Selecting a Professional Fitness Certification

Currently, the practice and credentialing of exercise professionals (e.g., personal trainers, group exercise instructors) is not regulated by any state within the United States. As such, credentialing of exercise professionals through voluntary certification is driven by the standards and recommendations published by various organizations (e.g., IHRSA, ACSM, MFA). The seemingly endless list of organizations offering fitness certifications can be overwhelming for the aspiring student, campus recreation professional and even consumers. When considering a primary fitness certification for yourself or your staff, there are several important factors to consider.


Third-party accreditation of a certification program is among the most important factors. While a small number of organization have opted for accreditation through the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (formerly the Distance Education and Training Council), many other reputable fitness certifications have earned accreditation from the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA). NCCA-accreditation requires compliance with 24 rigorous standards pertaining to areas such as program governance, policies and procedures, candidate information, examination development and administration, and recertification. For the current list of NCCA-accredited fitness certifications, please visit the Institute for Credentialing Excellence website at

Candidate Information

Organizations offering an NCCA-accredited certification must disclose important information to exam candidates through a publicly available Candidate Handbook. Included within this handbook are the policies and procedures related to the certification program as well as eligibility requirements, examination fees, exam specifications, exam procedures and exam pass/fail rate. When considering a fitness certification, the candidate must thoroughly review and become familiar with the contents of the Candidate Handbook.

Continuing Education

The credibility of a certification, and a profession as a whole, is based partially on the commitment of certificants to advance their knowledge and skills through continuing education. The Candidate Handbook will also include information regarding recertification requirements and fees. Professional fitness certifications are valid for a set duration, typically 2 to 3 years. In order to maintain the credential in good standing, the certificant must complete approved professional development and educational activities that grant continuing education credits (CECs) (also called continuing education units (CEUs)). The length of each recertification cycle, the number of credits required and the renewal fees vary among the many certifying organizations.

Certification Verification

For those supervising exercise professionals, it is also important to verify that certification(s) held by potential or incumbent staff are in good standing. NCCA-accredited certification programs must provide stakeholders (e.g., employers, consumers, referring professionals) a means through which to verify the names of those holding a valid certification. In addition, the Coalition for the Registration of Exercise Professionals® (CREP®) maintains the internationally-recognized United States Registry of Exercise Professionals® (USREPS®), a searchable Registry for the verification of NCCA-accredited certifications granted to individuals by CREP-member organizations.


Michael Iserman is the Director of Certification at the National Exercise Trainers Association (NETA) in Minneapolis, MN. Michael holds a certificate as a Credentialing Specialist through the Institute for Credentialing Excellence. He can be reached at 1-800-237-6242 or

Emily Harbourne was a previous editor for Campus Rec Magazine.

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