ACSM vs NSCA - The Battle of the two Popular Certifications 2021

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    Welcome to a comparison article between two big certifications in fitness: ACSM vs NSCA!

    In this head-to-head comparison of ACSM vs NSCA, you’ll have ample insight and understanding of the following:

    The overall focus of ACSM and NSCA
    Information on the test, materials, and pricing
    + much more

    With way more than 10 years of experience in the personal training industry, you’ll agree that I’m more than qualified to share my view on them.

    Let’s set the ball rolling on these two certs!

    ACSM vs NSCA - The Battle of the two Popular Certifications [year] 4

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      Welcome to my ACSM vs NSCA article, Let’s see which of these old-school certifications training programs will be the best for you!

      After finishing my article, you will have a much better idea of which certification program is right for you and your style of training.

      Don’t forget to read my bread and butter article comparing the best five certifications to one another!

      If you like VS articles you might like: ACSM vs NASM, ACSM vs ACE, NSCA vs NASM, or NASM vs ACE.

      I recommend that you take the quiz to find out which Certified PT program is best for your training goals.

      This helps a lot. The menu at the top of this page will answer any question related to personal training that you have.

      If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to leave me a comment here (I’ll respond within 24 hours).

      Also, visit the home page for the most recent and popular articles.

      Also, make sure to check out my free NSCA study guide and practice test.

      If you are looking for premium study materials and an exam pass guarantee, I highly recommend Trainer Academy for NSCA and for ACSM.

      Check out my review on them here.

      ACSM vs NSCA Certification Quick Information

      ACSM vs NSCA Quick Information

      What exactly do you need to look out for in a certification?

      Check below for what differentiates ACSM from NSCA.

      Both the NSCA-CPT and ACSM-CPT are accredited by the NCCA, the National Commission for Certifying Agencies.

      NCCA accredited certifications are considered to be the top tier when it comes to the fitness industry.

      ACSM is the American College of Sports Medicine and NSCA is the National Strength and Conditioning Association.

      Both personal trainer certification online courses are highly recognized within the industry of personal training.

      With both of these certifications and their high respect, a trainer would have no problem meeting the average personal trainer salary within a typical 40 hour trainer schedule.

      The NSCA focuses more on sports performance while the ACSM certification focuses more on corrective exercise. These certifications will still cover a solid amount of kinesiology, exercise technique, strength training, working with special populations, general population program design, and more.

      Both certifications have an option to be a member of the organization to save on certification costs. They also have the option for specializations to add to a health fitness coach, such as health coaching, group fitness instructor, and other popular ones.

      The ACSM currently costs $349 for non-members, whereas the cheapest option for the NSCA non-members is $435.

      The NSCA requires recertification every two years whereas the ACSM requires recertification every three years.

      For both of these CPT certifications there is the requirement/prerequisite of having a high school diploma and also holding a current CPR and AED certification. You do not need to have a bachelor’s degree.

      You will also need to consider the continuing education credits, which are the CEUs, as this varies for both. This might factor into what is the best personal trainer certification for you.

      All fitness certifications are going to require these credentials and they have their own associated recertification fee to be paid within certain timeframes.

      The Overall Focus of ACSM and NSCA

      The overall Focus of ACSM and NSCA

      In this segment, you’ll learn about the exact focus of each certification that sets them apart from the rest.

      These 2 personal training certifications are some of the oldest and well-recognized certifications in the industry.

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      Although they have both been around a long time they both have different primary focuses.

      ACSM focuses primarily on research and development in the field of exercise science.

      They are in fact a scientific body. Most certifications reference ACSM’s research in their own textbooks.

      They tend to focus on clients that have previous medical conditions or injuries.

      There is a lot of functional training and muscular corrective exercise in their training methods.

      I would put ACSM in the category of a corrective exercise certification.

      NSCA primarily focuses on athletic performance for sports.

      A lot of the training methods involve reactive training, speed, agility, and quickness training.

      They have a more advanced certification called the CSCS, certified strength and conditioning coach, that is firmly centered around sports performance.

      Their general certification is kind of a precursor to their more advanced certification.

      Since you are not yet certified as a personal trainer (I am assuming), you should check out my articles for people just starting out such as “how much money physical trainers make?” and my ultimate guide on how to start personal training.

      Let’s get right into my article so you all can find out what’s up!

      Information on the test, materials, and pricing

      Information on the test, materials, and pricing

      Let’s unveil the study materials you need, to achieve a pass guarantee, as well as the cost of each certification.


      The only study material that NSCA provides you with is their textbook.

      This book package will cost approximately $290 from their website.

      I’m sure you could purchase a used version somewhere else online like Amazon.

      The textbook is quite extensive.

      It is not an easy read in comparison to other certifications.

      Approximately 54% of the 1st time test takers for NSCA pass. So, the pass rate is rather close to 50/50.

      It is important to take as many practice exams as possible so as to not need a retake.

      How much you pay for the test all depends on whether or not you are a member of NSCA.

      If you are a non-member, you should expect to pay approximately $435 for the test itself.

      Overall it will cost you $290 with the basic study package.

      They offer you to take the test with a pencil and paper or a computerized version.

      There are 150 questions in the test, and you will receive three whole hours to finish it.

      From the time that you purchased the certification exam, you will be given one year of study time maximum, before you are required to take the test.

      This test is tough. I know a lot of people have used the whole year to study everything that is in the textbook.

      Check out my full review on NSCA.

      Also, make sure to check out my NSCA-cpt exam prep article as well as my NSCA test FAQ article. Practice questions during study are vital to do well on the final exam.

      If you are planning on studying NSCA, check out my free study guide here or the premium study guide at Trainer Academy that will cut your study time in half.


      Just like the NSCA textbook, they also have a monster.

      Overall you can purchase three different books that will help you study for the ACSM test.

      Two primary books help you get acquainted with the material.

      The 3rd booklet helps you review their primary textbook.

      This booklet for a personal trainer costs approximately $30 on their website.

      The primary textbook will cost roughly $48.

      Again you can probably find a cheaper used version on Amazon.

      This textbook teaches you the basics of exercise science, exercises, and routine development.

      The 2nd book focuses strongly on prescribing routines for specific individuals as well as exercise testing.

      This will cost you approximately $40 if you purchase it from their website.

      Unlike NSCA, they offer a prep course where you can get hands-on experience.

      This workshop costs $270.

      Although it is a pricey workshop, it helps you get prepared to work one-on-one with a real client.

      Compared to other certifications, ACSM is one of the harder exams to pass.

      Approximately 65% of 1st-time test-takers will pass it.

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      Gold Standard Cert
      Save 25%
      Most Popular Cert
      3 Certs for 1
      A Good Option
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      Best Study Materials
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      Best online PT course
      $100 Off
      The Top PT Software
      Get Free Trial

      The best advice I can give is to study all three books as much as you can.

      The textbook and the test are purchased separately just like NSCA.

      And you can get a discount if you are a member of ACSM.

      For some people, this might be worth it, but a yearly fee is not worth it to me.

      The test will cost approximately $349 for nonmembers.

      Expect to spend around $600 for the test and all of the textbooks.

      Check out my full review on ACSM.

      Also, I suggest checking out my ACSM test prep article as well as my ACSM exam FAQ article.

      I also have a free and awesome ACSM study guide and practice test here.

      If you want in the exam pass guarantee though, I suggest checking out Trainer Academy here.

      Conclusion on ACSM vs NSCA

      Conclusion on ACSM vs NSCA

      Having the info outlined here will definitely help you make the best choice for your career.

      I am available if you need more help on this. Expecting your feedback in the comment section.

      Both of these certifications have been around for a reasonable amount of time and are very well recognized within the personal training industry.

      You will have no problem excelling in your personal training business with either of these.

      When it comes to difficulty, both certifications are relatively difficult to pass. ACSM Is a little bit cheaper overall compared to NSCA.

      I recommend that you take the quiz to find out which certification is best for you if you’re still having a tough time deciding.

      If your future clients are going to be high school or college athletes, I would hands-down go with NSCA.

      This is doubly true if you are planning on obtaining their CSCS, the certified strength and conditioning specialist, certification at any point.

      On the other hand, if you are going to be working with post-rehab clients or overall sedentary individuals, I would opt for ACSM.

      This is the most critical question you need to ask yourself as a certified personal trainer, and this can go for basically all fitness professionals:

      Who do you want to train?

      I would also make sure to check with potential employers on what certifications they accept and which ones they prefer! And although I think both of these certifications are great, there are better options out there in my opinion.

      NASM, National Academy of Sports Medicine, certification does a better job with their corrective exercise curriculum (than ACSM), and they also have an advanced performance enhancement specialist PES certification that I think is better than the CSCS. They are one of the best fitness options for certified trainers.

      You can check out their site here.

      ACE, the American Council on Exercise, is also another great option to go with, and their study materials are top-of-the-line, maybe even the best personal training certification. Another solid option is for ISSA and it’s one of the best personal fitness trainer exercise programs, also.

      Check out the ACE site here.

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