In many countries, there is a growing problem: obesity. In fact, in the United States, nearly 42% of all adults and almost 20% of all children have obesity, according to data published in Forbes. That’s a pretty stark comparison to the 13% of American adults suffering from obesity back in the early 1960s, according to Wikipedia. The same source estimates that by 2014, it had risen to 36.5% of US adults and 17% of children.

The time is perfect to become a certified physical trainer (not to be confused with a physical therapist). With such drastic numbers of population obesity obviously climbing, the demand will only grow, meaning that you have an excellent chance of finding as many clients as you have time to provide services. However, there are many who aren’t sure what steps to take to become a certified PT. Don’t worry; I will give you a playbook – a step-by-step guide with all the bits you need to know without the clutter of things you don’t.

Being a personal trainer is extremely rewarding because you will take better care of yourself and can help many others. According to the American Medical Association, 150-299 minutes of vigorous exercise per week can reduce all-cause mortality by as much as 23%. So, as a CPT (certified personal trainer), you aren’t just helping people get in shape. You’re helping them extend their lifespans.

Let’s get started and walk through exactly what you need to do to start helping people be their better selves.

Prerequisites for Becoming a Certified Physical Trainer

Suppose you aren’t sure which personal trainer certification is best. In that case, you’ll want to pause here and jump over to my article, The Gold Standard: Picking the Best Online Trainer Certification. Let’s look at the typical prerequisites associated with a standard personal trainer certification.

  1. Age – You must be 18 or older to apply for your PT certification.
  2. High School Diploma (or equivalent). You can take a General Educational Development (GED) test if you don’t have a high school diploma. You can get your high school diploma equivalency certificate if you pass the test with at least the minimum score.
  3. Government-Issued ID – Most (if not all) accredited PT certifiers will require that you present a government-issued identification, like a driver’s license or a passport.
  4. CPR/AED Certification. You will need to have an active CPR/AED certification. You can learn from organizations like The Red Cross.

Remember, another prerequisite is more of a given when getting work as a personal trainer – you need to be in shape. Let’s be clear about this – you don’t necessarily need to be in shape to finish any of the prerequisites or even to take the PT certification exam.

However, if you want to get clients as a personal trainer, you must ensure that you are in better shape than your clients. It is purely about client optics and what we see in the industry.

Understanding the Different Certifications and Their Importance

If you have doubts about which certification is best for you, as mentioned, jump over to my article, where I review the top PT certifications and who might find the best use of them. If you’re in a hurry, see the basic rundown below.

Certifications and Costs (2023)

  • ACSMPersonal Trainer Certification – Practice Exam $50, Certification Exam $399
  • NSCA – NSCA Certified Personal TrainerĀ® – Certification Exam $300 for members and $435 for non-members
  • NASMPersonal Trainer Certification – Certification Exam $599, Self-study course $899, and all-inclusive training w/exam $1,899
  • ACEPersonal Trainer Certification – $675 to $975
  • ISSACertified Personal Trainer – 83.25 – 133.17 per month for 12 months ($999 – $1598.04)

Why Get Certified?

Becoming certified is likely the most critical step in becoming a personal trainer. Certification validates your credentials and professionalism and builds trust in potential clients.

How to Choose Your Training Niche

A new personal trainer works on building a workout session for his clients in this file photo.

Specializing beyond a regular Certified Personal Trainer (CPT) accreditation can have benefits and drawbacks, depending on career goals, client base, and personal interest in a specialized field. Here’s a breakdown:

Benefits of Specializing

Specialization is an excellent step for any personal trainer (in most situations). Overall, I think the benefits are pretty good. However, we will also look at the negatives after for perspective. Let’s see how a specialization can help your PT career.

  • Expert Status: Specializing in a particular niche, such as strength and conditioning, geriatric fitness, or prenatal fitness, sets you apart as an expert in that field. I can attract a specific clientele willing to pay more for specialized guidance.
  • Higher Earning Potential: Because specialized trainers often cater to a specific need or demographic, they can usually command higher fees than general personal trainers.
  • Career Opportunities: Specialized roles can open doors to new career opportunities such as consulting, working with professional athletes, or in rehabilitation centers, among other settings that require specialized knowledge.
  • Client Retention: Specialized services, given the focused expertise, can often lead to better client outcomes. Happy clients who see results are more likely to continue using your services.
  • Networking: A specialized skill set can make you more attractive for partnerships with healthcare providers, athletic organizations, or even corporate wellness programs.
  • Personal Satisfaction: Deep diving into a specialization can be gratifying if you are passionate about a specific area of fitness or wellness.
  • Ongoing Learning: Specializations often require continuing education, keeping you up-to-date with the latest research, tools, and methods in your chosen niche.

Drawbacks of Specializing

Specialization is a great thing, generally providing more good than bad. However, looking at both sides of the coin is always a good idea. Depending on your specific perspective and area demand, specializing might have drawbacks. Here’s a list of potential disadvantages that you might consider.

  • Initial Cost: Obtaining additional certifications and perhaps even a specialized degree can be expensive in terms of time and money.
  • Narrowed Focus: Specializing might limit the types of clients who seek your services, possibly making your client base smaller, at least initially.
  • Continuing Education: The need for ongoing education to maintain a specialized certification can also be seen as a drawback, requiring both time and financial resources.
  • Market Demand: Depending on your area of specialization, there may be limited demand, potentially restricting income and growth opportunities.
  • Reduced Flexibility: Specialization may tie you down to specific locations where your services are in demand. It could be a problem if you have to or wish to move to a different area.
  • Job Pressure: Specialization may come with higher expectations for client results, adding additional stress or workload as you may have to tailor highly individualized programs.
  • Overqualification: For some positions, being over-specialized can be a disadvantage, as employers might think you’re overqualified for general roles.

Choosing whether to specialize will depend on your career goals, interests, and your target market’s needs. Assessing these factors carefully will help you make a more informed decision.

Specializations To Consider

  • Strength Training
  • Sports Conditioning
  • Rehabilitation

Tips To Choose A Specialization

Some of the best advice I ever got about making choices, like what specialization to pick, is to do market research. Sure, it might seem like a fool’s errand, but if you take the time to look, you’ll be surprised what you find out. Here are a few tips to help you with your research.

  1. Decide on a location to offer services. Will you provide in-person training locally or try to do it virtually online?
  2. Review current job offerings. This advice is one of the most potent tips because of what you can learn. First, you can see what is in demand by reviewing current open job offerings in your chosen location. Furthermore, you might be able to find out what the in-demand jobs in your area pay. If you notice that, for example, you live in an area with a high demographic of elderly. You might want to specialize in geriatric personal training.
  3. Review the competition. It’s a good idea to get a feel for what others in your area offer, how much they charge, and what results people expect from the programs. By reviewing other personal trainers in the area, you can determine what price or rate you want to receive for your services.

Study Resources and Techniques

Becoming a certified personal trainer means you will need to take a certification exam. Studying for the Exam is essential, not just because of the expense. I recommend you research and take a practice exam if you have the extra funds. Many certifiers don’t offer practice exams, but ACSM does offer one for $50. It’s well worth taking, in my opinion. However, you still should study first, even if you’ve got experience in the field (a little refresher never hurt anyone, and it will keep you current).

To help you study, I’ve put together a list of study resources (and a couple of noteworthy podcasts), take a look:

Techniques For Studying

Before booking your Physical Trainer certification exam, you should hit the books to ensure your success. Here are a few significant study tips to help you retain maximum information for a positive certification exam experience.

  1. Repetition. Remember when you were learning how to write in school, and the teacher made you repeatedly repeat letters? There are a few reasons, but the top two are that ‘practice makes perfect’ and that human memory has better capabilities regarding remembering repeated information. So, if you want to remember key points for your certification exam, try repeating them to yourself.
  2. The Feynman Technique. I like this technique because it helps you remember things and allows you to be a better coach. Here’s how it works: learn something new and try to explain it right after learning it, as though to a more straightforward audience. By doing this, you find ways to make the information relatable. This entire process works to help you remember key points but also enables you to practice teaching, which you’ll be doing a lot with your clients.
  3. Flashcard Recall. Try writing critical points on flash cards with a question on one side and an answer on the back. Show yourself the question, try to answer it, and flip the card to see if you are right. This technique works great to break up the monotony of studying, especially if you’ve got someone who can quiz you with flashcards.

At the end of the day, you’ll need to find the best method that you’re comfortable with but try these tricks. They do help.

PT Certification Exam – What To Expect

A group of students works on their PT Exam in this photo.

The structure of a certified personal trainer (CPT) exam can vary depending on the accrediting organization. Still, there are some general similarities across different exams. Here’s a breakdown of common elements you might encounter:

Exam Sections

Anatomy and Physiology: Questions may cover the muscular system, skeletal system, energy systems, cardiovascular system, and more. Understanding how the human body works is crucial for a personal trainer.

Nutrition and Diet: This section could include questions about macronutrients, micronutrients, caloric needs, and meal planning.

Exercise Technique: This may involve questions about the correct form for various exercises, including both cardiovascular and strength training exercises.

Program Design: These questions test your ability to create an effective workout program tailored to individual client needs, goals, and limitations.

Client Assessments: Questions may cover pre-screening, fitness assessments, and goal setting. Understanding how to assess a client’s current physical condition and measure progress is vital for a personal trainer.

Special Populations: This section may include questions about modifications or special considerations for populations such as seniors, children, or individuals with specific medical conditions.

Risk Management and Professional Conduct: Topics may include facility safety, emergency procedures, professional boundaries, and client confidentiality.

Business Skills: Some exams also cover topics related to running a personal training business, like marketing, financial planning, and client retention.

Types of Questions

Multiple Choice: The bulk of the Exam is often multiple-choice questions.

True or False: Some exams may include true or false questions to test basic understanding of concepts.

Matching or Fill-in-the-Blank: These types may appear less frequently but serve to test specific knowledge.

Scenario-Based Questions: These are real-world situations where you’d have to apply your knowledge to solve a problem or recommend a course of action.

Practical Portion

Some exams may also include a practical portion, where you demonstrate skills such as:

Client Assessment: How to conduct initial client evaluations.

Exercise Demonstrations: Proper form and technique for a variety of exercises.

Program Design: Creating a sample workout program.

Exam Duration

Most exams will last 2 to 3 hours, but this can vary.

Exam Format

Paper-and-pencil or computer-based tests are the most common formats. These days, more and more have turned to computer-based, especially since the beginning of the pandemic.

Remember, it’s crucial to prepare well in advance of your Exam and to consult the specific guidelines provided by the accrediting organization for which you’re getting certified.

The Job Market and Career Opportunities

Once you are certified, you’ll have two main options of which you can pick or even do both: get a job as a physical/personal trainer or start your own training business and find clients. Now, you can choose both; it’s not a one-and-done situation. However, I recommend starting your PT journey by working for someone else. Here’s why:

First, you can learn how to run a PT business without the risk of losing anything other than your job. It’s scary to some to set out on their own. A company can cost some to start up (website, business cards, maybe renting a space), so working for someone else until you are confident in starting up your own is a good idea.

Second, when you work for someone else, it’s much easier to pick apart their operation, find their weaknesses, and learn how you would do things differently. When you run your own business, mistakes can be much more costly, both in time and stress.

Speaking of stress, that brings me to the third reason you should start working for someone else. Many people don’t realize how stressful starting your own business can be, especially if you don’t know what you’re doing. Working for someone else can give you all the practical business experience you need to set out independently.

Online PT Services – A New Normal?

Undoubtedly, the pandemic changed our society and permanently pushed many of us online. One of the significant benefits of this is that people are much more open to learning via a video call. Using a platform like EliteTrainr to manage your clients online is easier than ever, lowering the entry bar and making it easier for you to get started on your own with your clients. If striking out on your own is in the cards for you, or even if you work for someone else, using a robust personal training management platform like our app is a great way to help you build your clientele and provide them with the means to access your online portal, receive and send messages to you. It even makes building out workout sessions easy.

Leveraging Technology and Online Platforms

I’ve already touched on this above, but the point is that our society is shifting more each day to online acceptance – from shopping to work. The online culture has permeated every aspect of our modern existence. Luckily for you, that means you now have some incredible tools (like our EliteTrainr app) at your disposal.

Conclusion and Next Steps

Throughout this comprehensive guide, we’ve delved deep into the journey of becoming a certified personal trainer. From understanding the roles and responsibilities to navigating the certification process, we’ve covered all the bases. Remember, the study techniques mentioned here, like Repetition, the Feynman Technique, and Flashcard Recall, aren’t just theoretical; they can genuinely make a difference in your exam preparation and future career.

In today’s ever-evolving job market, opportunities in personal training are expansive. Still, they do require a commitment to continual learning and adaptation. Whether you decide to work for someone else to gain experience or take the entrepreneurial path immediately, there’s no wrong way to do it. Tools like EliteTrainr can significantly assist you in managing your clientele, whether you’re just starting or are looking to expand your reach in this digital age.

So, what’s stopping you from taking that first step? Every journey starts with a single step, and there’s no time like the present to get started. You have the resources and knowledge; now, all that’s left is to put those into action.

For further reading and learning, you might want to revisit the resource list and perhaps subscribe to industry-leading podcasts and journals. Keep enriching yourself, and remember, your success hinges on your perseverance, so get started.