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Working as a personal trainer can be a rewarding career and it’s not totally out of reach if you’re not currently working in the fitness industry. To work at a health club or commercial gym, you don’t need a degree in exercise science. 

All you need is some time to study and prepare for a certified personal trainer exam. And there are many educational institutions you can do this through including the American Council on Exercise (ACE), International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA), or the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) to name a few. 

However, in this NESTA certification review, I’ll walk you through the lesser known and relatively budget-friendly personal fitness trainer certification that prepares you to train clients in both one-on-one and group settings. 

During the review process for NESTA (National Exercise & Sports Trainers Association) myself and the editors at Garage Gym Reviews followed our testing methodology for certification courses to review and rate categories on a 1-to-5-star scale, including: 

  • Course and exam price
  • Course length
  • Accreditation 
  • Prerequisites 
  • Continuing education requirements
  • Study materials and learning options
  • Final exam 

We’ve Reviewed the Most Popular Certs on the Market

Why trust me, though? Well, I’m a certified personal fitness trainer with the NSCA (National Strength and Conditioning Association) and I work with a team of expert product testers and fitness professionals here at Garage Gym Reviews. We’re a group of personal trainers, gym owners, Olympic-level athletes, and nutrition coaches. 

Our decades of collective fitness industry experience help us inform high-quality certifications just as much as fitness products like the best treadmills for a home gym or best personal training apps

NESTA PFT Certification

NESTA PFT Certification

GGR Score: 3.9 starstarstarstarstar

Product Highlights

  • Certified personal fitness trainer (PFT)
  • NCCA-accredited program 
  • 4-year recertification cycle
  • CPR certification required

Pros & Cons


  • Longer 4-year recertification cycle
  • Internationally recognized
  • 65,000 PFT professionals globally


  • Exam pricing starts at $349
  • Additional costs for study materials
  • In-person final exam

Bottom Line

The Certified personal fitness trainer (PFT) program from NESTA (National Exercise & Sports Trainers Association) is an NCCA-accredited certification with a four-year recertification cycle. While you’ll study at your own pace, you’ll have to take the 125-question, multiple choice final exam in a proctored testing center within 90 days of requesting exam eligibility.

A Quick Look at NESTA Certification

Before we dive into the nitty gritty details of this cert, I’ll start by mentioning the fact that the NESTA Personal Fitness Trainer exam offers an affordable option to get certified. That’s one of the most appealing aspects to this organization. 

However, I think I need to explain something about this certification: While it’s NCCA-accredited, it doesn’t offer tons of brand recognition. I know that’s not the most important thing when it comes to your personal training career, but for comparison, there are about 1,520 people who are currently certified with the NESTA, whereas a popular organization like NASM has over one million certified personal trainers. 

RELATED: NASM Certification Review

Before You Buy:

  • Accredited by the National Commission For Certifying Agencies (NCCA)
  • The only personal training certification with a four-year recertification cycle 
  • If you have prior experience, you can purchase the exam alone without a study package 

Is the NESTA Certification Worth It?

For the right person, the NESTA certification will be well worth it because all exam and study bundles are priced under $700, and you’ll only have to recertify every four years. Compared to other personal training certifications, it’s fairly low-cost and doubles the duration of the typical recertification process. For these reasons, the overall value of the NESTA cert earns a 4.5-out-of-5-star rating. 

I think it’s also important to note that the study packages only give you a 90-day window to prepare. Most other certs offer at least six months, so that may hinder the $700 value if you’re limited on time to study. 

Great for:

  • Quick learners
  • Affordability and payment plan options
  • Certification program that’s NCCA-accredited 

Not recommended for:

  • “Big brand” name recognition 
  • Working with teams or athletes
  • People who want hard copy materials 

NESTA Certification Specs

PrerequisitesHigh school diploma (or equivalent); CPR/AED cert
Study options2 study packages; 1 exam-only option
Hard copy of materialsNo
Pricing$349 to $697
Term length90 days 
PlatformDigital study materials; compatible with smartphones, tablets,
and desktops
Exam format120 multiple-choice questions, 2-hour, proctored exam

Course Prerequisites 

When you’re starting to research how to become a personal trainer, you’ll notice there are some pretty standard prerequisites. According to the NESTA website, the requirements to pass the personal trainer certification exam include the typical prerequisites like being at least 18 years of age, having a high school diploma (or equivalent), and obtaining a CPR certification (or Basic Life Support certificate). 

personal trainer instructing sit ups

The website also explicitly states the following requirements for exam candidates, too: 

  • Candidates must be paid in full prior to scheduling exam date
  • Candidates need a valid government issued Driver’s License or Passport
  • Candidates must complete the 120-question, multiple choice, facilitated proctored exam within 90 days of receiving exam eligibility
  • PFT exam candidates must take the NESTA proctored exam at a PSI testing center

Course Options and Pricing

Below I break down the pricing options and what you get in each tier when certifying with NESTA. If you’re in a unique position where you’ve had previous experience or on-the-job training, the exam-only option for $349 could be a solid choice for you. Not many educational organizations offer exam-only pricing, most bundle everything up together. 

PFT exam only: $349

  • NCCA Accredited PFT Exam
  • Digital certificate upon passing the exam
  • Paper certificate with official seal mailed within 2-3 weeks upon verification
  • 4-year renewable accredited certification

PFT Plus package: $399

In addition to purchasing the exam and all the benefits listed above, the Plus package also offers a “digital manual” which is the NESTA version of a digital textbook called the Personal Fitness Trainer Manual

PFT Complete package: $697

The Complete package from NESTA provides a study manual and all the exam perks in addition to the following materials to improve studying: 

  • 10+ hours of video and audio training
  • Chapter review quizzes
  • Unlimited practice exams
  • Immediate access to training
  • Lifetime access to training

It’s also worth noting the PFT Complete is the only package that offers six-month financing options through Affirm. 

Course Material: What You’ll Learn

You don’t need prior experience with exercise programming and coaching to start the NESTA PFT program. The Personal Fitness Trainer Manual is the NESTA textbook that you’ll use to learn and reference as you study for the exam. 

personal trainer study materials

Here is an overview of what you can expect from the text: 

  • Chapter 1: Introduction to Personal Training
  • Chapter 2: Exercise Physiology
  • Chapter 3: Kinesiology and Anatomy
  • Chapter 4: Biomechanics
  • Chapter 5: Flexibility
  • Chapter 6: Nutrition and Metabolism
  • Chapter 7: Special Populations
  • Chapter 8: Assessments
  • Chapter 9: Program Design
  • Chapter 10: Exercise Instruction 
  • Chapter 11: Safety, Injury Prevention 
  • Chapter 12: Exercise Psychology
  • Chapter 13: Business of Personal Training
  • Chapter 14: Sales and the NESTA System

Course Design and Layout

According to the NESTA PFT Exam Candidate Handbook, there are four distinct areas of study: business applications, program design, exercise science, and program implementation. 

Below, I’ve outlined what percent of the 120-question exam will focus on each category and the study materials NESTA recommends for each category. If you purchase the PFT Complete study package, you’ll have unlimited access to practice exams, which have no time limit and aim to simulate much of what will actually be on the final exam.  

using laptop sunny rower

The one thing that bothers me is the fact that client assessments are wrapped up into program design for this examination. I think it should be a category all on its own. Meeting new clients and making health assessments during the first visit is more than just understanding sales and proper exercise selection for beginners. It’s also about screening for risk factors or symptoms of chronic cardiovascular, pulmonary, metabolic, and orthopedic diseases. 

Because this coursework doesn’t dive into these important factors, I give the course materials a 3-out-of-5-star rating. Here is a quick overview based on the exam handbook: 

Business Applications

  • NESTA PFT Manual Chapters 1, 13, and 14
  • NESTA Business Applications Audio mp3
  • The Business of Fitness: Understanding the Financial Side of Owning a Fitness Business, Plummer, T. 2003
  • The Psychology of Selling, Tracy, B. 2006
  • American College of Sports Medicine’s Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription, American College of Sports Medicine. 2017
  • NESTA Sports Injury Specialist Program

Program Design:

  • NESTA PFT Manual Chapter 7-9 and 12
  • NESTA Program Design Audio mp3
  • Periodization: Theory and Methodology of Training, Bompa, T. 2018
  • American College of Sports Medicine’s Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription, American College of Sports Medicine. 2021
  • NESTA Sports Injury Specialist Program

Exercise Science

  • NESTA PFT Manual Chapters 1-4, 6
  • Kinesiology of the Musculoskeletal System, Neumann, D. 2016
  • Diagnosing and Treatment of Movement Impairment Syndromes, Sahrmann, S. 2016
  • Nancy Clark Sports Nutrition Handbook, 2019

Program Implementation:

  • NESTA PFT Manual Chapter 4, 5, 7, 9, 10, and 11
  • NESTA Warm-Ups and Stretching Video
  • NESTA Exercise Application Videos
  • The Essentials of Resistance Training: The Basic Training Video Series, Purvis. T. 2017

Exam Options

The final examination is in-person and proctored at a PSI exam center, which you’ll have the ability to register for once you have a NESTA account. The website also notes that you can request an online proctored exam for at-home test taking, which is an additional $45 fee. 

The NESTA PFT final exam consists of 120 multiple-choice questions and exam candidates need a 71% score or higher to pass. You’ll have a two-hour window to complete the exam. 

Test takers will have paper and a pencil to jot down anything on the day of the test. Plus, an online calculator will be enabled for test takers during the exam, which you may need to calculate macronutrient requirements or target heart rate

Man studying the NASM online module at a computer

While I don’t particularly appreciate the at-home option that will cost you an additional fee, I appreciate that NESTA offers it. I also appreciate the exam is only two hours and offers an online calculator (some exams will not). For these reasons, I give NESTA a 4.5-out-of-5-star rating for exam options. 

According to a NESTA PFT exam analysis of 2022, the exam has a 62.5% passing rate. The report identifies 184 candidates sat for the exam, 115 passed, while 69 did not pass. The report also notes that 1,520 people are currently certified NESTA PFTs. 

If you take the practice exams (which are included in the PFT Complete package or can be purchased separately) you will be presented with 120 questions that are broken down into the same categories as the final exam: 

  • 21% Business Application
  • 26% Program Design
  • 22% Exercise Science
  • 31% Program Implementation

If you don’t pass the final examination, you’ll have to wait 30 days before your next attempt. Once the 30-day window has passed, you can purchase a retest by going to the NESTA Policies page and clicking on the fees tab at the top. 

NESTA Certification Recertification Requirements

The NESTA cert offers the longest recertification of the certified personal training programs we’ve reviewed. Most programs require a two-year recertification period where you have to maintain your CPR/AED credentials and participate in continuing education units, aka CEUs. 

This NESTA PFT offers a four-year cycle and requires at least 4.0 CEU credits, and for this reason NESTA earns a 5-out-of-5-star rating for recertification requirements. The organization provides a list of approved educational credits you can take advantage of, but NESTA also has an extensive list of continuing education and speciality certifications including: 

  • Fitness Nutrition Coach
  • Sports Nutrition Specialist
  • Speed, Agility, and Quickness Specialist
  • Biomechanics Specialist
  • Mixed Martial Arts Conditioning Specialist 
  • Muay Thai Fitness Training 

NESTA also partners with the Spencer Institute to offer Longevity Coaching, Holistic Nutrition, Corporate Wellness Coach, Brain Fitness Coach, and Sleep Science Coaching. 



NCSF Certification

GGR Score: 4.0 starstarstarstarstar

Product Highlights

  • Certified personal trainer (CPT) course
  • NCCA-accredited certification
  • Hands-on and self-study modules
  • Final exam online or at testing center

Pros & Cons


  • Qualifies CPTs to work 1:1 or small groups
  • Accredited by National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA)
  • Complete exam prep and materials
  • Payment plans available


  • 2-year recertification cycle
  • Course does not require CPR/AED

Bottom Line

The Certified Personal Trainer certification through the National Council on Strength and Fitness is a NCCA-accredited program recognized by many top health clubs like 24 Fitness, OrangeTheory Fitness, Planet Fitness, and Gold’s Gym. This course will qualify you to work with clients one-on-one and in small groups. The exam covers general exercise science, program design, nutrition, training instruction, and special populations to name a few.

The fitness industry is not short on certification opportunities. Our expert product testers and fitness professionals have reviewed some of the best personal training certifications available from the NSCA to NASM. 

For this side-by-side comparison, I’m going to compare the NESTA PFT to the NCSF CPT certification. Both certifications are NCCA-accredited, but neither has “big brand” name recognition like NASM, NSCA, ACE, ISSA, or ACSM. 

Both the NCSF and NESTA offer test-only options, which is unique for certification courses. Most only offer package deals, but if you have prior hands-on experience and feel comfortable with taking an exam without the full study package, you’ll have that option. You will notice that the prices for NESTA start much lower than the NCSF certification, but you’ll get six months to study with NCSF and only three months with NESTA. 

RELATED: NCSF Certification Review

PrerequisitesHigh school diploma (or GED)High school diploma (or equivalent); CPR/AED
Study options4 bundle options: Home Study,
Home Study+, CPT + SNS,
3 study packages; 1 exam-only option
Hard copy of materialsNot included in base packageNo
Pricing$799 to $1,399$349 to $697
Term length6 months90 days
Exam passing score70%71%
Pass rate79%62.5%
Recertification cycle2 years4 years
Exam format150 multiple-choice questions120 multiple-choice questions
Exam platformIn-person proctored;
online proctored
In-person proctored

NESTA Certification Review Final Verdict

The NESTA PFT certification offers a valuable experience for aspiring personal trainers and folks who’ve received on-the-job training. It’s affordable, the recertification cycle is longer, and it provides much of the same coursework you’ll receive from other organizations. 

Here are a few things to keep in mind with NESTA: 

  • The exam must be taken within 90 days of registering and purchasing your coursework.
  • Final examination is in-person at a proctored testing center unless you apply for an at-home exam for an additional $45 fee. 
  • If you have on-the-job training, you can purchase the exam alone for $349 without the study package fees. 

NESTA Certification Full Rating

NESTA Certification

Garage Gym Reviews experts research and analyze the personal fitness trainer cert for this NESTA certification review.

Product Brand: NESTA

Product Currency: $

Product Price: 349

Product In-Stock: InStock

Editor's Rating:
Study package options – 3
Getting started/delivery of materials – 4
Navigating online course material – 4
Quality of course material – 3
Exam experience – 4.5
Post-exam perks – 5
Value – 4.5
Customer Service – 4
Check Price

NESTA Certification Review: FAQs

Below are some frequently asked questions on this lesser-known personal trainer certification:

Is NESTA certification legit?

NESTA is legitimately accredited by the NCCA, which is the same accreditation organization for popular certifications like NASM, ACE, ISSA, and NSCA. 

How much does the NESTA CPT exam cost?

If you purchase the exam alone, it’s $359. Exam and study bundles are either $399 or $697 depending on which one you choose. 

What does NESTA stand for personal training?

NESTA is an acronym for National Exercise & Sports Trainers Association. The personal trainer certification with NESTA is called PFT, which stands for Personal Fitness Trainer. 

Is ACE fitness certification good?

The ACE certification offers a solid foundation for anyone looking to switch careers or get into the personal training business. The coursework provides a fairly in-depth approach to exercise technique, program design, client assessments, and legal requirements. We’ve even written an in-depth review on what is the ACE certification

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