How do you become a personal trainer? Step-by-step guide!

UPDATE: I have a much more in depth guide about how to become a personal trainer now. This new guide is over three thousand words compared to this one which is only about 800. This is pretty much just a simplified version. Are you interested in health and fitness and would like to help other people achieve their fitness goals? If so then this might be the perfect job for you! I wrote a great article on the personal trainer job description so you can see what I do on most days. The first question you might ask yourself is: how do you become a personal trainer? In this article I will go over the necessary steps! The general steps are: choose certifying agency to get certified through, study and pass the test to get certified, and then apply for a job as a trainer or start working for yourself. let’s go over these three steps in more detail! Toad just became a PT by following my guide and now he is loving making Mario do push ups! :)

how do you become a personal trainer

Choose a certifying agency to get certified through:

There are dozens of certifications to choose from and picking the right one is very important. You want to choose a certification based off the style of training you wish to do. Most certifications do a good job at teaching how to  train the general population. And when I say general population, I mostly mean people that are looking to lose weight and get back into a more active lifestyle. A few certifications that I would recommend are ACE, ISSA and NASM. These three certifications are great when dealing with average Joe’s and can teach you how to progress your clients to any goal they wish to achieve. If you want to work primarily with special populations or people with injuries and disabilities I would choose a certification that is more focused on that. A couple certifications that deal with special populations very well are NASM and ACSM. Just remember that the majority of people buying training are average Joe’s. Check out my full list on the Training certs  to find out more information on the top 10.

Study and pass the test to get certified:

Different certifying agencies have different types of exams as well as a varying difficulty between them. But regardless of what certification you choose you will need to have a good understanding of the musculoskeletal system and how the muscles and bones interact with each other. Besides the muscles and bones you need to have an understanding of anatomy and physiology. You should understand how the human body consumes energy through food and how it uses energy to power movement during exercise. This basic biology information will need to be learned regardless of what test you are going to take.

You will then need to study program design and the training model for the specific certification you are going for. Program design is one of the most important aspects of most tests. You will need to study all the different exercises that are given to in your study materials. You need to memorize what muscle group is being worked, proper form and repetition ranges for each exercise. This is most likely what the majority of the questions will be about.

After you feel like you are prepared to pass the exam all you need to do is set a date to take it. But make sure you know your stuff because a lot of the tests for the varying certifying agencies have a high failure rate. Again, here is my list of the top 10 certifications.

How do you become a trainer at a gym or how can you work for yourself:

Once you have your certification in your hand the next step is to start working with clients so you could put all that valuable information to good use! A great place to start getting real life experience with clients is to start working for a commercial gym like 24-hour fitness or Bally’s total fitness. These gyms accept a wide range of certifications and will help you get on track with your first client. It is ideal to have a great resume put together before applying.

If working for a gym does not fit your style you might want to consider doing training on your own. All you need is a client base to grow your business. You can work as a trainer in your own home, in your clients home or even at a Park or beach. All you need is the right equipment and the knowledge that is in your head! Check out my article on in home training if this option sounds like a great fit for you!


I hope this article gave you a push in the right direction regarding what it takes to become a PT. This was meant to be a quick guide of the three steps necessary to becoming a trainer. If you want more in-depth information I have added links to more articles on my website that can help you. While I like talking about my job as a personal trainer and how you can become one, the main focus of this website is to talk about the differences between the top certifications. If you have time I would highly suggest checking out NASM’s and ACE’s site to learn more about the process! Please leave a comment or check out some of my articles. And let me know what you think!

photo credit: david_a_l via photopin cc


  1. Sonny says

    Hey Tyler,

    Thanks for all the Awesome information breakdown!
    I have been thinking about getting my PCT and I’m leaning towards NASM. But I’d like to get a Associate Degree in Advanced Personal Training and Exercise Science at an online Bryan University school. Do you think it’s wise just to get Certified with NASM first and then enroll down that longer road? Or, does it necessary to get the Associate degree? Obviously, financial tightness and I need to be employed asap. What are your thought, Tyler? Please advise?

    Thank you in advance for your insight!

    • Tyler Read says

      Hey Sonny,
      if you are looking to get employed as soon as you can then this simple answer is no you do not need an Associates degree. NASM is highly recognized by every gym or fitness club I’ve ever been to. You should have no problem getting a job with that certification. Of course it doesn’t hurt you if you have a degree in exercise science. And if you do have both you stand out from the crowd far more than with only one of them. I would do this certification 1st and then when you have some financial wiggle room you can start working on your Associates degree.

  2. Sydney Doolittle says

    Hi Tyler,
    I have been thinking about getting my personal training cert for a while and Im leaning towards NASM. I have trained groups of people in the based at a gym called Body by Boyle in Massachusetts so I know a lot of the basics and a good amount about athletic training and functional movement. However, I don’t have the biology/ anatomy and physiology background. Is it enough to just read the books and study on my own in order to pass a NASM exam? Or should I look for other ways to supplement my knowledge of the human body and kinesiology to make sure I pass?

    • Tyler Read says

      Hey Sydney,
      NASM has an in-depth look into exercise science. There is a good amount of information on anatomy, physiology and exercise science as a whole within their textbook. And it all depends on what type of learner you are. Are you good at reading textbooks and then taking tests. Or do you need hands-on learning? most certifications offer some form of weekend workshop where you could get hands-on experience. I know for a fact that NASM offers these workshops. Personally, I just read the textbook and watched the videos that they had to offer. But I also have a great deal of experience with anatomy and physiology from my BA in kinesiology background.

  3. sheldon says

    Hi, I am an acctive sailor in the U.S. Navy. I have always had a passion for working out and living a healthy lifestyle. I want to pursue a carreer in becoming a personal trainer. I will not be deployed for at least a year and I wanna know whats the best way for me to get a start on becomming a personal trainer? I played football, basketball, and soccer in high school. I want to train athletes. I personally do strength, cardio, and body workouts and would like to train other athletes with similar workouts. I also have a future goal of owning my own gym. Any advice on how to get started in the right direction and whats the best way for me to start this process while being on active duty?

    • Tyler Read says

      Hey Sheldon,
      are you planning on taking the test before you get deployed? If so you might want to look for an online certification. The only online certification that I would recommend is ISSA. But you need Internet access to be able to take the exam. If you are looking to study for the certification and then take it when you get back, you could start studying for any one that you want. And if you are going to be focusing on athletes as you are primary clientele, you should be looking into NSCA or NASM’s advanced PES certification. Hope this helped!

        • Tyler Read says

          Hey Tyler,
          Cool name by the way! yes I think that the more certifications you have the more diverse of a trainer you are. Especially if you collect a bunch of advanced certifications that specializes on a certain population like youth or elderly training!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *