6 Best Online Personal Training Certifications in [year] 5

In this online personal trainer certification review, I analyze the 6 best online personal training certifications based on my experience taking and passing each fitness course online.

Taking personal trainer classes online is a great way to start your fitness career and makes it very easy to become a personal trainer online.

Not only can you study from the comfort of your own home, but you can also fit your studies into a busy schedule since they are self-paced.

Having taken all of these personal trainer online certifications and applied them throughout my career in the fitness industry, I will help you decide which one is right for you.

Additionally, my certified personal trainer team at PT Pioneer has over two dozen fitness certifications, including the best online personal training credentials. We know the curricula inside and out, which informs all reviews of the various certification programs.

I look at the following aspects of each fitness education online certification:

  • Certification credibility
  • Pros and cons of each online certification
  • Quality and cost of each fitness course online provider
  • Online fitness course contents
  • Taking the online personal trainer exam
  • Salary and continuing education for each CPT

The requirements for all these certifications include CPR/AED certification, being 18 years or older, and having a high school diploma, so you will have to get those out of the way.

If you want to get an online personal training certification recommendation quickly, you can take the quiz to determine the best CPT for your goals.

What type of Certification are you looking to get?

With that said, let’s dive into our online fitness coach certification programs.

Online Personal Trainer Certification

Our Top Picks



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


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


  • Lower cost than comparable certifications
  • Contains essential knowledge for CPTs
  • Great online portal
  • Less brand recognition
Check NCSF Pricing

1. ISSA (International Sports Sciences Association) Certification

Best online personal training certification - ISSA textbook next to laptop with the issa website on the screen - ptpioneer hat and hand visible

What is the ISSA online personal training certification?

The ISSA CPT certification is an online personal training certification aimed at general fitness personal trainers. The ISSA personal trainer certification online education platform was among the first in the industry.

The ISSA is my top choice for personal trainer certifications you can take online whether you want to become an online personal trainer or train clients in person. Taking your fitness instructor certification online is the way to go.

The National Commission accredits the ISSA CPT program for Certifying Agencies (NCCA), which is the gold standard organization for certifying online fitness programs for all physical fitness instructor careers.

Overall, the ISSA fitness coach certification is my number one choice for the best online personal trainer certifications.

ISSA General Information

ISSA General Information

  • Exam cost: $999.00 (only purchased with study materials)
  • Study material cost: $83.25/month for 12 months
  • Prerequisites: CPR/AED, High School Diploma
  • Exam passing score: Scaled 550/800 – 90/125 Scored Questions
  • Exam pass rate: 70% (2022 data)
  • Average completion time: 3 to 5 months

ISSA credibility and reputation

As the name entails, it is one of the truly international certifying agencies out of the top fitness education online certification options. Fitness trainers across many countries have the opportunity to pursue their passion through the ISSA certification programs.

The ISSA offers multiple NCCA-accredited fitness courses online, including the flagship ISSA personal trainer program, Group Exercise, and Nutritionist courses. You may have heard an ISSA ad on the news, and its logo is ubiquitous in the online fitness space.

ISSA is well-recognized among employers, so it’s usually a safe bet that you can get a personal training job after completing the ISSA program. You should always check the job description at the gym where you want to work to ensure they accept the ISSA certification before getting your personal training education through the ISSA online fitness courses.

ISSA fitness trainer certificate pros and cons

  • Course is entirely online
  • NCCA-version is widely accepted by employers
  • Excellent training bundle options
  • Limited behavioral change
  • Non-NCCA exam is not highly respected

ISSA CPT online study materials and costs

The ISSA CPT course bundles include study materials and the exam fee.

The ISSA Basic package is the first tier of fitness education online study materials for ISSA.

Materials in the basic package include:

  • ISSA Digital Textbook
  • Online Practice Exams and Quizzes
  • Audio and Video Lecture Options
  • Online Study Guide and Workbook
  • Online Student Forum
  • Online Exam

The ISSA Online Basic Package certification course costs $83.25/month for 12 months.

You can get additional ISSA certification training for an extremely low cost when you purchase a bundle package.

The first online courses bundle ISSA offers is the “Fitness Coach,” which includes the ISSA CPT and another ISSA specialization, such as the ISSA Nutritionist, for $99.00/month.

This deal is effectively a buy-one-get-one free certification package since you pay less than 10 percent of the full cost for the second certification.

The next education course is the ISSA Elite Trainer program. This includes 3 certifications: the ISSA CPT, the ISSA Nutritionist, and an additional ISSA specialization of your choice for $109/month.

This may be hands-down the best deal in the fitness industry for multiple certifications at a steep discount.

6 Best Online Personal Training Certifications in [year] 6

Additionally, the ISSA specializations take care of your first round of CEUs, which you need to complete every 2 years for ISSA.

You can take the accredited ISSA exam for only $599.00, which includes no materials.

Generally speaking, you are best off purchasing a study package. Suppose you can afford the Elite Trainer. The specializations will allow you to earn more income, so you will quickly make your money back.

With that said, any of the ISSA deals are a safe bet for getting your personal trainer certification online and having an amazing fitness career.

ISSA fitness education online content coverage

ISSA’s online content coverage breaks down as follows:

  1. Section One – Anatomy and Physiology
    1. Metabolism
    2. Basic anatomy and physiology
    3. Musculoskeletal Anatomy and Physiology
  2. Section Two – Kinesiology and Biomechanics
    1. Kinesiology of Exercise
    2. Biomechanics of exercise
    3. Musculoskeletal deviations
    4. Muscle mechanics
  3. Section Three – Health and Physical Fitness
    1. Strength
    2. Cardiovascular training
    3. Flexibility training
    4. Body composition
  4. Section Four – Program Development
    1. Drawing-in phase
    2. Basic assessments of fitness participants
    3. Training principles
    4. Periodization
    5. Determining training loads
  5. Section Five – Nutrition
    1. The big picture of the nutrition
    2. Nutritional physiology
    3. Nutritional science
    4. Nutritional coaching
  6. Section Six – Fitness for All
    1. Exercise and older adults
    2. Exercise and adaptive fitness
    3. Exercise and our youth
    4. Exercise and hypertension
    5. Exercise and diabetes
    6. Exercise and arthritis
    7. Exercise and coronary heart disease
    8. Exercise and Pregnancy
    9. Exercise and asthma
    10. Sports medicine in the trenches
    11. Basic first aid

Overall, ISSA excels at ‌resistance programming, technique, and periodization topics. Additionally, the ISSA online education thoroughly covers exercise science and special populations.

My biggest criticism of the ISSA curriculum is the relative weakness of the behavioral change coverage.

With that said, if you hope to work with clients who require a lot of behavioral coaching, you may want to look at NASM.

The ISSA is a great option if you plan to work with general fitness clients who are already motivated to train.

Taking the ISSA online personal trainer certification exam

Taking the ISSA personal trainer certification online is straightforward. However, you need to set up the proctoring software beforehand.

The ISSA online exam difficulty depends on whether you take the NCCA-accredited version or not. I recommend opting for the NCCPT version of the exam, which is accredited and included with all ISSA CPT programs. Frankly, non-NCCA accredited certifications are not usually worth the time or money. Thankfully, ISSA is fully accredited if you select the proper text.

ISSA CPT continuing education, salary, and career prospects

You must complete 20 hours of personal trainer CEUs every 2 years for ISSA on top of a $75 recertification fee.

Remember that purchasing the BOGO ISSA CPT and Nutritionist option takes care of those CEUs, provided you complete the nutrition certification in the 2-year window. You can also take other specializations from ISSA, including pilates and glute specialization, which focuses on exercises that work the hips with weights to drive glute gains.

According to ZipRecruiter, ISSA trainers can earn an average of $65,555.00 annually. The highest reported ISSA salary is in New York, coming in at $77,817 per year.

On the lower end, North Carolina personal trainers earn closer to $47,186.00.

According to ISSA, Elite Trainers earn an average of $8,000 per year higher than trainers with just the CPT.

Ultimately, many factors go into your personal trainer’s salary. However, ISSA definitely falls into the higher-earning personal trainer programs.

ISSA-certified trainers have great career prospects, especially if you pursue the right specializations after earning your online CPT.

I recommend the ISSA career track for nutrition-fitness trainer combinations. Additionally, ISSA is a good choice for trainers who focus on strength and conditioning and bodybuilding.

If you decide to go with ISSA (my recommendation), check for any deals on the ISSA CPT or ISSA Elite Trainer. If they do have anything running, it’s tough to pass up.

ISSA CPT overall rating

9.4out of 10

Exercise Science Foundations10
Behavioral Coaching9
Client Health Screening9
Movement Screening8
Resistance Training10
Special Population Training10
Aerobic Fitness Training10

2. NASM Certified Personal Trainer (NASM CPT) Certification

best online training certifications - NASM textbook on table next to ptpioneer hat and laptop displaying nasm website - should you pick nasm

What is the NASM CPT certificate?

The National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM-CPT) is an online personal trainer certification that is NCCA-accredited and widely respected across the fitness industry.

The groundbreaking NASM OPT model revolutionized the concept of program design by giving trainers a straightforward way to design effective, long-term periodized programs for general fitness clients.

One of my favorite aspects of the NASM program is that it incorporates a wide variety of modalities within a framework that allows you to include them within a workout to drive clients toward their fitness goals.

Many certifications cover different modalities but do not give a great framework for incorporating them into a program involving long-term adaptations.

NASM-CPT General Information

NASM-CPT General Information

  • Exam cost: $899+
  • Study material cost: Included in exam cost
  • Prerequisites: High School Diploma (or GED), CPR/AED certification from a qualifying provider
  • Exam passing score: 70%
  • Exam pass rate: 79% (proctored), 90% (non-proctored)
  • Average completion time: 3-6 months

NASM credibility and reputation

Fitness authorities widely consider NASM to be among the best fitness education online providers. NASM offers multiple NCCA-accredited certifications as well as a lot of CEU courses covering a range of topics. NASM’s biggest offerings alongside the CPT include the NASM Corrective Exercise Specialist, NASM Senior Fitness Specialist, and NASM Fitness Nutrition Specialist. NASM is committed to improving the lives of others through effective training programs.

NASM logo

I usually recommend the NASM organization for personal trainers who will work with beginner-level deconditioned clients who may have one or more movement dysfunctions.

NASM is great at giving you the assessment and programming tools to help clients who lack a full range of motion or may have other issues preventing proper form technique on major exercises. NASM also has partners in the fitness training business, including AFAA.

NASM certified trainers typically have a passion for creating a positive environment to cater to the needs of many client types. Becoming a gym instructor is just one of many career paths you can take with the NASM fitness academy courses.

In the world of personal training, only a handful of certifying agencies give the same level of familiarity and reputability as NASM.

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NASM CPT pros and cons

  • High credibility in the industry
  • Effective OPT model
  • Practical training skillsets
  • Expensive study packages
  • Difficult certification exam
  • Minimal alternative implement training


NASM CPT study materials and costs

NASM offers a range of online personal training study material packages at various price points. The first NASM tier is the NASM Self-Study, which includes the following materials:

  • 100% Online Certified Personal Trainer Course
  • NCCA Accredited Exam
  • State-of-the-Art, Digital Learning Platform
  • High-End Learning Videos
  • Audio Chapter Summaries
  • Exercise Demonstration Library
  • Biodigital 3D Models
  • Handouts and Resources Library
  • Practice Exam, Quizzes, and Knowledge Checks
  • Virtual coaching Specialization: Train Clients in the Gym and Online!

The Self-Study Program costs $899.

The next tier of the NASM CPT study materials is the NASM Premium Self-Study, which includes:

  • Everything in Self-Study program
  • Job Guarantee**
  • One-year NASM EDGE Trainer Plus
  • Certification Exam Retest

The price for the Premium Self-Study is $1,399.

Then NASM offers two bundles: the CPT Essentials Bundle and The Lucky Fit Exclusive Bundle.

The NASM CPT Essentials Bundle is the third tier of the NASM personal trainer certification online study options and includes the following:

  • Everything in Premium Self-Study
  • Certified Nutrition Coach (CNC)
  • CPR/AED Certification
  • Metabolic Makeover (0.3 CEUs)

The price for the CPT Essentials Bundle is $2,397.

The final NASM CPT study tier is the NASM Lucky Fit Exclusive Bundle, which includes the following:

  • Everything in Essentials Bundle plus…
  • Corrective Exercise Specialization (CES)

This package has a hefty price tag of $3,295.

Truthfully, if you plan to spend more than $649.00 for the Self-Study program, I strongly encourage you to check out the NASM certification bundles.

I personally think the NASM Self-Study comes with more than enough to pass the exam. However, getting a specialization or two on top of your CPT certification is a great move for your career. 

For NASM specifically, you can get a great bundle of the NASM CPT and Nutrition Coaching certifications.

NASM online personal training certification and nutritionist combo

At the full retail price, you would be paying $1400-$1500.

The NASM Nutrition Coach online course counts towards your first NASM recertification, which you will need to complete via coursework one way or another.

If you do want additional study materials at a great discount, I recommend checking out third-party study guides.

In particular, the Trainer Academy NASM CPT MVP Study Guide is among the best I have found in the industry, although they are not the only option.

The study package includes a full study guide and over 800 practice questions.

I used the Trainer Academy NASM guide to pass the exam in much less time than it would have taken studying only through NASM.

NASM personal trainer content coverage

The NASM curriculum spans 23 chapters across six different sections. The breakdown is as follows:

Section 1 – Professional Development and Responsibility

  1. The Modern State of Health and Fitness
  2. The Personal Training Profession

Section 2 – Client Relations and Behavioral Coaching

  1. Psychology of Exercise
  2. Behavioral Coaching

Section 3 – Basic and Applied Sciences and Nutritional Concepts

  1. The Nervous, Skeletal, and Muscular Systems
  2. The Cardiorespiratory, Endocrine, and Digestive Systems
  3. Human Movement Science
  4. Exercise Metabolism and Bioenergetics
  5. Nutrition
  6. Supplementation

Section 4 – Assessment

  1. Health, Wellness, and Fitness Assessments
  2. Posture, Movement, and Performance Assessments

Section 5 – Exercise Technique and Training Instruction

  1. Integrated Training and the OPT Model
  2. Flexibility Training Concepts
  3. Cardiorespiratory Training Concepts
  4. Core Training Concepts
  5. Balance Training Concepts
  6. Plyometric (Reactive) Training Concepts
  7. Speed, Agility, and Quickness Training Concepts
  8. Resistance Training Concepts

Section 6 – Program Design

  1. The Optimum Performance Training Model
  2. Introduction to Exercise Modalities
  3. Chronic Health Conditions and Special Populations

NASM will always be my go-to certification when it comes to training de-conditioned general fitness clients who need a variety of exercise progressions before they can do a standard, traditional weight training program. The exercise techniques, training programs, and diet and nutrition content allow you to deliver success, from senior fitness to coaching athletes. NASM also teaches you the best ways to provide feedback, becoming a partner in your client’s fitness journey.

On a related note, NASM has excellent behavioral change coaching methods coverage. In fact, NASM’s behavioral changes section is among the best in terms of online personal trainer certifications.

NASM online training review - stages of change model

Overall, NASM is probably the best online trainer certification in the game for coaching clients who are resistant to behavior change and need movement corrections to safely transition to full personal training via the OPT model progression. Including balance training ranging from double-leg exercises to standing on one foot also boosts the skill set of fitness trainers certified through NASM.

Additionally, the programming guidelines in the NASM OPT model ensure you know exactly what weights, equipment, and reps your clients need to get their desired results.

Taking the NASM certification exam

The NASM exam is among the most difficult in the industry. It consists of 120 multiple-choice questions, which you have two hours to complete. You must get at least 70 percent on the exam to earn the NASM CPT certification.

You have two options to take the NASM exam. If you would rather stay at home, you can take the NASM exam online with a live, remote proctor observing. You can also schedule your exam at an in-person testing location, which is how I chose to take the exam.

According to 2020 data, the NASM CPT exam has a roughly 78 percent pass rate, so you do really need to be well-prepared to pass the exam.

NASM CPT continuing education, salary, and career prospects

The NASM CPT requires 2.0 CEC/CEU credits per year. This equates to 20 hours of coursework, although many CEU courses give full credit but take less time.

You will also have to renew your CPR certification. The NASM certification online options typically give 1.9 CEUs, with the final 0.1 coming from the CPR certification.

According to ZipRecruiter, NASM salaries range from $35,661 annually to $55,246 annually. I typically take any personal trainer salary range with a grain of salt, as there are way too many factors beyond your CPT choice that affect your ultimate personal trainer salary.

Speaking frankly, NASM is a good choice for just about any fitness career track. You can check for any stacked deals on the NASM CPT program directly on the NASM website.

Other NASM Certifications for Online Training

NASM also offers some online training focused certifications you can take as CEU courses or simply as supplemental knowledge. These certifications are great for enhancing your ability to coach clients online. The three I want to highlight here are the NASM Virtual Coaching Specialization (NASM-VCS), the NASM Home Gym Design (NASM-HGD), and NASM Social Media Fitness influencer (NASM-SMI).

Virtual Coaching Certification (NASM-VCS)

The NSM virtual coaching specialization is designed to help you transfer your skills from your nasm CPT course into virtual coaching sessions. This is a great way to ensure you are on the right side of trends in digital fitness. Although the COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns are for the most part over, virtual fitness coaching is here to stay.

As a virtual fitness coach, you can expand your fitness business to a nationwide and even global audience, create more scalable systems, and reduce your dependence on traditional gym employment.

The NASM virtual coaching specialization covers these skills and more while also providing 1.5 NASM Continuing Education Credits.

If becoming an online fitness trainer is your goal, then the NASM VCS should definitely be top of your list. Plus, you’ll knock out almost an entire cycle of continuing education units.

The certification costs $349 when purchased individually, but NASM offers interest-free payment plans for $29/month over 11 months with just $25 down.

Home Gym Design Specialization (NASM-HGD)

The NASM home gym design specialization is a great way to help your clients design a space needed in their own homes to facilitate your virtual coaching sessions.

While virtual coaches can certainly make do if clients have a small area to work out and a few pieces of equipment, ultimately to deliver the full spectrum of the optimum performance training model, clients will need a more comprehensive setup.

The Home Gym Design will help you guide your clients through the preparation, planning, and installation of their very own home gym. Become an expert home gym designer with this certification while also earning 0.7 NASM CEU’s.

This is a great one to stack with the Virtual Coaching Specialization given the complementary nature of the skill sets.

At $224 paid-in-full or $18/month over 11 months, this is a very affordable way to ensure you have a comprehensive offering for clients looking for virtual coaching from the comfort of their own homes.

Social Media Fitness Influencer (NASM-SMI)

Social media has become an increasingly important area if you are pursuing an online personal training career.

NASM’s latest offering of their Social Media Influencer Certification helps you hone in on the skills you need to develop a solid social media following that you can leverage to get virtual coaching clients, develop your personal brand, and build other income sources as a result of your reach on various platforms.

This is another great one to combine with the virtual fitness coaching certification to give yourself a comprehensive understanding of the online personal training market.

You also earn 0.7 NASM CEU credits. This certification has the same price as the NASM HGD at $224 paid in full or $18/month with $25 down and 11 monthly payments.

NASM CPT overall rating

8.4out of 10

Exercise science foundations8
Behavioral coaching9
Client health screening8
Movement screening8
Resistance training9
Special population training9
Aerobic fitness training8

3. FM (Fitness Mentors) Certification

What is the Fitness Mentors online personal trainer certificate?

The Fitness Mentors Certified Personal Trainer program is an online personal trainer certification tailored for students who want an alternative to NASM, ISSA, or NCSF.

Fitness Mentors cover the standard curriculum you find in most CPT programs. It’s highly geared towards the online fitness side but less well-known than the larger NCCA-accredited fitness certifications.

That said, it is an incredibly affordable certification, so if you are starting on a budget, the Fitness Mentors personal trainer certification online program is worth considering.

Fitness Mentors CPT General Information

Fitness Mentors CPT General Information

  • Exam cost: $499
  • Study material cost: $66.58/month for 12 months
  • Prerequisites: High School Diploma, CPR/AED
  • Exam passing score: Scaled 550/800 – 90/125 Scored Questions
  • Exam pass rate: 70% (2022 data)
  • Average completion time: 2-6 months

Fitness Mentors Credibility and Reputation

Fitness Mentors is a smaller certification provider recently accredited by the NCCA.

I personally think the quality of the Fitness Mentors CPT is higher than their reputation. Meaning that the FM CPT is less respected than it should be.

However, if you are not banking on your fitness certification credibility to land a job, the Fitness Mentors personal trainer program online is a solid choice.

Fitness Mentors CPT pros and cons

  • Excellent library of study materials
  • Straightforward exam
  • Lack of recognition

Fitness Mentors CPT study materials and costs

Fitness Mentors offer multiple study options depending on what learning materials you want access to.

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The lowest option is the Fitness Mentors Starter Bundle, which includes the following materials:

  • FM CPT certification exam
  • Digital textbook
  • Lecture video presentations
  • Audiobook lectures
  • Study guide questions
  • Chapter quizzes
  • Two realistic practice exams
  • Facebook support group with expert and peer guidance

The FM-CPT starter bundle costs $499.00.

The next tier of the Fitness Mentors CPT is‌ a bundle with the FM nutrition certification.

It includes everything from the Fitness Mentors Starter Bundle as well as the following materials:

  • Certified Nutrition Specialist Certification
  • Exercise Library
  • Bonus Learning Videos
  • Flashcards
  • Interactive learning activities
  • Study guide answers
  • Final exam preparation guide

The full price of the FM Fitness Course Online Plus Bundle is $729.

The third tier is the Fitness Mentors Modern Trainer Bundle. This is effectively the Fitness Mentors Elite Trainer equivalent, including three certifications: the FM-CPT, FM Nutritionist, and FM Certified Online Trainer.

This bundle comes in at $999.00.

Finally, the Ultimate Bundle from Fitness Mentors includes a total of 6 certifications:

  • Certified Personal Trainer
  • Certified Online Trainer
  • Certified Virtual Group Fitness Instructor
  • Certified Virtual Health Coach
  • Certified Pain Management Specialist

This package costs a whopping $1,599.

If I’m being honest, the only two options that are really worth it would be the Starter and Plus bundles. If you are going to drop $999 or more on fitness certifications, I will stick to NASM or ISSA.

Fitness Mentors personal trainer content coverage

The Fitness Mentors certified personal trainer program is on-par with ISSA, NASM, and ACE overall.

The curriculum covers the following content across 13 chapters:

  • The Fitness Assessment
  • Anatomy and Physiology
  • Exercise Physiology and Energy Systems
  • Program Design and the Form Model
  • Flexibility, Mobility, and Range of Motion
  • Programming Considerations for Exercise Related Injuries
  • Fitness Programs for Special Populations
  • Professionalism, Business, and Sales
  • The Cardiovascular and Respiratory Systems
  • Psychology: The Science of Behavior and Mind
  • Components of Nutrition
  • Emergency Procedures for the Fitness Professional

A standout component of the Fitness Mentors CPT is the FORM program design model, which gives similar programming abilities as the IFT and OPT models from ACE and NASM, respectively.

Taking the Fitness Mentors certification exam

The Fitness Mentors online personal trainer certification exam consists of 100 multiple-choice questions, which you have 2 hours to complete. You need to score at least 70 percent to earn the FM-CPT.

I found the exam to be a breeze and super easy to pass. You can have your notes open if you forget anything.

However, because there is a two-hour limit to complete the online exam, you must study beforehand. You will not be able to look everything up and still finish in the allotted window.

The Fitness Mentors CPT exam is definitely one of the easiest in the industry.

Fitness Mentors CPT continuing education, salary, and career prospects

The Fitness Mentors CPT program requires 2.0 CEU credits every two years. You can complete them through the Fitness Mentors courses and courses from other approved organizations.

Salary-wise, ZipRecruiter has no specific data about the Fitness Mentors CPT expected earnings.

However, per the Fitness Mentors website, the average full-time trainer starting salary comes in at around $40,000 per year. This lines up with much of what I have seen during my time in the fitness industry.

Fitness Mentors CPT overall rating

6.4out of 10

Exercise science foundations7
Behavioral coaching6
Client health screening5
Movement screening6
Resistance training8
Special population training6
Aerobic fitness training7
6 Best Online Personal Training Certifications in [year] 7
6 Best Online Personal Training Certifications in [year] 8

4. NCSF (National Council on Strength and Fitness) Certification

best online cpts - ncsf personal training textbook next to laptop showing ncsf website and ptpioneer hat

What is the NCSF CPT certificate?

National Council on Strength and Fitness Certified Personal Trainer (NCSF-CPT) is a solid introduction to health and fitness science principles.

Even though the NCSF CPT certification isn’t quite as recognized as the other big online fitness certifications, it holds up pretty well and is priced attractively in comparison.

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 credibility and reputation

National Council on Strength and Fitness is a reputable certifying agency that has existed since 1996.

It is widely accepted and is known for its deep academic approach to health and fitness, peering into the effective use of program design.

NCSF CPT pros and cons

  • NCCA-accredited
  • Very affordable
  • Barebones textbook
  • Lacking in program design

NCSF CPT study materials and costs

The NCSF CPT cert is available in 5 tiers based on the material included.

You can take the NCSF online exam for $299, which does not include any supplemental material.

This one is only advisable if you already have a strong background in fitness science principles, and even then, I do not recommend it.

The first NCSF Online Trainer package with materials is the Home Study course, which includes the following:

  • Digital textbook
  • Lesson notes
  • Online practice tests
  • Q&A
  • Review quizzes
  • Support and a one-year membership
  • Video lectures

The Home Study fitness course online costs $399.00. If you go for the NCSF personal trainer certification, I would recommend the Home Study.

The next package is the Home Study Plus at $499.

This includes all you get in the Home Study package and a hard copy of the textbook.

This is a bit steep given that there is no huge difference between Home Study Plus and the standard Home Study, but if you need to hardcopy textbook, this NCSF online training study materials tier has it.

If you need additional materials, instead of buying the Home Study Plus, I would recommend you check out third-party study guides such as the Trainer Academy NCSF MVP Study Guide.

The Trainer Academy NCSF, online study course includes hundreds of additional practice questions and science-backed spaced-repetition flashcards purposefully designed to help you boost up the knowledge areas where you are weaker.

If you’re interested in earning an additional certification at the same time, you can opt for either of these options:

NCSF personal trainer content coverage

The NCSF is somewhat in line with most other NCCA-accredited certifications regarding skills, including the following:

  • Exercise science & anatomy
  • Behavioral coaching
  • Nutrition
  • Flexibility training
  • Exercise technique
  • Resistance training technique
  • Program design
  • Special populations training.

The certification does have some better coverage of flexibility and special population training. Furthermore, it covers safety points for the knees, feet, hips, chest, and shoulders when viewed from the front, side, or rear of the client. Sadly; the NCSF online curriculum falls short on business skills for personal trainers. Starting a training business and finding success is hard for anyone anywhere.

I think it would be helpful to include a more robust section on the topic like NASM and ISSA do.

Taking the NCSF certification exam

The exam consists of 150 multiple-choice questions spread across the different principles you’ll encounter throughout your studies and prep.

With no solid data on pass rates, we can say, based on anecdotal accounts, that the NCSF CPT exam is relatively easy compared to other certifications in this list.

I personally found the exam slightly harder than fitness mentors but easier than NASM or ISSA.

NCSF CPT continuing education, salary, and career prospects

You need to recertify your NCSF every 2 years. It requires 20 hours of CEUs, which you can take from various providers. You also need to pay an $85 recertification fee.

Salary-wise, the national average for NCSF trainers is $26 per hour or just over 50,000 per year. Depending on location, ZipRecruiter has job listings for NCSF trainers ranging from $15 to $65 per hour, which highly depends on where you live.

Career-wise, NCSF is a solid move. I personally would consider it if you want to be a self-employed trainer since it is cheaper than NASM or ISSA but still has the same quality of materials.

If you want a gym job, I would consider one of the more mainstream certifications like NASM, since employers are more likely to know of it.

NCSF CPT overall rating

6.1out of 10

Exercise Science Foundations6
Behavioral Coaching4
Client Health Screening6
Movement Screening7
Resistance Training7
Special Population Training7
Aerobic Fitness Training6

5. ACE (American Council on Exercise) Certification

best online personal training certification - ace cpt textbook next to laptop with ace website and ptpioneer hat

What is the ACE CPT online certification?

The American Council on Exercise Certified Personal Trainer (ACE-CPT) is an online NCCA-accredited fitness trainer certification aimed at individuals who want a straightforward certification that is not as difficult as the certifications at the top of our list.

However, the ACE personal trainer online course still covers an exceptional amount of material and prepares people with no prior fitness knowledge to train general fitness clients.

It can be described as a “one size fits all” approach to prescription health and fitness through its integrated fitness training model.

While the ACE IFT is not quite as good as NASM’s OPT model, it’s still a fairly comprehensive framework for designing effective workout programs.

ACE General Information

ACE General Information

  • Exam cost: $499
  • Study material cost: $587 – $1,037+
  • 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 credibility and reputation

The American Council on Exercise is a nonprofit certification provider and one of the leading organizations for delivering knowledge and research in the field of health and fitness instruction.

ACE has a global reputation, with a robust international network of certified trainers and affiliated organizations. ACE is also well known for its health coaching certification programs.

This certifying agency has a history spanning all the way back to 1985, making it two years older than NASM.

The impact of ACE concerning online administered personal trainer certifications shouldn’t be ignored: so far, it has certified over 90,000 health and fitness professionals. ACE certified trainers have entered various careers bolstered by the ACE fitness certifications.

ACE CPT pros and cons

  • ACE IFT® Model is an excellent framework for resistance and aerobic training
  • Mover Model® helpful for behavior change
  • Lack of business skills
  • Easy exam is less respected

ACE CPT study materials and costs

The ACE CPT is priced based on 3 study package tiers.


  • ACE University
  • ACE Certification Exam
  • ACE Practice Test
  • ACE Personal Trainer Textbook (digital only)
  • ACE Personal Trainer Study Companion
  • ACE Answers (basic)

The ACE Basic costs $587. I think this is a bit steep, but it includes a fair bit of study materials.


  • Everything in ACE Basic
  • ACE Personal Trainer Textbook (digital and hard copy)
  • ACE Personal Trainer Study Companion
  • ACE Answers (plus)
  • Exercise Science 101 Course

The ACE Plus costs $689 and is more suitable if you want the hardcover textbook and an additional course on exercise science.


  • Everything in ACE Plus
  • Facilitated Study Groups
  • Exercise Science 101
  • Dedicated Advantage Team

The ACE Advantage goes for $1,037. This package is very overkill for what you need to pass the ACE exam. However, you do get all the support ACE can offer to help pass your CPT.

If you want additional study materials at a much more affordable price than the ACE Advantage, consider checking out the Trainer Academy ACE CPT Prep Course.

This course is designed to speed up your progress by up to 50 percent using various premium study materials.

I prefer combining the ACE Basic with the Trainer Academy ACE MVP Package.

ACE personal trainer content coverage

The ACE CPT online curriculum breaks down into the following chapters:

  1. Role and Scope of Practice for Personal Trainers
  2. The ACE Integrated Fitness Trainer Model
  3. Basics of Behavior Change
  4. Effective Communication, Goal Setting, and Teaching Techniques
  5. Preparticipation Health Screening
  6. Nutrition for Health and Fitness
  7. Resting Assessments and Anthropometric Measurements
  8. Cardiorespiratory Training: Physiology, Assessments, and Program
  9. Muscular Training: Foundations and Benefits
  10. Muscular Training: Assessments
  11. Integrated Exercise Programming: From Evidence to Practice
  12. Considerations for Clients with Obesity
  13. Considerations for Clients with Chronic Disease
  14. Exercise Considerations across the Lifespan
  15. Considerations for Clients with Musculoskeletal Issues
  16. Legal Guidelines and Business Considerations

The curriculum overall contains much of the same information as the other CPTs. My biggest complaint with the layout is that they intersperse the exercise science throughout the material rather than having a dedicated section. For example, the arms, legs, chest, and shoulders muscles are covered in the resistance training section rather than having a separate chapter covering these topics.

In my opinion, this makes it harder to learn the material than having a dedicated exercise science section.

Additionally, ACE has little-to-no business skills in its curriculum, which is definitely not optimal for brand-new trainers.

Taking the ACE certification exam

The ACE exam is as straightforward as they come.

It is administered online with live remote proctoring.

It consists of 150 questions that span the various study topics.

You will need to score 500 points to pass, and with a pass rate of 65%, your chances are great but still pose an adequate level of challenge.

I found the ACE exam to be among the easiest in the industry. Depending on your goals, this can be a good or bad thing.

ACE CPT continuing education, salary, and career prospects

As with most certifications, you must recertify every couple of years.

In the case of ACE, that means retaking the exam every two years as the cost of recertification along with 2 continuing education units (CEUs).

The recertification fee is $129.

ZipRecruiter pegs the average national ACE CPT salary at $53,838, varying by location.

Career-wise, ACE makes sense if you need an NCCA-accredited certification that is easy but still decent regarding preparation for being a personal trainer.

ACE CPT overall rating

5.9out of 10

Exercise Science Foundations3
Behavioral Coaching7
Client Health Screening5
Movement Screening5
Resistance Training7
Special Population Training9
Aerobic Fitness Training5

6. AFAA (Athletics and Fitness Association of America) Certification

best online personal training certifications - afaa textbook next to laptop showing afaa website near ptp hat

What is the AFAA CPT certificate?

The Athletics and Fitness Association of America Personal Fitness Trainer (AFAA-PFT) is another NCCA-accredited training certification online, albeit one of the lesser-known certifications.

The AFAA CPT is great for trainers who want to coach small-group fitness classes and emphasize fun in their workouts.

AFAA PFT General Information

AFAA PFT General Information


  • Exam cost:   $199.00
  • Study Material Cost:  $499.00
  • 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 credibility and reputation

Founded over 35 years ago, AFAA has taken a path less trodden by other certifying agencies.

The emphasis they place on their scope of focus is to instill a sense of enjoyment through the training and programming their certified trainers ‌implement.

Because of this, the AFAA is a leading force in functional mobility and movement-based training, creating a platform for both trainers and clients to enjoy their respective sides of the fitness journey.

As of recently, AFAA is owned and operated by NASM, giving it some “trickle-down” credibility from the NASM umbrella.

AFAA CPT pros and cons

  • Reasonably priced compared to other significant certifications
  • AFAA is a subsidiary of the highly regarded NASM
  • Not the most accurate self-study materials for the test
  • Not as highly regarded in the industry as other leading certs
  • Study package options limited to a single package

AFAA CPT study materials and costs

The AFAA only offers one online trainer education study package, which costs $499 but does not include the textbook.

This package includes the following:

  • 14 online video lectures
  • Personal Fitness Trainer downloadable study guide
  • Sample multiple-choice test questions
  • Proctored online exam with 120 multiple-choice questions
  • Free digital subscription to the American Fitness Magazine
  • AFAA Personal Fitness Trainer certification (upon passing the online exam and providing proof of current hands-on CPR/AED certification).

You can purchase the hardcopy textbook separately for $79.

I purchased the textbook to review the certification properly, but I do not think it is necessary.

AFAA personal trainer content coverage

The AFAA CPT does some solid overall coverage, but it is less comprehensive than the major online NCCA-accredited certifications.

Topics covered include:

  • The Human Body & Exercise Physiology
  • Behavior Modification and Communication Skills
  • Fitness Screening, Health Assessment, and Injury Prevention
  • The Basics of Nutrition and Weight Management

Personally, I do not believe the AFAA is right for most personal trainers. I do think that people strictly focused on group fitness coaching might consider the AFAA over other certifications since it is easier and more focused on fun workouts.

If you want a commanding presence on the floor when leading fitness classes and demonstrating movements, the AFAA is a good choice.

Taking the AFAA certification exam

This gives AFAA 120 multiple choice and 20 research/case study questions format.

You have 120 minutes to complete the test.

To pass, you must score at least 70%.

There is a live remote proctor, so you need to study ahead of time and cannot afford to skim through your notes during the exam.

I found the exam very easy, so an open book is really not necessary.

AFAA CPT continuing education, salary, and career prospects

You must complete 15 CEUs every 2 years and keep your CPR/AED certification current to maintain your certification.

You can recertify with courses directly from AFAA or approved third-party providers.

You also need to pay a $99 recertification fee.

Regarding salary, ZipRecruiter puts the average AFAA PFT income at $26 per hour, which is roughly $52,000 per year on a full-time schedule.

AFAA CPT overall rating

4.9out of 10

Exercise Science Foundations5
Client Health & Movement Assessment4
Behavioral Coaching5
Aerobic Training8
Resistance Training6
Nutrition Coaching3
Special Populations Coverage3

What to know before you enroll in an online personal trainer certification program

While there are differences between the various online personal trainer certification options, a few things are generally consistent across certifications.

Virtually all legit personal trainer certifications require you to be 18 years old, have graduated high school or earned a GED, and have a current CPR/AED certification.

Furthermore, while you will find differences in the average income listed for each personal training certification, the bottom line is that your personal trainer salary depends far more on where you work, the clientele you train, and the rates they are willing to pay, and your own ability to carve a niche out as an exceptional trainer.

Popular and profitable niches include corrective exercise coaching, certified yoga instruction, and athletic strength and conditioning.

How to Become a Personal Trainer Online?

To become a personal trainer online, select one of the personal training certification programs that offers an online curriculum. If your goal is to train clients online through virtual training, then make a marketing and business plan to promote your services as an online trainer.

Best Online Personal Trainer Certifications FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

Why do you need a personal trainer certification?

The need to be seen as an expert in the profession has made it necessary to acquire a certification from agencies that are nationally accredited, renowned, and recognized by employers, and would also give you a competitive advantage always.

Which is the best personal trainer certification?

It really depends on what you were looking for in a personal training certification. All six options on this list are fantastic choices.

Are the best personal trainer certification NCCA and DEAC accredited?

The best online personal trainer certified programs focus on having their accreditation from either of the two most recognized accreditation agencies. All certifications on this list have their NCCA or DEAC accreditation.

Are they all 100% online fitness certifications?

Yes, all of the certifications on this list are 100% online.

Do they all have personal trainer study materials and PT online quizzes?

The six certifying bodies have study materials that are based on the packages you pay for during registration. Online quizzes and practice tests are available to prepare you for the final exams.
However, PT Trainer Academy has study materials from each certifying body to give you a 99% pass rate.

What personal trainer certificate is most respected?

Personal training certificates that are the most respected are certifications that are NCCA-accredited.

How long does each personal trainer certification last?

Each Personal Trainer body requires you to renew your certification every 2 years with a renewal fee, updated CPR/AED certification, and completion of 20 Continuing Education Units (CEUs) for safety and health reasons.

What certifications do most gyms accept?

Most gyms accept NASM, ACE, ISSA, ACSM, NSCA, NCPT, and NCSF. All of these personal training certifications are nationally recognized and accredited by the NCCA.

How hard are the best online personal training certification exams?

The exams from each certifying body are not difficult if you study the course contents, watch the videos, attempt the online quizzes and practice questions, and make time for webinars and workshops.

Do they all offer after-training support?

Yes, they do! Due to the competitive nature of the business world, each certifying body ensures it stays in touch with the students during and after the certification program through access to their professors, top-notch customer care services, websites, and even sending of emails on development and business tips in the personal training industry.

What is the process of becoming certified?

Choose your fitness training certification, study the personal training curriculum, sign up to take your exam, and pass your exam.

The 6 Best Online Personal Training Certifications [In 2023]


  1. “About Us | National Academy of Sports Medicine.” NASM, https://www.nasm.org/about-nasm 
  2. Accreditation. https://www.ncsf.org/about/accreditation
  3. American Council on Exercise (Ace) Salary | Payscale. https://www.payscale.com/research/US/Certification=American_Council_on_Exercise_(ACE)/Salary 
  4. Become a Nsca-Certified Personal Trainer | Nsca. https://www.nsca.com/certification/nsca-cpt/
  5. Job Outlook. https://www.ncsf.org/careers/job-outlook 
  6. Nutrition & Fitness Coach Certification. https://www.issaonline.com/certification/precision-nutrition-bundle
  7. “Personal Trainer Accreditation.” IHRSA, https://www.ihrsa.org/industry-issues/personal-trainer-accreditation/ 
  8. Personal Trainer Certification Comparison. 31 Mar. 2022, https://www.nfpt.com/certification/personal-trainer-certification-comparison
  9. Personal Trainer Certification Study Guides and Practice Tests. https://traineracademy.org/ 
  10. Personal Trainer (Cpt) (Acsm) Salary | Payscale. https://www.payscale.com/research/US/Certification=Personal_Trainer_(CPT)_(ACSM)/Salary
  11. Personal Trainer (Cpt) (Nasm) Salary | Payscale. https://www.payscale.com/research/US/Certification=Personal_Trainer_(CPT)_(NASM)/Salary
  12. American Council on Exercise (Ace) Salary | Payscale. https://www.payscale.com/research/US/Certification=American_Council_on_Exercise_(ACE)/Salary
  13. Personal Trainer (Cpt) (Nsca) Salary | Payscale. https://www.payscale.com/research/US/Certification=Personal_Trainer_(CPT)_(NSCA)/Salary
  14. Personal Trainer Recertification & Renewal | Ace. https://www.acefitness.org/fitness-certifications/recertification/
  15. The Mission of Nesta’s Personal Fitness Trainer (PFT) Program. https://pft.nestacertified.com/about-nesta-mission-statement/
  16. “Recertify Your Nasm Personal Trainer Certification.” NASM, https://www.nasm.org/recertify/personal-trainer-recertification
  17. Personal Trainer Recertification & Renewal | Ace. https://www.acefitness.org/fitness-certifications/recertification/ 
  18. ZipRecruiter. “Nasm Nutrition Coach Salary.” ZipRecruiter, 13 Apr. 2023, https://www.ziprecruiter.com/Salaries/NASM-Nutrition-Coach-Salary
  19. Become a Nsca-Certified Personal Trainer | Nsca. https://www.nsca.com/certification/nsca-cpt/
  20. Become an Elite Trainer | Certification Program | Issa. https://www.issaonline.com/certification/elite-trainer-certification
Tyler Read - Certified Personal Trainer with PTPioneer

Tyler Read

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13 thoughts on “6 Best Online Personal Training Certifications in 2024”

  1. Hello,im soheil i live in Budapest and i wanted to know is your certification,international?
    And what’s the fee for your courses?

    • Hey Soheli, I do not have an official certification on my site, but i do offer a course to get you in the mindset of personal training and introduce essential concepts. Check out my Running Start program https://www.ptpioneer.com/running-start/. In addition, if you would like to know the prices for the programs in the article here that you commented on, make sure to click on their links below each respective section. That will take you to the official site with a discount.

  2. Hi! I have done 5 ISSA certs and am currently working on my 6th. I’m also looking to do an online trainer course, and I have see a lot of great reviews about Jon Goodman’s Online Trainer Academy course – I notice this is in your ads on your site, but it’s not one of the certs that has been reviewed. Have you done the PTDC online trainer course, and if so, could you compare to ISSA’s?

    • In terms of online personal training courses, the online Training Academy is kind of the gold standard. I would definitely choose this over the international sports Sciences Association. I have had a good look at Both of them.

  3. Hello,

    Is the American Sports & Fitness Association legit. I went on their website and took the test and passed it with flying colours. It was weird how they permitted me to take the test first then have me pay once I passed it. I’m Canadian and have a few other certs and don’t plan on working at a big box gym. I just want a PT cert in order to get a good rep. and to start my own business. I’m planning on starting a Speed & Agility business and my other certs are specific to this. But, everyone keeps telling me that I need a PT cert to when I don’t want to be a PT, but to work specifically as a coach in speed and agility. If I paid for this ASFA PT Cert. will I then lose credibility? I ask this, because, half the stuff I read says its decent and half the other stuff I read says its a rip off.
    Thank you,


    By the way, love your site!!!

    • Honestly I have never heard of the American Sports & Fitness Association I have never done a review about it on my website. I would definitely look into that and make sure to contact the gymnasiums in your area to see if they accept that certification or not. That would be your best bet. I hope you did not get ripped off.

  4. Hi. You didn’t mention accreditation with some of your descriptions.

    You are nasm certified but Issa is the most popular u state. I want the certification with he most recognition. ?

    • I would say that the certification that holds the most recognition is still NASM. That does not mean that the other certifications are not legitimate or well-recognized though.

  5. ACSM can also be included on here then if you’re including ones that don’t do online exams. PearsonVue has many more testing locations than PSI Prometric etc and ACSM is more highly regarded than ISSA, ACE, and most others other than NSCA or NASM.

    • Thats true, but ACSM does not have a guided online course instruction. Also they do not have support for their students who enroll in their program once they are certified. It is the reason why a lot of ACSM personal trainers leave the industry after 6 months.

      • I definitely agree with all of this Chad. The overall study materials from the American Council on Sports Medicine are pretty poor compared to their competitors especially in the last decade.

    • Hey Chris,
      What personal training certification are you trying to get. In terms of getting CPR and AED certified, I recommend going through the American heart Association as they have fantastic in person CPR and AED classes all around the United States.


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