[My Journey To] Becoming A Certified Personal Trainer

It’s been quite a week. And there have been a lot of emotions. I’ve basically been a living, breathing (barely) stress-ball for the last few months- and it was definitely a lot worse at the beginning of this week. But, by Wednesday (a little after noon), I had a huge weight lifted off my shoulders…

That’s right- I took (and passed!) my Personal Trainer Certification exam!! I am really glad that you find out right after if you pass or fail- the waiting would have killed me. I get my “official” certification mailed to me soon.


Let me rewind to September of 2008 here for a minute…

(Back in my distance running days…I was 28. Ahhh… to be young… :)) I enrolled in a 12-week prep course to get my personal training certification through ACE. The class did not include the exam- it just prepared you for it.

My classes were on Monday evenings from 6-9:30, and that was after a full day of work, which started before 7:00 am. Needless to say, I was usually pretty tired and had a lot of trouble focusing. Since my background was in art, I felt a little bit lost in that class. Everything just seemed so overwhelming. By the end of it, I had definitely learned a lot, but just didn’t fully absorb or understand most of it because I just wasn’t fully able to dedicate myself to studying. Work was super stressful at that time and I was already wanting to find a way out. After the course ended, I vowed to study and learn the material and take the exam within a few months. That never happened and it went on the back burner.

Fast-forward to one year ago. After a year long hiatus, I returned to Bodypump. I used to take the classes regularly, but then just wanted to change things up and stopped for a while. When I went back, I remembered how much I loved that class, and how strong and powerful it made me feel. And one week later, I decided to get certified to become a Bodypump instructor. The training for it was one of the hardest (mentally and physically!) experiences of my life, but it was also one of the best.

After getting my Bodypump certification and having a few regular weekly classes (in addition to the Spinning classes I was already teaching), I was becoming more and more certain that this is what I was meant to do. I wasn’t feeling any passion for teaching high school anymore (which I had been doing for seven years), but I did have that passion for teaching group exercise. There’s just something about helping others get healthy and strong and learn to love (and look forward to) exercise…. I just can’t explain it. And then, of course, I made the decision to quit my job to pursue my dream of becoming a personal trainer.

The first step was choosing a certification. I already had the books and study materials for ACE, but they were four years old, and fitness trends are always changing. I heard a lot of other (already certified) trainers recommend NASM, which was supposed to be “the best.” Whenever I asked people why it was the best (and why any certification would be better than another), I was told “it’s the most recognized.” Well, I definitely wanted to choose a certification that would enable me to get a job, so I looked into it more. The only problem was, the study program (which I definitely needed) was incredibly expensive… much more money than I was really able to spend. ACE was also pretty expensive. It’s not that I was just looking for a cheap way out- but I had to stay within my reasonable budget.

I started asking around more, and my friend Annette told me about NESTA (National Exercise & Sports Trainers Association). She had gotten a certification through them, and was very pleased with her experience. I definitely value Annette’s opinion a lot- so I looked into it further. They offered an intensive online study program with a package that included the certification exam. And once you purchase the program, you have 90 days to take the exam. I liked that option, because I definitely needed to have a deadline.

I thought back to what I had heard others say about a program that needs to be recognized, so I started doing my research. I found out that NESTA is fairly young but is most definitely a legitimate, nationally (NCCA) accredited organization. AND, their certification is valid for four years- most are only two. To help solidify my decision, I called around to several health club managers and asked about credentials for hiring personal trainers. Every single person gave me the same answer, which was “It doesn’t matter who you get your certification is through- you just need to have one.” Most told me to go with the least expensive option- because a trainer really becomes “strong” after the certification process, when they start working with clients. I also really enjoyed this post from Neil on Janetha’s blog- and when I asked him about getting certified (in the comments), he basically told me the same thing.

NESTA was affordable, legitimate, and the online study program sounded great- so I signed up on August 1st. I spent several hours every day studying the material- and really took my time to learn everything and retain the information. I asked my personal trainer friends a lot of questions. I borrowed books from the library and did a million Google searches to learn more. I really started to understand everything- and it was great.

I loved the format of the online study program, and the teachers were awesome! There was a lot of support whenever I needed it, and I never once doubted my decision to go with NESTA.

And that brings us up to speed. As I mentioned before, I took my exam on Wednesday, October 10th and passed.

What’s next? Who knows. I have about a million ideas running through my head, and need to choose a direction to go in for now. I’ve been training one (awesome) client on a regular basis for over a month now, and absolutely love it- but obviously I need to do more than that. :) My experience from being a group exercise instructor will most definitely help me to be a confident and effective personal trainer.

It feels so good to finally be able to say “I’m a certified personal trainer.” It took a long time to get here- but it was all worth it, and I can’t wait to see where this takes me.

Have you ever “started over” in a new career? What’s your dream job (and if you’re not doing it- what’s stopping you)?


  1. i have loved following you on this journey, this transition. IT’s made you stronger and i am proud to “know” you! Congrats!

    • Thanks, Lindsay! Our career paths are definitely similar… and I definitely want to get my yoga cert one day. One thing at a time, right?….

  2. I wish you could be my personal trainer!

    I’m not sure it’s exactly a career switch but I went from a graphic designer to a marketer. I like marketing so much better.

    • lol you and I sound SO much alike. Check out the higher ed arena. they’re more likely to hire a “jack of all trades” position. I swapped jobs last year from design director to a communications specialist. Kind of a step down, but I get to write, design, do social media, and marketing strategies instead of just design now.

    • I’m so glad that you found a job that you love! And move back to MD- I’d be happy to train you! :)

  3. Can I just say HELL YES, lady! So glad to read this! We need to catch up sometime. Happy Friday!!

    • I know. I don’t want to wait until Blend to see you next! You really need to come visit me. And bring the beef, of course.

  4. I am so happy for you and so proud. And I can only hope that I pass when my day comes but I definitely need to pick up the COMPREHENSION aspect, some of it just doesn’t feel like it’s sticking in my brain which is frustrating.

    I’m so happy for you and can’t wait to hear where this journey takes you next!

    • Thank you!! If you need any help with anything- please ask! I definitely feel like I really “know” the material now- and that took a lot of time and work! You’ll be certified in no time. :)

  5. Congratulations on passing the exam! I know you will be an amazing personal trainer and your clients will be lucky to have such a down-to-earth wonderful support system in having you as a trainer! Excited to hear about your next steps!

  6. Congratulations Lauren! I think you’ll be a fantastic trainer.

  7. Congratulations! Such an awesome accomplishment.

    This post was super informative for me and it is much appreciated. I’ve recently been looking into getting my personal training certificate as I look for a way to transition from journalism to something health-and-fitness related, whether it be working in communications for a fitness company or going to work in a gym. I’ve been teaching BODYPUMP for 6 months, and I love the positive environment you can create much more than the doom-and-gloom that hangs over journalists.

    • Being a Bodypump instructor DEFINITELY drove my passion for wanting to make the job full-time. Definitely pursue that field if it’s what you love! There are SO many different options too- you don’t necessarily just have to be a trainer with your PFT cert. :)

  8. YAYY!!!!!! CONGRATS, Lauren!!! You rocked that! WAY to go :) SOO proud of you.

    What a neat journey, eh?! I love how life takes us exactly where we’re meant to be. You’ll take this cert & become an even better instructor & trainer on your journey. Seriously sooo inspiring to go after your dreams <3 Happy Friday!

    • I owe a lot of thanks to you for introducing my to NESTA. I just signed up for the Lifestyle Weight Management cert too- do you have that one?

  9. Yay!!! Congratulations! And I’m in similar shoes, with deciding to pursue a health coaching certification. I just passed the half-way point of the program, and earned my initial certificate. It’s definitely been stressful, but so exciting! :)

  10. Contrats on passing your test!!!! That is such an awesome accomplishment!!! :)

    I’m working on changing my life upside down to make myself happier, but this stinky thing called money keeps getting in the way. Why can’t being awesome pay big bucks?? I currently work full time and go to school part time, but desperately need to downshift to part time work in order to focus more on school.

    Either way, bask in the feeling of passing and start planning out some awesome adventures!! :)

  11. Super, Super, Super proud of you!!

  12. I am thinking about this as well so this was really helpful!

  13. Oh my gosh, congratulations! What a big step towards living your dream–and way to go for that dream, rather than stick with what wasn’t perfect! Thanks for sharing–definitely makes me think about my future/what my passions in the work-related field are.

    • Life is definitely too short- sometimes you really just have to look at what is keeping you from living the life you want, ya know? I’m really lucky to have been able to do this. :)

  14. CONGRATS!!! I need to keep this in mind when I go to get mine!

  15. Congratulations! This is so exciting! My dream job is to be a college professor. Unfortunately, what’s stopping me is it’s just too expensive to go get my doctorate.

    • Yup- getting your PhD is no joke- I looked into it at one point.
      I did teach a couple of college classes though- and I just have a Masters degree.

  16. CONGRATS LOVE!!!! So so soo exciting! I had no doubts you would pass! Excited to see where this takes you! :)

  17. Congratulations! That’s so exciting that you’re done!

  18. Congrats on such an AMAZING accomplishment! I’m bursting with happiness for you. Love love love <3

  19. Congrats!!!

  20. Yep – I switched from working with computer to becoming a pastor. One of the hardest decisions I ever had t make but I would not look back. I miss the money but I look forward to waking up each morning and going to work!

    • That’s so great to hear! I would much rather be able to live “comfortably” and have a job that I loved than be swimming in money and not want to go to work each day. Good for you for finding a career that you’re passionate about!

  21. That’s awesome Lauren!!!
    Big big congrats

  22. seriously proud of you, lady! nice job on putting in the hours to learn the material and passing the exam. you are going to do great things for many people! xo

  23. Congratulations. That’s really awesome news. Making a huge career change the way you did is inspirational. Thanks for sharing.

  24. Very, Very excited for you. As I read this, and many other things on this site, I KNOW you will be great. In fact, you ARE great. That is ALL you need to know. Now get out there and start helping folks change. The rest of it will come, but your passion and excellence absolutely shines through now and people NEED this. More than ever they need this. They will change their lives through you. Pumped to hear the stories.

    You are a rare thinker in this field. I’ve been inspired by your bravery and common sense here in this post. Never lose that! The bastards will try to beat it out of you! I hope they do too – Try, that is. If they are trying to put you down, you are making enough of a difference to make them notice your FRICKIN awesomeness. Screw em!

    We’ve all got your back here! If there is anything you need, don’t hesitate.

    • Neil- your comment made my day- thank you!! So awesome. Too bad you don’t own a gym here in Maryland- I would love to work with someone who just “gets it” (which is very hard to find sometimes!).
      Your guest post on J’s blog really was a big help to me- so thanks!

    • After graduating with my exercise science degree I became certified by ACSM, but after checking out NESTA I decided to go for this cert as well. I really like what John Spencer Ellis is doing in the field of personal trainer education.

  25. I am so SO proud of you girlie!! CONGRATULATIONS! I was wondering if you found out right your score right away of if you had to wait. I know when I took my certification exam for x-ray, I had to wait TWO WEEKS for my score to come in the mail…it was torture!

    I guess my “dream job” (you know, the kind that exists in a perfect world where investment collateral is plentiful and I actually HAD any business skills) would be to own my own restaurant! Of course I would only serve breakfast…and pancakes always be the daily special! :D

  26. I am wanting to take the plunge myself to get out of corporate america and be a CPT to motivate and inspire others to be fit! I haven’t bought my kit yet, but will very soon. May I ask what you do now as a CPT? Do you train people online or in person?

  27. Im ready to become certified myself. I see your journey was an entertaning one. Any tips for me. I am onl 21 and ive decided that personal training is for me.

  28. Hey Lauren! Congrats on getting NESTA certified! I am currently NASM certified but am thinking about getting certified through NESTA also. I think they are really looking to the future of fitness with the technology they use and am exited to see where the certifying agency takes themselves.

  29. Hi Lauren! Taking this exam next Saturday, would love to pick your brain a bit ;)

  30. lauraperrry says:

    This is such a wonderful resource! Thanks for the info. I have been looking how to become a personal trainer in Manchester and this is so useful!


  1. [...] months of studying, I was ready to take my personal trainer certification exam. AND PASSED! A huge weight and amount of stress was suddenly lifted off my shoulders and I was finally ready to [...]

  2. [...] know, fitness is a big part of my life. I am so passionate about exercise, that I decided to turn it into a career as a personal trainer and exercise instructor. I definitely haven’t always loved working out, [...]

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