What is a Personal Trainer?

Unfortunately there is no licensing standard for what defines a personal trainer. Here's an explanation of what personal training might look like near you.

What is a personal trainer? A personal trainer is a certified professional who helps you reach your goals. The first step for you might include setting a goal.

Personal trainers have various educational backgrounds and carry a wide variety of certifications.

If you’re confused on what makes a good trainer, the lack of a standard is to blame.

Unfortunately there is no licensing standard for what defines a personal trainer. The only need for certification comes from insurance companies. They won't carry you without some sort of certification.

What Personal Trainer Certificate is Most Respected?

The most respected certifying organizations for personal trainers include:

  • American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM)
  • The National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA)
  • American Council on Exercise (ACE)
  • National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM)

Those are the only certifications that I would accept if I was in the market for a trainer. Honestly, I’ve carried an ACE and NSCA certification and the NSCA-CSCS was by far a better certification.

Depending on your state, trainers are allowed to give varying levels of advice.

Trainers often carry additional certifications that allow them to expand their scope. Some become health coaches, nutritionists, or movement specialists.

For example, the NSCA offers the following for those who want to;

  • Work with athletes (Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialists (CSCS))
  • Train Special populations (Certified Special Population Specialists® (CSPS®))
  • General personal training clients (NSCA-Certified Personal Trainers (NSCA-CPT))
  • Military, rescue and law enforcement professionals (Tactical Strength and Conditioning Facilitators (TSAC-F))

The titles can get kind of wordy. Different organizations will sell you anything you're willing to spend money on. Trainers often have to guess if education programs will help them with clients.

The industry has made changes to try and improve.

Recently, the NSCA announced a future increase the CSCS licensing standard:

"There will be two principal changes to the certification process:

  1. Effective target date 2030, all CSCS exam candidates must hold a Bachelor’s degree in a strength and conditioning related field, or be enrolled as a senior in such a program.
  2. Effective target date 2030, candidates will need to obtain those degrees from a college or university that has a program accredited by an NSCA-approved accrediting agency."

Hopefully, there will one day be a national standard.

Where Can You Find a Personal Trainer?

A personal trainer can be found in several locations, most commonly:

  • Traveling to homes and offices (this is how I got my start)
  • A private or semi-private training Studio (how I do business)
  • Local gyms in your area
  • Working out of their own homes (a low risk/cost option)
  • Online

Time schedule, price and environment make up the largest differences here. Because personal training is pretty diverse, there is not a set career path.

Trainers often like to start out with a lower level of risk and work at a gym. Other trainers come from another field and choose to start training as a second career.

Is it Worth Getting a Personal Trainer?

Why should you hire a personal trainer?

The most important benefit of a personal trainer is knowledge. Your success depends on how much you can learn from your personal trainer.

A certified personal trainer guide you through the path between you and your goals

You’re going to have questions. You're going to hit plateaus. Most beginners ask several common strength training questions including:

You will have a lot more questions than this. At minimum, your trainer should touch base with you on nutrition, sleep and fitness. Please don't ever hesitate to ask your trainer the answer to these!

The Different Sizes of Personal Training Programs

Personal training comes in many different formats. For the sake of this article, we’re going to talk about the client to trainer ratio.

The main ways you can work with a trainer include:

  • One on one personal training
  • Small group personal training (2-6 people in a group)
  • Large group personal training classes or boot camps (8-20+)
  • Online in private or large groups

Small group personal training is also known as semi-private personal training. In this type of training, you can still receive an individualized program at a lower cost.

Couples can share these sorts of sessions so they may be marketed as couples training. While I prefer 4, some businesses cap sessions around 5 or 6 people per group.

A large group training class isn’t truly personal training. With a 8-20+ client to trainer ratio, there isn’t much time to focus on each individual.

The size of the group may limit the exercises that can be performed. There are ways to individualize a routine within a group format. Ex. by adding weight or providing alternatives.

None of this is to say that this training format cannot be successful. College athletes work with this sort of athlete to coach ratio very successfully.

How Much Does it Cost to Have a Personal Trainer?

I saved this for last because there is not a clear cut answer.

Now that you know the many different shapes personal training may take, you can see why that’s the case.

Because I have a private training fitness studio in columbia, missouri, I know my market.

Read: How much does a personal trainer cost in Columbia Missouri? here.

In working with a business coach in the past, this is a very general price point that you can expect to pay per session:

  • One on one personal training ($40 to150+ per hour)
  • Semi-private personal training (60% of one on one personal training, $24 to 90 per session)
  • Large group personal training or boot camps (15-20% of one on one personal training, $6 to 30 per session)

Online personal training is the wild west right now. With a high number of options, I've seen a wide spread on pricing. Trainers can now work remote from a laptop or part time with a flexible schedule.

Your market may be above or below these prices. An independent trainer may charge more or less. There is more risk in working for yourself and you have to cover more costs that a standard gym trainer.

Ex. a trainer may spend anywhere from $1000 to 35,000 on equipment starting a new facility.

Personal training can be well worth the money if approached correctly. Be prepared to spend about a small car payment per month though prices can exceed this number.

You might be asking yourself, how do I choose a personal trainer?

Look for a personal trainer in your area with a quality certification like the ones listed above. Accountability, knowledge, and advice can be the difference between your goals and failure.


  • Personal trainers help you reach your health and fitness goals
  • Some trainers work independently, online or in commercial gyms.
  • Personal training prices vary ($40 to $150+) depending on size of the session and location.
  • Look for a trainer who has a quality certification and loves to teach

Want to Start a Training Program?

If you didn’t learn to lift in high school or it’s been a while, a weight room looks like a maze of weights, switches, knobs and bros.

Do more than just go pick up a dumbell; let’s create a plan to build strength, get sustainable results (and look like you know what you’re doing).

We’ll start with the basics of strength training and you’ll walk out with (a starter amount of) confidence.

Phone: 1-573-443-1495

  • I want to see changes in my:
  • I want to start:
  • I am interested in training: