A CPT certification stands for “Certified Personal Trainer” and is the overall category name for certifications that give you the knowledge and skills to train clients for improved health and fitness goals. Many different organizations offer CPT certifications, each with respective advantages and disadvantages.

In other words, a CPT certification is the education and credential that signifies an individual is a certified personal trainer. When you earn the CPT certification, you can place the credential behind your name, like this: Amanda Capritto, CPT. 

For those who intend to work in the fitness industry as personal trainers, earning a CPT certification—more specifically, an NCCA-accredited certification—is critical to a successful and well-paying career. 

As a CPT certified for more than five years now, here’s my take on what it means to earn a CPT certification, how to obtain and maintain one, and why it’s important for a career in the fitness industry. 

I also highly recommend that you take the quiz and find out which CPT certification is best for your career goals.

What type of Certification are you looking to get?

Overview of CPT Certification

The only way to earn a CPT certification is to study and sit for a CPT exam given by a CPT-credentialing agency.

Who Grants CPT Certifications?

There are several CPT-awarding bodies nowadays. The most popular include: 

  • ACE (American Council on Exercise)
  • NASM (National Academy of Sports Medicine)
  • ISSA (International Sports Science Association)
  • NSCA (National Strength and Conditioning Association)
  • ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine)

Other options available to you are: 

  • NSCF (National Council on Strength and Fitness) 
  • NCCPT (National Council for Certified Personal Trainers) 
  • NESTA (National Exercise and Sports Trainers Association)
  • NFPT (National Federation of Professional Trainers)
  • Action

All of the above are accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA), which shows that the course and exam content are comprehensive and satisfactory so that an individual who completes the exam is considered a subject matter expert.

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What Is Covered in CPT Certifications?

CPT certification courses generally cover the following topics: 

  • Marketing and client prospecting
  • New client intake and assessment 
  • Motivational interviewing
  • Behavior change/lifestyle intervention 
  • Health and risk screening
  • Movement screening
  • Resistance training
  • Cardiorespiratory training
  • Exercise science foundations
  • Anatomy and physiology 
  • Special populations training (i.e., seniors, pre-/post-partum, medically contraindicated)
  • Personal trainer scope of practice 
  • Legal and ethical concerns 

All CPT certifications cover some combination of these same topics, although different courses place emphasis on different sections. The ACE-CPT, for example, leans heavily on behavior change, general population training, and motivational interviewing. The NASM-CPT, on the other hand, more thoroughly covers corrective exercise and athletic performance. 

How Long Is a CPT Certification Valid?

In most cases, CPT certifications are valid for two years. However, some credentialing bodies have three- or five-year recertification cycles. Within the certification cycle, you’re required to participate in a certain number of continuing education hours, which also varies depending on the agency. Before choosing which CPT program to sign up for, make sure to research the length of validity and CEC requirements.

How Long Does it Take to Get a Personal Trainer Certification?

Most people can pass the personal trainer exam with a year or less of studying. Those who have educational backgrounds in physiology, anatomy, exercise science, or a related field are typically able to pass the exam much sooner than that. 

When I decided to become a personal trainer, I had no background—I mean zilch—in any topical area related to personal training. I started completely from scratch and am 100% self-taught. I purchased the ACE-CPT Plus Package and scheduled my exam for one year out from the day I started studying. I had no problem managing my CPT studies even while I was taking a full college course load. 

Most people earn their CPT while working parttime or fulltime, and you can, too! Read more about how long it takes to become a personal trainer.

How Much Is a Personal Trainer Certification?

The cost of obtaining a CPT certification varies. Each agency sets its own prices for study materials and the exam, as well as recertification fees. 

In general, you can expect to pay a few hundred to more than $1,000 for complete courses with various study materials, as well as pay two to three hundred for the exam. In most cases, when you buy a study package from a credentialing body, the cost of the exam is included. 

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Here’s a complete guide on how much it costs to be a personal trainer.

Eligibility Requirements for CPT Certification

The personal training profession isn’t regulated as tightly as professions in healthcare, like registered dietitian nutritionists and clinical exercise physiologists.

Still, certified personal trainers are a part of the allied health ecosystem and there are some eligibility requirements you must meet before you can be a personal trainer. Don’t worry: They’re not insurmountable.

Age Requirements

First, you must be 18 years old to sit for the personal trainer exam for all major credentialing agencies. The vast majority of employers—in your case, probably commercial gyms—also require personal trainers to be at least 18 years old to work with clients. 

Education Requirements

There aren’t any formal education requirements for personal trainers. That is to say: You don’t need a degree in exercise science, although knowledge of anatomy and physiology certainly is helpful for CPTs. 

To sit for the personal trainer exam for ACE, NASM, ISSA, NSCA, ACSM, and other agencies, you must have a high school diploma or equivalent. So if you’re not done with high school, make it your priority to graduate or earn your GED. 

Additionally, you’ll need to obtain an adult CPR/AED/First Aid certification before you can sit for the exam.

Steps to Obtaining CPT Certification

Here’s a recap on how to obtain your CPT credential.

  • Meet the eligibility requirements: Graduate high school or earn your GED, and remember that you must be 18 to take the CPT exam.
  • Complete a CPT certification program: Purchase the CPT study course of your choosing (or use our free study programs) and schedule your exam.
  • Take the CPT certification exam: Take and pass the CPT exam, or reschedule it if you don’t pass on the first try. Most agencies provide three attempts.
  • Maintain CPT certification through continuing education: Engage in continuing education courses, seminars, and events to earn CECs and apply them toward your recertification cycle.
  • Maintain CPR/AED/first aid: Your credentialing body will require you to retake the adult CPR/AED/first aid course in order to recertify.

Benefits of a CPT Certification

If you already know a lot about fitness, you may feel like you don’t need to earn a CPT certification. However, from personal experience—and the experience of hundreds of thousands of other trainers—having the CPT credential is a game-changer in terms of your career growth. 

  • Improved job prospects and earning potential: Employers value the time and effort it takes to earn a personal training certification. Plus, for liability reasons, most gyms won’t employ individuals without a CPT credential as trainers. If you intend to work for yourself, having your CPT certification sets you apart from a sea of unqualified trainers.
  • Increased credibility and professional recognition: Employers and clients want to work with professionals who have, quite literally, done their homework. Earning your CPT certification shows them that you’re serious about personal training as a career and take your clients’ safety and progress seriously.
  • Enhanced knowledge and skills in personal training: Earning your CPT (and maintaining it via continuing education) means you’ll always be up-to-date on fitness science, trends, and best practices. This means you can implement new strategies for increased success with your clients. 

Final Thoughts: What Is a CPT Certification?

To recap, a personal trainer certification (or CPT certification) is the credential awarded to individuals who pass a personal training exam. 

To become a personal trainer you must: 

  • Be 18 years old or older
  • Have a high school diploma or equivalent
  • Be certified in adult CPR/AED/first aid 

To maintain your CPT, you must meet the requirements of your credentialing body within the certification cycle. Most often, this means you must participate in 20 hours of continuing education every two years, but some agencies have different requirements.

Pursuing a CPT credential is a worthwhile endeavor if you want any sort of career in the fitness industry. And earning your CPT can help you with much more than just on-the-floor personal training. Take me, for example: I’m a career writer, but earning and maintaining my CPT has allowed me to write about fitness for some of the largest publications and websites in North America. 

In short: A CPT credential is a valuable professional asset. 

Amanda Capritto - Certified Personal Trainer with PTPioneer

Amanda Capritto


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