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Tuesday, June 6, 2023

What is a Fully Accredited Personal Trainer Certification?

What is a Fully Accredited Personal Trainer Certification?
Brent Brookbush

Brent Brookbush


What is a Fully Accredited Personal Trainer Certification?

by Dr. Brent Brookbush DPT, PT, MS, CPT, HMS, IMT

Why should a Certified Personal Trainer (CPT) Certification be accredited?

Maybe you are comparing personal training certification programs to start your career. Or, maybe you already work in a sports club or gym as an exercise professional (e.g. group fitness instructor, Pilates Instructor, yoga instructor, CrossFit coach, fitness mentor, or personal training coordinator, etc.), and you are considering adding another certification to your resume. In either case, you are likely to see references to certifications with "accreditation", "national approval", an "accredited certification exam", "national registration", or reference to being "college-credit worthy." What these terms are referencing is adjudication by a 3rd party, but how does that affect you? You wanted to take a certification exam because of your love of fitness and exercise science, and now you are neck-deep in regulation, adjudication, peer-review, accreditation, approval, etc... yuck!

The increase in the number of certification programs with 3rd party approval or accreditation is part of a continued effort to set higher standards for education in sports medicine and exercise science. In particular, the fitness industry has made a larger effort to demonstrate that personal training and fitness professional education programs are progressing toward evidence-based practice. "Policing" the quality of educational materials, and ensuring that content is evidence-based, is the type of job that is accomplished via an accreditor or approval from a peer-review process. Unfortunately, to say that most "accreditation initiatives" related to CPT certifications are failing the fitness industry is a bit of an understatement. Most accreditations have resulted in little more than confusion, and maybe a little collusion. So, in this article, we discuss what "accreditation" and "3rd party approval" should mean.

The initiative to promote "accreditation" of CPT certifications should ensure minimum standards of education quality (including evidence-based practice). Accreditation should result in CPT certification providers completing 3rd party, systematic and objective peer-review by subject matter experts, under the supervision of a national council developed for competency assurance. The review should include all textbooks, videos, online course content, additional study aids, test preparation material, practice exams, final exams, and perhaps continuing education courses. Unfortunately, this is not the standard in the industry. While this is part of the stringent requirements necessary to pass learning review and approval by the American Council on Education (ACE) , it is not part of the most popular accreditation, the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) .

The Proud and Very Few:

As far as we know, there are only 2 personal training certifications in the industry that have been approved following a comprehensive, systematic review, by a panel of 3rd party, subject matter experts (peer-review), and whose learning objectives have been matched to the post-secondary education curriculum and/or professionals skills and competencies:

Three of the largest certification providers fall into a weird in-between category of being NCCA accredited (not peer-reviewed), and including content within their certification that has been peer-reviewed. That is, the personal training certification unto itself has not undergone comprehensive peer-review, but some of the included content has been peer-reviewed.

  • International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA): Curriculum Review by Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC)
  • American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM): Publication of a peer-reviewed scientific journal - Medicine, and Science in Sports and Exercise
  • National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA): Publication of a peer-reviewed scientific journal - The Strength and Conditioning Journal

Unfortunately, most of the largest certifying organizations are offering CPT certifications that have not undergone comprehensive peer-review. The following organizations should seriously consider replacing their questionable NCCA accreditation , with a quality assurance organization that includes comprehensive peer-review.

  • National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM)
  • American Council on Exercise (ACE)
  • Copper Institute (Recently merged with the American Council of Exercise)
  • National Exercise and Sports Trainers Association (NESTA)
  • National Federation of Personal Trainers (NFPT)
  • National Fitness Professionals Association (NFPA)

What do the following terms mean?

  • Accredited Certified Personal Trainer Certification
  • Nationally Accredited Personal Trainer Certification
  • 3rd Party Accredited Personal Trainer Certification
  • Fully Accredited Personal Trainer Certification
  • NCCA Accredited Personal Trainer Certification

It is likely best to separate these terms into their parts; defining "accreditation", adjectives for accreditation (3rd part, fully, nationally, etc,), and "personal trainer certification" separately.

Defining "Accreditation"

  • The act of certifying an educational institution or program as meeting all official formal requirements of academic excellence, facilities, curriculum, etc.; the status of being so certified (Dictionary.com ).
  • The action or process of officially recognizing someone as having a particular status or being qualified to perform a particular activity (Oxford University Press).
  • The independent, third-party evaluation of a conformity assessment body (such as certification body, inspection body, or laboratory) against recognized standards, conveying formal demonstration of its impartiality and competence to carry out specific conformity assessment tasks (such as certification, inspection, and testing). (Wikipedia via ILAC ).

Defining "Third Party," "National," and "Fully":

  • 3rd Party Accreditation (3rd Party Evaluation): An independent (3rd party) organization has reviewed the processes, systems, content, etc., and they have determined that the final product meets specific standards.
  • National Accreditation: Accreditation is widely recognized and respected across the nation. (Note, there are differences between the terms "regional accreditation" and "national accreditation" when referring to degree and college programs, but these terms do not relate to personal training certification).
    • Myth Busting - Internationally Accredited: We are often asked if our certification is "Internationally Accredited" or "Internationally Recognized"; and unfortunately, this is NOT possible. Although some regions have similar laws and regulations (USA and Canada, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, etc.), most countries do not. Relatively few countries offer reciprocity, with most expecting that a certification provider completes a complex, and often expensive, set of country-specific approval requirements.
  • Fully Accredited: Although the definitions range for this term, one definition may be interpreted as, the highest or most comprehensive level of accreditation granted as defined by a nationally recognized accrediting body.
  • NCCA Accreditation: Accreditation by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA). Likely the least comprehensive national accreditation available, and not accreditation that should be viewed with significant credibility for personal training certifications. A complete analysis of the NCCA Accreditation can be found here:

Defining Certified Personal Trainer (CPT) Certification

  • Certified Personal Trainer (CPT) Certification: A certificate provided following the successful completion of a set of educational content designed to develop competency as a personal trainer. However, "competency" is individually defined by each certification provider. Qualification standards for personal trainers vary between certification providers and between countries. In the United States, Canada, and many countries in the Middle East and Africa, certification is not mandatory to work as a personal trainer. Most often, what dictates the reputation of a certification is whether a certification is respected by employers (resulting in employment opportunities) and whether a certification is accepted by a liability insurance provider. In this way, certification quality is the result of pressure from employers (some employers only accept certifications that have been 3rd party accredited).
    • Myth Busting: Accreditation = Liability Insurance Coverage: It is a myth that a certification must attain 3rd party accreditation to be accepted by a liability insurance provider, in the USA and Canada. 3rd party accreditation does not automatically lead to acceptance by the liability insurance provider, and many insurance providers are satisfied with proof of any CPT certification (no accreditation required).

Professional holding Fully Accredited Certified Personal Training (CPT) Certification and Human Movement Specialist Certifications from the Brookbush Institute
Caption: Professional holding Fully Accredited Certified Personal Training (CPT) Certification and Human Movement Specialist Certifications from the Brookbush Institute

What People Think "FULLY" Accredited Means

The terms "third party" and "national" are self-explanatory, and agreed upon by most accreditors, certification providers, and professionals. That is, most of us agree that it may be beneficial for certifications to be reviewed by an unbiased external party of experts, and that accreditation should result in national acceptance. What is not agreed upon is what the term "fully" implies. We believe that most people think "fully accredited" means the entirety of the certification, including its educational content, has been reviewed by a panel of experts in the field. Unfortunately, that is not how the term is being used in the fitness industry, and in particular about "Accredited Certified Personal Trainer Certifications". To get a little more technical, most educators would likely agree that "fully accredited" should imply that a certification has passed an accreditation process by a professional accreditation institution that intended to perform the following duties during the review.

What "fully accredited" should mean:

  1. Advocate on behalf of the learner
  2. Ensure the learning objectives and curriculum are in alignment with post-secondary education or professional needs
  3. Ensure content accuracy, quality, and completeness (comprehensively covers relevant topics) via a review by a group of experts in the subject matter taught (3rd party objective peer-review)
  4. Ensure instructional design and delivery meets evidence-based teaching standards.
  5. Promote evaluation procedures (student assessments) that enhance learning, are matched to learning objectives, and assess successful completion of learning objectives.

The NCCA Does Not Meet Any of these Standards!

The National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) does not perform any of the duties described above; in fact, their application process opposes many of those duties. It is the opinion of the Brookbush Institute , and most education professionals, that the service the NCCA provides cannot be considered "Certification Accreditation". The only thing the NCCA certifies is the use of THEIR pre-constructed testing creation processes (a horrible process that purposefully separates educators from assessment creation). It is not even a review of a certification's current testing processes. Further, they do absolutely zero reviews of content, curriculum, education delivery, etc. It is 100% possible to create an NCCA accredited examination, to test knowledge of horrible content. How an organization that forces certifying bodies into a pre-designed testing process, and does nothing to adjudicate the quality of the certification itself, could be considered an accreditation of certification, is baffling. For a complete review of the NCCA Accreditation please check out:

The National Commission of Certifying Agencies (NCCA) is not an accreditor of Certified Personal Trainer (CPT) Certification, and needs to be pushed out of the industry
Caption: The National Commission of Certifying Agencies (NCCA) is not an accreditor of Certified Personal Trainer (CPT) Certification, and needs to be pushed out of the industry

There are Better Options

To be blunt, removing the expectation for 3rd party accreditation would be a better option than NCCA accreditation. The NCCA accreditation is undoubtedly making education worse on multiple fronts, slowing improvement processes, and adding exorbitant variable costs to certification provider expenses (which are passed on to students). Many approvals for continuing education credits do a far better job reviewing content, and these accreditations could be used as a sign of the relative quality of certification company content; for example, NATA-BOC approval, TPTA approval, AOTA approval, AusActive approval (for more details check out - We Think About Continuing Education Credit Approval (So you don't have to) ). However, some options meet the criteria discussed above for a comprehensive 3rd party, national accreditation provider, i.e. an organization that can award an organization the title "Fully Accredited Certified Personal Trainer (CPT) Certification".

American Council of Education, 3rd Party, National, Accreditor, only company offering Fully Accredited Certified Personal Training Certification approval.
Caption: American Council of Education, 3rd Party, National, Accreditor, only company offering Fully Accredited Certified Personal Training Certification approval.

American Council on Education (ACE)

The best option the Brookbush Institute has found to date is the American Council on Education (ACE) . For more than 40 years the American Council of Education has performed learning evaluations for corporations (including fortune 500 companies like Disney and Google), professional and volunteer associations, schools, training suppliers, labor unions, and government agencies (including the FAA and U.S. Department of Agriculture). Further, the Learning Evaluations (formerly CREDIT®) match workplace learning and corporate training programs to an accredited college and university credits, or skills and competencies relevant to their student's career goals. This results in the potential for certifications to count toward credits for accredited degrees and university programs, and the results of the review appear publicly in the ACE National Guide . See below for a synopsis of ACE accreditation requirements.

What it takes to be accredited by the ACE Learning Evaluation: The following is a summary of ACE documentation. We intend to present with more clarity and brevity, not to color or critique any information. The full document can be found here: ACE Criteria to Determine Eligibility

  • Reputable Business: The organization must demonstrate at least 2 years of enrolling learners and delivering courses. The course provider is easily identified as a properly licensed organization, fulfilling applicable legal requirements for doing business in respective jurisdictions, and is in good standing. The organizational profile, history, operations, payment performance, and public filings must indicate that the organization is responsible for its payment procedures, has the assets to repay debts or provide collateral (if necessary), and has the character and background to stand behind its business transactions.
  • Instructional and Training Development Personnel: Instructors, learning facilitators, curriculum developers, and training development staff (educators) must possess appropriate qualifications and experience in their field, as well as have knowledge and skills in teaching, learning, and instructional methods. Educators are directly involved in determining the learning program purpose and in planning, designing, developing, conducting, and evaluating each learning experience. The organization has stated policies for educators including methods for evaluating effectiveness (learner evaluations, syllabi, exam scores, etc.) and providing feedback for continued professional development.
  • Learning Outcomes and Evaluation Tools: Learning outcomes/objectives are clear, concise, measurable, and simply stated for potential enrollees. Examinations adequately measure the achievement of learning objectives. Examinations focus on the performance of the learner, and examination expectations (passing levels) are clearly articulated to students. Proper safeguards are in place for protecting examination materials.
  • Record Keeping: Learner records are accurate, confidential, and computer-generated transcripts, and other similar documents are protected by stringent data processing systems security. A systematic process is used to provide learners with accurate information about course participation, learning assessment results, and course/certification completion. There is a written policy regarding the retention and release of learner records, and the ability to make changes to learner records is limited to staff directly responsible for establishing and maintaining learner data. Additionally, educator and administrator records include résumés, curriculum vitae, certifications, and/or credentials.
  • Learning Environment: Resources are easily accessible and appropriately available, and the learning environment supports and enhances the attainment of necessary knowledge and skills. Further, the learner receives a complete learning experience that meets their needs, including opportunities for effective interaction with instructional and administrative staff.
  • Peer-review and Content Alignment:
    • The institution is expected to provide access to all learning materials, weeks in advance, for review by the ACE staff and expert peer-reviewers (generally, professors at universities offering a degree program in a related field).
    • Content is reviewed to ensure alignment with the organization's published/intended learning outcomes, alignment with postsecondary education programs, and alignment with the taxonomy of instructional program classifications published by the U.S. Department of Education. Content includes course syllabi, lesson plans, course materials, bibliographies, evaluations, etc.
    • Organizations are expected to present to peer-reviewers following an initial evaluation of content, and before the final stage of review (review week). The presentation is expected to cover the following:
      • Organization mission
      • Instructor introductions (including resume, experience, etc.)
      • Audience (Intended Students)
      • The intention of the Certification
      • Why the organization is seeking ACE accreditation
      • How credit recommendations align with organization's mission
      • Course development processes
      • Instructional design methodology
      • Test/assessment development processes
      • Student requirements for enrollment
      • Student access to materials
      • Student records and course completion verification
      • Course update processes/methodology
      • Feedback and evaluation systems
      • Instructor support, feedback, and improvement processes


The requirements necessary to attain American Council on Education (ACE)  accreditation is what we believe the fitness industry assumes "national, 3rd party (fully) accredited" implies. Unfortunately, the most popular accreditation for Certified Personal Trainer (CPT) Certifications, the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) , does not fulfill any of the profession's assumptions (needs) about accreditation. Industry adoption of ACE accreditation would be ideal; however, an alternative may be recognition of pre-approval to offer continuing education credits by select professional organizations. At the very least, removing all expectations for 3rd party accreditation would be a better option than continuing to support NCCA accreditation.

The Only Accredited Certified Personal Trainer Certifications (Just 2)

It is our expert opinion that only 2 personal training certifications in the industry can call themselves "Accredited Certified Personal Training (CPT) Certifications"; that is, there are only 2 certification providers who have been approved following a comprehensive, systematic review, by a panel of 3rd party, subject matter experts (peer-review).

The only fully accredited Certified Personal Training (CPT) Certifications are the Brookbush Institute (BI) and the World Instructor Training Schools (WITS)
Caption: The only fully accredited Certified Personal Training (CPT) Certifications are the Brookbush Institute (BI) and the World Instructor Training Schools (WITS)

The Brookbush Institute is Especially Proud of:

Quoted from the ACE Learning Evaluation Final Report following accreditation of our Certified Personal Trainer (CPT) Certification:

  • Reviewer Notes (These notes will not appear on the National Guide): The content, scope, and rigor of the certified personal trainer program align with three semester hours in the introduction to personal training at the lower-division (undergraduate college curriculum). All components of the program align with academic credit at the post-secondary level. The review team commends the exceptional course content, especially the instructional resources; videos are a valuable source, and the instruction is clear and engaging. The instructor’s examples and correlation to real-life settings are excellent. The review team notes that activities in the introduction to functional anatomy modules are particularly well-designed. The course content is comprehensive and of high quality, supported by research and evidence-based learning.

For Additional Resources on Certification and Accreditation:

© 2022 Brent Brookbush (B2C Fitness, LLC d.b.a. Brookbush Institute )

Comments, critiques, and questions are welcome!