How to Become A Certified Trainer

I frequently receive questions regarding personal training certification, so I compiled some helpful information for those of you pursing this career path. Enjoy!

I was encouraged to pursue my CSCS (certified strength and conditioning specialist) through the NSCA (National Strength and Conditioning Association). 

At the time, I was coaching college softball, and the CSCS certification is the most respected when working with college athletes.

Prospective college strength and conditioning coaches are required to have their CSCS in order to even apply for a job.

I audited an exercise science course to help prepare for the exam and borrowed the exercise science department’s DVDs and study materials in order to prepare…I busted my butt!

That’s actually me.

No, really. That’s me! The NSCA shot photos for the 3rd edition of Essentials of Strength and Conditioning Manual while I was still coaching at Creighton University.  Current athletes weren’t eligible by NCAA rules, so enter former athletes. Boo-ya.

*Important to note: There are many organizations where you can obtain certification.  In fact, if I were certifying today, I might select NSCA-CPT (certified personal trainer), NASM, ACSM, or ACE to certify, but its easier now to keep up with my continuing education units (CEU’s) and stick with my NSCA-CSCS.

The Basics

The NSCA-CSCS exam costs between $265 – $290 and closer to $400 if you are not a member of the NSCA. Only 65.5% of people that take the CSCS exam, pass it. Thank goodness I didn’t know that number when I took it–Yikes.

You must have a bachelors degree to take the exam and maintain yearly CPR/AED certification (which is a good idea for everyone). Your degree does not need to be in exercise science (I was a psych major) but a conferred degree or current enrollment as a college senior is required.

Every 2 years, you must complete 6.0 CEU’s (continuing education units) to maintain your CSCS. Attending the national conference gets you 2.0 CEU’s whereas taking an online quiz only gets you 0.2 CEU’s, so you can see how it adds up. 

The CSCS credential allows you to look at jobs both in college athletics and in the general population.

How do I prepare for the exam? 

1.  Read the book, Essentials of Strength and Conditioning
2.  Do practice tests–they are designed to prepare you for the exam.
3.  Participate in an internship or volunteer so you understand the practical side of training. Many trainers will allow you to shadow them with their clients’ consent.
4.  Review anatomy and physiology (*note: I need to do this on a regular basis) 

So, what does certification mean?
Does this certification mean I’m competent? Not necessarily, but competent enough to pass the exam.  However, it is my responsibility to practice within my scope of knowledge with my client’s welfare a priority.

Will this get me a J-O-B?
Most gyms will ONLY only hire personal trainers with certification.  Your credentials ultimately make you more marketable 

Group fitness classes vary with some instructors certified only through that particular class or a broader certification.  For example, my gym is identified as a Spinning facility meaning all instructors must certify through Spinning in order to teach, but they do not need further certification than that.

*Your credentials will help open doors, but YOU have to own your teaching style and build a connection with clients. Experience is the best teacher.



  1. This is a great post! Thank you for sharing.

  2. Thanks for this post! I ordered the study materials for the ACSM exam… but haven’t started studying. I used to coach figure skating and was rated and all that jazz, but the only thing that really transfers over is talking to clients. And I haven’t done that for a while. I’m practicing on my parents right now.

  3. This is really helpful! I’m contemplating a spinning certification and/or personal training… thanks for the tips!

  4. Thanks for sharing this Jess! I’m glad I didn’t know that percentage either when I took it, but it was HARD! I’m not really in the fitness industry anymore (I have a teaching certificate on top of both my certs), but I still keep up with my CEUs just in case I decide to use it again. I also think the tips for the exam are right on. That book is definitely important along with some kind of job/internship in the field. That definitely helped me!

  5. I am (kind of) studying for my ACE PT now not that I have cracked a book since November…but gotta get back on track. I have my GroupEx Cert and just waiting to finish up this little pc of the puzzle.


  6. What a great, all-inclusive post Jess! Thank you! Many times I think about this… but all I really want to teach is Spin. One of these days, I’ll buck up and get certified in that – I would just loooove to teach Spin! 🙂

  7. Great info! I’m certified for group x through AFAA because it was the cheapest. They have a $99 special every year to certify, but I got hired without it to teach kids fitness classes. When I moved into other areas of teaching, I went ahead and certified to be more legit. What stinks is how expensive some of these certs are. For someone like me, who plans to work very part time teaching group x, the costs outweigh the benefits on a lot of the certs.

  8. What a great post! I wondered how those spin instructors got certified and where. Thanks for sharing.

  9. Great post with good information! Once I pass my RD boards I plan on becoming CSCC certified because it counts as my CEC there. I am ACE certified now and re-certifying this year.

    It’s also good to remember that passing a test makes you credible, but I think a lot about personal training is learned on the job. There needs to be passion and a real understanding of how the body works.

  10. Awesome! Thanks for including me in this. 🙂 🙂

  11. thank you, thank you for posting! the low pass rate scares the crap out of me!! i have a science background and i’ve taken A&P so i’m hoping that helps!!!!

  12. great info! my question would be, my degree is in exercise physiology and health education, minor in kinesiology. i stay at home with my boys, but have prior experience in cardiac rehab and k-12 p.e and health…but i am looking for a little part-time job-not for the money, to keep up with my passion for helping others improve their quality of life…help??

    bet you weren’t expecting that long response, but just curious as i look for positions that i find interesting and nothing pops up here in texas…curious what you’ve seen/found for people like ME

  13. Great post Jess, and thanks again for the mention! I’ve had a lot of readers ask about the process of the whole thingamajig, so I’ll be sure to refer them along to this link 🙂

  14. Great post Jess, and thanks again for the mention! I’ve had a lot of readers ask about the process of the whole thingamajig, so I’ll be sure to refer them along to this link 🙂

  15. thank you for this post!! we have always gone back and forth on what to do.

  16. I saw this yesterday and smiled and wondered if you wrote it AFTER Tricias tweet or before?

  17. Great info! And GREAT cert! One of the very best! I used to have trainers working for my with my business and looked for CSCS, ACE, ACSM or other nationally accredited certs. I was always very impressed with CSCS though in particular!

    I have ACE cert and I love it, I love the CEC courses too. Been doing it for over 8 years now!

  18. Nice job and look at you – you little model you 😉

  19. I am getting my NASM cert. Not even to work as a PT as much as I am an RN/biologist and teach human anatomy, I really think it will help me understand certain actions even more.

  20. Great post! I love how you distinguish that just by passing the test doesn’t make a person fully knowledgeable. We still have to keep learning and growing so we can help others. Thankfully we have the support of a great community here and lots of resources through the amazing different certification groups.

  21. Hi Jess, so glad you posted this. Question for you what is the most respected certification that will help make you more marketable? There are so many to choose from… I was thinking of starting by getting my ACE certification then getting additional certifications trainings from there…do you think that’s worth doing or what would you suggest?

  22. Awesome! I’ve always wanted to get my CSCS. We have a different certification in Canada, if anyone is interested! I’m now finding your chia oat bar recipe 🙂

  23. Thanks for this great post! I’m thinking of doing the NSCA-CPT and I appreciate all the info in this post 🙂

  24. Thank you for the post, good information to know! I can’t wait to become a certified trainer, hopefully during my undergrad I will have the opportunity! Nice work 🙂

  25. THanks for the info! My goal in 2012 is to become a personal trainer. I have wanting to do it for several years, but my kids are now old enough for me to take it on. Great info!

  26. I have a question… that could be silly. I read that you have to have a bachelors degree to be a trainer. Is this only a CSCS? Or is it NSCS as well? Or better yet… Which certifications do you need a bachelors degree in? Starting the ball rolling with this dream job of mine, but never got my bachelors degree (too expensive after scholarships ran their course 🙁 ).

  27. Fantastic post! Lots of questions answered 🙂

  28. Hi Jess! I just wanted to say – feel free to add me to that list. I am certified through ACSM, just incase anyone has any questions about that certification! 🙂 Nice write up – I need to get an ACSM one up on my blog soon.
    Jillian @ Sprinkle Massacre recently posted..The Hottest & Hardest Run YetMy Profile

  29. Thanks for this! I’m actually studying to take the CSCS in the next couple of months, eek!
    Marielle recently posted..Rock Your Body WorkoutMy Profile

  30. Thanks for the helpful information! I have thought about certification for years but never thought I was “fit enough” to train someone else. Maybe some day I will get the confidence!:) I love your website! You have so many good workouts and great information! Thanks!
    Holly recently posted..10 minute workout!My Profile

  31. I am already AFAA certified as a starter. I am still on college but i LOVED my sports conditioning class i took. I would love to cscs certified as well. Its going on my plans now!

  32. Sabrina says:

    I just ran into your blog, thanks to Pinterest, and I LOVE it! My boyfriend is currently finishing up a year-long course to become NASM certified and I’m a Physical Education teacher, former college athlete and coach, also hoping to certify in some area of training/conditioning. This post really helped layout the options and give me a push in the right direction! Thanks 🙂

  33. Are there any classes online that helps you prepare for this exam ???

    Thanks for the help

  34. Hey Jess, is there online training course through which I can achieve the certification? I am now reading the book “Essentials of Strength and Conditioning” for some good start.
    Roxanne Goggins recently posted..Hello world!My Profile

  35. Thank you for the info, really useful for making my course.

  36. A great deal of teenagers are previously planck satellite wikipedia seeing satellite Television free of
    charge of charge quietly at property by making use of some techniques
    which I will likely be sharing. Opioids can offer short,
    intermediate and resilient analgesia, dependant on the particular properties in
    the medication (( An opioid is really a chemical that works by
    binding to opioid receptors, that are found principally within the neurological system
    as well as the gastrointestinal tract. Your family may be
    the last anyone to know or feel that you’ve got a crucial award, that the company is successful
    or that you are helping thousands of people. recently posted..http://www.wikipedia.comMy Profile


  1. […] become a personal trainer (but see a great post on that from one of my favorite fitness blogs, the Blonde Ponytail), BUT since I got such positive feedback from the post on fun workouts to do outside of the gym, I […]

  2. […] How to Become a Certified Trainer – Blonde Ponytail – I frequently receive questions on how to become a certified personal trainer, so I compiled some helpful information for those of you pursing this career p […]

Leave a Comment


CommentLuv badge