The NASM and AFAA personal training certifications are both quality NCCA-accredited personal trainer certifications.

The NASM CPT is more respected compared to AFAA and has the exceptional OPT Model.

However, AFAA is a much more affordable compared with NASM, and may be sufficient depending on your career goals.

I also highly recommend that you take the quiz and find out which NCCA-accredited certification is best for your career goals.

What type of Certification are you looking to get?
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
CPTACSM vs ACE Quick BreakdownFeaturesPrice
NASM

NASM

  • 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
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
NASM CPT
AFAA
Product
Exam cost
Exam cost
$899+
$199
Study Material Cost
Study Material Cost
Included with exam
$499.00
Exam Passing Score
Exam Passing Score
70%
70%
Exam Pass Rate
Exam Pass Rate
79% (proctored), 90% (non-proctored)
72%
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.

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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.

NASM vs AFAA Certification Comparison [year] Review 3
NASM vs AFAA Certification Comparison [year] Review 4

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 bundle packages that include other certifications, like the CPT Essentials Bundle and the CPT Pro Bundle.

The Self-Study and Guided Study 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:

  • 100% Online Course
  • Two Exam Options
  • State-of-the-Art, Digital Learning Platform
  • High-End Learning Videos
  • Audio Chapter Summaries
  • Exercise Demonstration Library
  • Biodigital 3D Models
  • Handouts and Resources Library
  • Practice Exam, Quizzes and Knowledge Checks
  • Best-in-Class Test Prep with NASM’s Edge Mobile App

The Premium Self-Study gives you all the above, plus:

  • Job Guarantee*
  • Unlimited Access to NASM Fitness Experts
  • Exam Retest
  • $900+ added value

The CPT Essentials Bundle includes:

  • Certified Nutrition Coach (CNC)
  • CPR/AED Certification Online
  • Metabolic Makeover (Earn 0.3 CEUs)

So what do all these options cost?

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The Self Study package costs $899, while Premium Self-Study costs $1,399, and CPT Essentials Bundle costs $2,397.

Often these higher tier options are on sale for less but this is the base price.

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

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. 

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

AFAA

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

Tyler Read - Certified Personal Trainer with PTPioneer

Tyler Read


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