What Do All Those Letters Mean?

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fitness certificationsWhen it comes to fitness there are lots of different certifications out there and it can be very confusing as to what they mean.

Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology (CSEP)

CSEP is the gold standard of fitness certifications in Canada. They offer two levels of certification:

  • Certified Personal Trainer (CPT): requires minimum 2 years of undergraduate or college education in kinesiology or a related field. CPTs are able to work with clients that are apparently healthy with no chronic conditions.
  • Certified Exercise Physiologist (CEP): requires minimum 4 years of undergraduate education in kinesiology or a related field. CEPs are able to use a wider range of fitness testing protocols than CPTs and can work with chronic conditions (cancer, diabetes, neuromuscular conditions, etc.).

American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM)

ACSM is the American equivalent of CSEP. They offer multiple levels of certification but the most common ones you’ll probably see are:

  • Certified Personal Trainer (CPT): this certification requires a high school diploma. It is similar to the CSEP-CPT certification.
  • Certified Exercise Physiologist (CEP): this certification requires a 4 year undergraduate degree in kinesiology or a related field. It is similar to the CSEP-CEP certification.

For more information, visit ACSM’s website.

National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA)

The NSCA is an American organization that offers a few different certifications, however you will most likely see Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialists (CSCS) or Certified Personal Trainer (CPT). These professionals are required to have a bachelor’s degree but it does not have to be in the field of kinesiology. Visit the NSCA’s website for more information about CSCS and their other certifications.

National Coaching Certification Program (NCCP)

NCCP is offered by the Coaching Association of Canada. If you have coached sports in Canada, you have likely undergone some of their modules. They also offer certifications in Weight Lifting and Olympic Lifting. If you are interested in learning these more technical skills, look for a coach certified by NCCP.

Alberta Fitness Leadership Certification Association (AFLCA)

AFLCA is part of the National Fitness Leadership Alliance – each province has a similar certification with a different name. This certification is for group fitness instructors. Candidates are required to pass a basic module and then additional modules to specialize (ie. Aquatic exercise, older adult, spin).

What will it look like?

Most trainers will include their certifications in their email signature, on their business cards, etc. It will usually tell you both the certifying body and what level of certification they have. For example, a Certified Exercise Physiologist from the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology will appear as CSEP-CEP. A personal trainer that is certified by the American College of Sports Medicine will write ACSM-CPT.


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