Comparing NCCA Certified Personal Trainer Certifications

Monday, December 8, 2014

I have a few New Year's Resolutions already prepared for 2015, but one of my biggest is to become a Certified Personal Trainer and get my foot in the industry. If you know anything about me, I have a ton of fitness DVDs and books, and I have used them to train a few family members and friends, as well as myself. I really want to start getting outside of this realm and start working at a gym.

So, I'm sure you're wondering, what does it take to be a Certified Personal Trainer. Well, that's easy, you have to take a test and pass. Of course, you will want to study first to increase your chances of passing, but at the very least you have to take a test and pass. Now for the even bigger question...how much does all this cost? And here is the exact reason why I've been putting this off. There's a lot of personal trainer certifications out there, but really only a handful matter and those are the ones accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA). So of course, I started comparing each one, and to be honest, almost all of them were the same with slight variations in training materials and in-person workshops, but that was about all.

Now, I'm sure you're wondering why these all have such varying prices that range from "pretty cheap" to "holy crap, I don't have that much money!" Well, it's pretty simple, some of these are not-for-profit and some are for profit. Some of them offer less training materials, while others offer more training materials. And for some, you’re getting a network of like-minded fitness professionals to call upon at any time.

So what really matters in all of this? Two things: cost and your own self-study prowess. Cost is apparent. Either you can afford the most expensive option and you're willing to pay for it, or you don't have as much money and the cheapest option is all you're willing to pay for. The latter is really the most important. Ask yourself this:
  1. Can I study adequately on my own, which will require me to study a little bit each day, prepare with a practice exam, and do all of this in a way that will ensure that I will pass?
  2. Or do I need a teacher to guide me through courses, outline the amount of study time each day, and help me prepare for the exam?
Depending on which question you answer yes to will determine which association you will want to go through to get certified.

NCCA Personal Trainer Certification Comparison

ACTION $50 Free option, but the $50 allows you to get testing material, flash cards, practice exams, etc. Also, taking the test requires a $60 examination fee.
American College of Sports Medicine ACSM $350
Cooper Institute. $300
National Academy of Sports Medicine NASM $700 $2000 was the highest option
National Council for Certified Personal Trainers. NCCPT $495
National Council on Strength and Fitness NCSF $250
National Exercise & Sports Trainers Association NESTA $449
National Exercise Trainers Association NETA $349
National Federation of Professional Trainers NFPT $479
National Strength and Conditioning Association NSCA $370
PTA Global
$700 Optional workshop for an additional $99
American Council on Exercise ACE $600
The cost includes the price of training materials, and I chose from the most basic option. Most offered more expensive options that included more training materials such as flash cards, workshops, and practice exams. There's also the option to just take the test. I wouldn't recommend this for anyone without a collegiate degree in Fitness Science or other similar degree. The exam also must be taken at a proctored site.

As you can see, most of these are going to cost me a pretty penny, and the only reasonably priced CPT program is ACTION, which will cost me, at max, $110. That's $140 less than the second cheapest option. But ACTION is newly NCCA certified and not as well known or prestigious. The two most well-known and prestigious options are ACE and ACSM, which will cost me $300 and $600, respectively.

So, which one do I take? I'll answer it this way. Lately, I've been bingeing on Shark Tank, a show where people pitch their invention/business to well-known, self-made entrepreneurs and businessmen and women for them to invest. Well Mark Cuban, Dallas Mavericks owner, is one of the well-known, self-made businessmen, and I found out he went to Indiana University in Bloomington, Pennsylvania, a fairly unknown public university (I only know of it because I lived in PA). He only went because it had the cheapest tuition. This made me think. Having an ACE Personal Trainer Certification is great, but it isn’t necessary to being a great personal trainer. All I need to do to get in the industry is get properly certified. The rest of it - ambition, determination, drive, perseverance - is up to me.

*I left the Pilates Method Alliance (PMA) and Collegiate Strength and Conditioning Coaches Association (CSCCA) off my list. The CSCCA is specifically for coaches and there was no CPT program. The PMA has a horrible website with miserable usability. I couldn't navigate it and each link opens up a new page, which was beyond frustrating. So I couldn't find their CPT program, and hence, couldn't compare it with the others.

**The one downside to ACTION is that most of the other associations offer other fitness certification programs like group fitness, cycling, nutrition, etc. I wasn't comparing all of that, but more so for an FYI.

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