This ACE certification review deeply examines the American Council on Exercise Certified Personal Trainer certificate (ACE-CPT) based on my experience studying for the ACE CPT, taking the ACE exam, and working in the fitness industry as an ACE-certified personal trainer.
Between my 10+ years in the fitness industry and my team of certified personal trainers at PT Pioneer, we have deep insight into all the various certifications in the industry, and we know how they perform in the real world. As such, this ACE review brings together a massive amount of industry experience.
I break down in detail the following aspects of the ACE CPT:
- Cost & value
- ACE salary
- ACE curriculum contents
- ACE study materials
- How hard is the ACE exam?
- ACE CPT vs. others – how does it compare?
When you finish reading the full ACE personal trainer certification review, you will know all the ins and outs of the personal trainer certification and will be ready to decide if becoming an ACE personal trainer is the right choice for your career.
For quicker answers on which certification is best for you, you can take my quiz and find out.
Let’s dive in!
What is the ACE CPT?
If you are seeking a personal training certification based on popularity, the ACE Fitness CPT is it.
The ACE-certified personal training credential is an industry-leading general fitness certification that gives candidates the skills they need to succeed in the field of personal fitness training.
ACE is certainly near the top of our list of best personal trainer certifications.
The ACE CPT is an NCCA-accredited certification. The NCCA stands for the National Commission for Certifying Agencies and is the premier certifying agency for personal fitness trainer certifications.
Any personal trainer certification worth the paper it’s printed on must be NCCA-accredited. Regarding all my certification reviews, I can say that ACE’s CPT is a great program.
ACE credibility and reputation
The American Council on Exercise 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 certifications and resources in a range of health and fitness industry professions.
ACE certification program board certs include:
From commercial gyms to local studios, ACE is known as a top-tier certification for both fitness and nutritionist programs.
Besides being one of the largest certifying agencies, they are also a nonprofit. I would put this certification up in the ranks with the ISSA CPT and the NASM CPT.
Collectively, this level of certification makes all of these CPTs rank among the best online personal trainer certifications as well.
Is ACE worth it?
The ACE certification is a reputable, well recognized certification and a great option for those seeking an affordable, mainstream, and NCCA-accredited program that has a less challenging exam compared to NASM or ISSA.
I’ve seen many trainers build impressive careers, starting with the ACE CPT.
That being said, in some instances, employers may prefer ISSA or NASM. You should check this beforehand if there is a specific gym you want to work at.
- General personal training
- Assisting with behavior change
- Building a personal training business
- Working with corrective exercise
ACE certification cost and packages
ACE offers three main CPT prep packages, including the exam and various study materials.
Overall, the packages contain very high-quality study materials. Even the Basic study package has impressive videos, practice materials, and textbooks.
The ACE Basic Study Package costs $675 and includes the following materials:
- ACE University
- ACE Certification Exam
- ACE Practice Test
- ACE Personal Trainer Textbook (digital only)
- ACE Personal Trainer Study Companion
- ACE Answers (basic)
The next package is the ACE Plus, which comes in at $745 and includes the following:
- Everything in ACE Basic
- ACE Personal Trainer Textbook (digital and hard copy)
- ACE Personal Trainer Study Companion
- ACE Answers (plus)
- Exercise Science 101 Course
The top level study package is the ACE Advantage, which costs $975 and includes the following:
- Everything in ACE Plus
- Facilitated Study Groups
- Exercise Science 101
- Dedicated Advantage Team
You can buy the exam for only $499, but I do not recommend this.
You cannot pass the ACE exam on previous knowledge alone since you need to learn the ACE IFT model, which is not covered in any other coursework.
With that said, you can’t even buy a textbook alone for $87, so it’s a small upcharge to get access to the entire ACE learning management system.
Students can opt to take only the ACE personal trainer test for a discount, so check with ACE on their current student rates.
So, are the study materials worth it?
Truthfully, while they are of good quality, the study materials from ACE have received many 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 questions typically found on the exam.
Furthermore, they are fairly pricey compared to third-party study guides of comparable value.
You can still pass the ACE fitness certification with the ACE materials despite the issues.
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.
You should check the latest pricing directly from the ACE website if you plan to go with the ACE materials.
ACE CPT vs other top fitness certifications
However, both are more respected due to the more difficult exams. NASM has better coverage of corrective exercise methods, and ISSA does a better job at business skills.
However, both these competitor certifications are more expensive than ACE, so there are multiple factors to consider.
ACE certification review – personal trainer content coverage
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The ACE CPT curriculum covers a range of basic skill sets you will need as 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.
Successful long-term workout programming requires you to plan multiple training phases based on your 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 and 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 signature ACE IFT ® and Mover Method ®
The title 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,” replacing traditional, generic parameters such as cardiorespiratory fitness, muscular endurance, muscular strength, and flexibility with more specific and scientifically beneficial goals.
In a nutshell, as the trainer, it allows you 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 behavioral changes 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. At the same time, 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, giving you virtually everything you need to plan long-term, multiphase exercise programs.
However, the Mover Method ® is above every other certification. Providing support points for behavioral changes can be the difference between failure and success for our client’s wellness outcomes. I like how ACE emphasizes community support as a way to maintain wellness habits. This community can be through the internet, social media groups, posts, and YouTube. I consider this key understanding of improving the likelihood of client success when mentioning ACE as the standout certification for behavioral change.
Although most CPT certs have included 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. Furthermore, it is integrated with, rather than separated, the program design.
Exercise Science for Personal Trainers
Exercise science is often the least favorite topic you’ll have to learn as a CPT.
Although much of exercise science and physiology will not apply to the day-to-day job of personal training, it forms the basic explanation of all the practical aspects of program design, exercise technique, and nutrition.
Typical exercise science topics in the ACE training certification include:
- Anatomy of skeletal, muscular, and nervous systems
- The cardiovascular and pulmonary systems
- The digestive system
- Joint biomechanics, biomechanical models, kinesiology, and kinematics
To put it bluntly, a big reason to learn exercise science is to avoid looking at your client like you don’t know what you’re talking about.
What do I mean by this?
Sometimes, a client will ask you for a reason for a certain programming choice or exercise selection, for example.
While you could say, “Because that’s what the certification says,” it’s 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 in 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.
My main criticism is the organization of 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 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. You also want to screen for preexisting injuries, especially to the shoulders, knees, feet, and hips.
Overall, ACE does a good job discussing the health screening process and provides several 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
- Body weight
- Blood pressure
- Circumference measurements (chest, arms, legs)
- Skinfold measurements
- Body mass index (BMI) calculations
ACE does an adequate job covering the process for each of these assessments.
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However, the truth is unless you work in a clinical setting, you are unlikely to perform many of these assessments in practice. Often, the benefits of a given assessment for a specific client outweigh the difficulty in correctly performing the procedure or the discomfort of the client (ie, during circumference measurement)
Nevertheless, knowing how to do them is good if 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.
Suppose you fail to recognize the signs of muscle imbalances during assessed movements. In that case, 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 immediately.
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 assessment domains, ACE adequately prepares 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.
Certified trainers can discuss the general healthy eating guidelines with clients without exceeding the scope of practice.
However, as a CPT, you cannot recommend specific foods or diets.
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 basic nutritional science information, but they also include real-world skills that are key to nutrition but would not be covered in a standard nutrition class.
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 ‘soft skills’ 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.
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 among other personal trainer certifications regarding practical nutrition.
Program Design And Resistance Exercise Technique in the ACE CPT
The ACE CPT perfectly covers 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 its website.
This library allows you to sort exercises by body part, difficulty, and equipment, adding tons of variety to your research backed workout programming. Training clients with weights is a must for driving fitness results. The combined ACE resources in the IFT chapter and library will prepare you to design and coach effective workout programs.
When you combine the IFT ® model with your ability to search for exercises from the ACE library quickly, 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 the 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 of clients.
In fact, the ACE CPT dedicates roughly a quarter of the entire curriculum to 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 healthy 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 among 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 know where to start in 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
- The 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.
Other key skills you will need to develop as a personal trainer include getting creative with workouts and learning time management for personal trainers.
Many of these soft skills required to become a personal trainer are 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 in the following:
- Inadequate discussion of squat and other functional assessments
- Poorly organized exercise science components
- No sales skills taught
ACE exam prep and study materials
The ACE exam prep and study materials consist primarily of the ACE University learning system and the ACE CPT Textbook. There is a ton of content on these platforms, which is great but can also be overwhelming.
I sped up my study time and was far more efficient when I opted for the Trainer Academy ACE CPT Study Packages, which include ACE flashcards, an audio study guide, practice tests, study tips, 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 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 certification requirements
The requirements to sit for the ACE CPT exam are straightforward.
You need a high school diploma or equivalent and a current Adult CPR/AED certification.
You do not need a college degree to take the ACE CPT.
ACE CPT salary
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 income in the roughly $20-35 per hour range.
The best gyms to work for will reward you with the higher end of the salary as you gain experience and improve your personal trainer resume.
If you become a self-employed fitness coach, you can set your own personal training pricing based on your personal training skills and ability to get clients as a personal trainer.
Additionally, opening up your own personal training studio is a path toward making a massive salary as a personal trainer. Still, it requires far more business skills and a well-thought-out personal training business plan.
Taking the final ACE exam
To pass the exam, you must receive a scaled score of 500 out of 800, which translates to correctly answer 90 out of the 125 scored ACE CPT exam questions.
The exam has 150 total questions.
However, 25 of them will not be part of the final score, although you will not know which questions.
I took the ACE exam in person and passed on the first attempt with roughly 2 months of studying on top of my exercise science background.
About 70% of ACE test-takers pass on their first attempt, making the ACE personal trainer exam pass rate average.
This is slightly harder to pass compared to NSCA and ACSM and is slightly easier than the NASM certification, which sits at a 64% pass rate.
Overall, ACE ranks in the middle regarding the easiest personal trainer certifications.
Note that there aren’t many accredited certifications that do not require some effort to pass.
I suggest that you give yourself approximately 3 to 5 months for your ACE test prep before sitting down for the exam if you have no prior experience.
The ACE exam favors the well-prepared, and your best bet is always to purchase a comprehensive ACE study program to hone your exam prep.
ACE CPT continuing education and recertification
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, totaling 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, ACE gives you a great deal of freedom to take your 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 want to become a group exercise instructor, I highly recommend the ACE group fitness instructor.
ACE overall rating
In my ACE personal trainer certification review ACE will go over the ACE certification cost, the value of the certification and overall whether ACE is worth it.
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ACE Certification Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What is ACE?
ACE stands for American Council on Exercise. It is a health and fitness certification agency that the NCCA recognizes.
What is the pass rate for the ACE exam?
Most ACE first time test takers have a 70% chance of passing. The ACE personal trainer exam questions range from easy to hard.
Is ACE good for online personal training?
The ACE CPT is not an online personal trainer course. However, like many fitness certifications, you can use the knowledge from the ACE CPT program to become an online fitness trainer. Consider the ACE online personal trainer certification if you want to pursue this career.
What is ACE contact information?
ACE is located at 4851 Paramount Drive, San Diego, California 92123, United States. You can reach them on the phone at +1 (888) 825-3636
Is ACE one of the top health and fitness certification agencies?
Absolutely, ACE is among the top 5 certifying health and fitness agencies out there. Check my homepage for more information on the top 5 health and fitness industry certifying agencies.
What is ACE Personal Trainer Salary?
The average salary of an ACE health and fitness professional in the United States is $52,537 annually.
How long does ACE certification last?
The ACE certification lasts for two years. You are required to recertify by completing Continuing Education Credits of 2.0 with ACE or with other certifying agencies that ACE recognizes.
How can I get the electronic version of the ACE CPT practice test and ACE Study Guide?
ACE provides online versions of their study guides and practices questions and answers. The full study guide, practice questions, and flashcards are on our website home page.
Can you take the ACE personal trainer certification online?
You can take the entire ACE CPT personal training certification online. This includes personal trainer testing conducted through remote proctoring.
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 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 immediately.
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 needing additional knowledge, the ACE CPT is an excellent fitness certification.