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.

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

What type of Certification are you looking to get?

Let’s get started!


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

  • 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.

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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.

Trainer Academy Guide
Trainer Academy Guide
  • Complete curriculum study preparation
  • Audio guide, flashcards, and mnemonics
  • 800+ practice questions
  • Highest exam pass rate
  • Exam pass refund guarantee
  • Cheaper deals than ACSM pricing
ACSM Materials
ACSM Materials
  • Curriculum study preparation
  • Includes CPT Prep course
  • 200+ practice questions
  • Facebook CPT group (free)
  • No exam pass refund guarantee
  • $600+ for study course, textbooks additional $80+
Free ACSM Study Guide
Free ACSM Study Guide
  • Curriculum material overview
  • Complete chapter breakdowns
  • 60 practice questions
  • 130 flashcards and cheat sheet
  • Free from PTPioneer

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.

Exclusive PTP CPT Offers

Gold Standard Cert
NASM Gold Standard Personal Trainer Certification - Save 25&percnt off
Most Popular Cert
ISSA - Most Popular Online Personal Trainer Certification 3 Certs for
Best Study Materials
TA - Trainer Academy - Best Study Materials for Personal Trainer Certification Online - See MVP discount
A Good Option
ACE Certification- A Good Fitness Course Online Option - 25&percnt off
A Good Option
NCSF Certification - A Good Option - Save 25%
Best CPT for you?
Best CPT For You? Take the Personal Trainer Certification Online quiz and Get a Personalized Recommendation Just for You

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? 3
ACSM Certification Review [year] - Is ACSM worth it? 4

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.

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 streng

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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