Physical Trainer School and College Program Information

Physical trainers, also called personal trainers, use customized coaching and mentoring to improve client fitness levels. Certificate programs, associate's degree programs and self-study materials prepare students to take the necessary certification examinations.

How to Choose a Physical Trainer Program

Programs that prepare students to become physical trainers can be found at community colleges and some 4-year colleges and universities. Students interested in this profession may also purchase self-study materials from professional organizations that offer certification in the field. Some gyms also offer personal training classes.

Summary of Important Considerations

  • Certification options
  • Training options
  • Certification preparation and hands-on experience opportunities

Certification Options

Becoming certified is a crucial step to becoming a physical trainer. The American Council on Exercise (ACE), the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) offer personal training certifications. Re-certification is necessary every 2-3 years. The National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) accredits these certifications and others (

Training Options

Completing a training program is not a prerequisite for taking a certification exam; however, training will be necessary for prospective physical trainers who do not already have the knowledge and skills necessary to pass a certification exam. Students who need training can choose to use self-study materials or to complete a certificate program or associate's degree program in physical training. The added education from a certificate or associate's degree program may make a student's experience more marketable.

Certification Preparation and Hands-On Experience Opportunities

Students choosing a certificate or associate's degree program will want to verify that all topics tested on the certification exam will be covered in the program. Students will also want to consider the facilities offered for hands-on learning. An opportunity for an internship will enrich the education by giving students the chance to practice their skills with clients before taking the certification exam.

Physical Trainer Program Overviews

Self-Study Physical Trainer Program

Many credentialing agencies provide study materials and workshops that prepare students to take certification exams. Self-study materials usually include instruction in:

  • Biomechanics
  • Nutrition
  • Fitness assessment
  • Client communication skills

The materials may also include practice tests, online materials and the opportunity to communicate with mentors. Students can register for the exam once they feel prepared. Exam requirements include being at least 18 years old and being certified in CPR. Some exam providers require a high school diploma or the equivalent.

Certificate in Physical Training

Some community colleges offer certificate programs lasting from nine weeks to one year. Students are taught the fundamentals of:

  • Exercise science
  • Nutrition
  • Client interaction
  • First aid and CPR

An internship of around 30 hours is required. Oftentimes, courses may be transferred to an associate's degree program in physical training. Applicants should have a high school diploma or GED certificate.

Associate's Degree in Physical Training

Associate of Science and Associate of Applied Science in Personal Training programs are offered at community colleges and private vocational schools, and some programs offer online courses. These programs typically take two years to complete. Students learn how to evaluate an individual's fitness needs and apply appropriate programs and techniques to meet a client's goals. State-of-the-art equipment is used, and students are taught proper use of this equipment and learn how to design personalized training programs. Dietary habits are assessed and ways to intervene and develop new habits are discussed. Specific topics covered typically include:

  • Kinesiology
  • Strength and cardiovascular fitness training techniques
  • Exercise prescription

A supervised internship is also typically included. Applicants should have a high school diploma or GED certificate.

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