You’ve made the wise decision to pursue a career in personal training. Fantastic!
Now, on to the next major decision. Which certification should I pursue, ACE or NASM?
I’ll detail some very important factors regarding ACE vs NASM, and by the end of this post you’ll be able to determine which CPT is right for you. It should also preface that I have a certification in both, so I can provide realistic views of which cert may be better for who.
Before you make a decision on your CPT, it pays to know a little bit about what makes each organization unique.
The American Council on Exercise (ACE) was founded in 1985 under the name IDEA Foundation, with the goal of becoming one of the first major fitness education bodies with national credibility. ACE places a strong commitment to create global impact and “facilitate partnerships with policymakers, fitness industry leaders, community organizations and the Healthcare Industry.”
The National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), the younger of the two at its 30th year, is a global leader in fitness certifications with recognition all over the world. They focus their health and fitness solutions on evidence and research that they use to craft their training and knowledge programs. NASM boasts that their certifications “require the most comprehensive knowledge of human movement science, functional anatomy, physiology and kinesiology, as well as functional assessment and program design.”
Both organizations are NCCA-certified, the gold standard for fitness certifications.
We did some research into the cost of the cheapest study package and test. Here’s what we found:
ACE is the cheaper of the two CPTs, coming in at $599*. Their most basic package includes:
NASM comes in at $799 and is the most expensive of all CPTs that we evaluated in our initial best personal trainer certification analysis. This cost includes:
*Note: these prices are subject to change and sale prices may reflect different numbers.
Both ACE and NASM are known for having somewhat difficult exams that require extensive study, as well as knowledge, on challenging topics such as anatomy, physiology and biomechanics. While there are tests with significantly higher pass rates in the industry (ISSA’s pass rate is 89.9%), these certification bodies ensure you obtain the knowledge necessary to become a stellar trainer.
The focus of education:
NASM Exam Pass Rate: 64.3%
ACE Exam Pass Rate: 65%
NASM has the fewest test questions in the industry as a whole, whereas ACE has amongst the most. If you are the type of test taker who’s mind goes blank due to testing anxiety, you may want to consider a shorter test.
Below: Number of test questions / total test time / minimum passing score
NASM: 120 questions / 120 minutes/ 70% or higher is passing
ACE: 150 questions / 180 minutes / 62.5% or higher is passing. 800 points available based on scaled questions 500 points needed to pass
Maintaining your certification via continuing education is required by both ACE and NASM as well as all other personal trainer certification bodies. The more CEU hours you need to get within a certification period, the more time and money you have to spend.
Fortunately, both ACE and NASM have similar recertification requirements as well as similar costs.
NASM: 20 hours of CEUs and $99 to recertify every 2 years
ACE: 20 hours of CEUs and $129 to recertify every 2 years
This factor is based on the number of trainers with a given certification, something to consider if you are looking for evidence as to what other trainers are doing in the industry.
Unfortunately, when we called NASM they said they don’t publish numbers on how many trainers have earned their CPT. They did, however, mention that they have twice as many as their competitors combined. We do have data on ACE that showcases they have about 45,000 trainers certified.
Without throwing out some unverifiable number, let’s just say NASM has 50,000 trainers with their CPT.
How much will I make as an ACE trainer? How much will I make as a NASM trainer?
These are common answers that I get that I have an answer for! While ACE and NASM don’t publish this information I was able to extrapolate it from self-reported data on reputable websites such as payscale.com. These incomes are averages of 30+ different people holding the same certification currently working as fitness professionals.
To me, this consideration may outweigh some of the others — study materials cost, pass rate, CEUs, etc. — because an upfront investment can pay dividends down the road.
Unsurprisingly, NASM and ACE are at the top tiers of average incomes for personal trainers.
NASM average income: $41,598
ACE average income: $41,546
It should be noted that the mere acquisition of a NASM or ACE CPT doesn’t mean you’ll make $41k, nor does it mean you’ll be limited by that income amount. Your success as a personal trainer is dependent on a lot of other factors including your business acumen, how you market yourself as a trainer, and other factors like geography and approach.
Now you have some objective (and subjective) data for which to make a decision about moving forward with an ACE or NASM CPT. Based on the above data, NASM gets a slight nod based on the popularity of the certification. However, this factor can be considered subjective, and is unlikely to affect your ability to get a job or train.
That said, these certifications are both fairly even in the areas of exam difficulty, CEU requirements, and average income.
The bottom line is that you need to identify which factors are the most important to you and determine how the career path you want to follow necessitates one CPT over the other.
When considering either certification it is first important that you check with the employer you’d like to work for to ensure they accept one or both of the certifications, as that can provide the direction you need.
As stated above, both certifications are nationally accredited which will get your foot in the door almost anywhere. What truly matters is what elements from above have the biggest impact on you? Cost, test-length, income, popularity/reputation? They both require abundant study time and are difficult to pass. (If it’s grasping the material is a concern we have you covered as we provide the best study tools to help you easily pass either test and become a successful personal trainer.)
My final thought would be that NASM provides an easier to use programming model (the OPT Model) that is great for new trainers, while ACE focuses their education on working to assist clients in optimizing their behaviors. If you feel you would struggle with the coaching of clients and want to improve in that area, go with ACE. If you feel you want to have more knowledge of how to design an effective workout program, go with NASM. For more information on how to become a personal trainer, check out our post on that topic.
Feel free to give us a call and we can always help point you in the right direction (424) 675-0476.
Share this blog post!