Personal training can be one of the most fulfilling career paths, especially if you’re the type of person who enjoys helping others. There is no better feeling than guiding your clients to fitness success and watching their physical abilities, confidence, and well-being skyrocket.
However, as an aspiring fitness professional, one question on your mind probably is, “How long does it take to become a personal trainer?”
Becoming a personal trainer doesn’t happen overnight because earning a certificate requires education, passing the necessary exams, getting on-the-job training, and more.
To that end, we’ve put together this guide to help you understand how long the process might take and what you would have to do along the way.
What is a Personal Trainer?
A personal trainer is a fitness professional with a unique skill set and a good understanding of training concepts. Their primary job is to evaluate each client, understand their needs and limitations, and produce the best possible training plan that aligns with their goals and preferences.
In a nutshell, a personal trainer must:
- Evaluate each potential client’s physical abilities and potential limitations
- Determine if they can help each prospective client
- Understand each client’s goals and desires
- Be able to help clients through difficulties and roadblocks
- Provide an effective training program that caters to their preferences, needs, goals, schedule, etc.
- Motivate clients to work hard and stay consistent through encouragement and accountability
- Monitor clients’ progress and make the necessary adjustments along the way
How Long Does it Take to Become a Personal Trainer?
Completing a certification program generally takes 3 to 6 months. In some cases, like with the ACSM certification, it can take up to 9 months. How quickly you prepare for the exam depends on your dedication, prior expertise, and learning speed. You will then need to complete an internship lasting up to 12 weeks.
What Does it Take to Become a Certified Personal Trainer?
How long it takes to become a certified personal trainer will largely depend on the path you decide to take and log much you want to specialize in a given area. Here are a few factors to consider:
Personal Training Certification Programs
Aspiring personal trainers can choose from multiple programs to earn their certification. However, the five certifications that command the highest recognition and respect are ACE, ACSM, ISSA, NASM, and NCSA.
Here is an estimated average timeline of how long each would take to complete:
- American Council on Exercise (ACE) – 3 to 6 months
- American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) – 3 to 9 months
- International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA) – 3 to 5 months
- National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) – 3 to 6 months
- National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) – 6 months
Most personal trainer certification programs require first completing a Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation and Automated External Defibrillator (CPR/AED) program. These skills can be valuable because clients often have to train hard, which can put them at risk.
Fortunately, getting that training is no big deal. It typically takes several hours to complete.
Aside from that, aspiring personal trainers must have a high school diploma, which shouldn’t be an issue. However, if you’re still in high school and are yet to graduate, consider your remaining time in school to get a rough idea of how soon you can become a personal trainer.
Unlike school or college, where pupils follow a program and must adhere to a specific schedule for acquiring new knowledge and completing exams, you can go through personal trainer certification courses at your own pace and select when to take an exam.
That said, most certification programs will have an exam deadline. For instance, the NASM CPT exam expires 180 days after enrollment, which is something to remember when planning your preparation.
Put simply, how long it takes you to earn your certification will depend on how much time you dedicate to the process.
Existing Knowledge and Expertise
Your existing knowledge and expertise will impact how quickly you can go through the study materials and prepare for the exam.
For example, if you’re an enthusiast who values an evidence-based fitness approach, you likely educate yourself in your free time. There are plenty of experts who share a lot of practical and accurate information on their blogs, social media, and Youtube channels for free.
The same goes for trainers with years of experience, especially those who have worked under respected coaches in the industry. Learning on the job is an advantageous way to establish a foundation and prepare yourself to become a certified personal trainer.
In contrast, someone starting from the bottom might need more time to understand core concepts and acquire the necessary knowledge to pass the exam. Such people would often have to get supplementary study materials to gain a broad understanding of fitness glossary, fundamentals, and how everything connects.
If You Pass the Exam Right Away
Enrolling in a course and earning your certification are two different things. Unfortunately, even if you push yourself hard for several months, that doesn’t guarantee you will get the score needed to pass.
For reference, the pass rate for the NASM exam has been around 74 percent in the last few years, with 2016 being one of the lowest, with just 61 percent of students passing. In other words, out of 10 000 people, 2600 won’t pass the exam on the first try.
You can retake the test, but that will cost you extra money and time.
How to Prepare for Personal Trainer Certification Exams
Your preparation will largely depend on the type of personal trainer certification you pursue. Each exam comes with unique questions based on the study material, and the difficulty of the final test will determine how long you should prepare.
Even with prior fitness knowledge and practical experience, you must prepare for the specific exam you want to take.
Here is how to prepare for your certification exam and ace it on your first try:
Read the Necessary Exam Book
The most important thing you can do is get course-specific study material to prepare for the exam you want to take.
Here are suggestions for the four other reputable personal trainer certification organizations:
- ACE – ACE Personal Trainer Manual: The Ultimate Resource for Fitness Professionals (Fourth Edition)
- ACSM – ACSM’s Certification Review (American College of Sports Medicine) sixth edition, ACSM’s Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription (American College of Sports Medicine) 11th edition, and ACSM’s Fitness Assessment Manual (American College of Sports Medicine) Sixth Edition
- ISSA – I highly recommend The ISSA Study Expansion Pack. It includes all the necessary information to pass the exam and earn your certification. You can pick from all the learning styles based on what you prefer.
- NSCA – NSCA’s Essentials of Personal Training, 3rd edition
Related article: 11 Best Books About Personal Training (+4 Bonus Recommendations)
Use Trainer Academy
Trainer Academy is an online resource that offers targeted and specific guidance and study materials in several formats to prepare you for your exam. The Trainer Academy study systems are renowned for their high success rates, with 99 percent of all students passing their exam on the first try.
What’s more interesting is they offer a money-back guarantee for students who fail their exam, which means it is a win-win for aspiring personal trainers.
It’s worth noting that Trainer Academy is more of an alternative to the traditional way of reading textbooks. Their teaching methods are simpler for the average person and include flashcards, quizzes, and practice exams.
Speaking of all-in-one solutions, we highly recommend checking out our platform: Hevy Coach. It allows you to keep track of all your clients in one dashboard, provide training plans, and make adjustments along the way. The platform integrates with the Hevy app, allowing clients to log their workouts seamlessly.
Take Practice Exams
Research suggests that practice exams, quizzes, and tests are an effective preparation method for the actual exam. Completing practice exams forces you to recall things you’ve learned before, solidifying the knowledge in your memory.
Practice tests can also effectively reveal knowledge gaps and direct your attention to subjects and areas where you struggle. For example, you might think you have a good grasp on muscle physiology, but a test could show you that’s not the case.
Most relevant study materials for the five personal training certificates discussed above include practice exams. Some, such as The ISSA Study Expansion Pack, also have flashcards, crossword puzzles, and coloring pages.
Trainer Academy also comes with all the relevant tests. In addition, you get up to six practice exams, regardless of which package you pick.
Cost Considerations for Becoming a Personal Trainer
Becoming a certified personal trainer requires an upfront monetary investment, which you should be aware of before starting. Here is a look at the cost of the personal training certifications we discussed above:
The ACSM study materials cost between $600 and $999. You must also pay for the exam, which is another $279 with a membership or $349 without one.
Speaking of the ACSM membership, it costs:
Membership is not mandatory, but it gives you access to various resources that provide recent health, medicine, and fitness information. Folks interested in expanding their knowledge or expertise would benefit greatly from the broad scope of the guidance available.
ACE offers three study programs for would-be fitness experts. The first is the Basic option, which costs $979. You can pay in full or make four monthly interest-free payments. It includes:
- Access to ACE University
- ACE certification exam
- One practice test
- Digital ACE PT textbook
- Digital ACE PT study companion
Next up is PLUS, their most popular option, costing $1149. It includes:
- Access to ACE University
- ACE certification exam
- Two practice tests
- A digital and hard copy ACE PT textbook
- Digital and hard copy ACE PT study companion
- Exercise Science 101 (course)
Finally, we have the most expensive option: Advantage. It typically costs $1729 and includes:
- Access to ACE University
- ACE certification exam
- Four practice tests
- A digital, audiobook, and hard copy ACE PT textbook
- Digital and hard copy ACE PT study companion
- Exercise Science 101 (course)
The ISSA training certification program comes with three payment options:
- $83.25 per month (12 payments) = $999 total
- $166.50 per month (6 payments) = $999 total
- $999 (pay in full upfront)
You also get the option to make the remaining payments early, and there are no penalties.
There are no additional costs for the final exam, but you must complete all your coursework and take the exam within six months of purchasing.
The interesting thing is that ISSA offers a money-back guarantee for personal trainers who earn a certificate but fail to land a job within six months:
Those interested can expand their knowledge and expertise in a specific area by enrolling in a personal trainer course. Below, you can see the three primary options for personal trainers:
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*Both are in the Photos/Illustrations folder
As you can see, these are far more expensive, so it’s up to you to decide if pursuing one makes sense for your personal training business. You can learn about the differences between a personal trainer and a master trainer here.
Unlike some options on our list, the NSCA allows pupils to pay only for the personal trainer certification exam. There are three other payment options for study materials. However, they don’t include the certification exam.
The exam-only package costs $435 for non-members and $300 for members. Like ACSM, you can pick from three membership options, which provide full access to valuable study materials, discounts, and more. Here is a quick look at the three options:
- Student membership – $70 / year
- Professional membership – $130 / year
- CPI membership – $269.25 / membership term
You can learn more about the membership here.
The digital package costs $201.40 for non-members and $152 for members. It includes an NSCA CPT study guide and 200+ practice questions.
Next, we have the NSCA essential package, which costs $314.45 for non-members and $255.55 for members. It includes the same things as the digital package and the NSCA textbook (Essentials of Personal Training).
Finally, the essentials plus package costs $541.50 for non-members and $479.75 for members. It includes the same things from the previous two packages on top of a few small items and the Exercise Technique Manual (third edition).
Like most programs, NASM offers four payment options for personal trainers. The first option is Self-Study, and it costs $999. Your second option is Premium Self-Study, which costs $1399.
Moving up, we have the most popular option: Guided Study. It costs $1799 and comes with ongoing support to keep you motivated, accountable, and on track to succeed.
Finally, we have the All-Inclusive option, which costs $2699 and comes with an internship program, a CPR/AED certification online, and a few other goodies.
You can also opt for 11 zero-percent interest monthly payments on each package. Learn more about the packages here.
The Benefits of Becoming a Certified Personal Trainer
Becoming a certified personal trainer will take time, money, and dedication, but the initial investment is well worth it.
Here are the four primary benefits of earning a personal trainer certification:
The most obvious benefit of earning a certification is that you gain instant credibility among fellow fitness professionals, prospective clients, and gym owners.
At first glance, a certification is nothing more than a piece of paper to frame and put on your wall. However, it signifies hard work, knowledge, and the willingness to invest in yourself.
2. More Job Opportunities
There are no laws that require people to earn a certification. However, it would be nearly impossible to land a decent job in a good training facility without one.
Plus, most of the personal training certification programs we reviewed above come with some sort of a job guarantee. For example, ISSA will refund you if you earn a certification but fail to get a job. (Of course, you must cover their requirements to be eligible, but they are nothing special or unattainable.)
3. Higher Earnings Potential
Most people think that earning a certification is all it takes to become a successful personal trainer, which isn’t true. Becoming a CPT is a great first step, but your career trajectory largely depends on your knowledge, eagerness to keep learning, communication skills, etc.
That said, a good certification will open more doors for you and provide opportunities to prove yourself and build a lucrative career.
4. The Ability to Specialize Further
Most personal training certification programs offer additional courses and training for those eager to expand their knowledge and expertise.
A certification can be a good foundation for you to build upon, specialize in a specific field, and serve your clients better. For instance, ISSA offers multiple package options at a discount, including:
- CPT + one free specialization and three courses (nutrition, HIIT, and strength & conditioning)
- CPT + nutritionist
- CPT + nutritionist, strength & conditioning coach, bodybuilding specialist, corrective exercise specialist, and bodybuilding specialist
The Importance of Experience for Certified Personal Trainers
While theoretical knowledge is great and mandatory, it can only take you so far. Becoming a personal trainer often takes longer than people imagine because you must gain experience on the job, which is time-consuming.
The best option for new trainers is an internship. Going full-time would prepare you quicker, but part-time can also work, especially if you have another job and can’t dedicate eight hours of your day until you start making money in the field.
Internships can vary in length and intensity, depending on the gym or training facility and your specialization level. However, it typically lasts 10 to 12 weeks. Your tasks during that period would revolve around shadowing experienced trainers, observing how they coach clients, and taking plenty of notes.
Unless you have a proven track record, you must complete an internship program at most gyms before getting hired.
Other Skills Every Personal Trainer Should Develop
In addition to earning a certification and gaining experience on the job, becoming a successful personal trainer requires developing additional skills. These are just as important for your bottom line and will largely determine your ability to sign and retain clients.
Developing these skills will take even more time, but the good news is that you will hone them while working with clients and earning money. Here they are:
1. Effective Communication
Communication is a big part of personal training, and you must master it if you hope to be successful.
A common mistake trainers make is not listening to their clients but forcing their ideas and beliefs on them. As a result, these clients don’t feel understood and are more likely to give up after a while.
For example, as a personal trainer, you might have a handful of favorite exercises you love prescribing to clients. However, if a client says they hate one of these exercises or it feels uncomfortable, you should listen. There are no must-do exercises.
Listening to clients and seeing things from their points of view are effective ways to build rapport and develop relationships based on trust and understanding.
2. Motivation and Encouragement
Learning to motivate and encourage your clients is a time-consuming but valuable skill that will serve you well throughout your career.
Effective ways to do so include:
- Showing compassion and understanding
- Keeping clients involved in the process and asking for their opinion
- Making workouts engaging by tweaking the variables from time to time
- Asking your clients what they prefer
- Helping them set specific, measurable, achievable, and time-bound goals
- Providing the right amount of challenge
No matter how much time you spend learning and what certifications you attain, you can’t know it all, especially when you’re first starting. You will always encounter issues that make you scratch your head and wonder what to do.
In such moments, you should be able to research the issue at hand and come up with a solution. Proper research includes reviewing scientific findings, reading relevant resources from other experts, and even asking fellow fitness professionals for help.
Patience is a virtue, especially when coaching people. Each client learns and improves at their own pace, and your job is to give them the time and freedom to blossom.
Rushing the process rarely works out well, especially for newbies who are more likely to feel overwhelmed.
5. Client and Time Management
Learning how to manage your time and clients is perhaps one of the biggest challenges for personal trainers.
Having the right tools and learning to communicate better with clients (see above) are two effective ways to streamline your practice, earn more, and waste less time.
Hevy Coach is an all-in-one platform for personal trainers, fitness instructors, and coaches to keep their clients in one place and track everything. The platform makes it easy to assign workouts, track clients’ progress, communicate, and even monitor their nutrition.
All of these things contribute to client satisfaction, helping each person on your roster achieve their fitness goals.
Earning a personal training certification typically takes no longer than six months. However, other factors play a role. Among them, we have:
- Dedication level
- Speed of acquiring knowledge
- Prior experience and expertise (if any)
- Whether you’ve covered the requirements (having a high school diploma and a CPR/AED certification)
- Whether you pass your exam on the first try
There is also the cost of becoming a personal trainer to keep in mind. The good news is that you can typically pick from multiple study material packages that often include the certification exam cost.
Despite the challenges, investing time, money, and effort into a certification will pay dividends. Doing so places you in a far better position to land a better job, be more credible in the eyes of prospective clients and fellow professionals, and specialize further if you wish.
If you’re already working as a personal trainer and are looking for ways to manage your client roster, Hevy Coach is a great option. The all-in-one platform makes it effortless to keep track of all clients in one place, provide training programs, make adjustments along the way, and answer their questions more quickly. Try it out for free with one client today!