nasm vs afaa - Tyler Read lies on floor with afaa and nasm textbooks

Welcome to my ultimate AFAA vs NASM comparison review. I base my NASM vs AFAA review on my experience taking both personal trainer courses, I can give you an accurate assessment of which of these personal training certifications is the best.

I’ve been a certified personal trainer for over a decade and the team at PTPioneer has trainers certified in both NASM and AFAA along with many other organizations. Together, we combined our expertise to fully provide information on these two organizations. 

To help you decide between NASM vs AFAA, I’ll be using data and research gathered to look at the following key topics:

  • The focus of the NASM-CPT vs AFAA
  • The study materials for each training program
  • The cost
  • The course materials
  • The exam

I’ll also give each cert a final rating based on those areas. But before we get stuck in, please take the quiz. It will allow you to understand better which certification suits you.

NASM vs AFAA Certification Comparison Review 3
NASM vs AFAA Certification Comparison Review 4
CPTACSM vs ACE Quick BreakdownFeaturesPrice


  • NCCA accredited program
  • The most popular and recognized certification providers in the world
  • Specializing in corrective exercise technique methodology
  • Great for newcomers and seasoned professionals
  • More expensive
  • Difficult exam
View on the NASM website



  • 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
Exam cost
Exam cost
Study Material Cost
Study Material Cost
Exam Passing Score
Exam Passing Score
Exam Pass Rate
Exam Pass Rate
60% – 75% (varies each year)
Average Completion Time
Average Completion Time
3 – 6 months
3 – 6 months

What is AFAA?

In this section, you’ll learn a little about the history of both certifications. 

AFAA was formerly known as the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America but has since changed to the Athletics and Fitness Association of America, founded in 1983. 

NASM acquired AFAA in 2015, making the latter a subsidiary of the former.

AFAA still retains its own curriculum and independent certification programs while under the NASM umbrella.

With a legacy spanning over four decades, AFAA has placed themselves as one of the best personal trainer certification providers, but they are known most for their group exercise instructors program.

In fact, that’s part of why NASM acquired them, so they could use their group fitness certification, although the CPT still remains different between organizations. 

What is NASM?

NASM logo

NASM is the National Academy of Sports Medicine and was founded in 1987.

NASM is an internationally recognized organization that provides evidence-based certifications and continuing education to health and fitness professionals, enabling them to provide the highest quality of care to their clients and help them reach their health and fitness goals.

AFAA and NASM are NCCA accredited, making them on board with the gold standard in fitness certification.

As its original name suggests, NASM focuses on corrective and restorative exercise instruction, while AFAA emphasizes aerobic methodologies.

NASM is, in fact, the most popular certification organization in the world, and this recognition means that most gyms accept this certification and look for NASM trainers. 

If you decide at the end of this article that the NASM certification is right for you, check it out at Trainer Academy. They offer Study Materials for the big NASM study guides like the CPT, CES, PES, and more.

Pros and cons of NASM vs AFAA

NASM vs AFAA - textbooks laid out

In terms of popularity, NASM beats AFAA in terms of its CPT. NASM also has better study support resources in general than AFAA and a more complete, modern-looking textbook. Overall, I think the studying experience is better with NASM.

AFAA is less expensive than NASM, which is the main thing it has over the larger organization. With both certifications, you will get the skills and knowledge you need to do the job of a personal trainer.

By obtaining either certifications, you will gain the necessary help to develop and implement personalized fitness programs, conduct assessments, provide guidance on proper nutrition and exercise, and teach clients how to safely and effectively use exercise equipment, all of which are essential skills for a successful personal trainer.

Both of these have NCCA accreditation, meaning they stand up to the standards a gym looks for.

A personal trainer with NCCA accreditation meets the requirements of any gym, as it ensures that the trainer has met the necessary qualifications and standards to provide quality instruction and guidance.

Neither of these has the exercise science of ACSM or the behavioral tools of the ACE-CPT, but both give you a complete skillset. 

Again, I do prefer going the NASM route because of the extra study assistance with their different package options versus the one offering from AFAA.

AFAA and NASM packages and study materials

AFAA vs NASM - textbooks with gold coins and money bag - which costs more, afaa or nasm?

When considering the cost of each certification and the value you will get from them, it is important to factor in the cost of the study materials, such as textbooks, online courses, and practice exams, which can add up quickly and are essential for success in the certification process.

Pricing is an important consideration that can easily sway your decision on which certification to go for.

NASM has been known to be on the pricier end of the spectrum when compared to others, so keep that in mind. 

That said, they are one of the best and often post a lot of incredible deals and price discounts if you ask me.

NASM gives you a number of options when it comes to study programs. They have Self-Study, Guided Study, and All-Inclusive. 

Exclusive PTP CPT Offers

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

The Self-Study, Guided Study, and All-Inclusive study programs offered by the institution provide students with a wide range of resources to help them succeed, such as access to online materials and a variety of other educational resources.

The Self-study package includes the following info:

  • The final certification exam
  • Textbook
  • A series of lecture videos
  • NASM exercise library
  • NASM practice test or practice exams access
  • NASM exam answers
  • Online CPT cert quizzes
  • Comprehensive NASM study guide

The Guided Study package, gives you all the above, plus:

  • Unlimited Access to NASM Fitness Experts
  • Certification Exam Retest
  • NASM-CPT Hard-copy Textbook
  • Bonus Course: Motivational Interviewing for Coaches

All-inclusive also includes:

  • NASM’s Edge CPT Exam Prep
  • Gymternship™
  • Recertify for Life
  • CPR/AED Certification Online

So what do all these options cost?

The Self-study package costs $749, while Guided Study costs $1169, and All-Inclusive costs $1619.

Most people will do best with the guided study option, but it’s nice to have the flexibility of the variety of options to choose from.

Meanwhile, AFAA is relatively simple in their site offerings for learners. 

Their one study package fee is $499. However, unlike NASM, this does not include the textbook. 

The AFAA Personal Fitness Trainer book will only set students back $79, which means the total cost of $578 is still considerably lower than NASM’s cheapest option.

For the current pricing of the NASM, check out this link here.

Also, make sure to check out the free study guide that we offer here at PTPioneer. 

AFAA vs NASM course layouts

AFAA vs NASM - textbooks opened to table of contents


NASM, as I suggested, has a focus on corrective exercise. To understand what this means and how it relates to NASM, let’s figure out what corrective exercise is in the first place.

For the current pricing for the NASM certification, check out this link here.

What is Corrective Exercise?

Based on my years as a qualified fitness professional and my focus in this fitness area, corrective exercise can be a training methodology to improve current or activate latent functions in the human body.

Simply, that means improving mobility by restoring or activating joint and muscle function for everyone.

Fitness is an important part of life, and for those looking to become a personal trainer, the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) program is a great way to gain the necessary knowledge and skills to help others reach their fitness goals.

A system like this strongly focuses on strength and conditioning, something you will become familiar with once you dig into the NASM course content.

The NASM course content gives students an in-depth understanding of the subject matter through a comprehensive course that covers topics such as anatomy, physiology, kinesiology, nutrition, and program design.

NASM’s proprietary OPT model exemplifies this principle of using corrective exercises.

The OPT, or Optimum Performance Training model, is what NASM believes to be the ideal way to administer evidence-based exercise protocols as a fitness professional.

It is divided into three levels, each subdivided into five distinct phases.

The OTP model looks like this:

  • Level 1: Stabilization
    • Phase 1: Stabilization Endurance
  • Level 2: Strength
    • Phase 2: Strength endurance
    • Phase 3: Muscular development
    • Phase 4: Maximal strength
  • Level 3: Power
    • Phase 5: Power

From my point of view, with a general understanding of how biomechanical functionality is developed effectively, the OPT model hits the nail on the head regarding the sequence of events in workouts over time.

First, you want to establish functional body control and stability; you need to make the body stronger.

Once a degree of strength endurance is reached, you have a foundation to build muscle.

More muscle means more potential amount of strength; with strength, you can begin fine-tuning performance toward a more power-centric adaptation.

It makes sense. As the progression continues, the weights will rise as well and then you can use that added intensity to contribute to power development in a workout or session.  

I would compare NASM to NSCA based on its approach. 

The benefits of using this approach stem from the safety of moving through each of these phases in an appropriate fashion, so that you don’t over tax the muscles or nervous system with heavy strength training too early on. The OPT model is a form of periodization that moves through a range of reps and sets effectively, gauging the ability of your client to handle everything and achieve their goal. 

Exclusive PTP CPT Offers

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

Also NASM’s framework allows you to avoid injury with athletes as you move through each phase. 


AFAA is more geared towards aerobic and cardiovascular training.

This is largely based on their founding principles and name, which stipulated aerobic training.

In case you didn’t know, aerobic training is a training system that focuses significantly on cardio exercise.

This was the most popular form of fitness training in the early days when mainstream fitness emerged.

However, AFAA, an overall fitness certifying agency, emphasizes all the necessary aspects of fitness instruction.

For example, while going through the group fitness material and practice exam, I realized that the central focus was on the following:

  • Analysis of different exercise systems.
  • Basic anatomy 
  • Biochemistry and the metabolic energy cycle
  • Biomechanics and kinesiology
  • Measuring vitals (heart rate, blood pressure, etc.)
  • The musculoskeletal system 

I also learned that AFAA addresses its method of administering fitness through its “Five Questions.”

According to the website, these questions are:

  1. What is the purpose of the exercise?
  2. Are you doing that effectively?
  3. Does the exercise create any safety concerns?
  4. Can you maintain proper alignment and form for the duration of the exercise?
  5. For whom is the exercise appropriate or inappropriate?

On analysis, these questions seem to address very basic checks for conducting good-quality exercise instruction for activities.

Anyone can program a movement, but knowing which movements fit different individuals’ needs takes things to a whole other level for fitness professionals. 

For instance, understanding the purpose of an exercise is overlooked surprisingly often in the wellness sphere.

We can see that AFAA is geared towards the group training approach when we take these factors on board. 

This is on account of the prominent showcasing of their group training options, aimed at equipping trainers to work with large and small groups of participants in classes. Every student is different. 

In order to work with everyone this, you need to understand coaching, how to take in feedback, and factor in different people’s experience. 

AFAA vs NASM - textbooks open to pages open to chapter 8 on bioenergetics

NASM and AFAA prerequisites

All personal training certifications have virtually the same eligibility requirements: candidates must be over 18, have a high school diploma/GED, and hold a current CPR/AED certificate. 

NASM vs AFAA salary

NASM trainers’ average income sits at $50,905, according to ZipRecruiter. Because AFAA is a smaller organization, I wasn’t able to find accurate figures on salary for their trainers, but you can expect it to be similar, if slightly less, than NASM.

Because both of these certs are NCCA approved, you should be able to find success with both CPTs. 

Which exam is harder, AFAA or NASM?

Below, I’ll give you information on the exams, recertification, and CECs. 

Both NASM and AFAA offer a final multiple-choice certification exam.

Both tests consist of 120 multiple-choice questions to be completed in 2 hours at a testing center.

If you’ve prepped correctly, this is more than enough time.

The exams are a bit different when looking at completion pass rate statistics.

NASM pass rates currently sit at 65% (although this can change from year to year), while AFAA has a 62% pass rate.

Both require at least 70% to pass, which means you’ll need to get at least 84 questions correct.

After successfully passing, you will be granted your certification from whichever certifying bodies you enroll in.

Neither of these are on the easier side, compared to options like the ISSA CPT, so take your exam preparation seriously. 

NASM vs AFAA recertification

You might already know, once certified, time begins to tick on the validity of your personal training certification.

Most certifications are valid for two years, although this may vary depending on the institution or the field of specialization.

For AFAA, your cert will be valid for 2 years, after which you must recertify by submitting 1.5 CEUs, equivalent to 15 hours of continuing education units. 

NASM has the same validity period but differs in that the required CEU requirements: to recertify you need 2.0, equivalent to 20 hours of education credits.

Other offerings from NASM and AFAA

NASM certification courses and specializations:

AFAA Fitness Certifications list:

  • AFAA Group Fitness Instructor (AFAA-GFI)
  • Indoor Cycling
  • AFAA Nutrition Certification (through NASM)
  • Sunrise Yoga Specialization
  • Tai Chi

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

How long does it take to become a personal trainer?

It can take someone anywhere between 2 and 4 months depending on how much time they want to devote to studying for the exam.

Are AFAA and NASM the same organization?

In 2005, NASM bought AFAA and they share the same group fitness certification, but their personal training certifications are quite different.

Where do I get my CPR/AED certification?

When getting prepared to take any CPT, you’ll need a CPR certification. The best way to find one is to go to the Red Cross or American Heart Association and they have a list of classes you can take. Make sure the one you pick has an in-person section as some classes are just online and those are usually not accepted by fitness certification companies. 

What is the best way to study for my personal training exam?

The easiest way to start out is to read the textbook and take notes. After that you can review those and make a study guide for yourself to look at everyday and memorize. Alternatively every organization has some study resources and there are some great third-party options like those from Trainer Academy to help you. 

Conclusion and Final Score

NASM vs AFAA - textbooks on table with yellow stars and question mark boxes - which cpt is best overall?

That is all you need to decide between NASM and AFAA certification.

Take a deep breath and decide which one aligns with your career goals in the long run.

So, it’s time to crown our NASM vs. AFAA winner results.

I’ve selected 3 categories in which each cert will receive a score out of 5.

Study Materials5/53/5
Exam Difficulty4/53/5

So the winner is NASM, scoring ahead of AFAA in all but one category.

NASM scores 4.25/5, while AFAA gets 3.5/5.

NASM has a more specialized approach that can be applied to special populations, while AFAA has a more generalist approach.

I suggest you bundle your desired program with a nutrition coach cert.

I hope this review gave you some good perspective and allows you to decide which cert is the best for you so you can go put there and improve the health of your clients.

In fact, after taking both personal trainer courses, I can confidently say that the course which offers the most comprehensive and up-to-date information on the latest fitness trends, nutrition, and exercise science is the one that will provide the best foundation for a successful and rewarding career as a personal trainer.

If you have any questions or suggestions, please comment below, and I’ll get right to it.

Make sure that you check out Trainer Academy for the best study materials and a guarantee to pass the NASM exam. Check it out here!

Find the current pricing for the NASM program here.


Tyler Read - Certified Personal Trainer with PTPioneer

Tyler Read

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