Personal Training Degrees: What You'll Study

If you're interested in becoming a personal trainer, read up on what type of courses you'll take.

What degree or certification levels are available?

personal trainer at work

If your goal is to become a personal athletic trainer, you have the option of earning a certification, a two-year associate's degree or a four-year degree. You should base this choice on how much time you want to spend in school, cost and what you want to do with your education. You can't go wrong with any certification or degree level, since they all have benefits. A certification is less expensive and takes less time to complete, while a four-year degree may make you eligible for higher positions. Some personal trainers even earn master's degrees to advance further.

What certification will I need?

Once you complete a program, whether it's at the certificate or degree level, you'll still need to become certified as a trainer. "Becoming certified" means you need to pass a test—and if you work hard in your program, you should be well-prepared for the task. There are several organizations you can become certified through; some reputable options include:

  • American Council on Exercise (ACE)
  • American Fitness Training of Athletics (AFTA)
  • American Fitness Professionals and Associates (AFPA)
  • International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA)
  • Aerobics and Fitness Association of America (AFFA)
  • National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA)
  • National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM)

Since many personal training schools prepare students for a specific certification, you'll need to research your program choices carefully to be sure you're preparing yourself for a certification that meets your goals.

What will I learn in my courses?

Starting on a new career path can be a nerve-wracking experience, but with the right program, you'll be 100 percent ready to begin work as a personal trainer. While your specific classes will vary by program, a general example of a course listing for your program might look like this:

  • Exercise science
  • Physical fitness testing and assessment
  • Anatomy
  • Nutrition
  • Developing physical training programs
  • Motivating clients
  • Specialized topics on training clients with asthma, heart disease, arthritis and other physical conditions

How long will it take?

A certificate may be earned in a matter of months, an associate's degree in two years, and a bachelor's degree in four. If you are working toward your certificate, the program you pick will determine how long it takes you to complete. Some certificate programs take as little as three months to complete, and some can take up to two years. One more thing to keep in mind is that choosing an online program might affect how long your education takes, as online programs can often be completed more quickly.

Are online programs available?

Even though personal training is a very hands-on profession, it's still possible to earn a certificate for it online. For those who are interested in achieving a certificate rather than a degree, online programs can be an ideal solution for cutting costs while still getting a great education. 

How much will my education cost?

The cost of your education will depend entirely on what program you enroll in; most online programs tend to fall in the range of $300 to $600. Many online certificate programs cost on average, anywhere from $199 to $999.

*Cost of tuition only. Prices do not reflect other fees or books.

Are there prerequisites?

One of the things that makes personal training such a great career solution is that many programs' only requirement is that you're at least 18 years of age. If your high school transcript isn't what you wish it was, or if you're feeling stuck in the wrong career path, personal fitness training is a great way to make a new start without having to worry about experience or prerequisites. 

What accreditation is there for my program?

Personal training programs are accredited by the National Commission of Certifying Agencies (NCCA), which ensures a program meets the highest standards in the personal training industry. 

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