Becoming a Personal Trainer

The first steps to becoming a personal trainer are ensuring you have the proper education and taking a certification exam. If you're currently working in or have a degree in a health or wellness profession, the transition into personal training should be fairly simple. You probably already have most or all of the knowledge you need to obtain a certification, and you'll simply require some on-the-job instruction and experience.

If you're currently working in an unrelated field and would like to become a personal trainer, you should go through some type of formal education. This training isn't required by law, but will make you a much better trainer.


There are many benefits to becoming educated before beginning your career. When you have a formal education, you are better prepared and qualified to assist your clients.

Good personal trainers are proficient in the areas of human anatomy, exercise physiology, nutrition, psychology, and business. It's difficult to be successful if you're lacking in one of these areas. While this may seem like a lot of knowledge to acquire, it is attainable, and can be accomplished in a variety of ways.

In making a decision regarding education, you must first decide if you want to obtain a degree. You need to consider whether you have the time, money, and ability to go this route. A degree is a big commitment, and not something to be taken lightly. It is, however, a very prudent path to take as it will increase your job opportunities and earning potential.


CollegeData is a good resource for finding a college or university offering degrees or courses in your area of interest. While exploring their site, you may limit your search based on factors such as cost, location, and size of the school. This will help you focus and make your decisions on where to apply less overwhelming.

If you do decide to attend a college or university, you must decide which one and what major to pursue. People who become personal trainers commonly major in exercise science, human movement, or physical education. These degrees will give you a good foundation in how the human body works, but you'll need to supplement your knowledge with courses or workshops more specific to the profession.

Because personal training is becoming so popular, colleges and universities have created majors designed specifically for personal trainers. This major is usually called something along the lines of health and fitness, and will have both academic instruction and hands-on experience. This type of degree is ideal but not essential.


A trainer cannot become proficient by taking a home-study or weekend crash course. If you lack a degree in a related field, consider taking a human anatomy course to better understand the human body. You can become a good personal trainer with only a certification, but education will help you develop into a great personal trainer.

If you choose not to obtain a degree, you must at least go through some type of training before becoming certified. You may consider taking a few college courses such as anatomy, biomechanics, nutrition, business, and sports psychology.

Another option is to attend seminars and workshops presented by reputable organizations, such as those listed at the end of this page, designed to teach people to become personal trainers.


Even if you currently have or are working toward a degree, you should also become certified. Certification is simply credentialing that ensures you are minimally competent in key areas before you begin your career. There are currently over 75 certifications available for personal trainers, and the numbers are continually increasing.

However, only a small number of these certifications and certifying bodies are legitimate. To further complicate matters, many organizations offer more than one type of certification. You must choose an organization through which to become certified, as well as the type of certification you'd like to receive.

There are numerous factors to consider when choosing an organization through which to obtain certification. First and foremost, the organization should have high standards for certification and continuing education. One way to ensure that you're making a good choice is to choose an organization that has been accredited by an unbiased third party.

The main agency responsible for accreditation is the National Organization for Competency Assurance (NOCA), now renamed the Institute for Credentialing Excellence (ICE). ICE “develops standards and accredits organizations that meet them.” Applying to ICE for accreditation is a voluntary process.

Organizations are put through a rigorous process to ensure they meet high standards. You can visit their website and search their member directory to find out if your certifying agency is accredited. You can also check your agency's website. If they are accredited, they will say something about ICE or NCCA, which is the accreditation body of the ICE.


The field of personal training is not currently regulated by federal or state governments. While physical therapists, athletic trainers, massage therapists, and even hair stylists are required to be licensed by the Board of Health, personal trainers are not. This is unfortunate, as it would standardize and add credibility to the profession. It's likely, however, that in the next decade there will be licensure requirements.

If for some reason the organization you wish to use is not accredited, they should at least be recognized by IHRSA and require their members to complete continuing education to maintain their skills. A simple online certification isn't adequate, and could set you up for failure, or even legal problems in the future.

The following is a list of 10 certifying agencies (along with their web addresses) that you may explore in your journey to becoming a personal trainer. All 10 are at least minimally reputable, but it is up to you to decide whether or not they meet your own standards and needs.

The first three organizations have the highest standards for certification, but a certification from any of the 10 listed would be adequate for you to get started. Once you've decided which certification exam to take, you may consider taking one or more workshops offered by the certifying organization in order to properly prepare. These workshops can be expensive, but are definitely worth your time and money. Unless you choose a home-study course, you'll be receiving important hands-on experience and instruction.

Once you've become certified, you should spend some time observing experienced trainers. It's helpful to shadow as many different people as possible in order to experience a variety of philosophies and techniques. It's also helpful to observe trainers in a variety of work settings, so you can experience what it's like to work in different environments with different populations. By doing this, you may get a feel for what type of setting you wish to work in, as well as with whom.

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