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Top 10 Fitness Coach Certifications

This article will provide an overview of the top certifications available for fitness coaches, highlighting the benefits and requirements associated with each.

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Brenna Goyette
Certified Professional Resume Writer, Career Expert

Published 18 min read

Certifications are important for a fitness coach in the job market because they demonstrate to potential employers that the coach has the necessary knowledge and skills to be successful in the role. Certifications provide proof of qualifications, show commitment to professional development, and demonstrate an ability to stay current with the latest trends in fitness. Additionally, certifications often come with continuing education requirements that ensure fitness coaches stay up-to-date on their knowledge and skills. Employers view these credentials as a sign of competence and trustworthiness, which can give them confidence in hiring a qualified coach.

The purpose of this article is to review the top certifications for Fitness Coaches and explain how they can help advance their career.

What are Fitness Coach Certifications?

Fitness coach certification is a type of professional certification that provides fitness professionals with the knowledge and skills to help clients reach their fitness goals. It is designed to improve the quality of instruction and training for personal trainers, group exercise instructors, and other fitness professionals. Fitness coach certification can provide fitness coaches with a credential that demonstrates their knowledge, experience, and commitment to helping their clients reach their goals.

The specific content of a fitness coach certification program will vary depending on the organization offering it, but typically includes topics such as anatomy, physiology, kinesiology, nutrition science, sports psychology, exercise programming, behavior modification techniques, risk management and safety protocols. By completing a certified program in these areas and obtaining the credential that comes along with it, fitness coaches are better equipped to help their clients achieve their goals.

In addition to providing additional knowledge and skills related to coaching techniques and best practices in exercise programming and nutrition counseling, many organizations also offer continuing education opportunities for those who hold a certified fitness coach designation. This can be beneficial for both new and experienced coaches by providing them with the opportunity to stay up-to-date on the latest trends in health and wellness as well as learning new exercises or methods from industry experts. This can also help ensure they are providing safe and effective programs for their clients while staying ahead of competitors in the field.

Pro Tip: Always research and verify the credentials of any fitness coach certification program you are considering. Look for accreditation from a recognized body, instructor qualifications, and any other relevant information to ensure that you receive a quality education and training.

Related: What does a Fitness Coach do?

Top 10 Fitness Coach Certifications

Here’s our list of the best certifications available to Fitness Coachs today.

1. American Council on Exercise (ACE) Certified Personal Trainer

American Council on Exercise (ACE) Certified Personal Trainer is a nationally recognized certification program that provides individuals with the knowledge, skills and abilities to design safe and effective exercise programs for clients. The ACE Certified Personal Trainer credential is designed to certify fitness professionals who possess the knowledge, skills and abilities to effectively design, implement and modify exercise programs for individuals of all ages and abilities.

The process of becoming an ACE Certified Personal Trainer typically takes between three months and one year. To become an ACE Certified Personal Trainer, you must first complete an accredited personal training program or course. After completing the program or course, you must then pass the ACE Certification Exam. The exam consists of 150 multiple-choice questions that cover topics such as anatomy, physiology, kinesiology, nutrition, exercise science and program design.

In addition to passing the exam, applicants must also meet additional requirements in order to become certified. These include: being at least 18 years old; having a current CPR/AED certification; having liability insurance; providing proof of completion of a hands-on workshop; agreeing to abide by the ACE Code of Ethics; and submitting a background check.

The cost of becoming an ACE Certified Personal Trainer varies depending on the type of program or course you choose to take in order to prepare for the exam. Generally speaking, it can range from $200-$800 USD for the course plus $399 USD for the exam fee.

2. National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) Certified Personal Trainer

National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) Certified Personal Trainer is a certification program that allows individuals to become certified in personal training. It is designed to provide personal trainers with the knowledge and skills necessary to help clients achieve their health, fitness, and performance goals.

To become an NASM Certified Personal Trainer, individuals must complete an accredited course and pass an exam. The course typically takes between 8-12 weeks to complete depending on the individual’s schedule and learning style. The cost of the course varies depending on the provider but typically ranges from $500-$1,000 USD.

In order to get started, individuals must first register for the course through an approved provider such as a college or university or through an online program. Once registered, individuals will receive access to all of the materials needed for study including textbooks, videos, practice exams, and other resources. After completing the coursework and passing the exam with a minimum score of 70%, individuals will be officially certified as NASM Certified Personal Trainers.

3. National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist

The National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) credential is the most recognized certification for strength and conditioning professionals. It is an advanced certification that requires a combination of education, experience, and examination to demonstrate knowledge and competency in the field of strength and conditioning.

It typically takes at least two years of full-time work experience to qualify for the CSCS exam. Candidates must also have a Bachelor's degree in exercise science or a related field, as well as complete an approved course in basic weight training principles.

To get the CSCS credential, candidates must pass the NSCA-administered Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist Examination. The exam consists of 150 multiple-choice questions covering topics such as exercise physiology, biomechanics, nutrition, program design, testing and evaluation, administration and organization of strength training programs, injury prevention and rehabilitation, sport psychology, safety considerations, special populations, and ethical considerations.

The cost of taking the CSCS exam is $395 for NSCA members or $495 for non-members. Additional fees may apply if you need to retake the exam or if you are applying from outside of North America.

4. American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) Health/Fitness Instructor

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) Health/Fitness Instructor Certification is a professional credential for individuals who are interested in working as a health or fitness instructor. This certification is designed to ensure that individuals have the knowledge and skills necessary to provide safe and effective instruction in physical activity and exercise.

It typically takes between six months and one year to complete the ACSM Health/Fitness Instructor Certification program, depending on an individual’s prior experience and training. To become certified, individuals must first complete an accredited course or program in exercise science, kinesiology, physical education, or a related field. After completing the educational requirements, candidates must pass a written exam as well as a practical exam before they can be certified.

To get your ACSM Health/Fitness Instructor Certification, you must register with ACSM online or by mail. The cost of registration varies depending on whether you are registering for the written exam only or for both the written and practical exams. The total cost of registration for both exams is approximately $400 USD.

Once registered, you will receive additional information about how to prepare for the exams as well as details about scheduling your exams. Once you have passed both exams, you will be eligible to receive your certification from ACSM which will allow you to work as a health or fitness instructor in any setting where such services are offered.

5. National Exercise Trainers Association (NETA) Certified Personal Trainer

The National Exercise Trainers Association (NETA) Certified Personal Trainer is a professional certification that demonstrates an individual’s knowledge and experience in the field of personal training. This certification allows individuals to demonstrate their expertise in designing, delivering, and evaluating safe and effective exercise programs for healthy individuals and those with medical conditions.

It typically takes around 6-12 months to complete the requirements for NETA Certified Personal Trainer Certification. The requirements include passing an exam, completing a practical skills assessment, and submitting proof of current CPR/AED certification. Additionally, applicants must have at least six months of documented experience working as a personal trainer or related fitness professional.

To get your NETA Certified Personal Trainer Certification you must first create an account on the NETA website. After creating your account you will be able to access the online application form which includes information about qualifications, background checks, and payment options. Once your application is approved you will be able to register for the exam and begin studying for it.

The cost of obtaining your NETA Certified Personal Trainer Certification varies depending on the type of membership you select. A basic membership costs $199 while a premium membership costs $299. Both memberships include access to study materials, practice exams, discounts on continuing education courses, and other resources to help you prepare for the exam.

6. International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA) Certified Fitness Trainer

The International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA) Certified Fitness Trainer is a certification program designed to train individuals to become certified fitness trainers. This certification program provides the knowledge and skills necessary to become a successful fitness trainer. It covers topics such as anatomy, physiology, nutrition, exercise science, and more.

It typically takes between six months and one year to complete the ISSA Certified Fitness Trainer program. The program consists of both online courses and in-person practical training sessions. During the online courses, students learn about anatomy, kinesiology, nutrition, exercise science, and other topics related to fitness training. In the practical sessions, students practice their skills in a hands-on environment with experienced instructors.

To get the ISSA Certified Fitness Trainer certification you must first complete all of the required courses and pass an exam at the end of each course. After all of the courses are completed you will take a final exam which will determine if you qualify for certification or not.

The cost for this certification varies depending on where you decide to take it from but typically ranges from $500-$1,000 USD.

7. Cooper Institute for Aerobics Research (CIAR) Certified Personal Trainer

The Cooper Institute for Aerobics Research (CIAR) Certified Personal Trainer program is a comprehensive certification program designed to prepare personal trainers to provide safe, effective and evidence-based exercise programs for clients. The CIAR Certified Personal Trainer program is based on the latest research in exercise science and focuses on the development of skills necessary to assess, design, implement, monitor and modify individualized exercise programs.

To become a CIAR Certified Personal Trainer, you must meet the following requirements:

  • Have a current CPR/AED certification
  • Hold a bachelor’s degree in an exercise-related field or equivalent experience
  • Successfully complete the CIAR online coursework
  • Pass the CIAR written exam
  • Pass the CIAR practical exam
  • Maintain continuing education credits every two years

The online coursework can be completed at your own pace, but typically takes between 8-10 weeks to complete. The cost of becoming a CIAR Certified Personal Trainer is $499 USD which includes access to all course materials, exams and certification fees.

8. American Fitness Professionals & Associates (AFPA) Fitness Coach Certification

American Fitness Professionals & Associates (AFPA) offers a Fitness Coach Certification program. This certification is designed to provide fitness professionals with the knowledge and skills necessary to become successful coaches. The program consists of three courses: Fundamentals of Coaching, Advanced Coaching Techniques, and Professional Coaching Practices. Each course is designed to help fitness professionals gain the skills needed to become a successful coach.

The program takes approximately 12 weeks to complete. During this time, students will learn how to assess client needs and design individualized training programs that meet those needs. They will also learn how to effectively motivate clients and help them reach their goals. Additionally, they will be taught how to use technology in coaching, as well as how to develop an effective business model for their coaching practice.

In order to get the AFPA Fitness Coach Certification, individuals must first complete all three courses in the program and pass the required exams with a score of 80% or higher. After completing the coursework, individuals must submit an application for certification along with proof of completion of all three courses and payment of any applicable fees.

The cost for the AFPA Fitness Coach Certification program varies depending on whether you take the online or in-person version of each course. For example, if you take all three courses online, it will cost $1,299 USD; if you take all three courses in person at an AFPA-approved school or facility, it will cost $2,399 USD.

Overall, obtaining an AFPA Fitness Coach Certification can be a great way for fitness professionals to gain additional knowledge and skills that can help them become more successful coaches and grow their businesses.

9. American Kinesiology Association (AKA) Certified Fitness Professional

The American Kinesiology Association (AKA) Certified Fitness Professional (CFP) is a professional certification program designed to recognize individuals who have demonstrated the knowledge, skills, and abilities necessary to perform as a fitness professional. The CFP certification is based on the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) standards and is recognized by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM).

It typically takes 6-12 months to complete the requirements for the CFP certification. To get certified, you must first meet the eligibility requirements which include having at least an associate’s degree in kinesiology or a related field, plus two years of experience in fitness instruction or personal training. You must also pass an exam that covers topics such as exercise physiology, nutrition, kinesiology, anatomy and physiology, health assessment and risk factor management.

The cost of the AKA CFP certification varies depending on your level of education and experience. It typically ranges from $200-$500 for the application fee plus any additional fees associated with taking the exam.

10. National Federation of Professional Trainers (NFPT) Personal Fitness Trainer Certification

The National Federation of Professional Trainers (NFPT) Personal Fitness Trainer Certification is a nationally recognized certification program for personal trainers. It is designed to provide personal trainers with the knowledge and skills to safely and effectively train clients in the areas of health, fitness, nutrition, and exercise.

In order to become certified through NFPT, you must complete a comprehensive exam that covers topics such as anatomy and physiology, exercise physiology, nutrition, kinesiology, biomechanics, exercise programming and safety. You must also demonstrate your ability to design safe and effective workout programs for clients.

It typically takes 6-12 months to complete the NFPT certification process. To get started you will need to register online at their website. Once registered you will be able to access study materials including textbooks, practice exams and other resources. After studying the material you will then take the exam which consists of 150 multiple choice questions. Upon successful completion of the exam you will receive your certification from NFPT.

The cost of the NFPT Personal Fitness Trainer Certification is $399 USD which includes registration fees and all materials needed for studying and taking the exam.

Do You Really Need a Fitness Coach Certificate?

The short answer to this question is no, you don’t necessarily need a fitness coach certificate to become a successful fitness coach. However, having a fitness coach certificate can certainly give you an edge over your competition as it shows potential clients that you have taken the time and effort to gain the knowledge and skills necessary to provide them with the best possible service.

Beyond demonstrating your commitment to learning about the field of personal training and coaching, having a fitness coach certificate can also help you stand out from other coaches who may not have taken any formal training or certification courses. Having a certificate can add credibility to your resume and make it easier for potential clients or employers to trust in your abilities. It can also provide you with additional resources such as continuing education opportunities and access to professional networks that could be beneficial as you build your business and career.

In addition, having a fitness coach certificate can also open up opportunities for further education in the field of personal training and coaching. Many certifying bodies offer advanced courses that focus on specific areas of expertise such as nutrition counseling, strength training, sports conditioning, injury prevention, or corrective exercise. These courses can provide valuable insight into how to better serve your clients’ needs and help you stay ahead of trends in the industry.

Overall, while having a fitness coach certificate is not essential for success in the field of personal training or coaching, it does have its advantages. If you are committed to providing quality services and building relationships with your clients then taking the time to earn a certification could be well worth it in terms of increased credibility, access to additional resources, and greater opportunity for growth within the industry

Related: Fitness Coach Resume Examples

FAQs About Fitness Coach Certifications

1. What are the requirements to become a fitness coach?

Answer: To become a fitness coach, you will need some form of certification, such as a personal training certification, group exercise certification, or specialty certification like nutrition or sports psychology. You may also need to have CPR and basic first aid certifications.

2. Are there any specialties I can pursue as a fitness coach?

Answer: Yes! In addition to personal training, you can specialize in group exercise instruction, nutrition coaching, sports performance enhancement, injury prevention and rehabilitation, and much more.

3. How long does it take to get certified as a fitness coach?

Answer: The amount of time it takes to get certified depends on the type of certification you are pursuing and your experience level. Generally speaking, it could take anywhere from 6 weeks for an entry-level certification up to 2 years for advanced certifications.

4. Is there an age requirement for becoming a fitness coach?

Answer: No, there is no age requirement for becoming a fitness coach; however some certifying organizations may have specific requirements that must be met before they will issue certifications.

5. What kind of salary can I expect as a certified fitness coach?

Answer: Salaries vary widely based on your experience level and the type of work you do as a fitness coach; however according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual wage for health and wellness coaches was $45,000 in 2019.