This seemingly simple choice is one of the most complicated ones, because a lot of emotions are attached to it. Choosing between personal/fitness trainer certifications can be a difficult task, but it incurs a lot of emotions in amateur fitness professionals or novices who have just entered this field.
A basic personal/fitness trainer certification is where most of the people start their fitness journey from in terms of fitness credentials ad education. There are tons of great institutes out their which offer the basic personal/fitness trainer certification. Some are renown institutes in the world, and have excellent national and international credibility. Then there are other international institutes which may be less known in India, but are well known internationally. Also, in line are the domestic institutes offering personal training certifications.
But there is a dilemma as to which is the best institute to choose from? Is the course from an ‘X’ institute value for money? Should we choose a national or international certification? Should we go for a cheaper course, from a local institute? And I get many such questions virtually every day from people on various platforms.
First, let me give you my unbiased opinion because I am not being paid by anyone to give you one. Second, the logics and facts I am going to give you are generally not discussed as people either don’t know them or consider them irrelevant or have a profit motive in mind. Also, the best institutes I am going to choose, will be based on certain criteria which we will discuss taking into consideration all the pros and cons.
7 points everyone needs to understand:
- There is no point is spending extra money on a basic personal training certification. Someone offering you an overpriced certification be it international or domestic institute, in the name of certain accreditations is just fooling you around. Because, as I mentioned, the job scenario is quite independent of these courses in most cases.
- You also, shouldn’t be wasting money on the run-of-the-mill institutes which offer you a personal training certification at a cheap price, promising you heavens in return. These are education factories, not institutes. They sell certificates, not provide education.
- Having a government certified or accredited certification is not a bad choice, but in reality it doesn’t really make any difference, except the fact that you are just happy to have a government recognized certification. Government offers no jobs in fitness sector in India, because it’s not a government regulated sector. Even if there are some openings, they will accept any good international course as credential. I have never seen any government body asking for a government accredited fitness course for a job. By the way, such job openings are generally temporary jobs in some government department offering peanuts as salaries.
- International old and renowned institutes generally have an edge over a domestic institute both in terms of international accreditations and course content. There are some good domestic institutes too, but if in terms of price comparison, domestic one is costlier, just go for the top international institutes.
- Job scenario is completely a different ball game, no one tells you about. As we have discussed earlier in detail, that in India, the fitness related jobs as a trainer, in any gym or fitness center, is based on the overall knowledge and experience of the coach, than just certifications. Also, most gyms and the people interviewing have hardly any knowledge of these courses and credentials. They care about how much the trainer can earn for them and make a fool of the client by selling them supplements and steroids.
- A personal training certification is just a basic certification to start your career from. It just gives you an outline of various subjects in brief. It is the advance courses you do after the basic personal trainer course, that really give you a deeper insight into specialized fields. So don’t make too much fuss about it.
- Calm down kids, you are just starting. This is for those youngsters, who flaunt their basic fitness trainer certification as if they have been selected for a space mission. Whatever personal training certification you have, as I said, it’s just the start. Taking science in 11th, doesn’t make you a scientist. It’s just the start. There is a long way to go.
Following are the criteria I chose to select the best institutes. These criteria are relevant to the Indian market. As there are certain aspects on the basis of which an international certification may be judged outside India, but those aspects won’t matter inside our country:
- Price – I am taking it as the main criteria because for most people entering this industry in India, cost matters the most. Most people entering fitness as a career in India are from a very humble background. Every rupee matters for them. But, we have to be extra careful about the right price being offered for the course and the value someone is getting out of it. As I mentioned above, that one has to be careful about the cheap run-of-the-mill courses being offered. Better don’t do a certification or wait and invest money in the right course, than to hurry and waste your money on a substandard course. My channel, is full of statements of people telling me, how they wasted money in such substandard courses, and had no one to guide them back then.
- Accreditations – though I would be discussing this topic separately, but these are extremely vital to differentiate a good institute from a substandard one. There are certain international certifying bodies like NCCA, NBFE, DEAC etc. which sets certain rules by which these institutes are governed and thus help them maintain a high education standard and quality level. In India, there is no such body or agency, which certifies or governs the fitness education.
- Popularity & Credibility – this is quite important factor, though not the most important one, which helps you choose the right institute. An institute with international as well as domestic credibility would be much better to do a course from, than a domestic institute which offers the same course, that too at a higher price. There are some great international institutes which offer excellent courses, but aren’t even heard off in India.
- Content – this is one of the most important criteria, but can be quite confusing to differentiate. This is because, most institutes have common subjects and course content in the basic personal training course. Of course, there are some differences depending on the model an institute is following, but more or less, internationally and domestically, there isn’t much of a difference. Most Indian institutes and even international ones, have copy pasted content, taken from the pioneering international fitness institutes.
- Total Package – by this I mean, that many institutes offer multiple advance courses which can be done in continuation, once you are done with the other basic personal trainer course. Like NSCA offers the CSCS, NASM offers CES & PES etc. In order to do these advance courses, you would need some basic course like the personal training certification, which has accreditation from bodies like NCCA, NBFE etc. That’s one problem which is seen with Indian institutes that, their courses are not internationally accredited, so for doing other advance courses, you will have to do an accredited basic personal trainer course again.
Are these are only criteria? No, there are others too, but they are minor and most are quite irrelevant when it comes to fitness scenario in India, and the overall employment prospects. For e.g. some people judge institutes by the support they offer, but these are like the extra tit-bits which are offered to attract the client. Also, some people take into consideration the difficulty of the course material, but if you want quality, then it won’t come easy. There are institutes offering overnight or weekend certifications and are dirt cheap. One can understand the quality being offered. Therefore, what matters most are the points discussed above. Rest, minor differences remain everywhere.
So here are my top choices for the institutes you can consider:
- ACSM (AMERICAN COLLEGE OF SPORTS MEDICINE)
- NSCA (NATIONAL STRENGTH & CONDITIONING ASSOCIATION)
- NASM (NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SPORTS MEDICINE)
- ISSA (INTERNATIONAL SPORTS SCIENCE ASSOCIATION)
- ACE (AMERICAN COUNCIL ON EXERCISE)
ACSM (AMERICAN COLLEGE OF SPORTS MEDICINE)
It can be considered as the Gold Standard for fitness education in the world. They are the leaders and pioneers of fitness education, founded way back in 1954. It is one of the most prominent exercise science and sports medicine organizations. Most institutes refer to ACSM set guidelines for reference.
ACSM is quite popular in India and around the world. It offers various certifications and courses. The ACSM CPT (Certified Personal Trainer) price can be checked on the website as it may vary from time to time. But the cost of the related books can be quite high, as ACSM the most amount of study material to be referred to.
For doing the ACSM CPT, you need to be over 18yrs of age, a school pass out and should have an Adult CPR/AED Certification (with practical hands-on skills component).
Exams are administered at hundreds of Pearson VUE testing centres worldwide. ACSM exam is completely online consisting of 120 multiple-choice questions. You are given 2.5 hours of test time to answer all the questions. Registration can be done online, from its website, but it can be a bit tricky to understand, so go through the website carefully.
In India there are certain institutes offering ACSM preparatory courses, and help you in all the formalities for registration, study material, academic classes and practical sessions. You can contact them and study under them, or you can study yourself and give the exam. But be careful about the faculty teaching you as this course needs good expertise. The pass rate of the CPT exam of ACSM is quite low, so prepare well before you take the exam.
NSCA (NATIONAL STRENGTH & CONDITIONING ASSOCIATION)
Founded in 1978, NSCA personal training certification was the first one to get NCCA accreditation.
It is a very well recognized and respectable institute around the world, known mainly for its CSCS (certified strength and conditioning specialist), and doing NSCA CPT certification is not a prerequisite to doing CSCS, but many people prefer doing both the certifications from a single institute.
NSCA CPT has excellent research based course content and is widely recognized in the industry both in India and abroad.
NSCA CPT has a single book to study from, along with other course material for preparation.
The NSCA exam consists of 140 multiple choice questions. Exams are administered at hundreds of Pearson VUE testing centres worldwide. After signing up for the NSCA certification, you have exactly 6 months to take the test. For the test itself, you have three hours to answer the questions and submit.
For doing the NSCA CPT, you need to be over 18yrs of age, a school pass out and should have an Adult CPR/AED Certification (with practical hands-on skills component).
The cost of NSCA CPT can be checked directly from its website as it may vary from time to time.
NASM (NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SPORTS MEDICINE)
NASM, founded in 1987, is a highly respected institute around the world and in India, and offer some great courses. It is well known for its OPT (Optimum Performance Training) model of training, on which its most of the certifications are based. It is well known for its PES (Performance Enhancement Specialist) and CES (Corrective Exercise Specialist) courses.
NASM CPT is an excellent research based certification. It has a single book to study from, along with other course material for preparation.
NASM CPT price can be checked directly from its website as it may vary from time to time (https://www.nasm.org).
For doing the NASM CPT, you need to be over 18yrs of age, a school pass out and should have an Adult CPR/AED Certification (with practical hands-on skills component).
The NASM consists of 120 multiple-choice questions. You will have two hours to complete the NASM exam, and you will know whether you pass or not immediately. You must take the NASM examination within 365 days of enrolment in the certification program.
ISSA (INTERNATIONAL SPORTS SCIENCE ASSOCIATION)
ISSA was founded in 1988 by Dr. Sal Arria and Dr. Frederick Hatfield (Dr. Squat). It is a renowned fitness institute just like the others and one of the few institutes offering 100% online certification. That is one reason why its quite famous. It offers excellent course content which can be studied from the comfort of your home.
ISSA CPT is an excellent research based certification. It has a single book to study from, along with other course material for preparation.
ISSA CPT price can be checked directly from its website as it may vary from time to time.
ISSA offers a range of other excellent certifications which can be combined in a package form to increase your knowledge and credentials. The package form costs much lesser as compared to individual courses.
Because it’s an open text book exam, its pass rate is quite high. But this is where people think it’s an easy exam. There are four separate sections you will need to pass to get certified through ISSA. There is a true-false portion, multiple-choice portion, six short essays and also case studies. The case studies can only be prepared when you have read the content properly.
For doing the ISSA CPT, you need to be over 18yrs of age, a school pass out and should have an Adult CPR/AED Certification (with practical hands-on skills component).
ACE (AMERICAN COUNCIL ON EXERCISE)
ACE, founded in 1985, is one of the most popular institutes in India and abroad, though it has lost sheen a bit in India, due to certain malpractices associated with it. Nonetheless it’s a brilliant institute offering great courses.
Similar to the OPT training model from NASM, ACE has its own IFT (integrated fitness training) model.
ACE CPT is an excellent certification. It has three books to study from, along with other course material for preparation.
Though ACE is courses are great, but I would rate it below, NSCA, ACSM, NASM & ISSA.
ACE CPT price can be checked directly from its website as it may vary from time to time
The ACE certification exam consists of 150 multiple-choice questions. This test is not an open book. After purchasing the ACE certification, you have six months to take the test. You will be given three hours during the exam to answer the questions.
For doing the ACE CPT, you need to be over 18yrs of age, a school pass out and should have an Adult CPR/AED Certification (with practical hands-on skills component).
This is nowhere an exhaustive list. There are many great institutes which did not make the above list for a simple reason, that in India, there popularity is quite less and are not much known. Nevertheless, they have similar content and course quality as the above mentioned institutes.
Also, different countries have different institutes which offer high quality education in fitness. In India, too there are institutes offering these courses, but quality wise, only few make the grade, and hardly any one falls in the above selection criteria. Also, these institutes either have a substandard course content or faculty, or hardly any international accreditation. For some institutes the price becomes a major limiting factor, wherein the price of a personal training certification is much more than any of the above international institutes.