acsm cpt review - Tyler Read holding the ACSM certification textbook

This ACSM certification review is based on my experience taking the ACSM CPT course, studying for and passing the ACSM exam, and working in the fitness industry using the ACSM certified personal trainer certification.

I have been a personal trainer for over a decade and have multiple personal training certifications, so I have a full understanding of which certifications are most effective. I have hired many trainers with a variety of certifications, and I know which ones result in trainers having the skills for success in the fitness industry, and which do not.

I also have a team of personal trainers at PT Pioneer that collectively have thousands of client-training hours under their belts and over a dozen different fitness certifications, including numerous with the ACSM CPT cert.

In this review of the American College of Sports Medicine Certified Personal Trainer, I look at the following aspects of the ACSM CPT:

  • Credibility and value of the ACSM CPT
  • ACSM cost and exam difficulty
  • ACSM CPT salary and career prospects
  • Pros and cons of the ACSM CPT

By the time you finish reading this ACSM-CPT review, you’ll be set to decide whether it’s the right certification for your goals in the fitness industry.

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I also highly recommend that you take the quiz and find out which CPT certification is best for your career goals.

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What is the ACSM Certification?

what is the acsm cpt - acsm textbook displayed on table

Their flagship ACSM CPT certification sits among the top personal fitness training certifications available for new and aspiring personal trainers.

The ACSM CPT is an NCCA accredited certification. The NCCA stands for National Commission for Certifying Agencies and is the gold standard for assessing a certification’s value.

The ACSM exercise guidelines and ACSM exercise prescription inform virtually every authoritative source on fitness, including top nutrition certification programs and virtually all of the main online personal trainer certifications.

ACSM General Information

ACSM General Information

  • Exam cost: $399
  • Study material cost: $400-$1000+
  • Prerequisites: CPR/AED, High School Diploma
  • Exam passing score: Scaled 550/800
  • Exam pass rate: 69% (2020 data)
  • Average completion time: 3 to 9 months

ACSM Credibility and Reputation

The American College of Sports Medicine was founded in 1954 as a non-profit organization to advance and integrate scientific research to provide educational and practical applications of exercise science and sports medicine.Since its founding, the ACSM has grown to over 50,000 members from across the globe and offers some of the best personal trainer certifications in the industry.

Is ACSM Worth It?

Is acsm worth it? Tyler Read decides if the acsm cpt is worth it for his career

The ACSM CPT program is worth it primarily for trainers who want to focus on medical and clinical populations, or who plan to pursue the various ACSM courses offered as continuing education.

I don’t necessarily recommend the ACSM for general personal training given its lack of programming framework and practical tools for training clients on day 1 of the job.

  • Excellent science, behavior change, and special population training content
  • Valid for 3 years
  • NCCA accredited
  • ACSM is a non-profit authority on health and fitness
  • Insufficient resistance training technique content
  • Lack of comprehensive program design framework
  • Expensive when purchasing study material from ACSM

ACSM CPT vs Other Top Certifications

Compared to the NASM personal training certification and ISSA personal training program, which are in my opinion the best personal training certifications in the industry, the ACSM CPT falls short.

However, as mentioned, there may be specific instances where it makes sense to go with the ACSM certificate, depending on your exam career goals.

Who is the ACSM Certification meant for?

The ACSM certification is best suited for fitness professionals who plan to pursue a career working with clinical populations in a lab or medical office setting.

Great for
  • Exercise physiology careers
  • Working in clinical settings
Not great for
  • Lack of program design
  • Less practical for training out of the gate

ACSM Certification Cost and Packages

ACSM Certification Cost and Packages - gold coins and acsm textbook laid out on table

The ACSM provides several major resources for studying and passing the ACSM CPT exam.

The base information is primarily covered in the ACSM Resources for the Personal Trainer textbook.

The ACSM personal trainer book covers all the curriculum ACSM fitness content discussed earlier in the article. Content aside, the textbook is well laid out, with diagrams, boxes, and case studies that break up the text.

Nevertheless, if you cannot study effectively from textbooks, studying directly from the ACSM textbook may prove difficult.

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The ACSM Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription cover additional information about specific exercise screening protocols, but this information is less emphasized on the exam.

In terms of ACSM CPT study guides and other resources, the ACSM has the following options:

  • Online practice questions through PrepU – $64.99 for 3 months of access)
  • ACSM CPT Prep course – $270.00
  • ACSM CPT Facebook Group – free
  • ACSM’s Resources for the Personal Trainer Textbook – $79.99
  • ACSM Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription textbook – $87.19
  • Exam only – $349.00
  • Exam retake – $175.00
  • ACSM membership – $10-$240 annually, depending on the tier

The ACSM Prep course includes ACSM webinars, an ACSM workshop, and an ACSM practice exam.

While these are all useful resources, none of the packages are bundled for a discount.

This means that each ACSM CPT test prep must be purchased separately, in addition to the base exam fee, which quickly adds up.

The ACSM PrepU questions are of decent quality but the subscription model is not great.

The good news is study materials for the ACSM personal trainer exams are widely available from third-party companies.

Common ACSM test prep materials include:

  • ACSM online learning
  • ACSM practice test
  • ACSM exam questions & answers

If you want to begin preparing for the ACSM exam before dropping a ton of money on materials, you can check out my free ACSM study guide and practice exam.

Third-party study guides are a good alternative to spending this amount of money to prepare for the exam.

My students report great success by preparing with the Trainer Academy ACSM MVP CPT Study Package, which includes excellent premium flashcards, a study guide, practice exams, and an exam-pass guarantee.

In particular, the ACSM personal trainer practice exams provided by Trainer Academy are a key tool.

Every time you take an ACSM personal trainer practice test, you get ‘reps’ in that will help you on the real ACSM personal trainer test.

Any good ACSM personal trainer study kit package should include an ACSM personal trainer study guide and ACSM test questions.

Overall, the resources directly from the ACSM are decent in quality but very overpriced for the value provided. Purchasing every resource offered adds up to nearly $1000 in terms of the total cost to get certified.

ACSM Certification Review [year] - Is ACSM worth it? 4
ACSM Certification Review [year] - Is ACSM worth it? 5

ACSM Certification Review – Personal Trainer Content Coverage

ACSM Certification Review – Personal Trainer Content Coverage - acsm cpt certification table of contents

The ACSM is certainly a top-tier personal fitness training certification.

While the overall content is fairly comprehensive, the ACSM CPT does a better job of covering some topics and is weaker in other areas.

Knowing these strengths and weaknesses is important for determining whether the ACSM CPT is the right certification for you.

Industry overview and exercise science in the ACSM CPT

Like most general fitness training certifications, the ACSM CPT curriculum begins with a broad overview of the health and fitness industries and the state of modern health.

acsm cpt content coverage - top 10 fitness trends table

This includes the ACSM’s guidelines regarding the code of conduct and scope of practice for all those who hold an ACSM certificate.

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From there, the content branches into exercise science and anatomy.

This section will teach you about the human body’s muscles, organs, and joints.

But how useful is this knowledge really when it comes to personal training?

Although in practice, you do not need to know a ton of the nitty-gritty biochemistry and anatomy, this knowledge can be helpful in two major ways:

  • Guiding more detailed exercise program development
  • Explaining to clients the rationale for your program

While not every client will pester you for the reasons you choose each exercise, occasionally, you will have a client who is interested in the science behind your program.

Having enough knowledge base to explain to your client the basis for your programming competently will go a long way towards building your client’s confidence in you as a trainer and health professional.

acsm certification review - planes of motion charts

The ACSM does a phenomenal job of covering the following science topics:

  • In depth muscle, bone, and joint anatomy
  • Overview of the cardiovascular, nervous, respiratory, and digestive systems
  • Nutritional guidelines for the health and fitness professional
acsm cpt certification review - skeletal system diagram

In fact, the ACSM is among the more in-depth certifications regarding the scientific foundations of fitness training.

Coaching your clients through behavioral change with the ACSM skillset

After the exercise science component, the next section focuses on the behavioral change component of fitness coaching.

This is a key skill set for being a successful trainer and comes into play when you begin a consultation with a new client.

Sometimes, this behavioral change-focused interview style begins when someone asks you about fitness when they hear you are a trainer – before they even step foot into your gym.

Furthermore, proper behavioral change results in clients staying motivated inside and outside of the gym.

Regardless, the ACSM provides an excellent framework and real-world client case studies to demonstrate the different motivational interviewing and behavioral change topics.

acsm training certification review - pre contemplation

The ACSM CPT discusses specific skillsets for a coaching change, including the following:

  • Active listening
  • Empathy
  • Developing rapport
  • Appreciative Inquiry
  • Motivational interviewing

Each skill has a few paragraphs or pages and case studies to illustrate how to put these methods to use.

Why does this matter?

Simply put, many clients have mental hurdles to overcome as they begin their fitness journey.

Early on, coaching clients through these barriers is often more important than the initial programming itself – because simply getting your clients moving is the first major step!

As your client psychologically adapts to regular exercise, programming, and technique coaching become a bigger focus of most training sessions.

Consulting and screening clients to reduce the risks of injury

The initial client consultation is crucial to helping people reach their fitness goals.

Given the ACSM’s heavy focus on disease-prevention, risk-reduction, and exercise as a treatment protocol, the CPT curriculum heavily emphasizes the initial screening process.

This training component involves subjective and objective reports from your clients, including medical information when appropriate, to assess where they fall regarding various risk factors such as blood pressure, cholesterol, and other metrics.

A key piece of paperwork in this phase is the Physical Activity Readiness Questionnaire (PAR-Q), which is a standardized form that screens your clients for their level of cardiovascular risk.

This initial knowledge helps you develop safe and effective programs specific to the needs of each client.

acsm cpt review - par-q form and client intake form

You must also have clearance from your clients’ healthcare professionals if they have a history of cardiac diseases.

After these health history screens, you will learn how to conduct fitness and movement assessments.

If you are certified through ACSM testing, your clients’ fitness is recommended.

Fitness assessments involve your client performing activities to get baseline levels of strength, endurance, flexibility, and similar measurements.

Movement assessments focus on qualitative aspects of a client’s fundamental movement patterns.

The movement assessments can reveal underlying muscle imbalances and similar issues, which must be addressed through corrective exercise.

Unfortunately, this is a place where the ACSM falls short.

There are simply not enough different movement screens covered nor an effective framework for programming and progressing clients through corrective exercises based on the findings.

It is rare for a previously sedentary client to have no muscle imbalances. The lack of a clear, comprehensive corrective exercise framework is a major shortcoming of the ACSM CPT.

Program design and resistance exercise technique for client results

Following the exercise science and screening, the ACSM finally dives into the meat-and-potatoes (or perhaps chicken breast and broccoli) of personal training: exercise technique and program design.

Sadly, this is another major weak section in the ACSM CPT curriculum.

Most mainstream fitness organizations have substantial exercise libraries in both textbooks and a video portal with demonstrations.

While the ACSM does have some exercise videos on its website, when it comes to the textbook and the CPT curriculum itself, there is a serious lack of both the total number of exercises discussed and the finer points of exercise technique.

While no fitness certification can cover every exercise or variation, the ACSM barely provides enough to combine basic fitness routines. Regarding personal training tips for beginners, the ACSM is sorely lacking.

acsm exercise science content review - sample adult exercise program

Similarly, the discussion of program design is all over the place across multiple chapters.

Furthermore, no major framework exists for daily, weekly, and monthly progressions regarding overall program progression or advancing your client through specific exercise techniques.

Although the curriculum covers ACSM resistance training guidelines, they can easily confuse newer trainers when assembling comprehensive programming.

acsm training certification - standing lunge with dumbbells

Unless you come in with a background in proper exercise technique and program design, the ACSM CPT does not adequately prepare you for programming and technique coaching.

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It also does not cover implementing the ACSM stretching guidelines in conjunction with resistance training.

I personally find ACSM could benefit from more programming tips for beginner personal trainers.

Learning cueing to help clients build a mind-muscle connection is also very important for personal training, and this is not something the ACSM covers whatsoever.

ACSM aerobic training for improved cardiovascular health

Given the ACSM’s focus on improving public health outcomes, it is unsurprising that its aerobic programming section is detailed and comprehensive.

In fact, the ACSM aerobic exercise guidelines are the basis for many other fitness certification aerobic training protocols.

Aerobic training heavily focuses on keeping your clients in a specific heart rate range based on their needs and background.

Setting aerobic training goals typically involves various age calculations for determining target heart rate ranges.

The ACSM effectively teaches you these skills, allowing you to customize your clients’ aerobic programming as needed.

One downside to the ACSM aerobic training coverage is the lack of technique discussion for running or other aerobic training modes.

acsm personal training certification review - types of aerobic activity

Although the ACSM briefly discusses standard walking gait analysis in earlier sections, there is no mention of various kinetic checkpoints during running phases.

Given the various risks associated with improper running technique in particular, this should have been covered in this section.

Nevertheless, given the availability of low-impact modalities such as cycling, stair steppers, and elliptical machines, you can still safely use the ACSM aerobic training guidelines with many clients.

Helping special populations through the ACSM guidelines

Special populations include individuals with both lifestyle-induced health problems such as obesity and diabetes as well as genetic and other diseases such as cancer. Additional special populations include older adults and children.

acsm certification review - resistance training guidelines for older adults

Since the ACSM is a non-profit public health-focused organization, it is logical that the special population guidelines are comprehensive.

The guidelines for special populations training are very helpful for keeping your special needs clients safe as they work to improve their health.

It is worth mentioning that if your career goals involve working with special populations, you will need far more education than what is provided in the ACSM CPT.

Nevertheless, for a general fitness certification, the ACSM gives good attention to working with special populations.

Thinking long-term: ACSM business skills for personal trainers

You might be surprised at the ACSM business skills section.

Despite the organization’s public health focus, the ACSM does a substantially effective job at covering business skills for personal trainers.

acsm training certification - interviewing candidates for staff positions chart

The ACSM business skills section discusses the following:

Personal training is a business at the end of the day.

While most of us trainers enter the industry to help people live healthier, happier lives, you must treat training as a business first and foremost if you plan to make a decent living in the fitness industry.

This is especially true if your goals include opening a fitness studio or starting your own gym.

Furthermore, financial success as a personal trainer hinges on your ability to sell personal training sessions.

After all, being a good personal trainer requires having clients to train.

Despite the reasonably good business skills coverage, you will still need to learn several additional skills to be a good trainer.

This type of skill includes things like setting up personal training contracts, deciding on your personal training approach to social media, learning time management for you personal training sessions, and being able to get creative with your workouts to keep clients engaged.

Advanced business skills include things like using consumer preference data to obtain and retain clients, effectively dealing with client cancellations, and becoming a great online fitness coach. However, these skills exceed any basic personal training certification on the market.

Summary: ACSM CPT Content

The ACSM does a great job covering the following topics:

  • Exercise science
  • Behavioral change
  • Client risk factor screening
  • Aerobic training
  • Special populations
  • Business skills

The ACSM is weak in the following components:

  • Corrective exercise
  • Exercise technique
  • Programming and periodization

ACSM Exam Prep and Study Materials

ACSM Exam Prep and Study Materials - ACSM textbook laid out on desk

I recommend spending between 3 and 6 months to prepare for the exam.

The ACSM offers the textbook as well as its various study packages that include the online learning portal. I am not a big fan of the ACSM provided materials given the hefty upsell price tag.

My choice for ACSM study materials are the third party Trainer Academy ACSM MVP Packages. These include flashcards, study guides, practice quizzes, and exams, and an exam pass refund guarantee. These materials come at a fraction of the cost of every ACSM package, so it really is a no-brainer if you want the best shot at passing the ACSM exam on your first try.

ACSM Certification Requirements

The requirements to sit for the ACSM test are fairly straightforward:

You must be 18, hold an adult CPR/AED certification, and you must have a minimum education of a high school diploma or GED.

acsm certification review - certification requirements table


According to ZipRecruiter data, the average ACSM salary in the United States is $50,907 per year. This varies substantially based on location and employment arrangement, so it’s just a general guideline and your personal salary may vary heavily.

Taking the Final ACSM Exam

Taking the Final ACSM Exam - Tyler Read takes the ACSM CPT final exam

The ACSM exam can be taken online or in-person at a testing center. I did the in-person option as I like the ability to focus without distractions. The home-option requires a few check-in steps before you can start.

You will have a live proctor during the exam as well as software to monitor your activity. The exam is not open book, and the proctor will be there to ensure compliance with the exam requirements.

You must treat the online exam as seriously as you would an in-person exam. You need a camera setup and two forms of identification before beginning to validate with the proctor. If you do not have this setup, you must take the exam in-person.

While I did pass the ACSM exam on my first try, I found it fairly difficult and was certainly glad that I prepared with the Trainer Academy ACSM Study Package on top of having my background in exercise science.

The passing score on the ACSM exam is 70%.

Most students report that the ACSM exam as difficult due to the scope of scientific information you need to learn to pass.

The published pass rate for first-time test takers was 69% based on 2020 on the ACSM website.

Regarding ACSM exam information, your biggest focus should be completing a full ACSM preparation through a guided study program.

As soon as you pass your ACSM exam, it will help to get your personal trainer liability insurance to protect against any financial liability in the unlikely event of a client injury.

ACSM Continuing Education and Recertification

For ACSM recertification, you must complete 45 CEC hours every 3 years.

Continuing education credits (also known as CEUs or CECs) is a key part of being a personal trainer, and virtually all certifications require you to take additional coursework to keep your certification valid.

You can choose from various CEU options, including accredited courses from the ACSM and reputable third parties.

Note that sometimes you can find free ACSM CECs, or at the very least, cheap CEUs for personal trainers that apply towards your ACSM recertification.

The top CEC options with separate certifications directly from the ACSM are:

  • ACSM Certified Exercise Physiologist (ACSM Ep C)
  • ACSM Certified Clinical Exercise Physiologist (different from the above) (ACSM CEP)
  • ACSM Group Exercise Instructor
  • ACSM Exercise Specialist

Additional popular ACSM CECs online include:

  • ACSM Exercise is Medicine
  • ACSM Health Coach
  • ACSM Health Fitness Specialist
  • ACSM Health Fitness Instructor

Virtually every ACSM CEU course will be a great addition to your personal trainer resume.

I recommend really thinking about your long term specialization goals when selecting CEUs.

Common specializations include becoming a strength and conditioning coach, getting a health coach certification, becoming a nutrition coach, and even looking at corrective exercise certifications.

Other niche specialties include prenatal fitness, personal training for seniors, group exercise, and water aerobics instructor.

Other ACSM Offerings

The most well-known ACSM offering after the Certified Personal Trainer program is the ACSM certified exercise physiologist.

This program is a bit more advanced, requiring a bachelor’s degree. It is more geared towards working with clinical populations in a treatment setting as opposed to general fitness training.

As mentioned, the ACSM also offers health coaching and group exercise certifications.

ACSM CPT Overall Rating

acsm cpt certification overall rating - acsm's resources for the personal trainer
ACSM Certified Personal Trainer
ACSM Certification Review [year] - Is ACSM worth it? 6

In my ACSM CPT review I will talk about the ACSM certification cost, the value for the money and whether or not ACSM is worth it as a certification.

Product Currency: USD

Product Price: $399

Product In-Stock: InStock

Editor's Rating:


  • Excellent science, behavior change, and special population training content
  • Valid for 3 years
  • NCCA accredited
  • ACSM is a non-profit authority on health and fitness


  • Insufficient resistance training technique content
  • Lack of comprehensive program design framework
  • Expensive when purchasing study material from ACSM

ACSM Certification Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

ACSM Certification Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) - ACSM textbook on table with FAQs

What is ACSM?

ACSM is the abbreviation for the American College of Sports Medicine. It was founded in 1954 and had been certifying personal trainers in different sub-fields. The NCCA also recognizes it.

What certifications does ACSM offer?

ACSM certifies people to become Certified Personal Trainers (CPT) in two categories: Certified Clinical Exercise Specialist (CES) and Certified Health Fitness Specialist (HFS).

Others include ACSM Certified Clinical Exercise Physiologist (ACSM-CEP), ACSM/NCHPAD Certified Inclusive Fitness Trainer (CIFT)

How much does ACSM certification cost?

ACSM is a relatively cheap personal trainer certification. ACSM members pay $279 to take the exam, while non-members pay $349 for the ACSM PT exam.

Do I need Insurance as a Certified ACSM Personal Trainer?

Yes, it would be best if you were covered under an insurance plan that typically costs $169 annually.

What is the pass rate for the ACSM exam?

Your chances of success are high. Typically, a third, or about 71%, of those who sit for the exam pass. Your chances of passing are pretty good when compared to other PT certifications.

Is ACSM a good certification body?

Absolutely! The fact that they are a scientific body that churns out lots of research in the field puts them head and shoulder above many others in their category. That is why most gyms will require certification before employing you.

Does ACSM provide study materials and other resources?

Yes. You can purchase the textbooks from their website before sitting for the exam. These are Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription ($70), Resources for the Personal Trainer (about $40), ACSM’s Introduction to Exercise Science (about $40), and Nutrition for Exercise Science (about $40).

How can I get the electronic version of the ACSM CPT practice test and ACSM Study Guide?

ACSM provides a lot of useful and relevant content in the form of a study guide where you get practice questions. The full study guide, practice questions, and flashcards are on our website home page.

What is ACSM contact information?

ACSM is located at 401 W Michigan St, Indianapolis, IN 46202, United States. You can reach them on the phone at +1 317-637-9200 or by Fax at (317) 634-7817

What is ACSM Personal Trainer Salary?

The ACSM average personal trainer salary per year is around $48,916, give or take, depending on the state where you practice.

How long does ACSM certification last?

ACSM certification qualifies you to be a personal trainer for three years. Before the three years elapses, you must apply for recertification by getting your CEC (Continuing Education Certification) and paying for the recertification process.

The second option is that you pay to retake the exam.

How do I get ACSM certified?

There are four easy steps to get certified with ACSM:
– Choose a certification of your choice based on your qualifications and passion
– Choose the package that suits you and study for the exams
– Choose a date that is convenient for you to write the exams
– Pass the test and you will become one of the best personal trainers out there

How hard is the ACSM CPT exam?

With the help of study materials, test books, and prepU , your chances of passing are high.


The ACSM exam is a well-known fitness certification designed as your first step into the fitness industry.

The curriculum is overall adequate; however, it does have a few weaker components that you should consider brushing up on before your first training session with a real client.

The study materials available from the ACSM are high quality but overpriced, and third party study guides are a more economical and practical choice when preparing for the exam,

The exam itself is of average-to-easy difficulty compared to industry standards for well-prepared students.

The ACSM CPT certification is best suited for newer trainers who plan to have a career in clinical exercise programming.

However, the ACSM has many great CEU programs for many different careers in the fitness industry.

The ACSM CPT is a good choice as your first personal training certification and a great entry point into the fitness industry.

ACSM CPT Review (Video)

ACSM personal trainer certification (CPT) Review in 2023 - Exam Cost + Pros & Cons 🤔
Tyler Read - Certified Personal Trainer with PTPioneer

Tyler Read

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11 thoughts on “ACSM Certification Review 2024 – Is ACSM worth it?”

  1. I’ve been considering a personal trainer certification for some time now, although I didn’t think I would go for the ACSM CPT. However, I’m hoping to begin work at the rec center in my college, which requires personal trainers to be ACSM certified. Grateful for your thorough writing on the ACSM as well as all of the other notable PT certifications.

    • Definitely, the American Council on sports medicine is a fantastic certification. The only thing they really lack is and easier to understand textbook and study materials. But, they are one of the highest recognized and most in-depth certifications out there so you can’t really go wrong.

  2. Hi I am a DPT and I am considering the NASM or ACSM. Which one would be best for a DPT and do you know which specific cert the ACSM is best for a PT? Are there multiple certs for the NASM or just the one?

    Thank you!

  3. Hii i m from india stays at kandivali Maharashtra and want to do sports nutrition course could u pls help me with the details of acsm course details

    • Hello, I recommend checking out the ISSA sports nutrition certification as everything can be done online. With ACSM you will need to go into a testing center I believe and I am not sure if they have any in India although I am not 100% sure on that you will have to check. I hope this helps answer your question.

  4. Hi Tyler I am trying to decide on who I should go with for my Cot certification.I am going to be working with the general population hopefully at a Ymca.I have been working out since I was seventeen and now am Sixty one.Please give me your recommendation thanks

    • Hey Donnie,
      I personally think that the ACE general personal trainer certification is the best for the general population. Especially if you are planning on working at the YMCA as they are are a very reputable certification with them.

  5. I am from india,i want to do actual course where I can attend theory and practical session so I can understand concepts easily,but confused in ACSM and ACE. plz suggest


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