ACE and AFAA are both quality personal trainer certifications meant for trainers who are just entering the industry. The ACE IFT Model is exceptional if you need a straightforward methodology for exercise technique and program design, whereas the AFAA CPT is a great affordable option to get your fitness career started.

Read more to find out which certification makes the most sense for your career.

ACE vs AFAA - Tyler lays on carpet next to afaa and ace textbooks - which is best, ace or afaa

This personal training certification comparison is from my personal experience with the signup process, studying/exam preparation, and passing the ACE Certified Personal Trainer and AFAA Personal Fitness Trainer exams.

I will detail all the pros and cons of these two certifications and give you my takeaway on both of them.

Throughout this comparison article, I will cover the following:

  • My experience with these two programs: ACE CPT and AFAA PFT
  • Insight into my review methodology
  • My thoughts on the quality and coverage of the textbooks and study materials
  • Topical information compared, such as pricing, bundles, and prerequisites

If you are still unsure after this, make sure that you take the quiz to figure out the best certification for your career aspirations.

What type of Certification are you looking to get?
ACE vs AFAA pic with emoji of Tyler
CPTACSM vs ACE Quick BreakdownFeaturesPrice
ACE

ACE

  • Best certification for actual personal training work
  • Complete skillset for training healthy clients
  • ACE IFT® Model provides excellent program framework
  • Mover Model® effective for behavior change
  • No sales skills discussed
  • Weak on corrective exercise
View on the ACE website
AFAA

AFAA

 

  • Reasonably priced compared to other significant certifications
  • AFAA is a subsidiary of the highly regarded NASM
  • Heavy focus on the exercise science portion of personal training
View on the AFAA website
ACE
AFAA
Product
Product
Exam cost
Exam cost
$499
$199.00
Study Material Cost
Study Material Cost
$587 – $1,037+
$499.00 (plus book)
Prerequisites
Prerequisites
18+ years old, High School Diploma, First Aid, CPR, AED
CPR/AED, 18 years of age, high school diploma/GED
Exam Passing Score
Exam Passing Score
72%
70%
Exam Pass Rate
Exam Pass Rate
70%
68%
Average Completion Time
Average Completion Time
3 – 6 months
3 – 6 months

What is ACE?

ACE logo for the company

ACE, the American Council on Exercise, is potentially the most prominent not-for-profit fitness organization and, thus, has a lot of credibilities and a high reputation behind it. ACE was founded back in 1985.

ACE’s mission is to “Get People Moving” and the well-renowned ACE CPT certification attempts to reinforce this with all of its students.

ACE offers a number of certifications accredited by the NCCA, like this certification program, which is the highest quality accreditation an organization can go for–the gold standard.

This organization is especially well known for its group cert, teaching the instructor skills needed to lead classes with their ACE Group Fitness Instructor

ACE is one of my favorite organizations, as they offer some excellent textbooks and provide many types of specializations, which I often use.

Keep in mind that the ACE CPT will give someone all of the personal training skills needed, as it is a proven personal training cert.

ACE General Information

ACE General Information

  • Exam cost: $499
  • Study material cost: $587 – $1,037+
  • Prerequisites: CPR/AED, High School Diploma
  • Exam passing score: Scaled 550/800 – 90/125 Scored Questions
  • Exam pass rate: ~70% (2019 data)
  • Average completion time: 3 to 5 months

What is AFAA?

AFAA logo for the company

AFAA, or the Athletics and Fitness Association of America, is a fitness credential organization founded in 1983.

AFAA is not as well-known for its personal trainer certification but has more name recognition for its role in Continuing Education Units and the many courses and specializations that help with this aspect, like their and AFAA Group Exercise and Yoga Certifications. 

The AFAA’s mission is to change bodies and advance the lives of fitness instructors and clients who these instructors guide.

I find the offerings of the AFAA to be quite impressive for a lesser-known company, which intrigued me with their personal training certification.

AFAA PFT General Information

AFAA PFT General Information

 

  • Exam cost:   $199.00
  • Study Material Cost:  $499.00
  • Prerequisites: 18+ years old, High School Diploma, First Aid, CPR, AED
  • Exam Passing Score70%
  • Exam Pass Rate: ~68%
  • Average Completion Time: 3-9 months

In this article, let’s see how the AFAA PFT and their 40 years of exercise science experience work against the likes of ACE.

Pros and Cons of ACE CPT and AFAA PFT

AFAA vs ACE - textbooks for ace cpt and afaa cpt - pros and cons

Pros for ACE and AFAA

In my opinion, both ACE and AFAA hit the right skill set to be optimal for training healthy people in the general population.

The ACE CPT program has an excellent foundation with the ACE IFT model, which frames out resistance and aerobic training.

ACE also has the Mover Model, which aids in client behavior change. AFAA also teaches many of the same behavior change points but without the framework of the Mover Method.

AFAA has a stronger focus and more detailed text regarding exercise science, which can be seen in their exam format, as exercise science is one-third of the exam weight.

I like that AFAA ensures its students master all of these aspects of exercise foundation and goes very in-depth in the exercise science categories like anatomy and physiology.

AFAA gets its biggest pro when we consider it a great organization for CEUs, as it has numerous beneficial specializations and many courses for a professional to take for around 2 credits at a time.

Cons for ACE and AFAA

ACE’s CPT basic package has notably less corrective exercise science coverage than the other top CPT certifications in the industry.

A significant negative of the AFAA PFT program is that the textbook is not included and must be purchased separately for $79. It feels like they should charge more for the program package to fit in the textbook in some form.

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I also find the AFAA text somewhat dull for longer study sessions, as it lacks the color and flash of ACE’s text.

This is certainly a small thing, but it  just detracts from your experience; not necessarily the information you receive. 

The ACE CPT receives its other major con by not discussing personal trainer sales skills and any business aspects, which almost every program will touch on in some way.

ACE vs AFAA Packages and Study Materials

ace vs afaa cpt - textbooks for ace and afaa on table with gold coins and money bag, which costs more?

ACE CPT Packages

The first ACE CPT package is the Basic package, with a base price of $979. Remember, you will likely find this package and the other two ACE packages for nearly half off when they are running a deal or discount.

The Basic package includes the following list of things:

  • ACE University
  • ACE Certification Exam
  • 1 ACE Practice Test
  • A Digital Copy of the ACE Personal Trainer Textbook
  • A Digital Copy of the ACE Personal Trainer Study Companion
  • ACE Answers (Basic)

The Second ACE CPT package is the Plus package, with a base price of $1,149.

The Plus package includes the following:

  • ACE University
  • ACE Certification Exam
  • 2 ACE Practice Tests
  • A Digital AND Hard Copy of the ACE Personal Trainer Textbook
  • A Digital AND Hard Copy of the ACE Personal Trainer Study Companion
  • ACE Answers (Plus) with Live Q&A Webinars
  • Free Standard Shipping for Hard Copy Textbooks
  • Exercise Science 101

The Third ACE CPT package is the Advantage package, with a base price of $1,729.

The Advantage package includes access to:

  • ACE University
  • ACE Certification Exam
  • 4 ACE Practice Tests
  • A Digital AND Hard Copy of the ACE Personal Trainer Textbook
  • An Audiobook of the ACE Personal Trainer Textbook
  • A Digital AND Hard Copy of the ACE Personal Trainer Study Companion
  • ACE Answers (Advantage) with Live Q&A Webinars and Facilitated Study Groups
  • Free Expedited Shipping for Hard Copy Textbooks
  • Exercise Science 101
  • Dedicated Advantage Team

I love the variety of these three options with ACE with different options to support you on your way to becoming certified. 

AFAA PFT Package

The AFAA only has one package for their Personal Fitness Trainer program, which makes the options breakdown much shorter.

The AFAA Personal Fitness Trainer package is very similar to the ACE CPT Basic package. This package costs $499.

Included in the AFAA PFT will be the following:

  • 14 Online Video Lectures
  • Personal Fitness Trainer Downloadable Study Guide
  • Sample Multiple Choice Test Questions
  • Authenticated Online Exam
  • Free Digital Subscription to the American Fitness Magazine
  • AFAA Personal Fitness Trainer Certification

Missing from this package is the AFAA PFT, which is odd because they don’t, at a minimum, have a slightly higher cost to include the textbook.

The Textbook will cost an additional $79.

AFAA vs ACE [year] - Which Certification Wins? 3
AFAA vs ACE [year] - Which Certification Wins? 4

ACE CPT vs. AFAA PFT Course Layouts

AFAA and ACE - textbooks laid out to table of contents

ACE CPT Course Layout

The ACE CPT program features an online study portal that holds all of the resources you get in your package.

I like the menu layout, and it is very easy to go through, but the book is not as convenient through the study portal, and definitely easier to go through if you download their app.

Tyler shows the ACE study materials directly from the study portal.

The first aspect of ACE’s Personal Trainer program is ACE University, where ACE presents its five textbook sections, breaking down the content into domains.

The ACE University has a video for each of its significant domains. These videos consist of the ACE professionals coming together and breaking down the essential topics and reasoning for the various concepts throughout the sections.

I find it is a nice change of pace from simply reading the book, and it adds more to the chapters. I have seen any other exercise program equivalent to ACE University by others out there, like ACSM or NSCA.

It would be even more beneficial if they had the same kind of video for each chapter in the future.

Another exciting feature of ACE University is the use of post-chapter quizzes and pre-tests to prepare readers for what they are about to learn.

The Textbook is best used from the ACE Library Application, where you have it fully downloaded and very easily navigated.

Tyler showing the ACE app with the downloaded textbooks

The textbook is broken down like the ACE University breaks down the materials, and that is in 5 core sections:

  • Section 1: Introduction (Chapters 1 – 2)
  • Section 2: A Client-centered Approach to Personal Training (Chapters 3 – 6)
  • Section 3: Assessments, Programming, and Progressions (Chapters 7 – 11)
  • Section 4: Program Modifications for Clients with Special Considerations (Chapters 12 – 15)
  • Section 5: Professional Responsibilities (Chapter 16)

When looking at the sections here and comparing them to other programs, I find ACE lacks exercise science knowledge and business aspects.

You still learn how to help clients reach fitness goals, achieve a weight loss goal using strength training and cardio workouts. 

Each chapter is summarized in the beginning pages to show what you will learn within.

Tyler Showing the chapter goals example in the ACE textbook

For me, after reading through the text, the most puzzling aspect of the ACE certification is that a class for the exercise science information exists, but only for the two higher-tiered packages. This very odd decision only appears to deprive learners of what all other CPTs provide, as we see with the AFAA Study materials.

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This is something that takes away from the actual content later in the text. When compared to the amount of info in other top certifications like NASM and ISSA, it is a glaring issue for the job of training clients in the gym.

While you don’t need to know how things like muscle contractions work to take someone through a good workout session, having an overview of these things will aid in your development as a trainer, especially when clients ask you questions about exercises.

Knowing how to lift weights for reps and use equipment is one thing; knowing why you’re doing it, and how the muscles adapt is another thing entirely. 

ACE does not put the same importance on Business Aspects, as they do not even have a dedicated chapter for this in their newest editions of the text, whereas past editions did have this information.

AFAA, as you will see, has more mention of the business aspect and exercise science but has its own issues, which are not quite as immediately noticeable.

AFAA Course Layout

The AFAA textbook has one major issue: it is colorless. It can be a bit dull when compared directly to the ACE materials, which have color and are represented better online.

Tyler showing the physical AFAA PFT textbook cover

There are a total of nearly 500 pages within this textbook, which is close in comparison with ACE, but they do not have the typical section breakdown, which is a minor matter, but nothing major at all.

The AFAA text is broken down into 14 chapters, which means some of the early chapters on exercise science can feel a bit long winded and exhausting to read through.

I still found this much part better than the ACE usage of Exercise Science, which is entirely limited to a more premium study package. At least AFAA includes exercise science in all versions of its textbook.

The chapter layout of the AFAA text is as follows:

  • Chapter 1: Understanding Wellness
  • Chapter 2: Exercise Physiology
  • Chapter 3: Anatomy and Physiology
  • Chapter 4: Health Screening and Risk Appraisal
  • Chapter 5: Fitness Assessment
  • Chapter 6: Cardiorespiratory Programming
  • Chapter 7: Muscular Strength and Endurance Programming
  • Chapter 8: Applied Resistance Training Skills
  • Chapter 9: Flexibility Programming
  • Chapter 10: Injury Prevention
  • Chapter 11: Special Populations
  • Chapter 12: Nutrition and Weight Management
  • Chapter 13: Behavior Modification and Communication Skills
  • Chapter 14: Business Aspects, Legal Issues, and Professional Responsibilities

Even the appendices within the textbook are super helpful, and they make up for a few of the chapters one may think are lacking if they only read the chapters of the text.

The appendices in the text are:

  • Appendix A: Emergency Protocol Standard First Aid, CPR, and AED
  • Appendix B: Effects of Medication
  • Appendix C: Personal Fitness Trainer Forms, Questionnaires, and Assessment Norms
  • Appendix D: AFAA’s Nutritional Supplement Policy
Tyler showing the table of contents for the AFAA PFT textbook

The AFAA text does not offer as many outside materials as ACE does, but ACE also restricts much of this to the levels of packages you can buy.

Again, one negative comment I have is that the lack of color makes it hard to stay excited and focused when studying when I am in my AFAA textbook.

Studying directly from a non-colored page for too long can get somewhat dull.

When compared side-by-side, it can be a bit boring just reading the intros to the chapters in AFAA when compared to ACE.

For some people, this won’t be an issue at all. Everyone has different styles of learning. 

Tyler is showing the Chapter outline/goals for chapter 1 in the AFAA PFT textbook

The AFAA includes many of its own assessment forms, questionnaires, and norms for trainers to easily seek out and utilize in their career, which ACE has within small sections of their textbook. Still, it is better within the AFAA text.

Both certifications list the benefits of exercise and movement for the general population, and give you some basic diet information as well. 

Overall Course Layout Major Points

Altogether, ACE and AFAA are comparable certs; ACE has a higher reputation due to its presence in the fitness industry.

In my opinion, the online study dashboard and downloadable format for the text are the strongest positive differentiators for the ACE CPT program.

ACE University is a solid positive; as I stated before, it helps organize all of the study features, which is up to par with the other top certifications.

For AFAA, in my opinion, the program has a leg up on ACE when we look at its sections on exercise science and business aspects since ACE chose to include these two important sections minimally.

The AFAA text lacks color and flash, but it is a somewhat more solid and comprehensive textbook at times, whereas ACE doesn’t offer exercise science in all its study packages.

The AFAA PFT gives its readers a concise location for many forms and assessments to use easily, they don’t offer a downloadable format like ISSA, but neither does ACE.

To summarize, I believe the ACE CPT and AFAA PFT to be equal as their positives and negatives cancel out in terms of the offerings on the table here for learners.

ACE vs. AFAA Certification Final Exams

The ACE CPT exam consists of 150 multiple-choice questions where 125 of the 150 are scored and the other 25 are experimental questions not counting toward the overall exam score.

Test-takers are given 3 hours to complete the ACE exam, which is pretty typical.

All exam results are uploaded directly to the ACE account after finishing the test.

Research data puts the ACE exam at a pass rate hovering around 67 – 72% based on an average of the last few years, so it is not an easy exam by any means, and anyone should be adequately prepared for that level of difficulty. 

The AFAA exam consists of 120 multiple-choice questions, and you are given a total of 120 minutes to complete the exam, so this exam is a bit more rushed, with one minute per question.

To pass the AFAA PFT exam, you need a 70% or higher score, which is common in the industry.

The results of the AFAA exam are given immediately upon exam completion to the candidate.

There would be a retake fee for the ACE and AFAA exams if the first attempt at the exam failed.

Both of these exams are proctored exams and uphold the highest test-taking standards.

My exam advice would be to take the steps to create a good study guide from your notes as you read through the textbook and review each key area of knowledge for at least a month before taking the test.

You can even make your own flashcards or find a good study resource from third-party options like Trainer Academy. 

ACE vs. AFAA Recertification Details

continuing education credits are needed for recertification

Both basic recertification processes are similar, with AFAA having an interesting recertification for life option that could make it the better choice for many individuals.

ACE recertification has a requirement of 20 continuing education credits, or CECs, which is 10 per year. In many cases, this can consist of just one ACE specialization course, which is most often the go-to choice for most folks.

One of the ways I like is to seek out specialization certifications for continuing education units, as each CEU allows you to add to your knowledge with specific new areas in fitness and add more to what you offer your clients.

ACE, like AFAA and other major CPT certifications, requires learners to keep a current CPR/AED certification when recertifying them. This is common for both of these companies, and most employers will also be looking for this CPR/AED cert.

As far as cost goes, for one certificate like the ACE CPT, it would cost $129, and that price rises just a bit for each additional ACE Certification that you have, maxing out at $200 for four certifications.

The AFAA requirements state that their learners must achieve 15 hours of continuing education every two years, which is much lower than ACE and much lower than the norm.

You must also keep your CPR/AED certification up-to-date for recertification with the AFAA PT.

To recertify once every two years, you must pay $99 in fees for the process.

AFAA stands out significantly with another offer: recertification for life. This is their most popular recertification method.

To recertify for life, you have to pay $399, but after four recertifications, it is already paid for, assuming the price never goes up over the years, which it will eventually. For this consideration, it is definitely worth it. 

On top of the recertification, you get many deals on workshops, specializations, and products. You, of course, will still need to get all of the required continuing education credits in order for the recertification process.

All in all, the AFAA offers a cheaper basic option, an option to recertify for life, and the process requires fewer continuing education credits.

ACE vs. AFAA Overall Ratings

ACE vs AFAA - textbooks for ACE and AFAA on table with gold stars and yellow question mark boxes - overall review of these cpts
ACE

ACE

  • One of the most popular and highly regarded certification providers in the world
  • A non-profit organization that drives many community-based projects
  • A good entry point for new, up-and-coming fitness professionals
  • Study portal  and text are both state-of-the-art
AFAA

AFAA

 

  • Reasonably priced compared to other significant certifications
  • AFAA is a subsidiary of the highly regarded NASM
  • Heavy focus on the exercise science portion of personal training

ACE vs. AFAA FAQs

How can I become a certified personal trainer?

Once you have the idea of getting certified as a CPT, snap into action: choose the optimal program for yourself, study for the program, and then pass the certification exam, which is the final step. After that, you can offer your services privately or work for a gym or facility. 

Which personal training program is better, ACE or AFAA?

Both of these programs have pros and cons and don’t quite weigh up to the ISSA and NASM CPT certifications. ACE has a better reputation in the industry, but AFAA has a better textbook and isn’t lacking any major sections. The true value of these two will be up to you to decide based on your needs, but they are both quality certs.

Do you need a degree to be a personal trainer?

A degree is not required for personal training, but more education is never a negative if you want to go that route (like a kinesiology or human body science degree). These two certs do not require a college degree to certify. Gyms will not require a degree either, although if you want to be a strength and conditioning coach (and take the CSCS), you will most often need a degree. So if you want to train people in the field of athletic performance, you might consider a college degree. 

How long will it take to become a personal trainer?

The completion of both of these training courses from ACE and AFAA will vary from person to person, but you will typically see it completed in a timeframe of 3 – 9 months, usually close to the 5 month mark for new learners to synthesize everything. 

Which certification is harder, ACE or AFAA?

Depending on which year you look at and which iteration of the test, these two both hover in the high 60% range, with ACE having the lower pass rates, around 62% some years.

Tyler Read - Certified Personal Trainer with PTPioneer

Tyler Read


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8 thoughts on “AFAA vs ACE 2024 – Which Certification Wins?”

  1. Hi Tyler,
    Is one or the other, ACE vs AFFA, better for adding on additional courses, either now as a package purchase, or as a later ad-on. I’m new, but plan on learning the basics plus group training, nutrition and psychology/coaching.
    Thanks,
    Stacy

    Reply
    • Hi Stacy, thanks for your comment. Both ACE and AFAA are great choices. The ACE certification is a popular choice for those just starting out. I highly recommend that you take the quiz to find out which personal trainer certification is the best fit for you and if it would be a good choice if you plan on adding other certifications.
      Thanks

      Reply
  2. Hi, A great job comparing the two. I’ve had my AFAA since it’s inception and have to say as an employer, I found instructors who were AFAA cert-ed did a better job actually teaching and cue-ing. Maybe because for so long AFAA had a practical test along with the written. I’ve had class participants also say that ACE instructors have a tendency to “lecture out of the book”. I’m sure this doesn’t apply across the board; it’s Just my observations and comments given me over the years.

    Reply
  3. Thank you! I am interested in the Group Certification rather than Personal Training. Do you have the same opinion that ACE is better for Group as well?

    Reply
    • Overall I do think that the certification from the American Council on exercise is one of the top group exercise credentials in the industry. Good luck with your group exercise training career.

      Reply

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