If you’re looking for a comparison of Canadian personal training certifications we did a sister post. Click here for it
ThePTDC is in no way affiliated with any personal training certification so you can be assured that the following is 100% unbiased. In fact we have been offered generous sums of money from certain organizations and turned it down. After reading the following you will understand why.
A personal training certification will not make you successful. Scratch that, a certification has nothing to do with your success. It is a foot in the door, that’s all. In the United States the main bodies are ACE, NSCA, NASM, NFPT, ACSM, NESTA, and IFPA. At the bottom of this post I have a chart comparing them all in terms of the specifics. Before you make a decision read the following.
Personal Training is Unregulated
Know what that means? That means your 90 year old grandmother is a personal trainer. It also means your obese best friend who makes fun of you when you go to the gym while they sit at home beating every update of Angry Birds is also a personal trainer. Anybody can call themselves an unregistered term. As an interesting aside PT is registered but by physiotherapists so it is illegal for you to call yourself a PT unless you are a designated physiotherapist.
So who cares?
Your clients don’t. They haven’t heard of your certification and will nod their nod when you extol the benefits of it that you read from the brochure. What they care about is feeling and looking better.
A good personal trainer is somebody who has the combined knowledge and passion to provide a high quality service. A piece of paper doesn’t give you either of these qualities. A piece of paper gives you a baseline credential and you should treat it as such.
Personal training certifications are a means to get your foot in the door. Most gyms won’t hire you without one but it really doesn’t matter which one you have (unless of course the certification is owned by the same company that owns your gym, then you’re stuck).
Certification ≠ Qualification
Note that I stole this concept from Dave Parise found in Nick Tumminello’s blog post (also a great read on the subject) called The Truth About Personal Training Certifications.
If you think a personal training certification will prepare you for training clients you are in for a surprise. I’ve yet to come across a program that adequately prepares trainers for one simple reason:
You must have tons of practical and varied experience. To do this in a school setting is expensive. Certifying trainers in the United States is a business (and a very profitable one). It would be a pretty tough sell for a company to advertise a $5,000 personal trainer certification that lasts 2 years when another place sells it for $200 in a weekend.
So what if you’ve been working out for a long time? And who cares if all you do is read fitness magazines.
Your research up until now has been focused on how to make your workouts better or heal from your injuries. Unless you’re only going to be training people who are exactly like you then it’s going to take some work learning other methods.
So you must get in and get dirty. Don’t be scared to tell your clients you don’t know. Just make sure to follow it up with “but I’m sure as hell going to find out”. Research incessantly for the first couple years and you will soon find what niches interest you and which ones do not.
Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know” to your clients as long as you follow it with “I’m going to find out” click to tweet
So What Do You Do?
Let your passion dictate your education. Stop following somebody else’s template. Remember what I said about personal training being unregulated above? Well that also means that anybody and their dog can certify trainers for anything, as anything.
Save money on expensive certifications and put it towards DVDs, books, workshops, conferences, mentorships, and internships. This is how you become qualified – not with a piece of paper.
Do I Get CEU’s For That?
If you’re struggling to fulfill your CEU (or CEC) requirements come re-certification time you have serious problems or haven’t taken time to understand the system. Almost every personal training certification allows you to petition CEU’s for outside / unsanctioned events. This means any event you attend counts towards your requirements whether they say so or not.
So attend a seminar if you think it will help you or your clients. Please don’t think twice because they haven’t applied to count as CEU’s with your certification. Go because you want to learn, not for a piece of paper.
As Nick said in his post focus on getting certified vs. what certification to get. It’s a stepping-stone, nothing more. There mare many education paths to take for personal trainers and it’s up to you to find and follow your own. 1000s of different systems will get your clients results. It’s both the best and worst part of being a trainer.
You must look for every opportunity to educate yourself and develop your own system that works for you and your clients.
Also, make sure to subscribe to thePTDC newsletter for free articles on personal training sent to you weekly. As a gift for subscribing you also get “101 Personal Training Mistakes — and the Solutions to Each” and “Facebook Marketing for Personal Trainers” and tons of premium “subscriber only” content”..
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The Benefits of Personal Training Certifications
As I said before a certification is a system. No matter how specialized it is somebody has taken the time to think through the methodology and put it together.
It therefore is a quick way for you to establish a baseline of knowledge to direct your efforts moving forward. One of my favorite things to do was always ask the instructor what outside materials they would recommend for me to better understand the concept. It’s one of the ways that I developed the massive reading list we feature on thePTDC.
So What Certification Do I Recommend?
I don’t recommend any in particular. I’ve yet to come across a certification that prepares you better for your job than any other one. My recommendation therefore is to look at getting a personal trainer certification as a stepping stone. Choose one that offers the smallest barrier in terms of cost and time and attain it.
Please don’t take my recommendation the wrong way. I am somebody who spent $10-15,000 a year on continuing education while I was a personal trainer. I studied what interested me regardless of whether or not it had a certification tag at the end of it or not. I never cared about made up letters behind my name and neither did my clients.
Study hard and always get better. Invest in yourself. Just don’t do it because you think the made up letters behind your name mean something or will impress anybody. With that being said, below is a comparison of the American personal training certifications.
Personal Trainer Certifications: United States (comparison)
The goal of this short post is to simply compare the American certifications as I have never seen an easy to reference chart like this in one place. If you live in Canada we did a sister post comparing the American certs. You can check it out here.
Please note that I don’t promise 100% accuracy from this chart. It is meant to give an unbiased comparison. For all up to date info on certs visit the website listed or call the organisation directly.
Also, make sure to subscribe to thePTDC newsletter for free articles on personal training sent to you weekly. As a gift for subscribing you also get “101 Personal Training Mistakes — and the Solutions to Each” and “Facebook Marketing for Personal Trainers”.
Subscribe for free by entering your info in the box below.