheapest Personal Trainer Certifications in 2023
Tyler Read holds up the cheapest personal trainer textbooks against a while board with "cheapest CPT" on it

Welcome to my roundup review of the cheapest personal training certifications. Having taken and passed the exams for these affordable personal trainer programs, I can give you an accurate assessment of each fitness certification and the value versus the price you get for your money.

Our team here at PT Pioneer also has trainers with dozens of fitness certificatoins and specialities, so we have a massive amount of insider knowledge on which personal trainer certificate options are best.

If your goal is to find the best personal trainer certification for your budget, this is the right article for you.

In this breakdown, we’ll be looking at:

  • The cost of several of the cheapest certifications
  • The value proposition of these fitness certifications: study materials and industry relevance
  • The balance of price vs. value between each of the personal trainer certification programs
  • The best trainer certification price-wise in multiple categories 

Then you can choose the best personal training certification for your price-point. 

Before we dive in, please take a minute to take the quiz. It will help you determine the best personal training certification for your individual career goals and needs. You can also check out my individual reviews which are linked throughout the article. 

The 9 Cheapest Personal Training Certifications 1
The 9 Cheapest Personal Training Certifications 2

With that said and done, let’s look at the 9 cheapest personal training certifications!

Our Top Picks

CPTCPTFeaturesPrice
ISSA CPT

ISSA CPT

  • Excellent Coverage of Technique and Aerobic Training
  • Good Programming and Periodization
  • Minimal Corrective Exercise
  • Best Fitness Certification Bundles
Check ISSA Pricing
NASM CPT

NASM CPT

  • Solid Corrective Exercise
  • Versatile OPT Model
  • Solid Behavior Change Coaching
Check NASM Pricing
ACE CPT

ACE CPT

  • Complete Skillset for Healthy Clients
  • Great IFT Model for Programming
  • Excellent Mover Model for Behavior Change
  • Less Corrective Exercise Coverage
  • No Sales Skills
Check ACE Pricing

1. The Best 3-in-1 Personal Trainer Certification – International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA) 

Cheapest personal training certifications. ISSA textbook laid out on table with gold coins and mystery boxes - how much does ISSA CPT cost?

ISSA organization 

ISSA, or the International Sports Sciences Association, is a massively popular certifying agency.

It is a pioneer in many ways.

Firstly, as its name suggests, ISSA was the first genuinely international personal trainer certification program provider. Because of this, it was also the first distance-based fitness institute in the US.

That is why DEAC initially accredited ISSA instead of the more prevalent NCCA.

However, ISSA is also the parent company of NCCPT, a certification provider I’ll discuss later in this topic.

The collaborative resources of the two providers mean that ISSA offers both a DEAC and an NCCA accredited credential.

​In terms of exam difficulty, the ISSA DEAC final test is a lot easier than the NCCA-accredited certification exam.

ISSA price

The price for just the ISSA CPT alone costs $999, which is more expensive than some of these other certifications, but ISSA has a really sweet Elite Trainer package that gives you training, nutrition, and a third specialization for only $1308, which is only $436 per certification. 

This is by far the best deal from a major certification provider and it also includes study materials for each program included. 

​With three credentials, you have the flexibility to be able to provide more value to your clients. 

ISSA General Information

ISSA General Information

  • Exam cost: $1308 for Elite Trainer Bundle ($436/certification)
  • Study material cost: $109/month for 12 months
  • Prerequisites: CPR/AED, High School Diploma
  • Exam passing score: Scaled 550/800 – 90/125 Scored Questions
  • Exam pass rate: 89% (for DEAC-exam), 70% (for NCCA-exam)
  • Average completion time: 3 to 5 months

ISSA value

Value-wise, ISSA scores well in my book. It may look a bit expensive to pay $999 for one certification, but, if you go for the three certs together in the long-run, you are going to benefit greatly from the knowledge and prestige of having a nutrition certification and a specialization to help you stand out in the crowded fitness marketplace. 

Check out my full ISSA Certification review here for an in-depth look on the skills, knowledge, and concepts learned in this program. ISSA gives you solid weight training program design concepts, anatomy and physiology, and special population information.

2. The Best 2-in-1 Deal – National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM)

Cheapest personal training certification - NASM CPT. NASM personal trainer textbook displayed on table with gold coins.

NASM organization

NASM is the National Academy of Sports Medicine, an organization considered to be one of the most recognized names in health and fitness certifications and credentials.

cheapest personal trainer certification - NASM CPT national academy of sports medicine logo

NASM’s CPT is one of the most sought after in the PT job market, and personal trainers holding this cert range from group fitness instructors in some of the best gyms on the globe all the way to fitness entrepreneurs with their own personal training studios.

NASM price

NASM’s packages probably have the most diverse variance in price, with the most expensive package being the most expensive overall.

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But you can get their Nutrition and Fitness Coach bundle, which gives you their training certification and nutrition program for only $999, making each certification cost $499.

This is an excellent option, it costs you the normal price of one certification, and you get two upon completion of the programs. 

NASM-CPT General Information

NASM-CPT General Information

  • Exam cost: $999 for 2 certifications ($499 each)
  • Study material cost: See above
  • Prerequisites: High School Diploma (or GED), CPR/AED certification from a qualifying provider
  • Exam passing score: 70%
  • Exam pass rate: 74%
  • Average completion time: 3-6 months

NASM value

NASM is a well known organization and their study resources are among the best. The NASM CPT teaches the fundamentals of everything you need to know as a trainer. 

They use their OPT model to give individuals a comprehensive framework to work with and cover the topics of corrective exercise and exercise technique instruction well. 

Value-wise, you get a lot with some of the smaller packages, like the Self-study, which is $749, on sale. 

Once you start looking into the higher tier options, the price is a lot higher than I think you can justify for what you get.

So, in terms of value, NASM does well with their bundle and lower tier study packages, but it’s a bit too expensive when you choose their higher-priced options, like the All-Inclusive. This decision is up to you, though. 

In terms of the specializations I’d recommend, NASM is known for their Corrective Exercise Specialist, so you may want to consider that one as well to help prevent injuries in clients.

Check out my full NASM Certification review here.

3. The Best Price for CPT Test and Study Materials – American Council on Exercise (ACE)

Cheapest personal training certifications - ACE textbook laid out on table with gold coins and mystery boxes - how much does ACE CPT cost?

ACE organization

The American Council on Exercise is a stalwart in the fitness coach certification game.

Enjoying a relevance that puts it arguably in the top 3, ACE’s name and reputation carry a value proposition that translates to one of the highest premiums in the certification market.

They are well known for their group fitness and health coach certifications.

ACE price 

ACE has some incredible study resources and their packages range from $489 for the Basic package up to $864 for the Advantage package with the current discount.  

This makes ACE the cheapest option if you include study resources. 

As with most other fitness trainer certifications, ACE regularly posts deals and discounts on the cost of ACE certification, so don’t forget to check their official CPT price listing for more information.

ACE General Information

ACE General Information

  • Exam cost: $489
  • Study material cost: $489 – $864
  • Prerequisites: CPR/AED, High School Diploma
  • Exam passing score: Scaled 550/800 – 90/125 Scored Questions
  • Exam pass rate: ~70% (2019 data)
  • Average completion time: 3 to 5 months

ACE value 

ACE does a great job in terms of value. Their study programs are among the best, and even the most expensive option is less than $900. You should also read my full ACE CPT review for more insight. 

In addition, ACE also sets the gold standard for excellence in the areas of behavioral coaching and exercise psychology, so if you’re interested in that area of concern, ACE might be the right option for you. ACE also teaches great communication skills for personal trainers.

4. The Best Exam-Only Price – American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM)

Cheapest personal training certification - ACSM textbook laid out on table with gold coins and mystery boxes - how much does ACSM CPT cost?

ACSM organization 

ACSM is the American College of Sports Medicine. It’s the oldest fitness certification body. ACSM has established itself as an academic and research leader, even going as far as providing data and knowledge for the curricula of other certification providers.

ACSM’s complex pricing system includes different membership tiers that activate various discounts.

ACSM price

If you just pay for the exam, it’ll cost you between $299 and $399, depending on whether you’re a member candidate of the organization. 

Realistically, with textbook fees and study resources, that number will be a few hundred dollars more, but if you just look at the exam itself, ACSM does cost less. 

The standard prices do fluctuate due to periodic deals and discounts, so make sure you know the current cost and don’t forget to check my full, comprehensive ACSM CPT review here.

ACSM General Information

ACSM General Information

  • Exam cost: $299-$399
  • Study material cost: $400-$1000+
  • Prerequisites: CPR/AED, High School Diploma
  • Exam passing score: Scaled 550/800
  • Exam pass rate: 69% (2020 data)
  • Average completion time: 3 to 9 months

ACSM value

If you just want to take your chances and take a personal trainer exam from a well recognized organization, ACSM presents great value for what you get without the extra coursework.

However, once you factor in study costs with the books you need to purchase, the price will cost around $800 if you take the prep course approach. 

I also am not a fan of some of the information in the ACSM textbook as I find it a bit dated, and you don’t get the best understanding of how to program workouts effectively. For this consideration, value-wise, ACSM may not be the best option for fitness professionals.

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Gold Standard Cert
NASM Gold Standard Personal Trainer Certification - Save 25%<br />
Most Popular Cert
ISSA - Most Popular Online Personal Trainer Certification 3 Certs for
Best Study Materials
TA - Trainer Academy - Best Study Materials for Personal Trainer Certification Online - See MVP discount
A Good Option
ACE Certification- A Good Fitness Course Online Option - 25% off<br />
A Good Option
NCSF Certification - A Good Option - Save 25%
Best CPT for you?
Best CPT For You? Take the Personal Trainer Certification Online quiz and Get a Personalized Recommendation Just for You

5. The Best Cost vs Value – National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA)

Cheapest personal training certifications - NSCA textbook laid out on table with gold coins and mystery boxes - how much does NSCA CPT cost?

NSCA organization 

NSCA is the National Strength and Conditioning Association.

It’s a certification provider I would consider a legacy institution owing to its long-running heritage and influence.

As the name suggests, NSCA is a strength and conditioning-focused provider, meaning athletic performance and sports coaching programs are part of its fundamental offerings.

Because with NSCA’s education, you could potentially become a sports performance professional or sports coach, one of the most lucrative careers in fitness. The NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (NSCA CSCS) is their most popular certification outside of personal training. 

NSCA price

The NSCA exam costs between $300 and $435, depending on if you are a member, and the Basic Digital Package goes for $152 for members and $202 without.

This means you spend between $452 and $637 in order to obtain one of the most comprehensive CPTs out there. 

Check out NSCA’s current pricing for deals and discounts.

NSCA CPT General Information

NSCA CPT General Information

  • Exam cost: $435 (non-member price)
  • Study material cost: $435-$1000+
  • Prerequisites: CPR/AED, High School Diploma
  • Exam passing score: 70%
  • Exam pass rate: 72% (2018 data)
  • Average completion time: 6 months

NSCA value

While the study materials you get from NSCA are a bit bare compared to the likes of ISSA, NASM, or ACE, the actual content in the textbook is incredibly detailed.

You get around 700 pages of high quality information and the newest edition of the textbook is actually a pleasure to read.

Therefore, if you don’t need a lot of hand-holding, NSCA presents excellent value for what you pay. You will know a lot by the time you start training clients in the gym. Certain elements shine, such as exercise science, the biomechanics section, programming, and how to train athletes. NSCA also has some of the best assessments in any CPT, meaning you are able to figure out the safety of different exercises and positions for your clients. You should also take a look at my full NSCA CPT review right here.

6. The Cheapest Certification of Them All – ACTION CPT

cheapest personal training certification - ACTION textbook laid out on table with gold coins and mystery boxes - how much does ACTION CPT cost?

ACTION organization

Action CPT is the newest certificate on this list. It is also the cheapest certification I’m looking at and is the only cert whose price point is below triple figures at just under $100.00.

Through exploring Action CPT, I’ve realized that it presents a very rudimentary take on PT education and it’s also one of the quickest and easiest personal training certifications.

It’s pretty bare bones but comprehensive enough to make the cut within the standards for NCCA accreditation, which is why I can review and recommend it.

ACTION price

If you want an affordable online fitness certification, just as a starter or cheap CEU option, Action CPT, the cheapest accredited certification I know of, is a viable choice.

The price point is a steal for an online fitness coaching program when you factor in potential discounts.

You do have to pay the exam proctoring fee, which is another $99, so if you include the program plus exam, the total is $198. 

ACTION CPT General Information

ACTION CPT General Information

 

  • Study material cost: $99 – $249
  • Prerequisites: None
  • Exam passing score: 70%
  • Average completion time: 8 – 16 weeks.

ACTION value 

If you want an affordable online fitness certification, just as a starter or cheap CEU option, Action CPT, the cheapest accredited certification I know of, is a viable choice on basis of price alone. 

However, personally, I think it makes much more sense to go with a more recognized organization in place of ACTION like ISSA, NASM, ACE, or NSCA. 

Check out their website for up-to-the-minute pricing.

7. The Best Inexpensive Alternative – National Council on Strength and Fitness (NCSF CPT)

cheapest personal training certification - NCSF textbook laid out on table with gold coins and mystery boxes - how much does NCSF CPT cost?

NCSF organization

The National Council on Strength and Fitness is one of the lesser-known program providers from a mainstream perspective.

However, in the domain of the fitness industry, it is recognized as a high-quality performance-centric institute, having endorsements from some of the top gyms in the US.

NCSF price

You can buy the most inexpensive NCSF package for only $299 on sale, making this one of the most inexpensive certs on this list. Even the higher tier study package is around $450 on sale and this includes the exam. 

NCSF CPT General Information

NCSF CPT General Information

  • Exam cost: $299
  • Study material cost: $399 – $540
  • Prerequisites: 18 years of age
  • Exam passing score: 70%
  • Exam pass rate: ~75% (2019 data)
  • Average completion time: 3 – 6 months

NCSF value

While NCSF doesn’t have as much clout as some of the organizations higher up on the list, their textbook is quite good.  

I consider this the best value certification provider after NSCA.

Take a look at their official site for any updates on discounts and specials.

For full insight, check out my NCSF CPT review here.

8. Best Package Value – National Council for Certified Personal Trainers (NCCPT CPT)

personal training certifications - NCCPT textbook laid out on table with gold coins and mystery boxes - how much does the NCCPT cost?

NCCPT organization

The National Council for Certified Personal Trainers is an industry certification provider for the general PT market. Note that the NCCPT uses the same textbook as ISSA.

As mentioned earlier, NCCPT was acquired by ISSA, and since then, it has acted as its parent organization’s official NCCA accredited option.

Through ISSA, you can purchase the certification as part of ISSA’s complete CPT package. However, you can buy NCCPT as a stand-alone option.

In that case, you will only have access to the exam, meaning your acquisition of recommended prep material will be at your discretion.

NCCPT price

If you get the NCCPT exam by itself, you pay $599. This makes the certification in the middle from a price perspective. It’s not the cheapest, but not the most expensive. 

NCSF CPT General Information

NCSF CPT General Information

  • Exam cost: $299
  • Study material cost: $399 – $540
  • Prerequisites: 18 years of age
  • Exam passing score: 70%
  • Exam pass rate: ~75% (2019 data)
  • Average completion time: 3 – 6 months

NCCPT value 

Unless you buy this as part of ISSA’s packages you won’t get any curriculum or study materials, so by itself I don’t see the best value in paying $599 for just the exam. 

Check out my full review of NCCPT right here.

9. The Best Middle-of-the-Road Option AFAA CPT

cheapest personal training certifications - AFAA textbook laid out on table with gold coins and mystery boxes - how much does AFAA CPT cost?

AFAA organization

The Athletics and Fitness Association of America is a professional fitness certification provider founded in 1983. They are most known for their group fitness certification and were bought a few years ago by NASM, so the larger organization could take over their group exercise certification. 

AFAA price

The AFAA costs $499, including the exam, but not the textbook. With the textbook, you’re looking at $79 extra, so $578 total. 

AFAA PFT General Information

AFAA PFT General Information

 

  • Exam cost:   $499
  • Study Material Cost:  $579
  • Prerequisites: 18+ years old, High School Diploma, First Aid, CPR, AED
  • Exam Passing Score70%
  • Exam Pass Rate: ~68%
  • Average Completion Time: 3-9 months

AFAA value

Value-wise this certification is kind of in the middle. It’s not super expensive, but it’s not as good from a content standpoint as some of the cheaper options like ACE or NSCA. 

Cheapest Fitness Certification FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

Which is The Cheapest PT Cert?

From a purely price angle, Action Personal Trainer is the most affordable personal trainer certification coming in at just $99.00.
As the cheapest accredited personal training certification and cheapest personal training certification in the online community, it isn’t the most robust, so keep that in mind.

Which Is The Most Expensive PT Cert?

ISSA or NASM will cost the most if you just go for the PT certification on its own, but they actually end up being much more reasonable if you pick their multiple certification deals. 

How Long Does It Take To Become a Certified Personal Trainer?

When asking how long it takes to become a personal trainer, you must consider two things.

Firstly, how much do you understand about health and fitness practice going in, and how much time do you have available outside of established commitments.

Considering all factors, most people take between three to nine months to complete a CPT cert.

Which is The Best Personal Training Certification?

The question of which are the best certifications to get is a tricky one to answer.

It ultimately boils down to your fitness career aspirations and the fitness goals of your target market.

Which Is The Best Online Course?

All personal trainer programs mentioned in this article have an online fitness trainer course.

Some include online-only study materials such as study guides and practice exams. At the same time, some have a choice between hard copy and digital materials for their certification courses and CPT exams.

Action CPT is an excellent cheap personal training certification online.

Conclusion

So there you have it, folks, a comprehensive list of the ten cheapest personal training certifications.

While price is the main focus of this topic, I also took the time to shine a light on the importance of value.

It’s good to indicate your affordable options, but it’s equally crucial to pick the best certification for what you want to learn. 

Tyler Read

Tyler Read, BSc, CPT. Tyler holds a B.S. in Kinesiology from Sonoma State University and is a certified personal trainer (CPT) with NASM (National Academy of sports medicine), and has over 15 years of experience working as a personal trainer. He is a published author of running start, and a frequent contributing author on Healthline and Eat this, not that.

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13 thoughts on “The 9 Cheapest Personal Training Certifications”

  1. PTPioneer User

    I read in the NASM handbook “The CPT Exam Only option allows the candidate to challenge the NCCA-accredited
    CPT certification examination. Purchase of NASM certification preparation materials is
    not required in order to become eligible to sit for the CPT exam, and does not
    guarantee a passing score on the exam. Candidates who pass the examination will
    be awarded the CPT credential.”
    I’ve not contacted NASM, but maybe you can answer; from reading this you can take the test without purchasing anything through NASM. Am I missing anything?

    1. Tyler Read - Certified Personal Trainer with PTPioneer

      Hey Joel,
      You definitely do not need to buy any study materials from anyone if you feel confident that you will pass the exam. That being said, you still do need to pay for the entrance and the ability to take the NASM test. They do on their website have a test only option that does not include any study materials. At the minimum, this is what you will need to purchase to get certified through them.

  2. PTPioneer User

    I have a european cert and need to get a us cert. I have been training for 15 years and think that action CPT seems the best option as I already have my years of experience and cert.

    1. Tyler Read - Certified Personal Trainer with PTPioneer

      Hey Neill,
      That’s pretty cool that you have a European personal training certification. Which certification is that by the way? The action certification will definitely be fine for your situation as it is accredited by the NCCA and should be a breeze for you to pass seeing that you already have 15 years of experience working as a personal trainer. Also the price is very tempting. I say go for it.

      1. PTPioneer User

        Hi Tyler, Its Australian Inst Fitness Master Trainer(AIF). A very intensive 8 week 10 hours a day on-site certification. Price was way more than the list you mentioned at 4000k+ plus food. accommodation was taken care of. It is an awesome cert. Everything was live as well as to get my final exam we had to go into the local gym and ask someone if they would like to do a training session with me for an hour. Then they were interviewed after for feedback. It was awesome.

    1. Tyler Read - Certified Personal Trainer with PTPioneer

      Hey Tony,
      I have heard of the athletic certification training commission but honestly I have not done too much research and I also do not know any personal trainers that are holding that certification. Maybe I will do some more research and write a full review on them in the future, but for now I can’t tell you too much about them.

  3. PTPioneer User

    I was wondering if you are able to provide any information regarding the National Association for Fitness Certification- Nutrition Coach Certification? Accredited by NBFE. Are you familiar with this certification? Is this reputable at all? I am aware that it is not top of the list. I am looking for a quick/inexpensive, if possible, cert to get going. Will work towards better/additional certs. I am former D1 athlete, and have coached soccer, track and field, and strength and conditioning at the youth and HS level, and am looking to work with teams, and individual athletes, as well as general population on a 1 on 1 basis. I appreciate any intel you can provide.

    1. Tyler Read - Certified Personal Trainer with PTPioneer

      Hello,
      I have heard of the national Association for fitness certification but I really do not know too much about it besides hearing of the name. If you are looking to work with athletes of any level, I suggest picking up a strength and conditioning certification as well as a youth certification in your circumstance. I would either go with ISSA or NASM. If you have a college degree, the CSCS certification is definitely at the top of the list in terms of recognition.

    1. Tyler Read - Certified Personal Trainer with PTPioneer

      Hey there, I do believe that they are accredited by the NCCA although they are not nearly as recognized as some other ones such as the National Academy of sports medicine, or the American Council on exercise. I do believe that you need to pay extra in order to get the ncca accredited version. Whereas with the other organizations that comes standard.

  4. PTPioneer User

    AMAZING site with the best compilation of info out there!! Can’t THANK YOU enough for this service!! Kudo’s!

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