If you have stumbled upon this article I assume you are debating in your head “ACE vs NASM” or “NASM vs ACE”. If you are thinking of getting into personal training as a career or side job in the United States (US), or any country really, you need to get certified.
The two most common certifying organizations in my experience are the American Council on Exercise (ACE) and the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM). These are widely accepted by most gyms and fitness facilities across the country and even abroad.
You have probably seen a lot of talk about getting ACE or NASM certified. I am going to over my thoughts about each certification and individual experiences studying for both.
ACE vs NASM? NASM vs ACE?
ACE boasts about 75,000 fitness and health professionals on it's website. To my understanding that would make ACE the most popular personal training certification, they have other certifications as well, in the United States.
The reason for this is that many gyms and fitness clubs support ACE education. ACE is also less expensive compared to NASM. Currently you can purchase the ACE Pro Advantage plan for $799 which includes everything in addition to the books and a retest voucher.
NASM is more expensive in that you need to buy the $1,000+ Guided Study program to receive a hard copy textbook. The less expensive plans do not include a textbook. Pricing for ACE and NASM study courses vary all the time though. I would keep an eye out for when they drop or have deals. NASM and ACE often offer payment plans for the courses, which I would take advantage of.
The difference with ACE materials is that it goes over a lot of behavioral psychology and motivational techniques. NASM focuses just on the exercise science.
In my opinion the ACE material feels a little bloated because of the psychology. All this is good to know as a trainer and something that may not come naturally to some new trainers.
However I feel when you are going to get certified are you doing so for the exercise science part of it. You should continue to learn on your own what will help you as a trainer.
The ACE Personal Trainer Manual, the textbook you read for the exam, is a bit hard to read. The book does a bad job of pointing out what is and is not on the CPT (certified personal trainer) test. Granted I have pointed out to many aspiring personal trainers that ACE provides an Exam Outline which is extremely useful. If you have the ACE Personal Trainer Manual the exam outline is provided in the back of the book. I recommend you follow it when studying since it tells you what could be on the test.
I say could be since the ACE, or NASM, has a bank of questions. It will randomly scoop up a batch and present you with these. Make sure to study.
The ACE book will often present a new term without giving an explanation. Sometimes the explanations are not clear. It also likes to bury certain terms and concepts that you should know and focus on. Personally I don't think is a conducive way to learn or write a book. The goal shouldn't be to trick new trainers but to provide knowledgeable trainers in the field for community.
You've heard my negative thoughts about ACE, but I would still recommend it. Why? It is an easier test compared to NASM and likely will take most people less time to get certified.
When I initially did my first round of test questions for ACE, I got a surprisingly number right without doing any studying. You will still have to study but if you already have a good base of fitness knowledge ACE shouldn't be too hard for you.
Also if you do not pass your ACE exam, they give you the score and the areas you did not do well. This is helpful for those that need to brush up on certain areas to retake the ACE personal trainer exam.
If you are on a time crunch to get certified and money is a concern, ACE is an ideal option for you. I would follow the ACE Exam Outline so you are not overwhelmed.
NASM is considered the harder of the two certifications by most fitness professionals in the field. You will typically find people that went to college and studied Exercise Science got NASM certification.
There isn't any fluff material in the NASM Essentials of Personal Training textbook. It is well written and laid out compared to the ACE textbook.
NASM presents topics clearly and it goes over in an easy-to-follow manner. I personally had a much easier time reading and understanding the material in the NASM textbook. This is from someone who didn't have a background or go to school for exercise science.
Also I feel what is presented in the NASM textbook better prepares you to be a personal trainer. The NASM Optimum Performance Trainer (OPT) model is superior to the ACE Integrated Fitness Training (IFT) model. Again the OPT model is better explained and laid out compared to the ACE-IFT model.
Granted the material NASM gives you is better and easier to understand but the test is harder compared to ACE. Just practicing questions will not make you pass the NASM personal trainer exam. You really need to understand the material on a deep level.
Speaking of that one annoying thing about NASM is that you only get a – PASS or a FAIL score. This doesn't really help you if you didn't do well on the test to just get a FAIL. The thing I really like about ACE it actually gives you a numeric score so you know how well you did. In addition it will give percentages in the different areas.
They tend to change around the questions and word it differently. It can be a tricky test and it is something you should devote time to understanding. With the NASM Essentials of Personal Training textbook you should be able to learn.
NASM has one HUGE advantage over ACE, which is Recertify for Life. This is a program where you pay once and you are NASM-CPT for the rest of your life. You just need to keep a current CPR-AED certification in addition to continuing education credits (CEU).
ACE has no Recertify for Life program meaning you have to pay $129 every two years to renew your ACE-CPT. If you do no NASM's Recertify for Life you will have to pay $99 every two years.
The upfront cost for NASM is much higher compared to ACE. However if you do Recertify for Life and you stick with fitness as a career, you will save money in the long run.
NASM is well respected by other fitness professionals due to it being harder and more focused on science.
Other Fitness Certifications
What about other certifying organizations? Sure there are other great certifications to get.
One that comes to the top of my mind is The National Strength and Condition Association (NSCA) which has the most respected certification in the fitness community with the Certified Strength and Condition Specialist (CSCS). The CSCS is ideal if you want to teach at the college or high school level and is required for most positions.
The CSCS test is extremely hard. It is considered the hardest certification to get.
If you are going to be doing personal training though getting a CSCS, would be good, but probably isn't necessary. Also what certifications you get is largely dependent on what you want to do with your fitness career. I recommend you decide this for yourself.
Final Thoughts on ACE vs NASM or NASM vs ACE
Do you want a reality check? No client has ever asked me, “What certification do you have? ACE? NASM? CSCS?” You can ask other professional personal trainers, they will tell you the same thing.
Clients typically don't know the difference between fitness certifications and do not care. The people that will ask, other personal trainers and fitness professionals.
I've met personal trainers that are ACE certified and NASM certified that are fantastic. The most important thing to is to always keep learning after you get either certification. Be humble about what you do not know and want to learn. You will be a fantastic personal trainer if you have the mindset and attitude about it.
ACE does do a better job with ongoing education and providing webinars. NASM is a bit behind in this area but I still believe the winner between the two is NASM.
Just an FYI you will need to have a valid and updated CPR/AED certification before sitting for the ACE or NASM exams. This is a requirement and your CPR/AED certification must be done in person. I did my CPR/AED certification through the Red Cross. The two most common organizations that offer CPR/AED certification are the Red Cross and American Heart Association.
Have any thoughts about ACE vs NASM? What certification do you have or did you decide to go with? What experience did you have taking either the ACE or NASM personal trainer exam?