A Guide to Becoming a NASM-Certified Personal Trainer

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

An NASM-certified trainer has a top industry certification. Find greater career mobility, job satisfaction, and income as a NASM-certified trainer.

[Featured Image]: A NASM-certified personal trainer working with a client.

You may consider becoming a NASM-certified personal trainer if you want to turn your passion for health and fitness into a lifelong career. NASM is a leading fitness organization with national recognition. You only need a diploma and CPR/AED certification to apply for a certificate, and once certified, you’ll have greater access to careers in the fitness industry. Specialize in nutrition, focus on sports-related training, or earn training in group fitness. Add certifications and specializations as you fine-tune your career as a certified personal trainer. 

What is a NASM-certified trainer?

A NASM-certified trainer has earned certification from the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM). Individuals pass a certification exam to earn a credential in personal training, nutrition, or wellness coaching. The organization also offers specializations within these categories so trainers can tailor services to a particular demographic, facility, or health and wellness goal.

Industry outlook and average salary

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the average annual salary for personal trainers and fitness instructors as $40,700 [1]. Fitness and recreation centers are the top employers of fitness trainers, followed by educational organizations, government organizations, and social organizations. 

Job growth in the fitness industry is on the rebound after the impact of COVID on gyms and in-person training. The Bureau estimates the sector to add 65,500 jobs each year over the next decade and a 19 percent overall job growth by 2031 [2]. A few contributing factors to this promising job growth include awareness of health and wellness, an aging population searching for low-impact exercise, and the growth of employee wellness programs as part of company benefits.

What are the benefits of becoming a NASM-certified professional?

One benefit of becoming a NASM-Certified professional is the prestige of the title. The organization is well-known and respected in the fitness community, and holding one of its certifications can add value and longevity to your career goals in the fitness and wellness industry. 

Certification helps prepare you for different career paths, setting the foundational skills and credentials you’ll need moving forward. Fitness trainers have a lot of mobility in their professions, and NASM certification can make it easier to move into other jobs that may pay better and have more room for growth. Employers outside the fitness industry sometimes hire certified trainers, such as corporate group fitness classes. 

NASM certification provides the qualifications you’ll need to pursue freelance options as a trainer or even gym owner. Set your own hours, provide the services you want, and design your own exercise programs. It’s easier to build your client base when you have the backing of a professional organization like NASM. 

NASM is among the top recognized certifying organizations for trainers. Clients and potential employers will likely recognize the NASM certification and recognize your qualifications as a demonstration of your skills and knowledge in the industry. The organization also provides CEU courses. These courses help trainers build upon their knowledge base and skills as a trainer.

Why choose a NASM-certified specialization course?

A specialization course can help you turn your passions into a career and tailor services to a specific clientele. You may be able to access niche markets especially ideal for fitness entrepreneurs and business owners. 

Impact your company's growth

Your personal training business can benefit from the NASM certifications you hold by increasing the range of services you offer. As you build your client list, you have opportunities to establish a reputation and positively impact the growth of your fitness-based business. Expect to find more growth opportunities when you’re certified as you build a positive reputation in your area.

Grow your client base, job chances, and earnings

Certification assures clients that you are highly trained and qualified. People trust fitness professionals to keep them safe when exercising and guide them to meet important health and wellness goals. Clients need to put their trust in trainers, and certification may help build that trust. Fitness centers, gyms, schools, and other employers of fitness professionals desire highly trained staff. Certification may improve your chances of getting hired or a bump in pay compared to non-certified trainers.  

Extend learning opportunities through a simple recertifications process

Recertification requires 20 contact hours (2.0 CEU credits) every two years. CEUs are an extension of the skills and information you gained while earning your certification. Topics in the fitness industry are ever-changing, and CEUs keep trainers in the know with the latest trends and best practices. NASM offers a catalog of CEU opportunities, among other approved courses and training. 

Prepare for other exciting fitness roles

Expand your career opportunities and explore your interests with a NASM certification specialization. You may expand your business through specialization to include wellness coaching, home gym consultations, or weight loss support.

You also may discover new fitness roles such as virtual personal trainer, group fitness instructor, or wellness coach. 



Read more: How to Become a Physical Therapist

Top NASM-certified trainer certifications & specializations

NASM-certified trainers and fitness professionals enjoy a long and lucrative career in a fast-paced, ever-changing, and gratifying field. Certified trainers have the opportunity to help people, change lives, and see the results of their knowledge and hard work. Certification and specializations may be the key to unlocking your potential as a fitness professional. 


NASM certifications provide the foundational skills for an exciting fitness career. If you're beginning your career in the fitness industry, you may start with a certificate to learn how to lead group fitness classes at a local gym or a wellness coach for private clients. As long as you have a high school diploma or GED and CPR/AED certification, you can start working on one of the following certification courses. 

  • Certified Group Fitness Instructor (CGFI)

  • Certified Nutrition Coach (CNC)

  • Certified Personal Training (CPT)

  • Certified Sports Nutrition Coach (CSNC)

  • Certified Wellness Coach (CWC)

  • G.E.A.R. Certification


NASM offers specializations that you can complete for CEU credits. With a specialization, you can create a career pathway that leads to your ideal job. Specializations grant you access to work with a particular demographic or goals you want to focus on for clients. Many times, your own passions can lead to the decision on which specialization certification to earn. 

  • Behavior Change Specialization (BCS)

  • Corrective Exercise Specialization (CES)

  • Performance Enhancement Specialization (PES)

  • Senior Fitness Specialization (SFS)

  • Weight Loss Specialization (WLS)

  • Women's Fitness Specialization (WFS)

  • Youth Exercise Specialization (YES)

What are the requirements for a NASM-certified trainer?

To get a NASM certification, fill out an online application and meet the prerequisites for the certification you are applying for. You can apply to a program if you are at least 18 years old and have a high school diploma or GED. After you complete the program, you can sit for the certification exam. NASM awards certification after you pass the exam.

You also need some training in basic life support. This includes CPR certification and automated external defibrillators (AED) training. Your credentials must be valid and up to date as long as you have your certification.  NASM and The American Red Cross offer a CPR/AED combination certification program that lets you earn both certificates simultaneously.

Career paths you can explore with a NASM-certified program (with salaries)

Fitness careers cover a range of niches as the public's understanding of health and wellness increases. Popular trends and fitness topics may drive many of these career paths, but they still present opportunities to meet new clients and pursue your interests. NASM certification can give you access to many of these desirable career paths. 

Athletic coach 

Athletic coaches or trainers typically work with athletes to prevent injuries related to physical exercise. Tasks may include creating rehabilitation programs, applying first aid, and training individuals on proper form. Athletic coaches earn an average annual salary of $62,642 [3]

Certified personal trainer

Certified personal trainers, including fitness trainers and instructors, work one-on-one with individuals to help them meet their fitness goals. As a trained fitness professional, you help prevent injury by teaching proper form, offering motivation and support, and creating tailored exercise plans based on goals. Certified personal trainers earn an average of $68,854 annually [4]

Group fitness instructor

Like personal trainers, group fitness instructors motivate and support individuals in a group setting. Group fitness instructors may lead and guide a group of people through various exercises, from cardio to strength training and pilates to dance. The average annual earnings for this job is $67,678 [5]

Gym owner

Gym ownership has many perks, namely the freedom to create your own business. As a business owner, you have several responsibilities, including hiring trainers and other staff members, maintaining fitness equipment, and managing all financial and bookkeeping duties. Gym owner salaries vary widely depending on the size of the gym, location, and more, but the average salary for gym owners in the US is $90,840 [6]

Life coach

Life coaches provide clients with goal-setting strategies, motivation, and emotional support to improve certain areas of their lives. Like other fitness professions, life coaches sometimes help individuals meet health and wellness goals, emphasizing health's emotional rather than physical side. Life coaches earn an estimated annual salary of $62,185 [7]. 

Nutrition coach

Nutrition coaches fill a role distinct from nutritionists or dieticians with formal degrees. Nutrition coaches' primary duties are offering nutrition advice to help individuals meet health goals, providing education on making smarter food choices, and supporting individuals as they work toward goals. Nutrition coaches earn an average annual salary of $54,760 [8].

Youth exercise specialist

Individuals working with children and young people may work at recreational facilities, day camps, or schools. Some everyday tasks include leading children in group activities, creating activities for young people, and organizing and setting up equipment as needed. Specialists may focus on specific training rather than general group activities. Youth exercise specialists, or recreation workers, earn an average annual salary of $35,080 [9]

Ready to begin your career as a fitness coach?

Start your career as a fitness coach today! This highly accessible field provides career opportunities for people with varying interests, skills, passions, and experiences. To learn more about fitness coaching and topics related to personal training and coaching, consider enrolling in an online course to supplement your NASM certification goals. 

On Coursera, you can find courses geared directly toward health and wellness. They may focus on specific training methods, approaches to motivation, the science behind the impacts of exercise and movement on the human body, and more. Some top courses ideal for someone getting started in the fitness field are  Science of Exercise and Stanford Introduction to Food and Health




Article sources


US Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Occupational Outlook Handbook: Fitness Trainers and Instructors, Pay, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/personal-care-and-service/fitness-trainers-and-instructors.htm#tab-5." Accessed November 8, 2022. 

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