So personal training certifications, there’s a ton of them out there. Because of this, there are inevitably a few scams and fake certs floating around. That makes finding the right one rather tricky, right? Wrong! Finding the right cert isn’t such a chore, the problem is, finding the right one for YOU!
The one issue many new and hopeful people face when entering the PT space is finding a certification that suits them, and in many cases the key factor is exam difficulty.
In this article we’re going to rank personal trainer certifications according to difficulty from hardest to easiest. This way you can decide which cert is best for you if exam difficulty is a big factor in your decision.
If you’re still undecided about which PT cert is best for you, I recommend you take the quiz to see which certification best matches your training style. The menu at the top of this page will answer any question related to personal training that you have. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to leave me a comment here (I’ll respond within 24 hours). Also, visit the home page for the most recent and popular articles.
So let’s get started Ladies and Gentlemen.
The Easy Way Out!
When it comes to personal trainer certifications, there are some real war zones out there. Take the NSCA CSCS. This is rated as a Gold Standard cert. Really it should be rated a pain in the butt.
This cert had s 55% pass rate as of writing this. That means you’re almost as likely to fail as you are to pass.
But enough of that, the thing is, there are many easy certifications available for you to choose from. The problem is, a lot of the easy to pass certs are the ones you need to watch out for.
As is the case with many goods and services, especially the internet variety, there are many scams lurking. The internet is teeming with bogus certs from scam institutions.
For the sake of brevity, we won’t be dealing with those fake certs. We want to keep it real, so instead of trying to weed out the bad, let’s look at how to spot the good ones.
In order to figure out which certifications to avoid, you’ll need to look out for accreditation. When it comes to accreditation, there are two accrediting bodies you need to be concerned with.
Follow the Accreditation
To find your best bet certification, the first thing you want is to look for credibility and official recognition.
That boils down to accreditation. Accreditation is basically a certification’s certification. It’s a badge of authenticity and verification that basically says this cert is supported and recognized by a panel of industry governing experts.
Like I mentioned, there are two accrediting bodies you need to worry about. These are the National Commission of Certifying Agencies or NCCA and the Distance Education Accrediting Commission of DEAC.
The NCCA is the older of the two and is a bit more recognized as an accrediting body. DEAC is a bit more recent and was founded in response to the growing need for accredited remote learning certifications.
No matter what you do, make sure you look out for one of these two as a seal of authenticity. Now you’re ready to pick a cert.
Easy Does it?
Before we run down our list, we need to discuss if an easy cert is really the way to go? After all the harder a cert is, the more of an incentive it is for test takers to properly learn and apply the material. Right?
Well, it’s really not that binary. Some harder certifications are actually lacking in many fundamental aspects. One example of this is the hardest of them all, the NSCA CSCS.
With such a low pass rate, you’d think it’s got all its bases covered in terms of applied concepts. The strange thing is, the CSCS has no practical component and is purely based on theory.
On the flip side, and easy cert such as ISSA, has a ton of practical relevance for an applied approach to coaching clients. These certification are ranked from easiest to hardest.
List of the Easiest Personal Training Certifications
The 10 certifications listed below are the easiest personal trainer certifications. Of these are ranked from easiest to hardest based on the pass rate of their personal training exams. The order of this list does not necessarily represent my top personal training certifications, just the easiest.
1. ISSA CPT
And number one on our list of the easiest certifications is another unique PT program courtesy of ISSA. ISSA stands for International Sports Sciences Association, with and emphasis on the international part.
That’s because ISSA is available in multiple language regions and numerous countries around the world, giving it a global reach and relevance. ISSA is also unique in that, although accredited, it isn’t with the NCAA.
ISSA is accredited by DEAC, which deals with authentication of distance and remote learning programs. ISSA is after all done almost completely online so this makes total sense.
The ISSA exam is an open book test, making it extremely manageable in terms of passing probability. The current ISSA pass rate is 89.9%.
Not only is ISSA the easiest certification to pass, it is also one of my top three overall certifications. What makes it even better is that sometimes they offer Three certifications for the price of one. This is called their elite trainer deal and includes their personal training certification, their nutritionists certification and one other certification of your choice. Sometimes this cost as low as $999 which is a steal (when they have the deal running). Check out the current price of the elite trainer program.
2. NPTI CPT
The NPTI program was developed in 1997 by Eugene Mcilvaine. Unlike most of the other certifications on this list, NPTI is an extensive 500-hour program, where you progress and qualification is directly tied to the hours you put in and the course work you do.
This means the NPTI program is a very hands-on approach, with class room and practical activity forming the bulk of your learning experience. Simulated PT sessions and real in-the-field experience are what you’ll be getting up to with this one.
Because of this, NPTI does not have a final exam, or award you with an exam pass certification. Instead, what you get with NPTI is a non accredited diploma, which is a shame. Considering how well-structured and unique this program is.
Due to this, NPTI finds itself in a very weird place on this list where it’s neither here nor there in terms of difficulty. The biggest problem I have with the NPTI is its overall price tag. It is the most expensive on this list by far.
3. ACTION CPT
ACTION is a very new certifying agency, and its certification is a new kid on the block. Having only gained NCCA accreditation in 2014, ACTION still has a way to go before fully gaining the same level of industry recognition as some other big ones on this list.
One unique aspect of the ACTION CPT cert is its cost. It is the cheapest NCCA accredited cert you can get your hands on. The quality of content offered by this program is agreeable, it is after all accredited by the NCCA, but it doesn’t hold much of a light compared to the other more established certs discussed here.
The current pass rate is unknown, but from what I’ve come across in reviews and forums. The exam is easy enough for a substantial majority pass rate for first time exam takers.
4. NCCPT CPT
The National Council for Certified Personal Trainers or NCCPT certification is another cert that has seen a recent surge in popularity. This cert is an amalgamation of around 34 different PT certs, a fusion of well-rounded knowledge resources.
ACSM’s research plays a heavy role in what you will learn from NCCPT. This isn’t uncommon owing to the specialized research capacity of ACSM, supplying data and knowledge to most other certifying agencies.
This cert, like most on this list is NCCA accredited, meaning you can rely on its credibility. The general pass rate for first time test takers is 65.9%, putting it on the easier end of the spectrum.
5. NESTA CPT
NESTA is an innovator in the PT game. Their implementation of technology and trainer assistive infrastructure is second to none. They continue to evolve these tool, helping trainers better manage and interact with clients for more maximized outcomes.
This is one of the newer certs in this list. As such, its status isn’t quite as established as the others here, but its rise up the ranks as a tried, true and reputable certification are undeniable. Just check out my NESTA review for more detailed information about this cert.
Now, from what the stats say, NESTA offers a more lenient, but not easy, experience when it comes to the final exam. The challenge level is one thing, but also the fact that you have a full 2 hours to complete just 100 questions might suggest why its relatively easier. The NESTA CPT pass rate is 65.4% for first timers.
6. ACE CPT
ACE is one of the big certs out there and typically stands toe to toe with NASM in terms of recognition, reputation and popularity. ACE is a great establishment to be associated with and it’s certifications are NCCA accredited.
ACE has a more general approach to training and offers good core principles to carry you through into a lucrative career as a PT. with a rich evidence-based knowledge delivery system, the exam comes in at a moderate difficulty level, not too hard, but not too easy.
The ACE CPT pass rate is 65% for first time exam takers as of the time of writing. ACE Is the second certification on this list that is in my top three overall certifications. Check out the ACE certification here.
7. NASM CPT
Next up we have the NASM CPT exam. This is one of the most reputable certs you can get behind your name. It has a high level of industry recognition and is globally regarded as one of, if not the best. Have a look at my NASM CPT review here.
With NASM, the focus is on a corrective approach to personal training. It covers all the right fundamentals effectively without being prohibitively complex. This can be seen in how the exam offers enough of a challenge to test your commitment to applied knowledge, but not too much that it can be considered hard.
For that reason, NSAM sit somewhere on the moderate side of this scale, with a pass rate of 64.3% for first time test takers. NASM is the third certification on this list that is in my overall top three certifications. This is probably the most well-recognized certification in the industry today. Check out NASM here.
8. NSCA CPT
NSCA is a notorious certifying agency when it comes to exam difficulty. By now I’ve mentioned how difficult the NSCA CSCS is, probably one of the hardest tests out there with a 55% pass rate.
That however is the CSCS. The Certified Sports Conditioning Specialist is geared towards athletic performance optimization and not a general PT cert. So It kinda makes sense. The NSCA CPT however, is a general PT cert, so you’d assume it’s easy yes?
Unfortunately, that’s not the case, which lands the NSCA pretty high up on this list, and with a 58% pass rate, its clear to see why.
NSCA does have a strong reputational standing, so nabbing this cert will be a great investment nonetheless.
9. NCSF CPT
The National council of strength and fitness or NCSF is one of the toughest exams on this list, making it to the beginning of the ranking.
The 150 multiple choice question test has many tricky questioning standards which require plenty of prep and strategic insight in order to avoid tripping up. This exam focuses mainly on program design, exercise form and correct exercise prescription.
It is an industry recognized certification, NCFS has a 57% pass rate as of writing. This puts it not very far ahead of ACSM CPT in terms of difficulty. Not for you if you’re trying to get an easy mode cert.
10. ACSM CPT
I’ll kick things off with the hardest of all the certs, the ACSM CPT exam. This test is notorious for being in the same league of difficulty as other more advanced qualifications such as NSCA CSCS which you can have a look at in a separate article.
ACSM CPT has a global pass rate of 54%, making it one of, if not the least passed certification of all time. ACSM is by no means an easy personal training certification.
ACSM is robust in terms of what you’ll walk away with. It’s deep medical heritage and research culture place it in league with other Gold Standard certs.
The Easiest Conclusion Ever!
Up if you still haven’t done so, take the quiz to see which certification is best for you.
So there you have it, the hardest to the easiest personal trainer courses ranked for your convenience.
Overall, regardless of the ease of the personal training certification, my overall three certifications are:
- The International sports sciences Association (ISSA)
- The National Academy of sports medicine (NASM)
- The American Council on exercise (ACE)
And, if ISSA as their special deal to get the elite trainer program for only $999 ( three full certification’s) this is the best overall bang for your buck in my opinion. Check out the current price for the elite trainer program here.
Easiness is just one factor and should not be the only thing you look at when deciding which path to take. Also remember that the easiest path is not always the best one, so remember to allow a degree of challenge so you can be assured of quality.
I’ll be doing more ranked break-downs, isolating different aspects of the PT certification world and ranking them accordingly.
Don’t forget to take my quiz and drop any questions in the comment section below if you’re still not sure which way to go.