Welcome to the PTPioneer breakdown comparison between the NASM and ACSM CPT certifications.
I write this review after completing and using both ACSM and NASM CPT programs, including my total experience as a fitness professional for over ten years.
The team at PTPioneer encompasses several trainers certified through ACSM, NASM, ISSA, NSCA and other organizations and we have combined our knowledge to give you a fair assessment of both organizations.
This compare and contrast article will discuss the two organizations’ specifics and the similarities and differences between their study programs. The basics I cover are:
- General pricing, package details, and prerequisites for NASM vs ACSM
- Deep dives into the content, knowledge, and skills within these two certifications
- Challenge during both exams, timelines for exam prep, and review of the study materials
- Explanations of the Review Methodology used here at PTPioneer
I also recommend that you take the quiz to find out which PT certification is the best fit for you to obtain.
Let’s start by looking at the quick breakdown below and then diving into the organizational comparison between ACSM vs NASM.
Which of these is the best personal trainer certification?
- Quick Breakdown: NASM vs ACSM
- What is NASM?
- What is ACSM?
- Pros and cons of NASM vs ACSM
- NASM and ACSM packages and study materials
- ACSM and NASM certification course layouts
- NASM vs ACSM prerequisites
- ACSM vs NASM salary
- Which exam is harder, NASM or ACSM
- ACSM and NASM recertification
- Other offerings from NASM and ACSM
- NASM vs ACSM overall ratings
- Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
- NASM vs ACSM (Video)
- NASM vs ACSM (Podcast)
Quick Breakdown: NASM vs ACSM
|CPT||ACSM vs ACE Quick Breakdown||Features||Price|
|View on ACSM website|
|View on NASM website|
What is NASM?
NASM has been around since its creation in 1987, a reasonable amount of time in the world of fitness.
NASM certifications are almost all NCCA accredited, and this, of course, includes the gold standard NASM CPT course.
NASM offers many specializations, even some as obscure as golf specialization.
NASM has worked to become an established organization in the realm of fitness and wellness. NASM is well-known for its NASM PT certification and the PES and CES they offer as specializations.
NASM-certified individuals are quite successful in the fitness industry.
The PES is the performance enhancement specialist cert, and the CES is the corrective exercise specialist trainer cert. Someone, like a new trainer, might look to go for these options.
The NASM, National Academy of Sports Medicine, is a for-profit organization, which is a big difference from the ACSM.
NASM teaches exercise programming with the OPT model, and it is among the best teaching methods in the industry. This is tremendous value for future personal trainers.
OPT stands for Optimum Performance Training model and it is a key differentiator in the quality of personal trainer study programs.
If you want to maximize your success right out of the gate, I recommend going after a CPT certification in conjunction with a Nutrition Coaching Certification.
If this seems like overkill, let me explain.
It is very difficult to deliver exceptional results with physical training alone.
Combining physical training with dietary approaches to fitness is a surefire way to get much better results for clients, which will translate to making more money and having an easier time acquiring additional clients when prospects see the stellar results of the people you have been training.
On top of the nutrition and CPT combo, a fitness specialization is another excellent addition to your educational stack.
Certifications such as corrective exercise, strength and conditioning, sports nutrition, and senior fitness allow you to become an expert in a specific niche, typically charging more per session and getting more solid referral leads as you become established as a leader in a particular aspect of fitness.
NASM, in particular, has an excellent selection of certification bundles that give you a great discount when you go for 2 or more NASM certifications.
The NASM Elite Trainer promotion currently offers PTPioneer readers an incredible deal on their certification bundles.
I highly recommend taking advantage of these package deals if you choose NASM as your main certificate.
While NASM is running the deal now, it’s hard to know exactly how long it will last.
You should consider checking the NASM site directly for the most up-to-date pricing. If you can snag a discount today, it’s a tough deal to pass up.
NASM is famed not just for their CPT, but also for their nutrition coaching, corrective exercise, and a wide array of other certs. It also carries a lot of name recognition.
What is ACSM?
ACSM stands for the American College of Sports Medicine, and this is one of many non-profit organizations in the fitness business. ACSM has many fitness certifications for people to pursue in different specialization areas.
The ACSM name has still been around longer than NASM, since 1954, to be exact. Their mission has always been to advance and integrate scientific research to provide educational and practical applications of exercise science and sports medicine.
ACSM, just like NASM, is accredited by the NCCA. This means that both certifications are backed by the gold standard in the fitness industry. All of the best CPT certifications have this NCCA accreditation. Gyms generally like to see NCCA accredited certifications on a trainer’s resume.
While ACSM has nearly 30 more years in the industry, they have been pioneers in the field of fitness and health research.
Pros and cons of NASM vs ACSM
In terms of overall content, both ACSM and NASM cover exercise science well. They give good coverage on assessments, nutrition and special population groups.
On the negative side, the ACSM CPT doesn’t have the best content on building training programs and exercise technique compared to other certifications.
ACSM also doesn’t give you the best study materials compared to the other organizations like NASM.
In fact, NASM has some of the best study materials of any certification provider.
While NASM includes excellent information on most topics, NASM is a bit pricier in terms of cost compared to some of the other certifications out there.
Regardless, despite these cons, both certifications are solid options.
NASM and ACSM packages and study materials
The ACSM and NASM Certification courses handle pricing differently; we will examine that in more detail.
Let’s start the ACSM vs NASM certification comparison with ACSM, as it is a bit more unique than how NASM handles its study materials.
The ACSM does not sell packages of items together; instead, they offer their materials separately, and you choose the materials you want to buy, if any.
This is not ideal, especially if you compare it to the study package coming from almost all other competing organizations in the fitness industry. If you wish to buy more than just a textbook, then you will pay quite a bit.
Let’s look at all of the resources and books that the ACSM offers:
- Online practice questions through PrepU – $89.99
- ACSM CPT Prep course – $270.00
- ACSM CPT Facebook Group – free
- ACSM’s Resources for the Personal Trainer Textbook – $81.99
- ACSM Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription textbook – $52.99
- Exam only – $399.00 ($299 for membership-candidates)
- Exam retake – $199.00
- ACSM membership – $30-$260 annually, depending on the tier, the lowest is student
The typical test prep materials needed to pass the ACSM exam and become certified are the ACSM online learning, practice tests, exam questions and answers, and the personal trainer manual. The entire group of products and textbooks may make ACSM CPT prices go up quite a bit with everything.
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It might be a good idea to look up ACSM CPT study guides and other materials online. These can go well with the ACSM CPT study materials.
Trainer Academy and similar websites can help with this prep work.
You can start studying today with my free ACSM CPT study guide and practice test before spending any money on expensive materials.
For an affordable paid study guide with premium materials and an exam pass guarantee, my students consistently prefer the Trainer Academy ACSM CPT MVP Study Package.
If you do want to pay a premium for the official ACSM CPT Study Materials, you are always free to do so.
Now let’s look at NASM and their CPT certification.
NASM takes the approach most other fitness organizations do, putting their exams and study materials in a package range and selling them.
Let’s look at the self-study package and compare this directly to the ACSM.
The cheapest package from NASM includes many study aids, which brings a lot of value when you add up the price of all the material when bought individually from ACSM. The resources included are:
- NASM exam
- Official NASM textbook
- A series of video lectures
- NASM exercise library access
- NASM practice test and practice exam access
- NASM practice test/exam answer packages
- Online Certification quizzes
- Comprehensive NASM Study Guide
All in all, NASM online certification offers more materials in its package and for a better price when you stack up all of the study materials from ACSM.
The Self-study package costs $649, while the Premium Self-study, Guided Study, and All-inclusive cost $839, $989, and $1484, respectively.
Also, as I mentioned earlier, combining your CPT with a nutrition coaching certification is an absolute winning-ticket when it comes to crushing it in your first year as a personal trainer.
On top of that, a fitness specialization, or two, further hammers in your new career and helps you hit the ground with a head start compared to your CPT-only peers.
The exclusive NASM Elite Trainer PTPioneer promotions will save you an immense amount of money if you choose NASM as your organization.
Remember that no sale lasts forever, so it’s definitely not something to sleep on too long if NASM is your plan.
I recommend checking directly with NASM to see the status of the latest deal. The deal is tough to pass up if it’s still in play.
Making an investment in furthering your knowledge as a fitness coach is always a good move, or adding more credentials to a your name.
There is also a money-back job guarantee with the All-inclusive NASM CPT package if you do not get a job within 90 days of certification program completion.
That is a pretty solid deal to get all of your money back, and the additional study materials make it impossible not to land a job and pass the certification exam.
You can start studying today with my free NASM CPT study guide and practice test before spending any money on expensive materials.
For an affordable paid study guide with premium materials and an exam pass guarantee, my students consistently prefer the Trainer Academy NASM CPT MVP Study Package.
If you do want to pay a premium for the official NASM CPT Study Materials, you are always free to do so.
ACSM and NASM certification course layouts
Both of these great certifications are accredited and contain skills and knowledge that overlap with one another and differ in some significant ways.
You won’t get the same knowledge and skills from them, so reading through this comparison and contrast between the two organizations is a good consideration.
Free study guides can also help with most of this information, like our study pages for the NASM CPT and ACSM CPT.
The main criteria I compare are the general domains covered in all of the CPT certifications: exercise science, behavior change, consultation, screening, program design, and special populations.
This covers most of the main book and study materials offered with the basic packages for both organizations’ CPT certifications.
Let’s start with NASM as it is the slightly more popular certification for personal training.
I view the NASM training certification as one of my personal favorite, and as such, it has some of the best exercise science coverage in the industry. NASM receives a 10 out of 10 when it comes to exercise science and has an outstanding application to corrective exercise.
Exercise science and kinesiology are covered throughout the main text’s chapter, the Fundamentals of Human Movement Science.
The textbook covers all of the essential information regarding anatomy, physiology, and other basics of exercise science. It is nearly as detailed as a bachelor’s degree course for exercise science and you learn about how muscles and body adapt to exercise.
The basics of nutrition are covered well and go into great detail regarding the main diet topics of macronutrients, micronutrients, and the structure and function of these many types of molecules.
The NASM study portal and textbook all feature many informative infographics and charts, from which the visual style learners will significantly benefit. They also have some videos to help teach this information.
The ACSM curriculum works to match the excellent personal trainer certification program put forth by NASM.
The ACSM CPT route includes very well-organized exercise science coverage. They go into great detail regarding the main topics of muscle, anatomy, biomechanics, bioenergetics, and these transfer well into future topics on personal training skills.
ACSM also does a good job of handling visual learning with its infographics and background charts to aid students. It doesn’t quite equal the offering of NASM, but it is still at the top of all certifications in personal training.
Either way, if you go, NASM or ACSM, you will learn all of the necessary exercise science information.
Behavior Change Coaching Skills
Behavior change includes things like client interaction before entering into a program, all the way to how to implement goal-setting into set programs. Properly done client interaction ensures there is no problem with setting up personal training contracts and building your client base.
ACSM covers all things behavior coaching well, as does NASM.
I would put these two certifications side by side regarding behavior coaching. The primary coaching skills taught through ACSM and NASM are:
- Active listening
- Developing rapport
- Appreciative inquiry
- Motivational interviewing
ACSM and NASM teach these topics well, but they do not have their own models like ACE or some competing CPT certifications.
The two do great at teaching different models of behavior change. The NASM focuses a lot on the stages of the change model.
This is also touched on in the ACSM, but not as heavily.
The Stages of Change model implements five steps, and through techniques, you can learn to bring clients through the stages to reach the maintenance stage, where exercise is fully integrated into someone’s lifestyle.
Both NASM and ACSM teach the framework well and then apply it to case studies and real-life examples.
Other main behavior change topics for both certifications include goal setting, like using the SMART methods to enhance your clients’ behavior change and achieve their fitness goals.
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You even get some assistance with working with groups all at once, as you would as a group fitness instructor.
Next, let’s look into the screening of clients.
Client Health and Movement Screening
In my opinion, the NASM certified personal trainer certification handles the screening of clients excellently. They have the OPT model, which is one reason they shine compared to other certifications.
The OPT model with NASM starts by implementing some assessment methods. This happens before actually designing programs.
There is a tremendous amount of health screening and movement screening info, and the text does an excellent job teaching these screening methods. The OPT model gives coaches the ability to design individualized programs for their clients through the use of screening methods.
There is also an extensive library of exercises, including the assessments that trainers give to clients.
Video references and lectures are some of the most significant ways to teach and nail down challenging personal training information.
When we look at the competitor, ACSM, we see that they match the amount of health screening protocols discussed in their study materials.
They do not quite match the level of detail NASM puts into their posture and movement screening assessments.
This might be due to some of NASM’s well known focus on correctional exercise.
All in all, the upper hand goes to NASM to screen clients before program design.
Some other screening tools you might use would be to measure body fat and flexibility prior to a program to get a good baseline.
Let’s look into program design aspects next.
Program Design and Resistance/Aerobic Exercise Technique
Whether you are making a program in the gym or a client program based in the home, program design should be fun and creative.
This program design area is another place where the NASM excels past the ACSM. The fact is, NASM’s OPT model stands among the best program design teaching methods in the industry.
The NASM OPT training model is based on scientific evidence and principles that progress clients through 5 critical training phases.
The model does most of its work in the resistance training aspects of fitness training. This model allows trainers to make their programs simple, safe, effective, and productive while achieving desired results.
These are the phases of the OPT model:
- Phase 1: Stabilization Endurance
- Phase 2: Strength Endurance
- Phase 3: Hypertrophy
- Phase 4: Maximal Strength
- Phase 5: Power
The idea behind this training model is that one must master the first phase to be strong and able enough to work on the next one. It is what most programs teach, but the model makes it easy to apply to program designing workouts, and the NASM gives many examples of programs that trainers can use to help them understand.
These areas are reinforced within NASM’s exercise library in its online study portal. The exercises are put into their appropriate stages within the online study materials.
Aerobic training gets its focus within a chapter of the NASM text. With aerobic exercise, we see the detailed modalities and training methods described and taught extremely well.
The OPT model is not implemented as much in the aerobic training portions, but the same level of detail is given for cardio training guidelines. Personal trainers can make well-crafted programs with the aerobic and resistance training design taught in NASM.
ACSM does not handle the program design as well as NASM. Specifically, the resistance training part is lacking in detail. The ACSM does not do a great job of teaching and describing exercises and movements to their personal trainers.
They teach basics so that trainers can implement sets, reps, weights, intensity, rest time, and things of this nature. But, when it comes to the exercises and designing programs, ACSM lacks the framework.
An online portal of exercise videos could be a simple fix to that, and perhaps it will launch in the future to cover the glaring hole in resistance program design.
The slight use of the OPT model and NASM’s presentation of new information means that NASM still beats out ACSM.
ACSM could start doing better in program design for both of these training styles if they started a model similar to NASM or at least gave you more tools in this area.
Let’s look at special population training next.
The two organizations safely tie in this domain, as they teach special populations well.
The importance placed on special populations is evident in both certifications. They both receive nearly 10 out of 10 in this domain.
Special population training includes looking at the following populations:
- Pregnant clients
- Clients with chronic ailments
- Obese clients
- Senior clients
- Clients with disability
- Clients with other long term injuries
- And a few others
ACSM and NASM do an excellent job of setting guidelines for each population. It will be easy for personal trainers to adjust their typical programming to meet the activity needs of people outside of the general public.
You may also be able to help in clinical settings with personal training.
NASM and ACSM handle the topic of nutrition well, but one does so better than the other.
With both of these certifications, you will find they cover the introduction to nutritional science with the basics of macronutrients, micronutrients, and popular supplements.
NASM offers one of the industry’s best nutrition certifications, the NASM CNC.
NASM has a bit more detail and touches greater on the metabolism of these different nutrients.
ACSM is also lacking a bit more when it comes to dietary recommendations. This isn’t awful as far as personal training certifications go, as personal trainers need to go with a less-is-more approach to teaching clients to stay within the scope of practice.
Overall, NASM wins when we consider all of the domains within the skills and knowledge section, but ACSM matches NASM in many of these domains.
Partner these domains with some of our solid tips for personal training, and you will be a very successful personal trainer.
This can also apply to those who want to work in small group personal training.
For a deeper look at the content in both of these certifications, check out my comprehensive NASM personal trainer certification review and ACSM certification review.
NASM vs ACSM prerequisites
The requirements for CPT certification are pretty similar across the board throughout the fitness industry. This goes for ACSM CPT requirements and NASM Certification requirements.
NASM is slightly different in just one requirement. They do not formally have it written that you need to be 18 years old to sit for the exam, as other organizations do. But, since you must be 18 years old to get personal trainer insurance, which is required for the job, then it is a hidden requirement.
Another requirement for CPT certification through NASM and ACSM is a certification in CPR and AED. It is also present across the board and required for a job in personal training.
CPR and AED certification may be offered already through the organizations for a small charge during select times.
The final requirement for CPT certification is a high school diploma or some equivalent degree, like a GED. You could also show proof of education higher than that, like a bachelor’s or graduate degree.
These are the three main requirements for all CPT certifications and most fitness certifications. Higher-level industry certificates, like strength and conditioning specialist certifications, will require college experience.
ACSM vs NASM salary
Data according to Ziprecruiter puts that the average NASM trainer making $50,905 per year. The average salary for ACSM stands at $49,020. This puts both NASM and ACSM fairly equal.
Your actual income as a trainer is dictated by many factors besides your certification like skill, experience, and ingenuity, so take these numbers with a grain of salt.
Over time, your training business should grow as you build a good client roster.
Which exam is harder, NASM or ACSM
The NASM CPT and ACSM CPT exams are tough exams, no question; the pass rates come in around 70% or less for both organizations.
The ACSM reports its exam pass rate at around 69%, while the NASM varies between 67 and 70%.
The ACSM CPT passing score is 550 out of 800, while the NASM exam requires 73% for a passing grade.
These exams are passable with enough prep and should not be too challenging for new test-takers that thoroughly prepare. Factor in that they are both multiple-choice exams. It can be a good idea to find ACSM CPT practice questions and NASM certification test questions.
The re-test cost for NASM and ACSM is $199.
It is important to take test preparation very seriously for these two exams, as both the NASM CPT test prep and ACSM CPT test prep are tough processes.
ACSM CPT exam questions and NASM can be tricky and require a lot of prep time, although not as much as a certification like the NSCA CSCS.
Let’s look at how these two organizations handle their continuing education credits and recertification for their certs.
ACSM and NASM recertification
Both certifications require recertification every set number of years, requiring personal trainers to keep up their education over this time.
Keeping up with education by taking specialization courses, attending events, or other opportunities will allow fitness professionals to earn continuing education units or CEUs / CECs.
ACSM is one of the cheapest in the entire fitness industry for recertification, and it comes in at a recertification fee of $55.
A significant difference with ACSM is the CEU need for 45 hours to recertify, which is a bit more than others. The good news is that fitness professionals can attain these within three years, as opposed to the usual 2 years. But, there are still more hours than normally requested by organizations if we break it down to a per-year basis.
Then, for NASM, we see the more traditional recertification process. They require recertification to be done every two years. NASM also offers many continuing education opportunities, more so than other
The recertification with NASM requires 20 hours worth of continuing education. The recertification fee is $75, additionally.
NASM also offers a recertify for life option, which costs $399. You still need to earn the credits for continuing education, but you won’t have to pay the recertification cost. This is beneficial if you plan to make a career as a personal trainer.
The NASM is slightly ahead of the ACSM regarding recertification, especially when considering long-term trainers and their recertification for life options.
Other offerings from NASM and ACSM
Both these organizations have some excellent courses you can take which give you an additional certification and CEUs, which help you recertify your current CPT. This provides an ideal situation for you to benefit as a new trainer, so I highly suggest you check them out.
NASM certification courses:
- NASM Group Exercise Instructor (AFAA-GEI)
- NASM Certified Nutrition Coach (NASM-CNC)
- NASM Corrective Exercise Specialist (NASM-CES)
- NASM Weight Loss Specialist (NASM-WLS)
- 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
NASM vs ACSM overall ratings
The two organizations, NASM and ACSM, are of excellent value for anyone looking to enter into the fitness landscape.
They both offer a good amount of study materials, and their value will be rewarded when looking for a career after certification.
Which fitness certification is best?
If you were to choose from these two certifications, I would most certainly go with the NASM CPT, as they edge out as the victor between these two CPTs. When reviewed, the NASM CPT is often in the top three of all personal training certifications in terms of popularity.
The ACSM CPT still holds up and reviews well when we look into its details.
The study materials, the exam, and continuing education opportunities all surpass the ACSM offerings to a slight degree. They are both great, but NASM is at the top of the industry for a reason.
With either decision, you are in for a great learning experience. You will undoubtedly enjoy your time as a personal trainer with what either of these organizations offers up.
You can even consider some other certifications like the ISSA CPT.
Make sure to stay tuned here at PTPioneer for more reviews, comparisons, and free study materials.
We also have individual articles for our NASM certification review and ACSM CPT review.
If you are having trouble deciding which CPT program makes the most sense, I recommend you take my quiz to determine the best certification for your goals.
Ready to kick off your personal training career?
Then check the official pricing for NASM and ACSM today and get after it!
Otherwise, thank you for reading, and good luck with your personal training career!
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
How Does the NASM Stack Up to ACSM?
The NASM does not have as many years in the industry as ACSM, but its proven teaching methods have garnered more attention recently. The NASM-OPT model is enough to warrant the purchase of the NASM-CPT packages, and they have some options that stand above the ACSM offerings.
How Can You Become a Personal Trainer?
You become a personal trainer by studying the fundamentals of exercise science and programming through educational organizations like the two in the article.
Is Personal Training With a Credential from ACSM or NASM organizations worth it?
Undoubtedly, now is an excellent time to get into personal training, and you cannot go wrong with one of these certifications from ACSM or NASM. A first-time learner will excel with these study programs and excel working with the general population in any health club.
Do Trainers Need a Degree to Become a Personal Trainer?
No, a degree is not needed for personal training. It generally just requires a personal training certification. For some more advanced fields, such as strength and conditioning, you must have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree. There are also live certification courses for personal trainers in various states.
How Does the Future Industry of Personal Training Look?
Personal training is growing rapidly, and the health industry, in general, is the fastest growing industry. It is an excellent time to get into training, but make sure to build the proper habits and skills to grow correctly. Personal training salaries are increasing yearly, so it is a good time to get into the industry for this reason alone.
NASM vs ACSM (Video)
NASM vs ACSM (Podcast)
- “Salary: NASM-CPT | United States.” Ziprecruiter, Ziprecruiter, 2023, https://www.ziprecruiter.com/Salaries/NASM-Personal-Trainer-Salary.
- Ziprecruiter. “Nasm Nutrition Coach Salary.” Ziprecruiter, 13 Apr. 2023, https://www.ziprecruiter.com/Salaries/NASM-Nutrition-Coach-Salary.
- “Recertify Your Nasm Personal Trainer Certification.” NASM, https://www.nasm.org/recertify/personal-trainer-recertification.
- Personal Trainer (Cpt) (Nasm) Salary | Payscale. https://www.payscale.com/research/US/Certification=Personal_Trainer_(CPT)_(NASM)/Salary.
- NASM: Administrative Fees. National Academy of Sports Medicine. https://support.nasm.org/nasm-administrative-fees
- ACSM: Recertification. American College of Sports Medicine. https://www.acsm.org/certification/recertification
- NASM: Recertify for Life. National Academy of Sports Medicine. https://www.nasm.org/recertify/lifetime-recertification
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7 thoughts on “NASM vs ACSM – Which one should you opt for in 2023?”
Your information that you have provided is well put together and I will definitely take your advice on these certifications and run with it.
You are the best PT Pioneer.
You did a Extremely helpful job to make newbies comprehend plus to make their decisions fasters. Whether they have to go with what according to their needs.
Thanks for the kind words. I hope you like the site and good luck with your future career as a personal trainer. Which one do you think you are going to go with and why?
I need help,please!
I am from Bulgaria,Europe.
Which course is possible to be taken fully online from another country?
Thank you! I am considering about NASM or ACE
If you are looking to take a personal training certification completely online, I suggest checking out the international sports sciences Association otherwise known as the ISSA. All of their materials and certifications can be done completely online.
Tyler, Can you tell your opinion about opexfitness? They also have online course.
I’m from Kazakhstan, and also think about online course and still didn’t decide which is the best one.
I have never heard of the certification. But I will definitely look into it to see if it’s a worthy personal training certification to add to my website. Thanks for pointing this out to me.