ACE vs NASM – Which is the better certification in 2019?

Welcome to my NASM vs ACE comparison. Are you having trouble choosing between these top two personal training certifications?

In this article, you will realize which certification is perfect for your style of personal training. You also need to check out my must-read article on the comparison of the top five personal training certifications, or if you like vs articles: NASM vs ISSA and ACE vs ISSA.

Make sure to check out the NASM and ACE sites for more info as well as my free NASM study guide/practice test and free ACE study guide/practice test!

I highly recommend that you Take the quiz to find out which personal trainer certification is the best fit for you overall. This is just an estimation, read the article to get the full understanding.

If you have ANY question, do not hesitate to ask me at the bottom 🙂

ACE vs NASM Quick Information

NASM is considered more of a corrective exercise certification, whereas ACE is more of a general CPT certification. NASM progresses clients using their OPT training model, while ACE uses their IFT training model. Both NASM and ACE are extremely well-recognized within the industry and are both NCCA accredited certifications. Both certifications have fantastic study materials that include the textbook and live support. NASM also has the option for life workshops, compared to ACE which does not. The cost for ACE ranges between $599 and $799, whereas NASM costs between $699 and $1999 for their most expensive package. The pass rate for the ACE test is 65%, while the pass rate for the NASM test is 64%.

The overall focus and recognition of NASM and ACE

NASM

I categorize the certification as a corrective exercise certification.

While you can train average sedentary Americans, they do have a slight emphasis on muscular imbalances. Most sedentary individuals have many muscular imbalances from sitting all day.

NASM starts to address these imbalances before progressing these clients through a strength routine. The beginning stage of their OPT training model is called “stabilization.” This is the level that focuses on corrective training for muscular imbalances.

NASM is useful for training sedentary individuals as well as clients that are coming off an injury. Having the skill set to get clients back into the habit of exercise is one of the best things you can do for them.

Here is the official YouTube video for NASM:

ACE

ACE does an excellent job at helping potential trainers learn the essentials of exercise science for them to build useful workout routines for a wide variety of individuals.

I would put the ACE certification in the general category because they go over so many topics but does not necessarily specialize in any one of them.

Their exercise routines are typically geared towards the average sedentary American that is trying to lose weight. And that is a good thing considering that most of your clients starting out will have these exact goals.

Here is the official YouTube video for ACE:

General focus summary

General focus: It all depends on the type of clients that you would like to train. One is not better than the other unless you can determine in neck what kind of training you would want to become and the overall goals of the clientele that you will have.

Overall, I think that NASM better helps you repair for the average client that you will receive as a personal trainer. This is because most clients have some muscular imbalance that needs to be corrected.

The winner for certification focus is NASM (by a hair)

Winner of the general focus is NASM

Popularity and Industry Recognition

NASM

NASM an extremely well-recognized certification within the industry. It actually might be the most sought-after certification currently. If you have ever hopped on an Internet forum or gone to the personal training reddit section, you’ll see exactly how popular the NASM CPT is.

Not only does it have extreme hype online, but it also might be the most talked about certification by big-name employers such as 24-hour fitness. This is just how much weight the NASM certification has in the industry.

The NASM certification is accredited by the NCCA which is typically thought to be the most grueling and well-recognized accrediting agency.

ACE

ACE is also an extremely well-recognized certification within the personal training industry. Every commercial, private or local gymnasium that I have ever talked to accepts this certification. Similar to NASM, every gym accepts ACE.

Just like NASM, ACE is also accredited by the NCCA.

To show you guys have a net connect both certifications are in regards to popularity, here is a screenshot of the last 12 months on Google trends.

As you guys can see from the image, both certifications are practically neck to neck regarding which ones are being searched on Google.

The winner for recognition and popularity is … a Tie!

1st Place for NASM

1st place for ACE

Info on the study materials, price and earning potential

NASM

When talking about the study materials, you receive from NASM it all depends on the package that you purchase.

Self-study package: The most common packages the self-study package. This includes a digital copy of their massive 720-page textbook, online video lectures, a full exercise library, multiple quizzes, multiple practice exams, and the official study guide to go along with their textbook.

Premium self-study package: This package includes everything that the general self-study package did but adds and anatomy memorization activity, learning activities (for difficult concepts) and a bundle of flashcards.

CPT guided study: This includes everything that the previous two packages did but adds exam prep webinars, full access to a mentor or coach (for any questions), additional discussion questions, access to a live workshop, exam prep guarantee (free retest) and a hard copy of the 720-page textbook.

CPT all-inclusive: This is a combination of the three previous packages with the addition of CPT development program (includes 80 hours of on-site practice) and The NASM business accelerator program. I know this package only adds to extra things but trust me, they are beneficial especially if you want to create a full-time business with personal training. I also can explain how helpful the hands-on practice is.

Check out my free NASM study guide here.

 

ACE

Similar to NASM, ACE offers three separate packages that you can choose from on their website. Each of these packages contains different study materials as well.

ACE Pro essential package: This includes practice tests, access to ACE study coaches, the textbook (e-book format), The fitness professionals e-book, ACE Academy elite  (guided study), access to additional personal training resources (calculators, fitness assessment forms, etc.)

ACE Pro plus package: The Pro plus package includes everything that the Pro essential did but adding in a hard copy of the manual, hard copy of the study companion manual and a hardcopy of the ACE exercise science for fitness professionals book. This package is primarily for people that love hard copies (like I do!).

ACE pro advantage package: The Pro advantage package includes everything that the previous two did with the addition of the fitness math online course. This helps cover the most difficult concepts to master and explains them like a charm.

Check out my free ACE study guide here.

Overall, both programs offer fantastic study materials for their certification. The fact that NASM provides a little bit more hands-on experience and business practice with their more expensive package give them the edge overall.

Winner for the study materials is NASM

The Price of the Certifications

NASM CPT

The price of NASM all depends on which package you purchase from them. I also have a $125 off discount for all of the different packages offered by NASM. So I will show you the regular price as well as the discounted price for you guys.

ACE CPT

Just like NASM, the price of ACE all depends on which package you purchase from them. Here are the prices for the three packages available.

Although the overall price after the $125 off discount is less with NASM, their self-study package does not offer much in regards to study materials compared to the Pro essentials package from ACE. So if you were to go with the cheapest option we from both certifications I would say you get the most bang for your buck with ACE. Also, this $125 off discount is not always active with NASM.

The overall winner for certification price is ACE

Save 20% (up to $400 off!) on NASM CPT certifications! Use code my personal code PTP20
Here is the 20% off sale!
Get $200 off the ACE Pro advantage CPT Certification For New Year's!
Here is the link to the ACE CPT New Year's sale
Get a FREE Nutrition Certification or apple watch with the purchase of the ISSA certification!
Here is the link to the ISSA deal

Earning Potential

One of the most important factors for people that are looking to become personal trainers is how much money they could potentially make when they get certified. Since this is going to be your job, you want to earn as much money as you can to support yourself.

Before I show you how much money you can make with NASM and ACE, I would like to point out that the certification is not the most critical factor when it comes to how much money you make. More important than the certification you hold is how much you hustle, practice, learn and develop your craft. This is 100x more important than what certification you hold. These numbers I found on payscale.com.

NASM

The average income for a NASM certified personal trainer is $41,000.

The employers that are most likely to hire a NASM certified personal trainer are LA fitness, lifetime fitness, 24-hour fitness and anytime fitness.

ACE

The average salary for a personal trainer holding the ACE certification is also $41,000.

The top employers for someone holding the ACE certification are 24-hour fitness, golds gym, anytime fitness and the YMCA. We

The winner for earning potential is a tie!

1st place for NASM

1st place for ACE

Info on the tests and recertification 

NASM CPT

After you purchase the certification, you will be given 12 months to sign up and take the test.

The test contains 120 multiple-choice questions. You will have 2 hours to complete the examination, and you will get the results immediately after you finish. You need to score a minimum of 70 on a scaled score to pass. A scaled score means that there are different versions of the tests where some are more difficult in some are easier.

The overall passing rate for the NASM exam is 64.3%. If you pass the  NASM test, you will know right away, and your certification will arrive in the mail approximately four weeks after the test date. If you happen to fail the test on your very first try, You will have to pay $199 to retake the test.

Requirements: You are required to take the  NASM test at a laser grade facility. You can sign up at any Lasergrade facility. These facilities are located in most major cities throughout the United States. You must hold a valid CPR/AED certification by the time you take the test.

Check out my full review here. Check out their site here for more and current information!

Also, practice your skills with my NASM practice test here.

ACE CPT

After you sign up for the ACE certification, you will have six months to take the test.

There are 150 multiple-choice questions that you need to answer. Although there are 150 questions, ACE equates this to a maximum of 800 points. You need to score at least 500 points to pass which equals approximately a 62.5% or higher is necessary to pass.

Roughly you will need to answer 90 out of the 150 questions correctly to pass. This equals approximately 500 out of the 800 total points.

You also get a whopping 3 hours to answer all these questions. In my experience that is way more time than is needed. There is a 65% pass rate for 1st-time test takers according to ACE. Just like NASM, if you happen to fill the test on your first try, you can pay $199 to retake it.

Requirements: To take the test you need to set a date for a computer-based exam location. These exam locations are held all around the world and can be found on the ACE website. You are required to be 18 years old and have a valid CPR/AED certification.

Here is my full review on ACE. You need to check out their website for the most current information!

Take my free ACE practice test here!

Overall, ACE has a very slightly higher pass rate than NASM.

The overall winner for the test information is ACE (literally by a hair)

Recertification Requirements and Continuing Education

NASM

Regarding continuing education or CEU’s, NASM requires each personal trainer to complete 20 hours over the course of the two-year certification. It costs $99 to recertify every two years. You can check out more information on NASM continuing education here.

ACE

Just like NASM, ACE requires their trainers to recertify every two years. You also need 20 hours of continuing education credits for ACE.

The cost to recertify is $129. You can check out some continuing education options for ACE in my article here.

Overall NASM costs $29 less to get recertified. Both of them require 20 hours every two years of continuing education.

The winner for continuing education is NASM

Conclusion on NASM vs ACE

Regarding job potential, both are very highly recognized by employers. They are both accredited by the NCCA which is good. I have talked to employers that prefer NASM over ACE as well as the other way around.

The gym I work at currently prefers NASM over any other certification on the market. You honestly have a high chance of getting employed and making a good living with either certification.

I have to say that NASM gets the slight edge for me as the best personal trainer certification, but you really cannot go wrong with either!

The overall winner for NASM or ACE is NASM!

Thanks for stopping by everyone, Don’t forget to leave a comment. Also, share this page using the social media icons if you found it helpful!

For those of you that want to see my full video on NASM vs ACE here it is on youtube. Although I made that video almost 4 years ago, most of the information stands true to this day.

Summary:

If at the end it’s still hard to choose which cert is best,I recommend that you Take the quiz to help you choose the cert that is best for you.

ACE does cost slightly less money than NASM which is a good perk. Also, some of the best personal trainers I have ever known are certified through ACE.

I think the study materials for NASM and ACE are fantastic. If you are having trouble understanding specific concepts, both companies will provide additional assistance and offer different ways to study so that you can finally understand the topic.

Both certifications have excellent study materials is when it comes down to it. Whether you choose ACE or NASM, you will feel adequately prepared for training your first real client when the time comes.

Some of the best trainers that I know are certified through both agencies. In the end, it all comes down to what type of clients you will be training in the future.

If you were working with anybody that is coming off an injury, I would go with NASM Both certifications are excellent for training the average sedentary American as I have mentioned above.

If you are just getting started in the personal training industry the first post, I would suggest you check out if you haven’t already is my guide on how to become a certified personal trainer.

If you are wondering how much money you can make as a trainer, check out my article on how long it takes to become a certified trainer and salaries for personal trainers.

If you are looking to train athletes, NASM has an advanced certification called the performance enhancement specialist. I highly recommend that you check out both websites to see which one would be the best for you!

I hope my article on the differences between ACE and NASM was helpful in choosing which certification will be right for you.

Shoot me a comment if you have any other questions regarding these certifications.

When it comes to NASM against ACE, which will you choose? Leave a comment below!

References:

  1. https://blog.nasm.org/newletter/overactive-versus-underactive-muscles-mean/
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24616604
  3. https://trends.google.com/trends/?geo=US
  4. https://www.payscale.com/research/US/Certification=Personal_Trainer_(CPT)_(NASM)/Salary
  5. https://www.payscale.com/research/US/Certification=American_Council_on_Exercise_(ACE)/Salary
  6. https://www.nasm.org/resources/faq
  7. https://www.acefitness.org/faqs/
  • Sharon says:

    I am absolutely fresh to the PT world and I have a heart for the elderly. I am 55 and out of shape but I want to start the foundation for a second career, and I do believe that this will also motivate me to get back into shape. My hope is I can get certified and begin working with healthy seniors and not so healthy ones. I am still unsure of which cert to go with! My friend says NASM because that is what she has. I just received my BSc in an unrelated field and still want to continue studying.

  • Jennifer says:

    Just wanted to thank you for the article you wrote comparing Ace & NASM, it was very informative and helpful! I plan on beginning my PT certification studying right after Christmas. I kept going back and forth between Ace & NASM but now I’m almost positive I will be going through Ace. I will definitely be coming back to your ptpioneer site!

    Thank you again,
    Jennifer

  • Carol Naranjo says:

    I just signed up with NASM in February 2017, the full course, which is $1999 but they seem to always have a 25% discount sale going on most of the time so I got mine for $1500. One thing I have read after purchasing this course is that I have to buy my exam. One would think with this high price the exam would be included. Another thing is that their instructions are hard to follow on the website. I am not sure if my course has started or not, so I tried to call and no one home on the weekends or at night. Also, they are very hard to get a hold of if you are already a customer. I have to wait on hold for up to 20 minutes just to get to talk to someone then after that it takes them a long time to help me with my issues. They are not open 24/7 for assistance and I have to dial them at least seven times before I get an open line, meaning when I call I get this message, “no routes found” and then they hang up. So I have to keep calling until there is finally an open route then it’s, like I said, up to 20 minutes to talk to someone. This is very discouraging. Needless to say, I am now looking to switch to ACE, but will do my homework more in depth.

    • Tyler Read says:

      Hey Carol,
      I am sorry to hear you had such a horrible experience with NASM. I have never had those problems myself and when I call I always reach somebody helpful very promptly. Sorry to hear, you can always switch to ACE.

    • Michael says:

      Dear carol,
      thanks for sharing your experience with NASM. I myself was having a difficult time choosing what program to go with. You definitely made my decision a lot easier. When it comes to learning something new, its very important to have proper direction and guidance. It disappoints me that NASM is failing in this category because it was my #1 choice. I am still researching both programs but as of now it looks as though i will go with ACE. Thanks again!

  • Olga Lebedeva says:

    Good morning Mr.Taylor thank you for your article! Please let me know which certificate is better for working with senior citizen group of clients.
    Maybe I missed this information.

    • Tyler Read says:

      Hey Olga,
      I’m sorry if this information was missed. I think that NASM is definitely a better personal training certification for working with elderly individuals. This is because of the OPT training model takes more precaution and increases the intensity of exercises more gradually. It is meant to focus on stabilization for a long time before moving on to strength training which is very important especially for elderly individuals or people that have not exercised in a very long time. I hope this helped answer your question 🙂

  • Son Nguyen says:

    Can i get the NASM – CPT and NASM PES online ? I’m living in Vietnam. Thank you

  • Sofia says:

    Hi, I am contemplating becoming a personal trainer, but my goals are different to the ones outlined on your article. I would love to work with people who struggle with diabetes and help them achieve health through exercise more than relying on medication. I have a bachelors in psychology with a minor in nutrition. Do you know which program would be best based on what I want to do? Thanks

    • Tyler Read says:

      Hey Sophia,
      This is a very specialized concentration of individuals that you would like to work with. Honestly, neither one of the certifications dives too much into special populations although both of them do a little bit. What you would want to do is get a specialist certification. Unfortunately, most specialist certifications require you to have a general personal training certification before you can take them. A certification that talks will do more about special populations needs is the senior fitness specialization from nasm. I hope this helps

  • Brandon says:

    hey so I plan to become a PT very soon now that I graduated high school, and I am leaning more towards taking the NASM exam but Ace still looks so good, so I was wondering, would it be possible to be certified for BOTH nasm and ace?

    • Tyler Read says:

      Both the American Council on exercise and the National Academy of sports medicine have fantastic personal training programs. It is absolutely possible to get certified through both NASM and ACE. Having multiple certifications only improves your knowledge as a trainer. But you should probably do one before the other is my suggestion. What type of people do you want to train when you become a personal trainer?

  • Maegen Teasley says:

    Hi,
    Thank you so so much for this article. I am a Stay at home mom, fitness blogger, athletic clothing designer, I own a successful Etsy shop selling kids party supplies. I have been talking to my husband for 6 months about taking my fitness blogging to a new level and becoming a PT. I am so glad I came across your site. I have been thinking about taking the NASM but after this, I am really considering ACE.

    Mine and my husband’s hobby is working out. I help family and friends get in shape as well. I am not really in it for the money (at least for now) because I do not want to work outside the home. I am looking to just learn more about helping people get fit.

    In 2016-2017 my husband was very sick from pancreatitis and respiratory failure and on life support. He pulled through and it changed our lives. My goal in life is to help others.

    • Tyler Read says:

      Hey Maegen,

      Fantastic story and I’m so glad that your husband is healthy now. It is true that learning about health and fitness is an incredible gift not only for your own family but also giving you the ability to help other friends and family as well.

      I totally agree and the American Council on exercise is a fantastic certifying organization to go through. You will love their study materials and support that they offer. NASM is also a fantastic option but has a slightly different focus. You could always come back and get certified with them at a later date or even get an advanced certification to really specialize in the type of training that you want to learn.

      Even if you don’t work as a personal trainer in the typical gym situation, it is still a fantastic knowledge to hold. I’m curious what you’re fitness website and clothing line is? Maybe we can collaborate on some ideas together as bloggers. Let me know 🙂

  • Yasmin Husain says:

    What a great article! The comments leave me feeling a little uneasy but I like the idea of stability first before strength training. It’s like learning how to stand before you walk. For that and many other reasons, I feel NASM will be right for me. Thank you for your articles. I will definitely check out your other blogs.

    • Tyler Read says:

      Hey Yasmin,
      I like your analogy for the national Academy of sports medicine in regards to learning to stand before you walk. I totally agree with you with this regard in terms of the stability phase. Make sure to check out my article on the top personal training certifications as well as this could further help your decision.

  • Petr says:

    I want train kids 6-16 What type of certification do I need, NASM or IYCA ?

    • Tyler Read says:

      Hey Petr,

      Unfortunately, I do not know too much about the IYCA certification as I have never gone through it or reviewed it on my website. That being said, NASM is recognized as one of the top all-around certifications for all age ranges. On top of this they also have a youth exercise specialist (YES) advanced certification that is excellent. I highly recommend it.

  • TJ says:

    Hi, great information. Thank you. I am looking for a new career later in life and I love working out and group classes. Teaching group classes will be my focused. Do I need to get certified as a Personal Trainer to teach group classes or get the ACE Group Fitness Instructor Certification?

    Thank you,

    • Tyler Read says:

      Hey TJ,
      You do not necessarily need a general personal training certification such as ACE or NASM in order to get the group exercise certification. I do think that it is helpful though. This is especially true if you are trying to do both group training as well as general personal training as you can pull clients both directions to get a lot more work. It also is good to have a general understanding one-on-one personal training for your group classes in regards to injury prevention, proprioception training etc. I hope this response helped!

  • Yuliya says:

    Hi, thank you for the article. I am still very confused between ACE and NASM. I signed up for NASM and took a test, unfortunately I failed the test few points. I read the book, did lots of practice test at the app and still failed. Test was hard and nothing close to a book material or any prep tests I was practicing. OPT model is a great approach but I don’t think NASM really teaches you how to create a workout. I feel like NASM is great for those who already have some fitness experience and whar to advance in anatomical knowledge. Now I feel so much resentment to study again and take the test again. I was thinking to try ACE, considering that they might take a different approach in teaching. My question is, does ACE teache you how to put together a workout to meet someone’s fitness goals? I don’t know if I should just study NASM again or try ACE. Any feedback is very appreciated, please.
    Thank you

    • Tyler Read says:

      Hey Yuliya,
      First of off, sorry that you did not pass the exam on your first try. The test is definitely a difficult one and a lot of the practice tests and study material supplied by NASM are not the best. I would still suggest trying to go with NASM one more time as it is still one of the most recognized certifications in the industry. On top of that, the retake fee is only $199, whereas you will have to pay over $500 to start with ACE. It would require less studying overall to stick with NASM, then to switching certifications and trying to learn their information. I highly suggest checking out my personal study materials that will point you in the right direction of what exactly you need to study to pass the exam. I promise this will help tremendously. You can check it out right here: https://www.ptpioneer.com/nasm-premium/

    • Sean K says:

      I self-prepped for NASM exam after 10 years as a Certified Public Accountant. I’m not really sure how the test was much different from the materials in NASM’s book. Not only do they lay out the weights that each topic will represent on the exam, they also highlight the areas that are most important within those topics. I didn’t feel any question on my exam was unfair. NASM’s study guide option does a fantastic job of preparing you for test success. It’s also possible you ended up with a terrible question pool in your exam. But, I assure you I passed without any prior textbook knowledge of the fitness industry.

      • Tyler Read says:

        Awesome to hear Sean,
        I am glad that you passed the test without any problem. A lot of people do not have the same success that you do on the exam. The NASM exam is graded on a scaling score which means that some versions are much harder than other versions of the exam. It might’ve been that you got one of the easier versions, or it might’ve been that your study techniques were awesome. Either way congrats on passing the exam!

  • Denise says:

    Does the recertification cost include the required 20 hours? Or Do you have to pay the recert cost plus the cost of 20 hours?
    Awesome article!!!

    • Tyler Read says:

      Hello Denise,
      the cost for recertification for both NASM and ACE does not include the continuing education itself. It is just to recertify with those certifying agencies for two extra years. On top of that, you will have to pay a continuing education provider in order to go through a course, webinar or other curriculum in order to show proof of the 20 hours you completed of continuing education. I hope this helps and good luck!

  • Vivek says:

    Hi Tylor,
    Thanks for the informative article. I am from India and my education is mostly related to technical background. Recently past few months I have started getting habit of eating clean and healthy and slowly it has become quite a part of my life and I want to pursue my career as nutritionist. After going through your multiple articles I have zeroed down to ACE for nutrition coach. But as I see CPR/AED something as prerequisite. Can you tell me something about it?

    • Tyler Read says:

      Hello Vivek,
      Yes you need to get a CPR/AED certification from an approved supplier. This is basically for safety purposes as you need to know how to use the AED defibrillation machine in case somebody’s heart stops beating. You also need to know CPR to maintain oxygen flow to the brain to keep them alive as long as possible before an ambulance comes. These are general prerequisites for working in a gymnasium and is also a fantastic idea if you are going to be working for yourself doing nutrition or fitness consultations. I suggest checking out the American Red Cross for more information on how to get certified.

  • William says:

    I’m retired from the military and I coach HS Cross country and I wanted to use a program that can assist me in training my young student Athletes which program would you prefer.

    • Tyler Read says:

      Hello William,
      Although both programs are excellent, if you purely want to work with youth athletes NASM has a youth exercise specialist certification. You may want to look into their general certification, and later on down the road pickup of this youth exercise certification as well. I hope this helps!