NCCPT Review 2023 - NCCPT Certification Cost vs Value


Hey everyone, and welcome to the internet’s ultimate NCCPT certification review.

To give you an authentic look and feel, we’ll be going into:

The General Focus and Popularity/Recognition
The Study Materials and Pricing
Information on the Tests and Recertification

Before we fully immerse ourselves, please make sure to take the quiz in order to get a better handle on which cert suits your career style.

Without further delay, let’s jump straight into it.

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Quick Breakdown: NCCPT CPT Certification

7out of 10

Exercise Science Foundations8
Behavioral Coaching5
Client Health Screening9
Movement Screening9
Resistance Training7
Special Population Training6
Aerobic Fitness Training5

  • Relatively affordable
  • NCCA Accredited
  • Supported by ISSA
  • NCCPT has been in this business for over 20 years
  • Great for entry-level personal trainers
  • The study guide appears to be vague in some aspects
  • The exam scoring system is confusing to understand
  • Not as well-received or recognized as other major certs
  • A very generalized approach to health and fitness training

NCCPT General Information

NCCPT General Information

  • Exam cost: $828.00 (only purchased with study materials)
  • Study material cost: $69/month for 12 months
  • 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

Trainer Academy Guide
Trainer Academy Guide
  • Complete curriculum study preparation
  • Audio guide, flashcards, and mnemonics
  • 800+ practice questions
  • Highest exam pass rate
  • Exam pass refund guarantee
  • Cheaper pricing than NCCPT/ISSA materials
NCCPT (ISSA) Materials
NCCPT (ISSA) Materials
  • Curriculum study preparation
  • Includes textbook and study plan
  • Follow-along supplementary materials
  • 200+ practice questions
  • No exam pass refund guarantee
  • $950 for starter package
Free ISSA Study Guide
Free ISSA Study Guide
  • Curriculum material overview
  • Complete chapter breakdowns
  • 60 practice questions
  • 130 flashcards and cheat sheet
  • Free from PTPioneer

Introduction: What is the NCCPT?

The National Council for Certified Personal Trainers, or NCCPT, was founded in 1995.

Its mission is to act as a quality control portal for future successful personal trainers seeking to enter the industry.

Their approach is very general as they offer the fundamentals in terms of how they equip qualifying candidates.

You should understand that NCCPT is a wholly-owned subsidiary of ISSA, the International Sports Science Association.

The NCCPT is strictly the accredited version of the ISSA exam, and does not have a separate curriculum.

ISSA is one of the most reputable organizations in the health and fitness credentialing space.

In fact, the NCCPT and ISSA share the same test prep materials, and purchasing the ISSA materials is the only way to buy NCCPT exam study materials directly from the organization.

This is great because it means you have this combination of great ISSA curriculum with an NCCA accredited certification to boost your credibility.

To further crush your personal training career out of the gate, I recommend considering a nutrition coaching certification on top of your CPT.

Combining nutrition coaching with the physical component of personal training will get much better client results than the exercise alone.

Even better is adding a fitness specialization on top of your CPT and nutrition certifications.

Specialist certifications include things like corrective exercise specialist, strength and conditioning coach, and health coach specializations.

Serving niche clientele that require the special expertise that you get with this type of additional certification is a great way to increase your personal training income.

If you are a sought-after expert in a certain topic, even at a local gym, you can charge more or demand higher pay as you build your reputation on top of your specialist certification.

Additionally, these certifications knock out 2-4 years of CEU credits.

CEUs are an inevitability to deal with if you plan to stay current on your certifications, which is an unspoken requirement for professional personal trainers.

Of course, pricing out three certifications adds up quickly, especially when you have to shell it out upfront.

If you do end up choosing the NCCPT personal training certification, I recommend looking into the ISSA Elite Trainer Package when buying your test preparation materials.

The Elite Trainer includes the NCCPT exam (normally $599) and full ISSA CPT/NCCPT study materials.

But that’s not all.

The Elite Trainer package also includes the ISSA nutritionist certification and an additional ISSA specialization of your choice at less than half of what it would cost to purchase all certifications individually.


On top of that, an online CPR course is included that fulfills the CPR/AED requirement to sit for the CPT exam.

You would otherwise have to locate and schedule the CPR separately – potentially in-person.

Furthermore, you can go for an interest-free 12-month payment plan through the ISSA, potentially allowing you to pay at least some of the bill after you start earning income from personal training.

It really is an easy choice if you want to quickly advance your personal training career.

The ISSA periodically runs great discounts for the Elite Trainer package.

If they currently have a deal running on the ISSA Elite Trainer, it’s tough to pass up.

One of the key additional benefits of the ISSA and NCCPT overall is its online administration.

I personally regard ISSA as the best online personal trainer certification provider.

I can say from my review of the exam and course curriculum, ISSA has a strong grasp of personal training programming tips and principles.

Being able to design comprehensive programs is a key aspect of results-driven personal training, a good way to maximize client retention.

One area where NCCPT is lacking, which incidentally is a strong point when considering ISSA, is special populations training.

Outside of a few mentions on the importance and methodologies behind training senior fitness and arthritic clients, there is no dedicated allocation in the curriculum for special population groups.

Regardless, it is an NCCA accredited institute, and with that, you can rest assured that your credentials, and the knowledge they equip you with, measure up to industry standards.

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But before you even dream of what an NCCPT cert brings in-store, let’s take a look at how you’ll arrive at success.

If you are feeling overwhelmed by how many certifications are on the market, I suggest you take my quiz to determine the best personal trainer certification for your goals.

Now let’s take a look at the NCCPT content.

NCCPT CPT Content Coverage: the Good and the Bad

Now, let’s take a look at the key aspects of personal training and determine how well NCCPT covers them to equip useful professionals.

Exercise Science Foundations Coverage

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At the genesis of understanding, fitness instruction and correct fitness programming is understanding fitness itself, namely understanding exercise science and exercise physiology.

Each PT cert worth its salt will begin its curriculum with an introduction to exercise science. How well this is achieved can set the tone for how valuable the educational experience will be.

When it comes to NCCPT, the coverage done on exercise application stands to the task.

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After reading through the exam content and matching it with what I can adopt from ISSA’s materials, I can confidently say that NCCPT has a firm grasp on this aspect.

The first Domain of the exam, Applied Science (Anatomy, Kinesiology, Physiology), starts us off with a good entry into the human body from a physical performance perspective.

The second Domain, Nutrition, follows through by providing a seamless transition into the deeper fundamentals of exercise biochemistry as influenced by dietary inputs.

As laid out in the exam, the curriculum then continues to highlight exercise science through domain 5 (Exercise Selection, Technique, and training Instruction).

This domain focuses on the correct implementation of exercise science principles toward an effective and safe instruction protocol.

It also gives you the ability to educate your clients on exercise protocols that they can use for at-home workouts for example.

Your ability to grasp the fundamentals of exercise science will determine how long it takes to become a personal trainer.

Behavioral Coaching Coverage

Being an effective fitness instructor means taking a client from one state of health to a different, more elevated state of health.

In most cases, changing one’s state of health coincides with changing one’s mind.

Being able to influence behavioral change towards sustainable, health habits is a must-have skill.

This skill hinges on having the right personality traits that will enable you to motivate and influence your clients.

NCCPT does touch on behavioral change or change psychology as it is commonly known, but the topic is skimmed over very briefly in the exam layout.

Behavioral change is most prominent in Domain 2: Nutrition, but even so, it’s a very light and uninvolved concept.

Having the skills to influence a client’s attitude towards their health is beneficial to them and you as a coach.

Your success adds to your accolades and credibility as a coach. In order to achieve results you can showcase, you need clients who comply with your instruction, achieved through correct behavioral change protocols.

If you want to get a grasp of behavioral change practices, check out The ISSA textbook, Fitness: The Complete Guide, Unit 12: The Drawing-In Phase.

Here you will learn the communication and influence skills required to inspire change in your clients.

When it comes to the skills and traits that allow you to motivate and influence good behavior, they also come in handy when it comes to how personal trainers get clients as well as how they retain clients

Client Health Screening and Assessment Coverage

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This is another category where NCCPT shines.

The attention towards client assessment, screening, and monitoring is pretty in-depth and is especially exemplified by Domain 5: Exercise Selection, Technique, and training Instruction.

In this domain, section B is specifically geared towards assessing a candidate’s knowledge on the correct methods towards monitoring a client’s progress as well as providing feedback and understanding what to assess.

Domain 3: Intake and Ongoing Evaluation is entirely focused on screening and assessment and tests the candidates’ knowledge on the correct movement assessments, something I’ll get into in a later section

Domain 4: Program Design and Implementation also caters to the screening and assessment process as it pertains to the initial phases of training a new client.

In order to design an effective and individual-relevant program, a clear set of assessments and consultations must take place.

You need to know:

These are covered effectively by NCCPT’s approach to programming and program design.

One drawback in this regard is the fact that the NCCPT package doesn’t include study materials and resources such as you would find with most major certifications.

I’m accustomed to having access to coaching resources such as the Physical Activity Readiness Questionnaire (PAR-Q).

This standardized form is often indicated in course textbooks or workbooks, often with ready-to-use copies available for your convenience.

You can still gain access to these should you use ISSA’s CPT resources as the foundation of your study and exam prep.

Client Movement Screening Coverage

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A more specific area of client assessment is movement screening.

Previously, we discussed general health screening in the way of preliminary and ongoing assessments.

This type of activity is similar to what you’d come to expect from a certified health coach.

To hone in on the specifics of exercise instruction, you, as a personal trainer, also need to understand the assessments around exercise methods and the biomechanical implications therein.

Movement assessments allow you to determine which exercises are good for your client and which ones are no-gos. It helps you determine your client’s limitations, strengths, and weaknesses, thus allowing you to develop a tailored approach and get creative with your exercises.

As far as NCCPT goes, you have an entire domain, Domain 3, dedicated to the assessment of movement and biomechanics utilizing the standard assessment methods.

These include:

  • The squat assessment
  • The step assessment
  • The pushup assessment
  • The 12-minute run assessment
  • Sit and reach test (RoM)
  • Various postural assessments

The ISSA textbook, Fitness: The Complete Guide – Edition 9.0 places a good emphasis on movement and biomechanical assessments. Another reason I recommend it as study material.

Besides performance and alignment assessments, body composition assessments are a major part of your duties during the intake phase of dealing with clients.

Body fat assessments, BMI calculations, and weight assessments are crucial in the short and long term when training clients.

ISSA does a good job of highlighting these aspects, and the NCCPT exam assesses your grasp of them pretty well.

Resistance Training Coverage

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Resistance training is a staple in any fitness program. You can’t really avoid it even if intense resistance and weight training aren’t on the agenda.

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So it’s important to get it right; otherwise, at best, your clients won’t come close to their intended goals, and at the least, your client could get hurt.

A focus on form and technique is exemplified in Domain 5: Exercise Selection, Technique, and training instruction.

This approach helps trainers develop the skills needed to induce useful mind muscle connections for good progression.

You will be able to gather the necessary knowledge to tackle this domain in the ISSA textbook’s unit 8 and unit 16.

In these units, you’ll learn about the different resistance exercises, the principles that govern them, safe practice, correct form, and technique, as well as the different types of personal training equipment you can use to implement them.

This domain holds 15% of the exam’s score.

Special Populations Training Coverage

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Special populations are defined as groups of individuals whose needs and capabilities fall outside of the average member of the population’s needs and abilities.

From a personal training perspective, special populations groups can come in the form of people with conditions or impediments that hinder normal training or people with very specialized fitness goals.

Special populations training would include:

That means both a person with a disability and an elite professional athlete would fall into the category of special populations.

As far as NCCPT is concerned, the focus on special populations training is barely glossed over in Domain 4.

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In my opinion, attention to special populations training methodology really should have a bigger spotlight.

Not only are we living in a world of more inclusive approaches, but we also need to understand special needs and how to navigate them for optimal results and safety.

As I mentioned, elite, high-performance athletes can also be considered special populations in need of professional sports coaching. As such, I feel their exclusion from the already limited scope of this category is a missed opportunity.

From a business planning and personal trainer salary perspective, understanding how to deal with high-performance athletes is a stepping stone to a high-income career in fitness.

Of course, the NCCPT CPT exam isn’t geared towards equipping you as a sports management specialist, but a hint at the prospect would have been cool.

Regardless of this, I do find the focus on special populations to be lackluster, however, ISSA has an entire domain or section dedicated to special populations training.

That means you can still gain an adequate grasp of this topic despite not being adequately assessed on it in the final test.

Aerobic Fitness Training Coverage

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Aerobic training, commonly known as cardio, is the foundation of fitness, in my educated opinion.

You need a strong aerobic fitness base to successfully launch into other aspects of fitness sustainably.

Aerobic fitness can be implemented as the sole fitness model in a training program, especially where weight management training and group fitness training are concerned.

So what does NCCPT do about aerobic or cardio training?

Very little. You’re only really challenged to know the difference between aerobic and anaerobic training and their benefits.

Training protocols surrounding cardio training aren’t heavily assessed in NCCPT.

As for our recommended reading, ISSA covers cardio fitness in Unit 9: Cardiovascular Training.

This unit lays the groundwork for a good understanding of the definition and function of cardio training as well as its numerous forms and applications.

Summary: NCCPT CPT Content

The NCCPT covers these concepts well:

The NCCPT is disadvantaged in the following areas:

  • Soecial populations training
  • Behavioral change
  • Aerobic/cardio training

NCCPT Certification Requirements

NCCPT’s personal trainer requirements are fairly standard and consistent with other certs in the same category.

You must be at least 18 years of age, hold current CPR/AED certifications, and have a high school diploma or equivalent.

Study Materials: Quality and Price

The drawback is that the package you purchase is just the NCCPT exam cost. No study material is included, meaning you’ll need to make separate purchases.

Added to this, there is no required reading or standard study material, which kind of means you’ll have to decide what you want as your textbook and materials. 

If you purchase the NCCPT exam as part of the ISSA cert, you’ll have access to ISSA’s required reading.

For that, you’ll fork out $799.00.

Although I mentioned how NCCPT is a lesser-known certification provider, it still has a lot to offer.

After all, NCCA accreditation is not just handed out willy nilly.

Recall that the NCCPT does not have it’s own study materials, and instead goes off the ISSA study materials.

I highly recommend going with the ISSA Elite Trainer Program if you choose the NCCPT.

The Elite Trainer bundles thousands of dollars of value in certifications and study materials for slightly more than the cost of purchasing the CPT alone.


The Elite Trainer includes the following for roughly $1250:

  • ISSA CPT full study package
  • NCCPT exam
  • Full ISSA Nutritionist course and certification
  • Full ISSA Specialization and certification of your choice
  • CPR certification course
  • 12-month interest free financing

Essentially, you will be set immediately to crush it in your personal training career by offering multiple, premium services to niche clientele.

Trainers with additional specializations statistically earn more money, so the investment is well worth it.

Sometimes ISSA runs additional promotions on the Elite Trainer package.

If they currently offer a discount, I highly recommend considering the deal.

So what can or should you use to study and pass NCCPT?

I would go with the ISSA prescribed resources and materials.

For instance, ISSA’s course textbook is one of the most well-rounded reads I’ve experienced when it comes to PT exam prep material.

It covers all the fundamentals and adds some valuable insight when it comes to programming and the business of personal training.

Speaking of business, the ISSA course material includes fundamentals on things such as:

Overall, if you take this route, you’ll be paying mid-tier prices for a PT cert.

That means NCCPT is neither the most expensive nor the cheapest personal trainer certification, but somewhere in the middle.

To kickstart your NCCPT exam prep, I recommend checking out my free ISSA exam prep and practice test, which contains the identical curriculum as the NCCPT.

For premium study guides for the NCCPT, I recommend the Trainer Academy ISSA CPT MVP Package, which contains flashcards, audio guides, and many practice exams that will apply directly to the NCCPT.

As I said earlier, I highly recommend the ISSA Elite Trainer if you are serious about accelerating your career and making your hard-earned dollars go further.

Regardless, if you are prepping for the NCCPT exam using the official materials, you will be purchasing a package from the ISSA.

While I do not recommend it, you can directly purchase the NCCPT exam for $599.00, which does not include any study materials.

Exam Structure and Difficulty

The current recorded pass rate for the NCCPT exam pass rate is 65%. That means on the scale of things, NCCPT is easier than it is hard.

With that said, NCCPT is on the harder end of the scale when compared to other certs.

ISSA’s personal trainer certification, on the other hand, has an astronomical pass rate of 90%, making it one of the easiest personal trainer certifications.

But, when it comes to this NCCPT test, it is quite a bit tougher and the same pass rate will not apply, even if it is the same text used to study. You are expected to know more, and it is not open book.

You will want to take practice exams and other sample tests to get a good idea of the test questions they will have. Flashcard study and online videos are another way to ensure you become a future NCCPT personal trainer.

The exam structure is also a bit unique for the fitness industry.

Instead of having a standard amount of points evenly distributed across all questions, NCCPT uses a scoring system that works on aggregate data rather than isolated, individual performance.

That means your score also depends on how well other students handle the same question.

Weird right? But with that said, we do have a fair estimate of the passing grade, which sits at 73%.

The exam consists of 125 multiple-choice questions and is a 120 min long paper.

NCCPT Recertification and CEUs

Recertification is an integral part of most personal training certifications. It is required in order to keep your certification current and relevant.

The reason behind this is for fitness professionals to maintain a degree of awareness and connectedness to the trends and standards that drive the practice of fitness instruction.

Recertification typically occurs every two years from initial certification and incurs a few requirements in order to be finalized.

The main requirement for eligibility is the submission of approved CEUs or continuing education units.

These act as proof that you’ve been making an effort to continue learning relevant and useful skills as a fitness professional.

As far as NCCPT is concerned, the recertification process requires the submission of 20 hours worth of CEUs or 2.0 CEUs as well as a nominal fee of $75.00.

Cheap CEUs can be obtained through various educational or practical activities such as gaining new certifications like the group exercise instructor, attending or contributing towards workshops, or participating in NCCPT sanctioned events.

NCCPT Review Methodology

My review of NCCPT was conducted after a thorough look at the current candidate’s handbook, exam, and ISSA study resources.

I also broadened my research using the following resources:

  • Anecdotal evidence from past NCCPT candidates and certified professionals through forums and reviews
  • Comparison with other similar certifications and cert providers in fitness and health care
  • Inquiry into industry recognition and familiarity with NCCPT certs
  • review of other NCCPT tests and certs such as group fitness
  • use of both digital and hard copy materials

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)


NCCPT holds its own as a relevant certification program, especially for newcomers to the world of professional fitness.

The generalist approach and the foundational concepts make it a good way to embark on a career as a fitness pro.

It is also accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies, or NCCA, making it a reliable and legitimate option.

NCCPT does fall short when it comes to its study package. 

No study materials or required resources are included in the purchase, meaning you’ll need to make separate purchases and decide which resources are right.

NCCPT also doesn’t hold as much traction or recognition as other certifications in its category, but they do have some specializations that are good, like the strength training specialist cert (CSTS) or yoga instructor certifications (CYI). Check out for more wellness certifications.

Despite this, it is usually well received by virtue of its accreditation and its association with ISSA.

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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