ACSM Certifications: A Complete Guide to all ACSM Programs

ACSM Certifications: A Complete Guide!

For many of the career paths found within the fitness industry, certification helps to show that you really are an expert in your field.

But the range of certifications available is a little daunting, especially if you aren’t sure where to start.

Well, this blog will help show you the way, specifically when it comes to accreditation offered by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM).

We will take an in-depth look at a range of certifications offered by ACSM so that you can make a more informed decision as to where it is you think you need to specialize and get certified.

So where do we begin?

Well, let’s first look at the full range of certifications offered by ACSM and then we will break them down a little further.

ACSM certifications... what's on offer

List of ACSM certifications

Altogether, ACSM offers 9 different certification options. These are:

  1. ACSM Certified Professional Trainer
  2. ACSM Certified Group Exercise Instructor
  3. ACSM Certified Exercise Physiologist
  4. ACSM Certified Clinical Exercise Physiologist
  5. ARP/ACSM Certified Ringside Physician
  6. ACSM/NCHPAD Certified Inclusive Fitness Trainer
  7. ACSM/ACS Certified Cancer Exercise Trainer
  8. Physical Activity in Public Health Specialist
  9. Exercise is Medicine Credential

As you can see, that’s plenty to choose from. So let’s break them down even further.

1. ACSM Certified Professional Trainer

If you make a start in the fitness industry and are specifically looking to help others with their fitness and overall health, then considering the ACSM Certified Professional Trainer certification would be a good start.

This certification will help you make significant changes in your client’s lives.

And you do this by providing them with knowledge and empowering them to improve their lifestyle and health overall by increasing their fitness levels.

Personal trainers also get to work with elite athletes as they hone their bodies for competition, striving to get every bit of performance out of every single muscle.

And personal trainers can work in a number of scenarios from local gyms, to health clubs, fitness centers, in the corporate world, at schools and universities or even freelancing.

By becoming a certified professional trainer, you will put yourself on the forefront of the fight for fitness and health as well as helping to mold peak performance for athletes.

You will not only be helping people get fitter and healthier by reaching their unique fitness goals, but you will also help them to become the best they can be!

So who qualifies to take the professional trainer certification? Well, there are a few requirements on your part:

  • You need to be 18 years or above
  • You will need to have a high school diploma or its equivalent
  • You would need to have practical certification in adult cardiopulmonary resuscitation or automated external defibrillator use

Who should consider this certification?

Well, the most obvious would be someone who is wanting to enter the world of personal training and fitness in general. It can also be a useful secondary certification to a health coach, exercise instructor or fitness trainer.

2. ACSM Certified Group Exercise Instructor

ACSM Certified Group Exercise Instructor

If you love taking part in group exercise and see yourself leading classes or making a career change into this part of the world of fitness, then consider the ACSM Certified Group Exercise Instructor certification.

But what’s it all about?

Well, not only will you guide a group through their exercise but its all about motivation, getting each and every individual to give their all.

And that includes one-on-one motivation, helping those individuals who might be struggling a little more than others. This is not only in a class situation but perhaps in support sessions at other times.

Essentially, each class will have you leading exercises.

And that means showing the class how each works, especially for new workouts as well as helping those new to the class.

It’s about keeping up the pace and providing the motivation, especially when the going gets tough! It’s across a wide range of exercises, from bicycle classes to aerobics.

And there is plenty of planning involved, it’s not just putting on some upbeat music and jumping around. Classes need to be planned for people of various levels of fitness, helping members to achieve their fitness goal and progress towards a new goal afterward.

Make no mistake, a group exercise instructor is a leader.

And there is a variety of employment opportunities should you choose this certification. This includes at health clubs, corporates, gyms as well as educational institutions.

To qualify for this certification, you need to be:

  • 18 years or older
  • Have a high school diploma or the equivalent thereof
  • Certified in CPR/AED

While the ACSM Certified Group Exercise Instructor certification is perfect standalone, it could be an extra certification for personal trainers in particular, especially if they would like to branch out into group exercise.

3. ACSM Certified Exercise Physiologist

ACSM Certified Exercise Physiologist

A fairly niche position, if fighting disease through fitness sounds like something that appeals to you, then consider ACSM Certified Exercise Physiologist certification.

By helping to guide and motivate people towards a healthy way of living, a certified exercise physiologist is at the forefront of the fight against medically controlled diseases.

Their skill set, however, can also be used to produce exercise routines for those at risk of developing various diseases.

Exercise physiologists can work in a variety of settings from medical institutions, in the community, at educational institutions and more.

To become one, there are a few requirements.

  • A Bachelor’s Degree in one of the following areas: exercise science, kinesiology or exercise physiology
  • The course can be completed only in your final semester
  • Adult CPR/AED certification including a practical portion

If you are studying exercise science, kinesiology or exercise physiology, this is an extra certification that you really should consider.

4. ACSM Certified Clinical Exercise Physiologist

ACSM Certified Clinical Exercise Physiologist

Found as part of health care teams mostly, an ACSM Certified Clinical Exercise Physiologist is very similar to the exercise physiologist as described above.

In this certification, however, there are strict criteria in place as to who may apply for the certification which we will look into.

Clinical exercise physiologists work together with other members of a health team in medical facilities.

Here, they look to help improve their patients reach a level of independence, both socially and economically, achieving this through helping them modify their behaviors, educating them and putting in place strategies to help them overcome or cope with their ailments.

A clinical exercise physiologist will work with patients suffering from a number of diseases and conditions including those that are orthopedic, immunologic, hematologic, musculoskeletal and metabolic, amongst others.

As mentioned, not just anyone can get certified as a clinical exercise physiologist. To apply for certification you need:

  • A Master’s Degree in Clinical Physiology or clinical experience worth over 600 hours in a hands-on environment
  • A Bachelor’s Degree in Exercise Science/Exercise Physiology or clinical experience worth over 1200 hours in a hands-on environment
  • Certified in CPR/AED

For anyone who has the necessary requirements, be it educational or through practical hands-on hours working out in the field, getting accredited as an ACSM Certified Clinical Exercise Physiologist just makes sense.

5. ARP/ACSM Certified Ringside Physician

ARP/ACSM Certified Ringside Physician

Together with the Association of Ringside Professionals, ACSM has developed a certification specifically for those with a medical degree looking to branch out into the sport of boxing, martial arts and a range of other combat sports.

As a certified ringside physician, you will be in total control of every medical aspect of your fighter, both in the lead up to the fight, during the fight as well as providing medical care after the contest.

Paramount to this is a deep knowledge of the protocols of ring fighting and a range of combat sports.

A certified ring physician has knowledge of various fields of medicine at their disposal to provide the highest possible care when needed.

Of course, to become certified you need the following:

  • To have a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine or Doctor of Medicine degree
  • Have worked ringside at a professional or amateur level (3 professional events 15 fights total or 5 amateur events, 30 fights total)
  • Be licensed
  • Have recommendation forms from either state or local boxing committees

Obviously, this certification is very specialized and certainly aimed at a select group of medical practitioners.

6. ACSM/NCHPAD Certified Inclusive Fitness Trainer

ACSM/NCHPAD Certified Inclusive Fitness Trainer

The ACSM, together with the National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability has specifically created the ACSM/NCHPAD Certified Inclusive Fitness Trainer as a specialized certification.

It is mainly for those fitness trainers aiming to help people suffering from limitations what they can do physically, a range of health risks or cognitive, sensory or physical disabilities.

Trainers who become accredited as inclusive fitness trainers will devise specific programs for each individual client. These will include training exercises taking into account their physical circumstances or their health.

Essentially it’s about helping and empowering individuals, guiding them to achieve physical goals that they would not have seemed at all possible.

As a certified inclusive fitness trainer, there are a number of institutions where you can work. This includes medical facilities, wellness centers, hospitals, in the corporate world and at community centers, amongst others.

To complete this certification you will need to be:

  • Either hold an accredited fitness or health certificate through the ACSM or NCCA or have studied Adapted Physical Education, Recreation Therapy or Exercise Science and attained a Batchelor’s Degree.
  • Certified in adult cardiopulmonary resuscitation or automated external defibrillator use.

The certified inclusive fitness trainer is perfect for a fitness trainer looking to branch out into helping clients with specific physical, cognitive or sensory disabilities. It’s about showing them that they can achieve far more than they ever thought was possible.

7. ACSM/ACS Certified Cancer Exercise Trainer

ACSM/ACS Certified Cancer Exercise Trainer

As an ACSM/ACS Certified Cancer Exercise Trainer, you will be helping a very specific group of people with their training and exercise regimes.

And that’s those living with cancer as well as cancer survivors.

Developed together with the American Cancer Association, the cancer exercise trainer will develop working and training schedules for patients. They do this by using their knowledge of the disease as well as their exercise and fitness expertise.

It’s all about helping to build them up for the mental battle by raising their levels of inner strength through the medium of exercise. And that also means helping them reach a standard and quality of life they might not have thought possible.

And that’s all thanks to exercise!

Over and about their knowledge of fitness and exercise programs, a cancer exercise trainer knows much about the disease as well. This includes but is not limited to side effects from, the disease and treatment, knowledge of cancer surgeries and more.

And the requirements for this certification?

  • An accredited fitness or health certificate through the ACSM or NCCA or Bachelor’s Degree and 500 hours training patients with chronic conditions or 10 000 hours training patients with chronic conditions.
  • Adult CPR/AED certification including a practical portion

Without a doubt, it takes a strong person mentally to become a cancer exercise trainer. At times, it can be tough but it is also rewarding watching clients win their fight against this dreaded disease.

8. Physical Activity in Public Health Specialist

Physical Activity in Public Health Specialist

The Physical Activity in Public Health Specialist is offered by the ACSM and was devised in conjunction with the National Physical Activity Society.

But what is it that this certfication would allow you to do?

As a physical activity in public health specialist, its all about physical activity and the promotion thereof in the sphere of public health. It’s about using legislation, various policies and appropriate programs to allow people from all over their suburbs, cities or states to enjoy the chance at physical activity.

And that’s achieved by lobbying relevant parties to construct parks and other areas where physical activities can take place, upgrading existing areas and promoting safety for people using these areas.

Who can take this certification?

  • You will need a Bachelor’s Degree specifically pertaining to the health field or the same degree with 1,200 hours in employment where you have helped promote health lifestyle management, health promotion or the promotion of physical activity.

9. Exercise is Medicine Credential

For those fitness professionals who work in health care communities with clients who have chronic illnesses and health conditions, ACSM offers the Exercise is Medicine Credential program.

This credential shows that the fitness/health professional is able to conduct specialist fitness programs for clients as a way to help them turnaround negative health behaviors and to overall improve their health outlook.

There are three levels to this credential:

  • 1st and 2nd level: This is for exercise professional who are allowed to work with individuals cleared for exercise but who have certain health issues.
  • 3rd level: This is for exercise professionals who are allowed to work with individuals requiring specific monitoring and support.

There are various requirements to this credential based on the desired level. They can be found on the ACSM website.

Preparing for ACSM exams

ACSM Certification Test

Once you have completed your course, its time for the exam. Together with Pearson VUE, ACSM offers 5,000 venues all over the world where you can schedule it. Now it’s all down to your preparation.

So how can you make sure you pass your certification first time?

Make sure you know exactly what to expect through thorough preparation

Want to pass easily? Well, there are a number of tools at your disposal. All of these can help you ensure that you know the subject inside and out.

Let’s look at a few of them in a bit more detail.

Exam content outline

You should know your exam content outline from back to front because ALL exam questions pertaining to your certification will be taken from it. If you download your exam content outline, ACSM will also provide a guideline that shows you a breakdown of how many questions you can expect from each section.


Some ACSM certifications have the unique prepU study guide to help you prepare. prepU is an online study preparation that tests your proficiency across the whole certification and then targets the areas you are weak to improve your exam readiness.

Workshops and webinars

Various workshops and webinars are available for a number of ACSM certifications.

Workshops take place over the course of two or three days and are available for the following course: Certified Personal Trainer, Certified Exercise Physiologist, Cancer Exercise Trainer, and Group Exercise Instructor.

The main advantage of these workshops is not only are they in-depth but they are taught by highly qualified instructors with a massive depth of knowledge about the certification you are wanting to complete.

Webinars are perfect if you cannot get to a workshop. Their availability online means you can attend a full webinar or only those modules in which you feel you may need some extra help.

Third party study materials

Another way to boost your chances of passing your accreditation first time is to use online study materials from reputable web-based training portals. For example, Trainer Academy offers a range of study aids that you can use to ensure that you pass your ACSM accreditation exam with ease.

These can just be the cherry on top for your preparation, making sure you have every possible angle covered when it comes to your specific chosen certification.

Last Words

So, you see, there are quite a variety of ACSM certifications you can choose from and pursue as a career. Also, nothing stops you from acquiring two or more of these highly valuable skillsets and certifications; indeed the more the merrier, making you a true expert in the exercise and fitness world.

Whichever you go for, do put in your best to pass the exam and go all out helping people while fulfilling your dreams!

Good luck!