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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
- 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
- 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
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.
- 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
|High school diploma (or equivalent); CPR/AED cert
|2 study packages; 1 exam-only option
|Hard copy of materials
|$349 to $697
|Digital study materials; compatible with smartphones, tablets,
|120 multiple-choice questions, 2-hour, proctored exam
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).
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.
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.
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:
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
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.
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.
NESTA vs NCSF
- 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
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
|High school diploma (or GED)
|High school diploma (or equivalent); CPR/AED
|4 bundle options: Home Study,
Home Study+, CPT + SNS,
CPT + CSC
|3 study packages; 1 exam-only option
|Hard copy of materials
|Not included in base package
|$799 to $1,399
|$349 to $697
|Exam passing score
|150 multiple-choice questions
|120 multiple-choice questions
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
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
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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