Welcome to the most in-depth ACE CPT review on the internet.
Upon reading this certification review, you will know all the ins-and-outs of the ACE certified personal trainer certification and will be ready to decide if becoming an ACE personal trainer is the right choice for your career.
I break down in detail the following aspects of the ACE CPT:
Make sure to take the quiz to get a good idea of which certification is right for you.
Let’s dive in!
Quick breakdown: ACE CPT Certification
ACE General Information
- Exam cost: $199.00
- Study material cost: $509.00 – $899.00
- Prerequisites: CPR/AED, High School Diploma
- Exam passing score: Scaled 550/800 – 90/125 Scored Questions
- Exam pass rate: 70% (2019 data)
- Average completion time: 3 to 5 months
- Includes complete skillset to train healthy general fitness clients
- ACE IFT® Model is an excellent framework for resistance and aerobic training
- Mover Model® helpful for behavior change
- Insufficient corrective exercise coverage
- No discussion of personal trainer sales skills
- Complete curriculum study preparation
- Audio guide, flashcards, and mnemonics
- 800+ practice questions
- Highest exam pass rate
- Exam pass refund guarantee
- Cheaper pricing than ACE materials
- Curriculum study preparation
- Video and written curriculum included
- Textbook purchased seperately
- 200+ practice questions
- No exam pass refund guarantee
- $899.00 for starter package
- Curriculum material overview
- Complete chapter breakdowns
- 60 practice questions
- 130 flashcards and cheat sheet
- Free from PTPioneer
ACE CPT Review Video
ACE Review: General Information
If you are seeking personal training certification based on popularity, the ACE fitness CPT is it.
In this section, you’ll learn how ACE personal trainer certification came into being and its purpose.
Stay with me.
The ACE is certainly near the top of our list of best personal trainer certifications.
Before deep-diving into the ACE CPT content, I’ll briefly touch on the ACE organization.
So, what is ACE?
The American Council on Exercise, also known as ACE, is a leading nonprofit exercise professional and health coach certification organization.
The ACE mission is simple: get people moving.
To meet this mission, ACE offers a range of NCCA accredited certifications in a range of health and fitness industry professions.
Note that the NCCA stands for the National Commission for Certifying Agencies and is the premier certifying agency for personal fitness trainer certifications.
For a deeper look at the top certifying agencies in the fitness industry, take a peek at my article breaking down the best personal training certifications.
ACE certification program board certs include:
- ACE Group Fitness Instructor
- Health Coach Certification
- Medical Exercise Specialist
From commercial gyms to local studios, ACE is known as a top-tier certification.
Collectively, this level of certification makes all of these CPTs rank among the best online personal trainer certifications as well.
Compared to trainers with non-accredited certifications, ACE certified trainers earn a much higher personal trainer salary compared to their non-certified peers.
If you need some additional assistance choosing which personal trainer certification is right for you, I recommend taking my quiz below to get started.
Overall, the ACE personal training certification will give you the skills needed to be a successful personal trainer using the ACE training model.
If you are interested in premium third party study materials, I highly recommend the Trainer Academy ACE CPT Study Packages, which include ACE flashcards, an audio study guide, and an exam pass guarantee in addition to their renowned digital study guide.
Third-party study guides tend to reduce how long it takes to become a personal trainer and remove the stress of wasting money on study materials just to fail the exam.
To check the latest pricing on materials directly from the ACE organization, you should check their latest deals on the ACE website.
You can also check out my free ACE CPT Study Guide right here on PTPioneer.
ACE CPT Content Coverage: the Good and the Bad
The ACE CPT curriculum covers a range of basic skill sets you will need as a personal trainer.
In this next section, you will learn about how well the ACE CPT teaches you the major knowledge and skills needed to be a personal trainer.
Personal Training Defined: The ACE CPT Role and Scope of Practice
As with many CPT content, ACE begins with the state of public health and some of the broad trends in the health and fitness space such as the rise of obesity and other lifestyle-related diseases.
Following public health, the ACE CPT dives into the personal training scope of practice. This is key for any certified trainer to understand.
ACE does a great job defining and explaining the ‘Healthcare Continuum,’ a very useful model for discussing how each type of health professional fits into the overall scheme of a client’s health and medical treatment.
Without attention to the scope of practice, it’s easy to start answering the question based on what you may know, despite it being the domain of another professional.
Luckily, the Healthcare Continuum that ACE discusses makes it easy and straightforward to recommend the appropriate professional when a client presents you with something beyond the scope of practice.
The ACE IFT® And Mover Method®: A Great Framework For Personal Training
Technique instruction and basic programming skills are great, but there is another deeper skill set you must master to truly become an excellent personal trainer.
What is it, you ask?
Successful long-term workout programming requires you to plan multiple phases of training based on your individual client’s goals and needs.
For example, it’s fairly straightforward to put together a 12-week muscle-building program for a generic client – in fact, you can probably find a free one in 30 seconds of searching online.
But what about a client in their 40s who wants to build muscle, but also needs corrective programming to address muscular imbalances before doing any major lifting.
Additionally, the client needs aerobic exercise as well due to a history of high blood pressure.
Finally, the client has psychological barriers that prevent them from exercising as well as external barriers such as childcare and career demands that you must help them think through to ensure exercise adherence.
Suddenly, the 12-week muscle program isn’t so simple.
Enter the ACE IFT ® and Mover Method ®
The ACE IFT ® stands for Integrated Fitness Training and is a comprehensive exercise program framework for both aerobic and resistance training programs.
The Mover Method ® is a separate framework for coaching clients through behavioral change starting with the initial consultation and culminating in long-term exercise adherence.
ACE also introduces “contemporary training parameters,” which replace the traditional, generic parameters such as cardiorespiratory fitness, muscular endurance, muscular strength, and flexibility with more specific and scientifically beneficial goals.
Why is this an excellent paradigm shift for fitness?
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In a nutshell, it allows you as the trainer a much broader array of programming goals and possibilities, making it much easier to develop client-centered programming approaches.
The overall IFT model is as follows:
Cardiorespiratory Integrated Fitness Training
- Base Training
- Fitness Training
- Performance Training
IFT Muscular Training
- Functional Training
- Movement Training
- Load/Speed Training
Each IFT® phase has its own specific training protocols.
Finally, the Mover Method ® is a framework for coaching clients through the psychological and behavior change aspects needed to go from sedentary to active.
The Mover Method ® has excellent details on the interpersonal aspects of behavior change coaching, such as:
- How to ask open-ended questions
- Breaking down client barriers to exercise
- Forming collaborative relationships with clients
- Setting SMART goals
The ACE IFT ® is the hard skill of exercise technique and programming, while the Mover Method ® is the softer, more difficult skill of engaging with clients psychologically to ensure they start and adhere to the program.
The ACE IFT ® is a standout model and rivals the industry-leading NASM OPT ® model in terms of giving you virtually everything you need for planning long-term, multiphase exercise programs.
However, the Mover Method ® is a step above basically every other certification.
Although most CPT certs have behavior change skills in their curricula, the ACE Mover Method ® is the most detailed and comprehensive model in any CPT I have reviewed for coaching clients through this difficult process.
Exercise Science for Personal Trainers
Exercise science is often the least favorite topic you’ll have to learn as a CPT.
Although much of the exercise science will not apply to the day-to-day job of personal training, it forms the basis explanation of all the practical aspects of program design, exercise technique, and nutrition.
Typical exercise science topics in CPT certs include:
- The skeletal, muscular, and nervous systems
- The cardiovascular and pulmonary systems
- The digestive system
- Joint biomechanics, biomechanical models, and kinematics
A big reason to learn the exercise science is, to put it bluntly, avoid looking to your client like you don’t know what you’re talking about.
What do I mean by this?
Sometimes, a client will ask you the reason for a certain programming choice or exercise selection, for example.
While you could say “because that’s what the certification says,” its always better to be able to explain the underlying science in a simple but competent way to your client.
This helps your client build trust in your coach and recommendations.
This is key if something you say contradicts something the client thought was true.
Often, clients will have incorrect or incomplete ideas in their head about something fitness or nutrition related.
Maybe they heard it from a friend, got it from a social media post, or saw it on a supplement advertisement.
Regardless, when a client proposes an incorrect piece of information, it’s even more important that you can scientifically explain your reasoning.
Overall, the exercise science in the ACE CPT is adequate for the above purposes.
The main criticism I have is the organization of the exercise science in the curriculum.
Rather than a single section of material devoted to these topics, they are interspersed throughout the hands-on sections.
For example, ACE covers the muscular system in the section on resistance training and the cardiovascular in the section on aerobic training, respectively.
I personally think the way most CPTs cover these topics in a single section is more conducive to learning and developing the practical skills.
As such, although ACE covers these topics, I find the organization does reduce the effectiveness of this content.
Health Screening, Assessments, and Movement Testing
Pre-participation health, resting measurements, and movement screening are key steps when a new client begins training with you.
The ACE Preparticipation Health Screening is fairly standard and follows the exact same algorithm as the ACSM Preparticipation Health Screening.
You must always have your client fill out a PAR-Q form that screens your client for major cardiovascular risks.
Overall, ACE does a good job discussing the health screening process and provides a number of sample forms you can use or refer to when preparing for the ACE CPT test or training clients yourself after passing the ACE exam.
Resting and Anthropometric Assessments
The next component in the ACE screening process is resting and anthropometric assessments, including:
- Resting heart rate
- Blood pressure
- Circumference measurements
- Skinfold measurements
- Body mass index (BMI) calculations
ACE does an adequate job covering the process for each of these assessments.
However, the truth is, unless you work in a clinical setting, you are unlikely to perform many of these assessments in practice.
Nevertheless, it’s good to know how to do them in the event a client requests a certain assessment.
Of course, you must know these assessment procedures to pass the exam.
Posture and movement Screening
Of every assessment skill taught in most personal trainer certifications, the movement screenings are by far one of the most important things you must master to be a great personal trainer.
If you fail to recognize the signs of muscle imbalances, you risk assigning clients exercises they are not ready for, putting them at risk of acute and chronic injury.
Assessments covered by ACE include:
- Static posture assessment
- Unipedal stance test
- Y-Balance test
- Trunk endurance tests
- Flexibility assessments
- Squat, lunge, and step up assessments
- Push and pull assessments
- Load and speed assessments
For the most part, ACE provides you with enough skills to use these assessments right away.
However, certain key skills such as the squat assessments are not covered in as much depth as other certifications.
Given the importance of squat and other dynamic movement assessments, I would recommend brushing up on these before your first training session as a certified trainer.
Across all these domains of assessments, ACE does an adequate job of preparing you to assess clients as soon as you are certified. Although it is a bit weaker on certain movement assessments than the more corrective exercise-focused certifications, it still exceeds many general CPT certs.
Nutrition is always a gray area when it comes to CPT certifications.
Certified trainers can discuss the general healthy eating guidelines with clients without exceeding scope of practice.
However, as a CPT you are not allowed to recommend specific foods or diets.
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As such, CPT coverage on nutrition is typically limited to the general digestion process, macronutrients and micronutrients, and general nutritional principles.
How does ACE stack up?
Pretty well, actually.
Not only does ACE cover the basic nutritional science information, they also include real-world skills that are key to nutrition but would not be covered in a standard nutrition class.
The specific practical nutrition skills are as follows:
- Providing grocery store tours to show clients how to shop for healthier foods
- Helping clients get great nutrition within their grocery budget
- Collaborating with registered dieticians
- Fueling before, during, and after exercise
- Discussing supplements with clients
As with the Mover Model ® I discussed earlier, the are ‘soft skills’ that revolve around client interaction more than raw exercise science.
In general, your ability to use these soft skills is what will separate you as a great trainer from an average or mediocre trainer.
After, personal training is first and foremost, well… personal.
You need to be able to handle the social and interpersonal aspects of personal training, including how to effectively discuss nutrition with your clients within the ACE CPT scope of practice.
Including these soft skills alongside the nutritional science knowledge makes the ACE CPT really stand out amongst other personal trainer certifications in terms of practical nutrition.
Program Design And Resistance Exercise Technique In The ACE CPT
The ACE CPT does a phenomenal job covering program design for each contemporary training parameter.
You will have more than enough knowledge to write out the multiphase programs you need to make major client progress on a medium- to long-term basis.
While the exercise library in the textbook is limited, ACE has a massive online exercise library directly through their website.
This library allows you to sort exercises by body part, difficulty, and equipment.
When you combine the IFT ® model with your ability to quickly search for exercises from the ACE library, you have all the tools at your disposal to plan client programs and help them perfect the correct technique for each exercise.
ACE aerobic training for improved cardiovascular health
ACE does an outstanding job of programming for aerobic exercise.
The IFT® cardiorespiratory training model has detailed guidelines on the following key aspects of planning an effective cardio routine for your clients:
- Assessing baseline cardiorespiratory fitness
- Calculating appropriate target heart rate zones
- Progressing clients from low to medium to high intensity training
- Methods for measuring aerobic intensity
- Applying the FITT model to aerobic progression
Between the knowledge to program cardio in the IFT model and the practical skills of assessing and calculating intensity ranges, you will ensure your clients see major results through their aerobic training.
ACE Guidelines for Special Populations
ACE places a big emphasis on safely training special populations clients.
In fact, the ACE CPT dedicates roughly a quarter of the entire curriculum to the guidelines for training special populations.
These populations include:
- Clients with obesity
- Clients with chronic disease
- Youth, senior, and pregnant clients
- Clients with musculoskeletal conditions
It’s safe to say that many of your clients will fall into at least one of the above categories.
In fact, unless you only train perfectly health individuals with a history of exercising, you are virtually guaranteed to train someone from one of these populations at some point in your career.
There is no denying that the ACE CPT is a leader amongst fitness certs for giving you the practical skills needed to coach special populations clients.
Between the guidelines in the ACE IFT®, Mover Method®, and special populations guidelines, you will be set for your first client, whoever they may be.
Thinking long-term: ACE business skills for personal trainers
You can be the best trainer in the world skill-wise, but without the business skills and knowing legal guidelines, you are unlikely to succeed financially and may end up on the wrong end of a lawsuit.
The ACE CPT discusses many of the different business models and employment arrangements available to trainers.
At the very least you will have an idea of where to start in terms of assessing the job opportunities and potential long-term career tracks.
The legal skills section includes the following:
- Record keeping
- Facility and equipment safety
- Informed consent forms
- Intellectual Property considerations
- Legality of marketing activities
One glaringly missing section is a discussion of sales. Most certified personal training certs cover the sales process at least in passing.
Learning how to sell personal training is a key skill for virtually any personal training business or employment scenario.
You must convince someone to part with their hard earned dollars and spend their precious time with you multiple times per week – that’s no small task!
The lack of sales skills in the ACE CPT is a serious flaw in the curriculum.
Many of these key soft skills required to become a personal trainer are simply beyond most personal training certifications, so you should not hold it against ACE too hard for missing this content.
Summary: ACE CPT Content
Overall, the ACE content does an excellent job of preparing you with the following:
- Designing long term, multi phase exercise programs
- Screening clients for health conditions
- Working with special populations
- Instilling good nutrition habits within the Scope of Practice
The curriculum is weak on the following:
- Inadequate discussion of squat and other functional assessments
- Poorly organized exercise science components
- No sales skills taught
ACE Certification Requirements
The requirements to sit for the ACE CPT exam are straightforward.
You need a high school diploma or equivalent as well as a current Adult CPR/AED certification.
ACE Study Materials: Quality and Price
ACE offers three main CPT prep packages that include the exam and various study materials.
Overall, the packages contain very high quality study materials. Even the Basic study package has an impressive array of videos, practice materials, and the textbooks themselves.
The packages are as follows:
ACE Basic Study Package – $509.00
- ACE University
- ACE Certification Exam
- ACE Practice Test
- ACE Personal Trainer Textbook (digital only)
- ACE Personal Trainer Study Companion
- ACE Answers (basic)
ACE Plus – $599.00
- Everything in ACE Basic
- ACE Personal Trainer Textbook (digital and hard copy)
- ACE Personal Trainer Study Companion
- ACE Answers (plus)
- Exercise Science 101 Course
ACE Advantage – $899.00
- Everything in ACE Plus
- Facilitated Study Groups
- Exercise Science 101
- Dedicated Advantage Team
Exam only – $199.00
Students can opt to take only the ACE personal trainer test for $199. Therefore, the cheapest ACE CPT exam cost is just under $200.
So, are the study materials worth it?
Truthfully, while they are of good quality, the study materials from ACE have received a number of complaints from our trainers who used these materials.
Essentially, we felt that the direct ACE materials, while very useful, do not really prepare you for the exact type of question typically found on the exam.
Furthermore, they are fairly pricey compared to third-party study guides of comparable value.
Despite the issues, you can still pass the ACE fitness certification with the ACE materials.
However, you will spend much more time and money to pass the exam than you really need to, and you are gambling on your ability to convert the ACE study information into correct answers on the test.
Third-party study guides are a good alternative to purchasing the study materials directly from ACE – that way, you only buy the exam from ACE.
ACE CPT Study Guide packages for the ACE personal trainer exam typically include the following materials:
- ACE CPT practice exam/ACE personal trainer practice exam questions
- ACE CPT exam study guide/ACE personal trainer study guide
- ACE CPT audio
- ACE personal trainer manual
Furthermore, most of these guides offer an exam pass guarantee – so if for some reason you fail, you will get a full refund for the guide without losing access.
My top choice for premium third party study materials is hands down the Trainer Academy ACE CPT Exam Prep Course, which offers a full refund guarantee and multiple package tiers at a steep discount compared to the ACE materials.
I also recommend taking a free ACE CPT practice test to see exactly where you stand now.
You should check the latest pricing directly from the ACE website if you plan to go with the ACE materials.
ACE Exam Difficulty: How Hard is the ACE CPT Exam?
To pass the exam you must receive a scaled score of 500 out of 800, which translates to answering 90 out of the 125 scored ACE CPT exam questions correctly.
Overall, about 70% of ACE test-takers pass on their first attempt, making the ACE personal trainer exam pass rate at about an average rate.
Overall, ACE ranks in the middle in terms of easiest personal trainer certifications. Note that there aren’t many accredited certifications that do not require some effort to pass.
These 25 experimental questions don’t count whether you fail them or not. You will have three hours to complete your exam.
I suggest that you give yourself approximately 3 to 5 months for your ACE test prep before sitting down for the exam.
The ACE exam favors the well-prepared, and your best bet is always purchasing a comprehensive ACE study program to hone your exam prep.
ACE CPT Salary and Career Prospects
As an ACE CPT, you can expect to earn anywhere from $12 to $51 per hour – although this truly varies.
If you work for a gym, you can expect an hourly wage or a salary in the roughly $20-35 per hour range.
Additionally, opening up your own personal training studio is a path towards making a massive salary as personal trainer, but requires far more business skills and a well thought-out personal training business plan.
ACE Continuing Education
Recertification is a key process for maintaining your ACE personal trainer cert.
If you fail to re-certify, you may need to pass the ACE personal trainer certification exam again and pay the full amount.
ACE requires 2.0 CEU credits, which totals 20 hours of coursework, every 2 years.
Overall, ACE CEUs are on par with most comparable fitness trainer certifications. With a fairly flexible range of courses to choose from, ACE gives you a great deal of freedom to take your personal training career in every direction.
Example ACE continuing education course options include:
- Overcoming the “I Hate Change” Mentality – 0.1 CEUs
- Cardiovascular training for clients who have obesity – 0.2 CEUs
- A Holistic Approach to Managing Diabetes – 0.1 CEUs
- Training Youth Athletes – 0.1 CEUs
Additionally, ACE has a massive list of approved CEU providers from other non-affiliated specialty organizations. This offers you great flexibility in your career track.
Great career options to look at when selecting continuing education include:
- Group fitness instructor
- Senior fitness specialist
- Sports coach
- Health coach
- Corrective exercise specialist
If you are interested in becoming a group exercise instructor, I highly recommend the ACE group fitness instructor structure.
We based our expert review of the ACE CPT based on the following criteria:
- Experienced trainers’ opinion on the curriculum
- Critical review of quality and pricing
- Typical reported difficulty of the ACE exam
- Review framed based on comparable entry-level fitness certifications
ACE Certification FAQ
The ACE certification is an industry-leader for a reason.
The overall curriculum prepares you to train clients from day one, which is truly the most important aspect of a fitness certification.
The ACE CPT is a bit weak on corrective exercises and certain business skills such as sales.
Nevertheless, with a strong foundation in behavioral change, aerobic training and resistance training programs with the Mover Method and ACE IFT Model, you have more than enough knowledge to land your first job and succeed right away.
Additionally, the flexibility of the ACE CEU options means you can use the ACE CPT as a launch point for virtually any career in the fitness industry.
If your goal is to train general fitness clients without the need for a ton of additional knowledge, the ACE CPT is an excellent fitness certification.
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