Cost is king as the saying goes. So when it comes to gaining a personal trainer certification, how much does it cost to become a personal trainer is a question whose answer is definitely a huge deciding factor. In this article I will talk about the cost of the top 10 CPT’s on the market.
It’s worth noting that there is a strong correlation between how much something costs and the quality it guarantees. This rings true with personal trainer certifications too.
In this article, we’re going to delve into cost vs value of the numerous PT certs out there.
Aside from this article, you should check out my PT reviews comparing different certifications and the factors that influence their value based on my expert insight. Also Read my article on the personal trainer average salary.
I 100% recommend that you take the quiz to help you determine which certification is right for 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.
And without further ado, let’s dive right in and check out how cost and quality will help you determine with cert is right for you.
Cost vs Quality. How the two go hand in hand
Let’s be honest, whatever it is that you’re spending money on, you would naturally prefer to spend as little as possible. That’s just human nature, heck, that’s just nature. Conservation of resources is one of our default settings, especially when it comes to money.
So you’re thinking of becoming a certified personal trainer. The chances are you’ve already looked at a bunch of options. With those options, I can bet that the first thing that caught your attention was the cost.
It makes sense to begin your selection process by using the cost of a certification as a major determining factor. After all, you’re most likely trying to forge a career and thus an income. This means you’re not exactly swimming in cash, at least not yet.
So should you go for the cheapest possible option? That really boils down to what you want out of your cert. If you want any cert you can find, then, yes, by all means, go for the cheapest you can find.
Problem is, the cheapest certs are also likely the most inauthentic. A lot of bogus and scam certifications exist on the internet at a steal. It’s a numbers game after all, so the more people buy into them at a ridiculously low fee, the more they catch… and chachin! Its money in the bank for them.
For you, you’ll end up with a pretty useless piece of paper, if they even bother to provide you with a certificate. You also won’t gain that much applied knowledge and at the end of the day, you’ll go unnoticed and unrecognized in the very industry you aim to be a part of.
Knowing this should put things in perspective when negotiating between your wallet and investing in any sort of real opportunity for a rewarding opportunity.
Big tip: always look at value and not cost. Value is the relationship between what you put in vs what you get out. In this case, how much you pay vs what quality of knowledge and credentials you’ll ultimately gain.
Chase Value and not Cost
Try to be open to all factors presented by a certifying agency to be able to justify the cost. Here’s a quick rundown of what you need to keep on your radar.
This is a biggie. Accreditation is what separates the bogus certs I just mentioned and the real deal industry badges of honor.
Accreditation is to a personal trainer certification what a personal trainer certification is to a personal trainer. It’s a mark of verification, authenticity and credibility.
Accreditation in America is provided by two main bodies, the National Commission of Certifying Agencies or NCCA and the Distance Education Accrediting Commission or DEAC.
These two bodies are headed by a panel of the top industry experts, with a wealth of experience and credibility in the fields of sports medicine, strength, conditioning and exercise science.
When looking at a PT certification or any other cert in the realm of health and fitness, the first thing you should look out for and consider is accreditation.
This is sort of an expansion on the value of accreditation in that you want to get a cert that is recognized for and by experts.
What I’m referring to by industry recognition is the popularity, reputation and relevance of a certification with respect to all the career fields and potential employers such as gyms and sports teams.
Even if accredited, certain certifications might not be right or highly regarded for certain careers or employment opportunities. For example, a certification such as ACE CPT or NASM CPT, which are the two most popular accredited certifications currently available, wouldn’t qualify you for a job as a pro athlete conditioning specialist. For that you would aim for something like NSCA CSCS for example.
This determines how often you have to re certify yourself in order to maintain your credentials. Most certs have a 2-year period between re certifications. Some do have a longer period in between.
The recertification will give you an idea of how often the value of knowledge is revised in order to keep up with continued education and new scientific findings. This is a decision that depends on what you ultimately want to accomplish.
I suggest getting a certification with a longer recertification period if you just want to get your foot in the door with a certain gym. On the other hand, if your overall goal is to equip yourself with cutting-edge personal training knowledge and information, or if you want to become an authority in the personal training space, you should definitely go with one that requires you to get recertified frequently.
The last being consideration is the challenge barrier required to pass and gain certification.
A general rule of thumb is that the more difficult the exam is, the more valuable a passing grade will be, and subsequently, more recognition and credibility.
In this instance, you still have to weigh up whether or not the cert ultimately serves your purpose. A hard cert doesn’t necessarily mean the right cert for you. But it certainly is a mark of quality and thus, value.
With that being said, I’ve compiled a ranked list of the best PT certifications based on cost. I’ve selected these based on the fact that I’ve recognized them as valuable in all other important aspects, so now we will just break down the cost. Take a look at my article on the easiest personal trainer certifications.
Personal Trainer Certification Cost Ranking: Top 10
Down below I will be ranking the personal trainer certification cost of my top 10 certifications. I will be ranking them from the most expensive certifications tempted the cheapest certifications. The most costly certification is NASM at $799 and the cheapest is ACTION at $99.
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NASM is by and large considered the most popular personal trainer certification, coming in at $799 to register for the exam and essential materials. It is an industry heavyweight and almost any opportunity as a general personal trainer you’re looking at will welcome you with open arms as a NASM certified trainer.
It’s also the most expensive as you can tell by the placement on this list. $799 is as much as you would ever pay for a PT cert. Anything higher and you’re looking at the more specialized categories akin to a sports medicine degree.
NASM offers a robust insight into corrective fitness protocols, and allows you to work with special population groups for that reason.
The exam presents you with a reasonable degree of challenge, but nothing a decent amount of prep won’t get you through with a 64.3% pass rate.
NASM is accredited by the NCCA and has years of top industry recognition. The NASM community is also a great way to network and grow your career as a professional trainer.
I have a full review of the NASM CPT here as well as other articles where I compare it to other great certs. I’ll definitely say NASM is worth every penny, despite being the most expensive.
Next up we have the NSCA CPT presented by the National Strength and Conditioning Association. One of the older and more established certs, NSCA is well-known for its heavy emphasis on performance strength and conditioning. That means this cert will have you primed and ready for the big leagues when it comes to performance optimization training.
NSCA CPT is accredited by the NCCA and costs $712.80 for the full program and study materials. In my opinion, the study material you’ll get for that value is a bit weak. In order to adequately prep for what is a really challenging exam, you’ll end up needing a lot more than what NSCA brings to the table.
Passing this however, is an immense triumph and will see you grow into your own as a great trainer.
You can read more on the NSCA CPT here and also check out some of my comparisons between NSCA CPT and other awesome certifications.
ACE is one of the most popular certifications out there. Often neck-in-neck with NASM in terms of reputation and credibility. ACE provides a well-rounded general approach to exercise science and the business of it. So if you have one of these, you’re basically in.
To register for ACE with all the bells and whistles, you’ll be spending around $599, making it a pretty reasonable offer for what you’re getting. With a 64% pass rate you shouldn’t struggle to make the grade. And with the high quality study material on offer, test prep will be an awesome in-house experience.
Like most other certs, ACE has multiple tier packages that differ in cost based on what study and support resources you decide to pack in as well as occasional discounts and seasonal offers.
ACE is also a non-profit and stands for improving health and wellness through correct exercise and nutrition. You’ll be joining the ranks of over 50,000 certified members with an NCCA accreditation.
If you want to learn more about ACE, check out my full review article here. Check out the current price of the American Council on exercise here.
Now let’s have a look at ACSM which is coming in at a grand total of $521 for exam registration and all the essential study and support materials suite. ACSM comes with many extra study resources, all priced differently. Have a look at their site and check out the options available here
The general heritage of this certification is owed to the fact that it’s the oldest certifying agency of all, as well as the second to receive and NCCA accreditation.
ACSM is also a hub of continued research and development in sports medicine, leading the charge in many pioneering studies that end up forming part of the syllabus of most other top tier certifying institutions.
With this said, an ACSM cert is not just a qualification, it’s a mark of prestige. If you also factor in the relative difficulty of this exam, it’s clearly quite an accomplishment and is recognized as such.
This is a top tier certification which will cost you $499 for the total registration and essential resources. The price does often fluctuate based on updated structuring, promos and special discounts.
NCSF is another NCCA accredited cert with a high standing in the industry, allowing you to forge a lucrative career.
The exam itself is quite challenging with a 57% pass rate for first timers. It is however supported by a diverse array of awesome study resource, including live workshops, which are all priced accordingly.
If you want to know more about NCSF’s pricing options, check out their website here, and if you want my personal take on the cert, I’ve done a review you can look at here.
ISSA is a relatively unique certification, being one of the few with a truly international approach. It is after all, the International Sports Science Association. This cert comes up to around $499 for the best value package which may fluctuate.
ISSA has a global presence and can be completed outside the United States. That’s mainly because it’s predominantly and online course. It is also uniquely accredited by DEAC and not the NCCA. The difference between the two is that the DEAC is geared towards distance education certifications which is the case with ISSA.
Another peculiarity is the open book test policy, which is probably the reason why the passing rate for ISSA is around 90%. I personally find this to be a drawback, but many people like the practical nature of some sections as well as the extra focus on the business aspect of personal training. For this reason, I can totally justify the cost.
ISSA often offer a special deal if you purchase multiple certifications. For example, their elite trainer package includes their CPT, their nutritionist certification and a third certification of your choice for only $999 which brings each certification down to $333. This is a fantastic deal. Check out the current price for the elite trainer package.
This is for sure one of the most affordable certs you can pick up. The National Council for Certified Personal Trainers of NCCPT can come up to between $399 and $478 depending on what package you go for out of the 3 primary ones.
There are also regular discounts and promos. Check out the NCCPT site here to find out what deals are currently available.
The certification is a fusion of 34 certification sources, with an emphasis on more corrective concepts of strength and conditioning science. It’s one of the few certifications that focuses on balance and stability as ways to optimize general performance.
It is highly regarded and accredited by the NCCPT, opening you up to many employment and career opportunities.
NESTA, which stands for National Exercise & Sports Trainers Association goes for $477 for a full certification package and $299 for just the exam. As a relatively new certifying agency, it’s fascinating to see how NESTA has advanced so quickly, both in the quality of knowledge it delivers, and the extra resources it provides for professional trainers.
The lack of an adequate suite of study material is a drawback, but the exam is easy without much prep, so I suppose that cancels out.
NESTA is accredited by the NCCA, as with most other certs here. If you want to find out about NESTA’s current fees structures, check out their site here. For a full breakdown of what this certification has to offer, have a look at my NESTA review right here.
The National Federation of Professional Trainers or NFPT. in order to get certified, you’ll have 3 options to choose from. The Exam-Only option, the Standard Package and the Premier Package.
The standard package and premier package cost $249 and $349 respectively. The exam only option is not something I would recommend unless you have a deep, applied understanding of the content through experience or other higher learning programs.
NFPT is accredited by the NCCA and is a highly regarded industry certification. Check out my full review on NFPT here. You can also have a look at their official site for up to date cost information.
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10. ACTION CPT ($99)
This is the newest and cheapest certification on this list. It comes in at $99 for the certification and exam registration. This makes it the only double digit cost on this ranking, but doe’s such a low price still hold a degree of quality and credibility?
Well, according to the NCCA, it does. ACTION gained its accreditation only in 2014, but accreditation is accreditation.
Because ACTION is so new, it’s still finding its feet when it comes to delivering the best quality learning outcomes and refining its study material.’
This is a great cert if you’re already certified and is a quick and cheap way to add a bonus notch in your belt. If you’re a newcomer, I advise one of the more robust and well-established certifications like NASM or ACE.
Check out the ACTION site for more details on pricing and course structure.
And that’s your top 10 general personal trainer certifications, ranked by cost from the most expensive to the least. If you do feel like specializing though, there are several other certifications that offer a special focus in other aspects of health, fitness and performance science.
Specialized Trainer Certification Cost
This section will give you some insight in what you’ll be forking out on your quest in specializing just as we’ve covered the general trainer certs.
The NASM CNC (Certified Nutrition Specialist) is one of the best nutrition specialist certifications you can get. It covers a broad spectrum of nutritional concepts and will enable you to apply what I would consider, a more important aspect of health and fitness than exercise itself.
The CNC will set you back $899 for the program and exam registration. Because of this relatively hefty cost, you can be assured that you’re receiving expert level nutritional education.
Check out more on the NASM CNC in my review here.
As a Performance Enhancement Specialist (PES), you’ll be primed to deal with professional and elite level athletes. This certification has multiple tiers ranging from $699, to $799 and finally $999 depending on what you choose.
This cert is often compared to NASA and ACSM specialized certifications and with the NASM name behind it, that makes total sense. Check out my full break-down of the PES here. I also have some awesome, free exam prep material for the PES.
The CES is on par with the PES in terms of specialist recognition. The only difference is, the CES focuses on corrective exercises while the PES focuses on boosting athletic performance.
The NASM CES has a similar price structure to the PES starting at $699 with the top tier package going for $999. Check out my review for more details on this cert.
The CSCS is one of the top rated specialist certifications you can get. It equips you to deal with elite level athletic populations such as college and pro athletes. The pricing structure varies based on whether you’re a registered member of NSCA.
The cost is $260 for members and $445 if you’re not a member. The real kicker is the retest fee you’ll have to take if you fail your current attempt. This will set you back a further $260 for members and $395 for non-members. The crazy thing is, you have a high probability of needing to retake it owing to the high level of difficulty of the exam.
My best advice is prep hard for this exam. Check out my CSCS exam prep guide and full review to get you on the right track.
This certification is designed to equip you when dealing with groups of multiple trainees. The different approach required to training groups as opposed to 1-on-1 coaching scenarios is often overlooked by some of the biggest certifying agencies.
It costs $299 for the Pro Essential package, $499 for the Pro Plus package and $699 for the pro advantage package. Check out my review of this cert right here.
NASM Group Exercise.
NASM brings it to the table once again with this group fitness certification. Just like ACE’s Group Fitness Instructor, this cert will enable you to approach groups in an effective way.
Also, similar to ACE is the 3 tier pricing packages. Self-Study, Premium Self-Study and All-Inclusive, which go for $299, $399 and $499 respectively. Check out their website for more info as they regularly run discounts. Also, have a look at my full review of the NASM Group Fitness certification.
PT Certification Cost Conclusion
If you still haven’t done so, take the quiz to see which personal training certification is the best option for you.
Overall, regardless of the personal training certification cost, 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.
So there you have my break down of certification costs for both general PT certs and the more specialist ones.
I can’t say it enough, but your main deciding factor should be value and not cost, and the best way to figure out the value is to figure out what you need to pursue your career. I suggest you take this quiz to help you decide.
I’d love to know your thoughts and hear if you have any questions not answered in this article, so make sure to drop a comment below.
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