When it comes to personal trainer certifying agencies, there are few with the heritage and popularity of ACE and NASM.
These two are unequivocally the biggest boys in the room when it comes to fitness institutions.
They are often neck-in-neck when it comes to stats and success scores.
They have the biggest reputations in the game and are the most sought after by trainers and employers alike.
But let’s not dwell too much on words, let’s look at the stats so we can get a better picture.
In this article, we’ll be doing a head-to-head comparison of ACE and NASM, helping you figure out which one is for you, and setting the debate to rest once and for all!
But before we begin, we just need to make it clear that all mentions of the respective certifying agencies is in direct reference to their CPT certifications.
Important to point out since they do offer various different specializations.
So with that said, let’s jump in!
Before we even begin to take a look under the hoods of these cert agencies, it’s important to observe one special consideration.
This aspect is probably the first and foremost thing you should look at when picking a cert to qualify in, and that’s accreditation.
Accreditation is a seal of authenticity issued by one or several expert panels of governing bodies in charge of licensing an institution or business in a specific field.
In the case of health and fitness certifying agencies such as NASM and ACE, accreditation works to legitimize the quality and methodology of educational services provided.
This is provided by the NCCA or National Commission of Certifying Agencies.
In fact, pretty much all the major certifications you will encounter in our reviews and insights are accredited by the NCCA.
It is the gold standard, the seal of authenticity we all know and trust.
In this category, ACE and NASM both hit the same mark.
Cost of Study Packages
The cost will always be a factor when you come to deciding which certification to go for and which certifying agency to approach.
When it comes to this aspect, both ACE and NASM find themselves in similar positions, but this time not in the most ideal way.
You see, ACE and NASM are, at least on face value, two of the most pricey options you can look at.
We say face value because while the price is relatively high, it’s also totally worth it.
Both certs have a multi-package offering. Each package is tiered based on what study support materials you get and is therefore priced accordingly.
ACE has 3 standard tiers, while NASM has 4.
|Package Tier||Cost (ACE)||Cost (NASM)|
|1||Basic ($849)||Self Study ($799)|
|2||Plus ($999)||Self Study Premium ($1099)|
|3||Advantage ($1499)||Guided Study ($1124)|
As you can see, NASM barely comes out as the more expensive option.
The total average for NASM cert packages is $1140.25 while ace averages out at $1115.70.
So purely on price competitiveness, ACE comes out on top. NASM wins one back through variety and having the cheaper tier 1 package.
However, how much something costs needs to match up with its value.
For this, we’ll have to take a deeper look at the actual study materials to learn which cert is really worth it.
Quality of Study Materials
When it comes to studying material quality, both certs certainly have great offerings.
Both come with the standard offerings you would expect.
The tier 1 packages of both certs sport the course textbook, a few options for practice tests and quizzes, access to the final exam, and a couple of supplementary materials.
ACE being slightly cheaper and having similar materials wins the tier 1 battle.
However, things take a turn with the final tier. While ACE is definitely packing a lot with the ‘Advantage’ package. The NASM All-inclusive package has more to offer.
Let’s take a look at what each cert presents to get a better idea.
|ACE University||ACE University||ACE University|
|ACE Certification Exam||ACE Certification Exam||ACE Certification Exam|
|ACE Practice Test (1)||ACE Practice Test (2)||ACE Practice Test (4)|
|ACE Personal Trainer Textbook||ACE Personal Trainer Textbook||ACE Personal Trainer Textbook|
|ACE Personal Trainer Study Companion||ACE Personal Trainer Study Companion||ACE Personal Trainer Study Companion|
|ACE Answers (Basic)||ACE Answers (Plus)||ACE Answers (Advantage)|
|Exercise Science 101||Exercise Science 101|
|Dedicated Advantage Team|
|Self-study||Self-study Premium||Guided Study||All-Inclusive|
|100% Online Course||100% Online Course||100% Online Course||100% Online Course|
|NCCA Accredited Exam||NCCA Accredited Exam||NCCA Accredited Exam||NCCA Accredited Exam|
|NASM-CPT Digital Textbook||NASM-CPT Digital Textbook||NASM-CPT Digital Textbook||NASM-CPT Digital Textbook|
|Content Learning Videos||Content Learning Videos||Content Learning Videos||Content Learning Videos|
|Exercise Video Library||Exercise Video Library||Exercise Video Library||Exercise Video Library|
|Practice Exams & Quizzes||Practice Exams & Quizzes||Practice Exams & Quizzes||Practice Exams & Quizzes|
|Exercise Coaching Demonstrations||Exercise Coaching Demonstrations||Exercise Coaching Demonstrations|
|Job Guarantee||Job Guarantee||Job Guarantee|
|One-year NASM EDGE Trainer Plus||One-year NASM EDGE Trainer Plus||One-year NASM EDGE Trainer Plus|
|10-Week, Instructor-Led Course (Optional/Flexible)||10-Week, Instructor-Led Course (Optional/Flexible)|
|Certification Exam Retest||Certification Exam Retest|
|NASM-CPT Hardcopy Textbook||NASM-CPT Hardcopy Textbook|
|Access to Fitness Experts||Access to Fitness Experts|
|Business Accelerator||Business Accelerator|
|NASM EDGE CPT Exam Prep|
|NASM EDGE CPT Exam Prep|
|Recertify for Life|
From both of these tables, we can see how ACE and NASM study materials break down.
One thing that stuck out when it came to NASM was the sheer volume of resources, especially in the upper-tier packages.
ACE has great offerings too, but a bit less in terms of variety.
Personal training is a career, a business, an enterprise, and that’s why we really like the inclusion of the Business Accelerator in the top two tiers of the NASM packages, another bonus.
Once all is said and done, we give both ACE and NASM a score of 7/10 each.
While NASM has quite a deep variety of study support materials, ACE isn’t far behind and certainly clinches the best price title.
Exam Layout and Passing Grade
The next important thing to look at is the actual exam you will be taking.
Is it well structured and comprehensive?
Is it going to help you solidify the skills and knowledge you’ve gained or is it just a regurgitation of memorized facts?
The NASM exam is 120 multiple choice questions deep. You will be required to complete these within two hours.
The exam was originally administered only through a registered PSI facility, but can now be taken online via remote live proctoring.
You’ll need a minimum score of 70% to pass.
In order to do that, you will want to learn the areas of focus so you can manage your study time and resources efficiently.
Let’s look at how the exam content is broken down:
|NASM Exam Breakdown|
|Weight in Exam||Section|
|10%||Professional Development and Responsibility|
|12%||Client Relations and Behavioral Coaching|
|17%||Basic and Applied Sciences and Nutritional Concepts|
|22%||Exercise Technique and Training Instruction|
From this table, you can tell that the most crucial concepts to grasp are Exercise Technique and Training Instruction Program Design and Assessment.
We feel this is very appropriate since those three areas form the bulk of practical engagement for most PTs in the business.
Now let’s look at what ACE brings to the table with its exam.
The ACE final exam is 150 questions long and runs for 3 hours.
Just like NASM, ACE’s examinations are conducted in approved PSI testing facilities, but there’s now the option to take a remote exam with live invigilation.
This is done through your computer’s laptop, allowing for a similar degree of in-exam monitoring as you’d expect from a real-world test scenario.
The exam itself is spread across four domains of focus. Each of these is weighted differently in the exam, so let’s look at how it all breaks down.
|ACE Exam Breakdown|
|Weight in exam||Section|
|Professional Conduct, Safety and Risk Management||20|
|Interviews and Assessments||23|
|Program Modification and Progression||26|
|Program Design and Implementation||31|
As you can see, the focus of the ACE CPT exam is very much in the realm of programming and program implementation.
Everything you will be tested on focuses on the actual practice of personal training.
While the course in its entirety encompasses all relevant fundamentals of health and fitness from an academic standpoint, the exam is simply designed to make you an effective health coach.
This is a great approach and allows you to focus your study prep on practical skills rather than memorizing scientific facts like anatomy or biological pathways.
The layout of both the ACE and NASM exams are great and provide a challenge in relevant areas of professional fitness.
Exam Difficulty and Pass Rate
With the actual structure of the exams out of the way, let’s look at how hard they actually are.
This is yet another statistic that sees ACE and NASM coming close on face value.
NASM has a pass rate of 64.3% while ACE has one of 65%.
Pretty much the same right?
Wrong! In actual fact, the ACE exam turns out to be harder despite having a slightly higher pass rate, and here’s why.
The passing grade for NASM and ACE are vastly different from each other. That means the exam with a lower passing requirement, yet still has the same passing rate, is the harder exam.
Simply put, having a lower barrier of success, yet still having the same success rate makes achieving that success overall harder.
That’s the case with ACE because while NASM has a 70% pass mark minimum, ACE is set at 62.5%.
This can only mean ACE has a harder exam when looked at with all variables at play.
Also remember, ACE is a longer exam. 150 questions compared to NASM’s 120. Having a longer exam probably ups the difficulty somewhat as well.
So in conclusion, NASM is the clear winner of the exam battle in our estimation, but of course, you might hold the perspective that a more challenging exam exhibits greater quality assurance in qualifying as a trainer.
Both exams offer a reasonable degree of challenge, so prepare adequately. We offer some second to none additional study solutions that go beyond what comes in the box with both ACE and NASM.
At Trainer Academy, We’ve developed an extensive suite of study materials designed by experts who’ve taken the exams and passed.
Should you happen to fail your final exam, fear not, there’s usually an opportunity to try again soon after.
Both ACE and NASM have a retest policy for candidates who fail their first or and subsequent exams.
The opportunity to retake your failed exam comes at an additional cost of course.
Let’s take a look:
As you can see, both ACE and NASM have the same retake fee.
Be wary of exam retakes. If you’re not adequately prepared, you may end up spending more on just the retakes than you did on simply buying the certification package.
The popularity of both ACE and NASM places them as the top two certifications of all the NCCA gold standard certs we promote.
We’re going to look at two statistics in order to gain a clear picture of the popularity of these certs.
First, let’s look at enrolment figures.
Enrollment is an average of the annual number of people who buy each cert. It doesn’t show how many actually pass and qualify, we’ve already gone through that with the pass rates.
From this data, it seems NASM is miles ahead of ACE in terms of enrolment figures, a clear winner!
Another metric we can observe is searching for data. This figure shows which cert is statistically more sought after based on what people type into their internet search.
As you can see, both NASM and ACE are dead even when it comes to daily search queries.
So if more people are actively enrolling in NASM than ACE, yet the same amount of people are curious and interested in either, what could be the reason?
Our theory is that it all boils down to marketing strategy.
NASM has a more active and far-reaching marketing strategy it would seem.
NASM’s advertising machine extends as far as television commercials and also includes some affiliate and influencer marketing.
ACE and many others take a more conservative approach to advertising their educational services. They rely more on one industry reputation and affiliation with academic and professional organizations in the field.
This could mean NASM has a significantly larger marketing budget, explaining why it is statistically the most expensive cert overall.
Expected Study Time
Expected study time is subject to the test taker and their circumstances.
If you are someone with a fairly relaxed schedule, and an abundance of what some would call free time, there’s no reason why it should take you more than 3 months from enrollment to take and pass either ACE or NASM.
If however, you have pre-existing commitments such as a full-time job, management of a household, or other academic commitments you would want to manage your time more effectively.
Ultimately, you need to beat the enrollment window.
The enrollment window is the period of time from when you buy your cert up until the test deadline.
This is the time in which you are permitted to get certified, failure of which will mean forfeiting the opportunity or paying for re-enrollment.
Let’s look at the enrollment periods for each, shall we?
So there you have it, ACE will permit you to qualify within 9 months, while NASM will allow only 6 months.
This means ACE gets the win on this one.
If you are a busy body and need help managing your study time, you’re at the right place.
Trainer Academy actually specializes in providing structured, guided study timetables with our study blueprint and cram guide that comes packages with most of our premium study materials.
Now here’s an exciting stat, one that many of you reading this will have been waiting for.
“How much can I make as a personal trainer” is a question we get a lot. The truth is, it all depends on you.
There are way too many variables to be able to conclusively determine a fixed figure.
We did however manage to gain some sample data on what the average earnings are for both ACE and NASM cert holders. Let’s break it down:
Again we have a result where both ACE and NASM are statistically the top two and also very close.
But just like many other instances, NASM edges out ACE, albeit by an almost insignificant amount.
PT average income, especially where it concerns what cert a trainer holds, hinges on many variables.
With ACE and NASM, the industry reputation of these certs certainly gives their holder’s hiring and career privileges.
That means trainers with either cert have a more rewarding job hunting experience and can get towards a comfortable income sooner than others.
We can also look at the cost of both ACE and NASM as a factor that influences the income potential of cert holders.
Being that they are the two most expensive certifications means that they will likely have a higher percentage of candidates that sit higher on the socioeconomic scale.
Candidates in a higher income category, to begin with, will probably have the support and resources available to leverage into accelerated career growth and business development.
This will end up boosting income potential and raise the overall stats in that regard.
Primary Focus Of Certification
One thing you’ll find interesting about the different certifications out there is that all of them have their own unique take on what they consider an important issue or area of focus.
While all are aimed at equipping passionate candidates with the skills to be able to train individuals from a range of population groups, each has its signature.
ACE is primarily driven towards public health awareness through change psychology and behavioral modification.
That is to say, ACE takes up the mantle as a cert that equips trainers to be able to change the habits of their clients, starting with remapping attitudes before reforging the body.
This is implemented through ACE’s IFT model or Integrated Fitness Training.
This is a program design model where the client is given some reign over its development.
By factoring in or integrating the client’s goals and current setbacks, a more personal approach aimed at changing behavior is developed.
This allows you as a trainer not only to guide clients through individualized progress, but also allows you to maintain safety and assurance through it all.
Next, we have NASM and their approach to fitness.
NASM leans towards corrective exercise and performance enhancement.
But what exactly is meant by corrective exercise?
Simply put, it’s a bunch of exercise methodologies and protocols aimed at improving weaknesses, imbalances, and deviations.
Corrective exercise might mean balancing antagonistic muscle pairs, realigning spinal deviations, post-recovery rehab, or pre-performance prehab.
This is done through the OPT model, short for Optimal Performance Training.
The premise is to build a stable biomechanical foundation that will make it easier for clients to achieve any common fitness goal.
The OPT model starts off with stabilization. This is one of the most fundamental areas of physical fitness, second probably to having decent cardio.
Being able to balance and stabilize are essential for human movement.
Next up is strong, having the ability to move and object in your environment effectively.
Last in the OPT model is power. Power is determined by how much strength you can exert in a given amount of time. The more strength in as little time as possible, the more overall power.
Power helps you respond to physically stressful situations with more control and speed.
Ultimately, what NASM and the OPT model aim to do is to equip people with the ability to take control of their bodies and enjoy a longer, more productive life by doing so.
At the end of it all, we can see that both ACE and NASM are aiming toward improving the health and wellbeing of the average person.
ACE takes a more general approach with regards to public health behaviors while NASM is more systemic with regards to the pillars of fitness.
When you certify through a trusted certifying agency such as ACE or NASM, you will eventually need to renew your certification in order to keep your qualifications relevant.
This is done in order to keep up with industry and research trends since our understanding of health and fitness sciences and practices are constantly evolving.
Recertification is typically necessary every two years with a few exceptions.
ACE and NASM are not exceptions, and you will need to recertify once every two years from your initial certification.
This requires you to pay a fee and submit CEUs, or continuing education units.
These time-measured academic credits allow you to qualify for recertification by proving that you have remained active and engaged in your career as a trainer.
Let’s look at the cost and CEU break down for both ACE and NASM.
|Certification||CEU Requirements (hours)||Recertification Fee|
From this, we can see that NASM has the better recertification policy, requiring a lower recertification fee.
Both ACE and NASM have the same CEU requirements.
Certification Take Away
This was definitely a tough review.
ACE and NASM are the top two certifications in the US by stats and popularity.
In any case, we will give NASM the overall win. It scores higher statistically than ACE, but only just.
With that said, your choice will hinge on individual preferences and circumstances.