In the bustling world of fitness, where chiseled physiques and intense workouts often dominate our social feeds, there lies a statistic that might just make you stop mid-scroll: “Only 2.9% of all personal trainers surveyed had no exercise-related bachelor’s degree and no personal trainer certification,” according to a study published in Orthop Rev. 

This staggering figure underscores the vast majority’s commitment to their craft. Still, it also casts a spotlight on a small, risk-laden percentage operating without formal credentials. Understanding the importance of certification is crucial for those contemplating a plunge into personal training or for clients looking to entrust their health to a fitness professional. 

Dive in as we navigate the terrain of training sans certification, the inherent risks, and the undeniable realities that personal trainers confront in this landscape.

The Landscape of the Fitness Industry

A graph shows the historic data of the search for weight loss from 2019 to 2023 from Google Trends. Learn more about managing clients with weight loss at

Over the last four years, the popularity of personal trainers has risen along with the need for weight loss. More and more people struggle with their weight on North American diets. As you can see in the table above (data courtesy of Google Trends), it’s likely to keep rising.

The personal trainer profession has been around for a long time. According to the Australian Institute of Personal Trainers, records in Ancient Egyptian tombs show physical training as far back as 4500 years ago.

Today, personal trainers are a pillar of the gym and fitness industry, the training force that drives many of us to better, healthier selves. However, as essential as this role is because it deals with our health and well-being, it is an unregulated trade in most countries. In fact, in the United States, according to Wikipedia, the only place in the entire United States that regulates personal trainers is Washington, DC.

It’s noteworthy to consider a study done a couple of decades back (2002) of a random 115 personal trainers that found that 70% of those surveyed had no degree in any field related to exercise science. And those who held a bachelor’s in a related field scored 31% better, on average, than those who did not possess a degree. I reveal that those with higher education tend to hold more knowledge than those without. Still, it was a small sample group, and there were always exceptions to the rule.

In today’s fitness industry, a personal trainer can take multiple avenues to work: gyms, online platforms, video conference remote sessions, online boot camps, and even online courses. However, suppose you’re new to the industry and looking for work. In that case, you’ll want to consider certification for the credibility and trust it relays. Look deeper at the value inherent in accreditation and membership to established authorities.

The Value of Certification

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Right off the bench, I can think of four good reasons to get certified. I’ll explain each below.

  • Standardized education and competency assurance.
    • Suppose clients have worked with personal trainers with the same certifications. In that case, they know what to expect from that level of professionalism. It assures clients that they can expect a well-versed professional.
  • Opportunities for specialization (e.g., senior fitness, sports conditioning, nutrition).
    • Specialized personal trainers can earn more money; getting certified is the first step. Some certifications will be a prerequisite for more specialized training certification as well.
  • Increased trust and credibility among clients.
    • Many people associate doctors (and therefore, professionally trained) with healthcare and don’t always consider the many nuances that divide the broad topic. By way of association, as personal trainers work with people to develop and improve their personal physical health, certification is expected in many regions and circles.
  • Access to specific job opportunities or facilities that require certification.
    • Job opportunities with higher pay often demand a minimum certification level. If you were the employer, would you want to hire someone who says they know what they are doing or who can back it up with a certification?
    • With the growth in personal trainers and instructors projected to increase by as much as 19% from 2021 to 2031 (US Bureau of Labor Statistics), the need for certified personal trainers and instructors is expected to be a high-demand occupation. 

With all of this talk about certification, let’s discuss a lack thereof and some associated risks.

Risks of Training without Certification

Training without certification carries risks you should know before your journey into the trade. Don’t be afraid to work under someone, shadowing and learning. Still, if you’re not certified, you’ll want to consider the following before taking on personal clients of your own:

Lack of Knowledge and Expertise

These days people like to play doctor and search online for answers. What if a personal trainer thought they knew what they were doing? Still, they were misinformed because of a lack of formal education. A lack of knowledge can lead to providing incorrect advice. Incorrect advice to end up with your client getting injured, and that is the last thing anyone wants.

Legal Liabilities

Considering giving the wrong advice, there are legal liability issues to consider. For example, what if your client throws out their back while attempting something you advised but should not have advised? Negligence can be a bad review or, worse – a lawsuit.

Maintaining insurance is a smart way to defend yourself against legal action. However, without a certification, you can expect to pay much higher than average rates for insurance. That is, assuming you’re even accepted.

Diminished Credibility

You’ll encounter two issues if you try to grow your personal training business without certification. First, you’re going to find it hard to find clients. Why? Because you’re competing with certified personal trainers. That means you’ll get clients because the client is ignorant of professional certifications. Similarly, you will likely not get industry standard rates if industry standard means a certificate.

The second related hurdle will be answering potential clients’ skepticism about your certification, education, or lack thereof. How would you answer a client who asks why they should hire you when they can hire a certified personal trainer? 

Missed Career Opportunities

Aside from the missed client opportunities, if you aren’t certified, you might miss out on a great job opportunity at a prominent or up-and-coming gym. As certification doesn’t take long, it’s a good idea to seriously consider it, even if you don’t want a job in the field and want to run your own personal training business.

Addressing Common Myths

Let’s talk about some things people will say to convince themselves that certification isn’t the answer.

“I have experience, so I don’t need a certification.”

Experience is only half of the equation. The other half is you backing up your knowledge with institutional-tiered credentials. So, you’ve got a lot of experience and know your stuff? Why not skip formal education and take an exam to get certified?

“Certifications are just money-making schemes.”

Standardized training is not a money-making scheme. However, where there’s a legitimate business, two illegitimate ones are trying to take your money. Stick with the industry leaders. If you’re unsure which certification is proper, read my article, ‘The Gold Standard: Picking the Best Online Trainer Certification.’

“I only train friends and family, so I don’t need to be certified.”

Although a family member or a friend may not sue you if they get hurt from bad advice, it’s still a good idea to ensure that what you know and advise is in line with standardized practice. Certification will ensure competency (in most situations, of course).

Transitioning to Certification

Several certifications and many more courses offer the education you need to pass your certification exams. I wrote an article about the standard credential in North America, and you can even take most of them online. You can read more about the best certification programs here.

Transitioning to get yourself certified is a great move you won’t regret. You’ll need to juggle your current workload and add some time each week to complete online learning modules, complete practice tests, and finally take your certification exam.

If you’re concerned about the cost, which might seem daunting if your bank account is running dry, just consider the cost of not getting certified. Most importantly, consider how much more you could charge if you held an active certification. That’s an investment in yourself which is always a good thing.

Final Thought

The world of personal training is as dynamic as the workouts we craft. Like any solid regimen, it requires a foundation built on expertise and trust. Being a certified trainer isn’t just a title—it’s a testament to your dedication, competence, and commitment to your client’s well-being. 

As you embark on this transformative journey, take the first step with conviction: get certified. But don’t stop there. Elevate your client relationships to the next level with the EliteTrainr app. This cutting-edge tool is tailor-made for the modern trainer, enabling you to collaborate effortlessly with clients, design bespoke sessions, and manage your training schedule with finesse. 

As you venture forth in your career, remember that the best trainers don’t just sculpt bodies, they craft experiences. So, fortify your expertise with certification and enhance those experiences with EliteTrainr. Together, they form the gold standard in personal training.