Top 3 Personal Training Certifications – EXOS, CrossFit, and NASM
Despite my numerous videos stating there is usually very little money and a lot of competition in becoming a personal trainer, it is still an alluring career field. Imagine a job where you’re not confined to a small, public cubicle while sitting on you’re a$$ all day developing hip and back problems.
A career where dress suits are traded for track suits. A career where instead of reports, you write things like “3 sets of 8” and “superset with squats.” A career where you help people reach their goals.
Yeah… I get how this can seem like a dream career. If you watch my video, I list out the cons of becoming a personal trainer in my usual, callous, no-BS style. But this isn’t about that. No more real Marc.
No more, “Let’s explore both sides Marc.”
This article assumes you want to become a trainer and nothing I can say will deter you from it. The question is simply, “What is the best training certificate to obtain to become a personal trainer?” I have the answer, or at least my opinion as to what the answer is. Like it or not, I’m going to share it.
First we must lay out why we even need this education. Note: This is assuming NO college degree so a CSCS or college program will not be in play in this article.
Marc Lobliner is an EXOCS, Crossfit,and NASM certified trainer. In this video he discusses the best personal training certifications.
Why to Get Certified as Trainers
1) More Money
You would think this would come after education, but in this world, putting food on the table and keeping a roof over your head is the key to, well, not being homeless and starving. Most gyms have pay grades based on certification, or lack thereof.
Thus, before paying for the certification program, be sure to check if the gym or facility you want to work at accepts that certification for the higher pay grade. Also, even if starting your own business, more letters after your name can look impressive on a business card and flier.
2) Education for Application
A close second to money. Education got the bump due to the need to survive, but this is very important.
Training programs can give us a foundation on which to program for our clients and reasons why we do things. Although a lot of good bros go into the gym and know how to train themselves (arguably), being able to deduce why and then have someone else do it is a whole new animal. I will go into what to look for in this as I rank it.
Some training certifications are affiliated with insurance companies for lower rates on liability insurance.
What to Look for in a Training Program
When you see my rankings, they might not make sense to you at first. I will precede the rankings with this.
A lot of programs like ACE or NASM are take-home courses that are then tested via proctor. The issue with this is there is no application, meaning you read about it, but nobody ever shows you how to do it. Reading about doing a squat versus doing it and having someone teach you how to do it and how to teach someone else how to do it are night and day.
I believe being certified in being a good trainer with simple book knowledge without having to show that you can apply it and then also demonstrating that you can show someone else how to apply it is sub-par and, well, crappy.
Certain programs, like EXOS, have street cred due to the amount of NFL players they get ready for combines and how many Olympic athletes they train who then medal. NASM, while not applied (all book, no demonstration), seems to have decent street cred. CrossFit, if you are interested in CrossFit training, is revered and quite hard to get (I know, I have the certification). Pick one that enhances your credibility. It’s akin to going to a doctor with a BS in marketing.
If you cannot afford it, it’s not possible.
The Best of the Best in Order
This list is top three, but the third listing is a category, not a certification. I did this because I see very little difference between them other than if the gym you want to train at pays more if you have one or the other.
They are all book, no field. That is total weak-sauce in my mind and makes me want to punt a small dog. Application is everything in training!
EXOS is a mentorship program, not a certification. It is three phases long and is very application-heavy. There is no test, but you are graded and provided feedback for how you train other high-level coaches.
The cost is the issue as it must be at an EXOS location. While there are many, you can expect to have airfare and hotel. All-in, each phase will average about $4k in cost not including miscellaneous expenses like food and opportunity cost.
About EXOS. In a nutshell, EXOS is known for training top-tier Olympic and professional athletes, but has recently moved into corporate training. It has always had a foothold in military training. See an article on their facility here. The cool thing is that they mentioned Victor Hall who I did my Phase 1 mentorship with.
As a personal testimonial, I learned a ton from this program.
Yeah, I said CrossFit. Up until I took the class and got my CS-L1 certification, I would chuckle and scoff at CrossFit trainers. I have accepted that I will be bashed online and called a sellout because I am a professional bodybuilder that ranks CrossFit very high on my training list. But, before you rake me over the coals and give me a second vasectomy for doing this, hear me out.
This is not about ranking the training methodology; this is about ranking the ability to train trainers to execute said methodology. This course hits on all the points we need to qualify it as good to have:
- Money: Owning a box (CrossFit gym) can be extremely lucrative. With less overhead and equipment than a normal gym, high membership dues ($100+ per month compared to $10-$50 at most commercial gyms), a cult-like following and what appears to be long-term adherence by trainees, this is a good one to have. And while growth appears to have plateaued, CrossFit isn’t going anywhere and is probably the biggest single fitness movement in the world today.
- Credibility: If you like CrossFit, having a CrossFit L1, L2 or L3 certification validates that you can lead a WOD (workout of the day) and help teach form, because their certification course kicks a$$. And about that…
- Application: You not only have to pass a test that I am told MANY fail at the end of the two-day course, you must demonstrate the exercises and perform TWO WODs that will kick any human’s booty. I did this, and while I survived, the less fit in the class were challenged like I’ve never seen before.
- Affordable: It’s $1k all-inclusive for the test time, and certification.
3) NASM, ACE and Other Mail-Order Certificates
I love tests, don’t get me wrong. A lot of gyms will pay you to have these.
These certifications cover biology, physiology, kinesiology, and probably 2 or 3 other “ologys.” But, the lack of application is enough to push it down the list. Still a good certificate to have because of the status (better than nothing), insurance and pay-potential.
The tests are hard and it will require hours of studying unless you have some undergrad experience in those fields. It is less than $1k for the materials and the testing and, hey, why not get it?
I write this article as a EXOS®, CrossFit® L-1, and ACE® certified trainer. There are other, smaller programs, but these are the big dogs that are recognized. Take this list and deduce what will work best for you and your needs.
If you even need this at all. But the one thing I can assure you is these WILL make you a better trainer, coach, and they will also help you make more gains for YOU.
Best of luck and please comment down below on your feelings about the best training certification program!