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Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Personal Training Certifications: ACSM HFS vs CPT

Are you interested in seeking employment as a personal trainer? You will need a certification. Some facilities specify which certification a trainer should complete while others leave it up to the employee.

Exercise Science students know the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) to be a credible and reliable source of information, and oftentimes consider completing one of the certifications the organization offers. If you are interested in working with apparently healthy adults, or possibly adults with controlled chronic conditions, ACSM is the organization you want to be certified by.

The question I am most frequently asked about ACSM certification is to differentiate between Certified Personal Trainer (CPT) and Health Fitness Specialist (HFS). The main difference is that CPT does not require the candidate to have a bachelor’s degree while HFS requires a bachelor’s degree in a health related field. Look at HFS like an advanced personal training certification. A person with a bachelor’s degree in a health-related field is too qualified to complete the CPT certification. If you are completing a Bachelor of Science degree in Kinesiology at JMU, for example, you should complete the HFS certification.

Other things to factor in when you’re considering completing a certification include: 


Membership in the organization

If you are a member of an organization, you will likely get a discount on certifications and workshops, for example. Membership in an organization is not the same as certification. You could be a member who is not certified. You might be certified but not a member. Or you could be both certified and have a membership. Student memberships in professional organizations are typically offered at a fantastic reduced rate.

Costs associated with completing a certification exam

You will definitely want to purchase study materials from the organization. Certification exams are costly, and your goal is to pass the test. Without a guide and/or textbook from which to study, you’re likely not going to do well. ACSM publishes their certification exam pass rates annually. In 2013, 57% of the HFS candidates passed the certification exam. Those are candidates with a degree in a health related field! Can you speculate on why about half of the candidates did not pass? They took their educational preparation for granted and depended on “winging it” on certification day. You might have really enjoyed your exercise physiology course, for example, but it was 4 semesters ago! You’re rusty! It is vital to take the time to review material to guarantee return on your investment! Take each certification exam seriously and prepare for the recommended period of time. Typically organizations recommend 12 weeks of preparation. Studying ahead of time will be far less inconvenient than paying a re-take fee if you fail on your first attempt, right? Some employment opportunities are contingent upon passing your certification exam. Avoid a stressful situation by giving yourself an adequate amount of time to study. A pay raise may be associated with passing a certification – yet another reason to study seriously! Travel may also be required to get to a testing center, so factor transportation cost and possibly hotel into your budget.

Continuing education

Oftentimes students see achieving a certification as The Goal. And it is certainly a goal. Once you achieve the certification, however, you will have to show evidence of continued education to maintain your certification. Be sure you have the interest and financial resources available to attend continuing education conferences. Be the best educated, professional version of yourself you can be by attending conferences in person. It is possible to complete credits online, but not as fulfilling, exciting or informative. If you have never been to a continuing education conference, give one a try, and you’ll see what I mean.

If you choose to complete a certification when you’re still in college, academic courses that are related to your certification count toward renewal. Even the courses you take as a master’s degree student and Doctoral student count, if that applies to you.

Fee to recertify

Every organization has minute differences, but most certifications must be renewed every 2 or 3 years. Check with your certifying body to be certain. (If you complete an instructor training that does not require renewal, it is not a certification.) You will pay a fee to the organization to be considered for recertification. This is in addition to the expense you’re incurred to complete the continued education credits.

Employer contribution

Your employer may offer professional development funds to offset any of these costs. When these funds are offered they are great luxuries. Depending on the employer, professional development funds may not available every year. Know that this type of assistance exists, but don’t count it being available.


Ultimately, certification is not the end, it is the beginning. The fitness industry is constantly evolving; it is based on science. Staying up-to-date on fitness trends requires a commitment to continuing education on your part!

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