The NASM and NSCA CPT certifications are in-depth personal trainer programs in terms of exercise technique and program design. The NASM OPT Model provides an easier training template, but the NSCA does a deeper dive into custom program design. NASM is more expensive compared to NSCA, but offers more study materials.

Read on to find out which certification is best for you.

What type of Certification are you looking to get?
NASM vs NSCA - Tyler Read holds up NSCA and NASM textbooks on a table with a laptop in front of a whiteboard

Welcome to the ultimate NASM vs NSCA review.

I base this article on my experience taking and passing both NSCA and NASM personal training certifications. Additionally, I have many other fitness certifications and have been a certified trainer for over 10 years. 

The PTPioneer team includes trainers with certifications from all the major organizations and we have gathered our combined knowledge to give you the best possible review of these two CPTs. 

My review contrasts NSCA vs NASM using the following key aspects:

  • Topical information: comparison of pricing, packages, and prerequisites
  • NASM and NSCA content deep dive: knowledge and skills
  • Exam difficulties, preparation timelines, and study material review
  • Explanation of my expert review process

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Use the code PTPJULY to receive between 35% and 50% (depending on the program) off the Trainer Academy MVP Study System. Get the trial for any of their study systems here and check out my review for Trainer Academy here.

If you still need help deciding on the best CPT, take the quiz for a quick briefing on which of the best personal trainer certifications is right for you.

Alright, let’s get into it!

NASM vs NSCA graphic

Quick Breakdown: NASM vs NSCA

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
NSCA

NSCA

  • NSCA accreditation
  • Huge NSCA network
  • NSCA clinics
  • NSCA accredited schools
  • Great CEU opportunities
  • Fair NSCA membership costs
  • Membership discounts and benefits
  • Access to the NSCA Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research
  • Lacks coverage on the personal training business, marketing, and sales
  • Some CPT exam prep material is inadequate
View on the NSCA website
NASM-CPT
NSCA-CPT
Product
Exam cost
Exam cost
$899+
$300 (Members) $435 (Non-members)
Study Material Cost
Study Material Cost
Included in exam cost
$455 (Members) $511 (Non-members)
Prerequisites
Prerequisites
CPR/AED, 18 years of age, high school diploma/GED
CPR/AED, 18 years of age, high school diploma/GED
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 NASM?

The National Academy of Sports Medicine, or NASM, is a certification agency and academic institute that trains and certifies fitness professionals.

It was founded in 1987 and has since become one of the leading names in exercise science credentialing. 

NASM-national-academy-of-sports-medicine-logo-1

According to many metrics, such as enrollment figures and Google search data, NASM is often ranked as the most popular certification agency on the planet.

Many top fitness professionals started with a NASM certification. Some would say it is not only an academic institution but an incubator for entrepreneurs.

NASM is an NCCA accredited certification. The National Commission for Certifying Agencies stands as a marker of overall excellence and most gyms and employers like seeing trainers with NCCA accreditation. 

NASM is also well-known for specializations, such as their corrective exercise certification or sports performance cert for sports coaching.

This seal of approval stands as a quality guarantee that you can rely on, signifying a platform you can use in becoming a successful personal trainer.

This actually brings me to my number one tip for trainers who want to crush it in their fitness careers:

If you are interested in maximizing your success as a fitness trainer as quickly as possible, I recommend considering an additional nutrition coaching certificate besides your personal trainer certification.

Physical training is just half the battle. You cannot expect to deliver out-of-this-world results without addressing the diet coaching component. Not paying attention to nutrition is like working out your shoulders but never hitting legs or arms. You need balance in your health and fitness regime. 

However, when you combine fitness coaching with nutrition coaching, you can address both key fitness aspects in your clients, drastically increasing results.

When it comes to delivering the kind of client success that will push you to the top of the industry, there is simply no way around nutrition coaching.

On a similar note, stacking a fitness specialization on top of your personal training and nutrition combo further drives you to the top of the pack regarding personal trainers.

Specializations include things like corrective exercise, strength and conditioning coaching, and group exercise instructors.

Expertise in one or more of these fields helps you appeal to niche clientele seeking an expert, not just another average personal trainer.

Niche expertise and a growing track record of amazing client success is the surefire way to make a great personal trainer income.

With this consideration in mind, I recommend putting NASM at the top of your list when choosing your organization.

NASM offers some incredible deals when you bundle multiple programs upfront through their NASM Elite Trainer promotions.

The distinct features of each cert will allow you to decide your personal trainer job outlook.

What is NSCA?

The National Strength and Conditioning Association, or NSCA, is an academic institution that was established in 1978.

This makes it one of the oldest exercise science organizations in the world.

The NSCA is a non-profit organization that works towards pioneering research in the strength & conditioning and exercise science fields.

This focus on strength and conditioning, immortalized in the organization’s name, speaks a lot to the scope of practice NSCA trainers tend to follow.

The NCCA also accredits NSCA and is thus considered a gold standard certification. They are most widely known for their athletic performance emphasis with their NSCA CSCS certification.

Certification Popularity and Recognition of NASM vs NSCA

NASM vs NSCA - Tyler read holds up textbooks for NSM and NSCA in front of whiteboard

Popularity and recognition are easy to dismiss at face value.

I mean, this isn’t a popularity contest. It’s a quality and relevance comparison, right?

Well, yes, but the popularity and recognition of a personal trainer certification both play an essential role in your decision-making due to other factors. 

The popularity of something amongst the general community acts as a symbol of quality assurance.

The more people know about something, use it, and enjoy it, the more assured you are of a good quality experience.

This is known as confirmation bias, where individuals make decisions based on the collective opinions and advice of personal trainers, with these decisions being driven by value and desirability.

Recognition plays a similar role in that a certification with wider industry recognition shows a wider acceptance and approval from those in a position to hire, employ, and provide professional opportunities.

Industry recognition tells you which gyms accept which certifications, for example.

NSCA is a bit more “old-school,” for lack of a better phrase, so it emphasizes its marketing and attention economy little.

NASM is also a for-profit organization that pays to pump resources into image and marketing. NSCA, on the other hand, is an NPO, so its revenue is purely for operational purposes.

This makes NASM the clear winner when it comes to popularity between these two training courses on account of their bigger marketing resources. 

Pros and cons of NSCA vs NASM

So, we’ve established that NASM is the most popular, but let’s explore the pros and cons of each certification.

On the positive side, NASM has great overall content, giving you their excellent OPT training system, which makes periodizing your sessions easy.

NASM also includes business coverage in their program, a great addition for trainers who live in the real world and have to sell their services.

Also, NASM is among the best when it comes to online study portals. Their exercise library has endless videos describing training techniques and tips.

Basically, NASM makes the whole process easy when you’re preparing to be a trainer. 

However, NASM does cost more than NSCA. NASM also doesn’t go quite as deep on the knowledge side from an athletic training perspective as you get with NSCA.

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NSCA includes a huge amount of detail in their textbook, almost 700 pages worth. This is both a pro and a con. NSCA’s breadth and depth of content is great for giving you everything you need and more, but it’s a lot to parse through for someone who doesn’t have a background in fitness already.

NSCA also doesn’t give you as many study resources as NASM, even with their higher priced packages. 

NSCA and NASM packages and study materials

NSCA vs NASM - textbooks on table with gold coins and money bag on it

Study materials are the resources and content you use to learn the curriculum and prepare for the final exam.

So far, I’ve looked at the textbooks of each respective certification program. Still, it’s important to consider the selection of other documents and data that fall under study materials.

It’s also crucial to consider the cost of these materials, so you can also decide based on your budget and financial circumstances.

NSCA Personal Trainer Certification Cost and Materials

NSCA presents just three package options:

  • NSCA-CPT Essential Package
  • NSCA-CPT Essential Plus Package
  • NSCA-CPT Digital Package

The Digital package contains very little to motivate learning for a fresh-faced PT. It’s more geared toward seasoned professionals looking to expand their credentials. 

This package contains:

  • Study Guide
  • Over 200 digital practice tests

The Essential package offers some direction while not providing a complete spoon feeding in an exam prep sense.

 It includes::

  • Essentials of Personal Training course textbook
  • Study Guide
  • Over 200 digital practice questions

Last but not least, we have the Essential Plus package, which you could equate to NASM’s All-inclusive package.

It’s ideal for newcomers and includes the following:

  • Essentials of Personal Training course textbook
  • Exercise Technique Manual
  • Study Guide
  • Over 200 digital practice exams
  • And much more

An important consideration is the fact of your personal trainer certification cost. It is split between the exam and the recommended NSCA study materials.

You also need to remember that costs shift based on your membership status.

As a member of NSCA, you will receive discounts on purchasing all courses and products.

To give you an idea of what that looks like, let’s check out the membership vs. non-membership cost breakdowns.

Non-member pricing:

  • NSCA CPT exam cost: $435
  • NSCA-CPT Essential Package: $314.45
  • NSCA-CPT Essential Plus Package: $541.50
  • NSCA-CPT Digital Package: $201.40

Member pricing::

  • Exam registration: $300
  • NSCA-CPT Essential Package: $255.55
  • NSCA-CPT Essential Plus Package: $479.75
  • NSCA-CPT Digital Package: $152

So, membership cuts your costs considerably, but what does membership entail, and what does it cost?

Membership with NSCA comes in three possible plans. Those are:

  • Student Membership: $70.00
  • Professional Membership: $130.00
  • NSCA- Certified PT Digital Package: $299.17

Membership is a great option. I would recommend it, but you can also do without it.

This is in consideration of the other benefits that come with membership. 

To kick start your NSCA CPT studies before spending any money, check out my free NSCA CPT study guide.

For premium study materials, my students consistently get great results from the Trainer Academy NSCA CPT package.

Don’t forget to check out the NSCA official site for official materials for up-to-date pricing.

NASM Personal Trainer Certification Cost and Materials

NASM follows a tried and trusted approach of offering multiple package options for prospective candidates to choose from.

Each package is priced differently based on the variety and density of materials, with the cheaper option containing the least resources while the most expensive naturally containing the most.

The available NASM packages are: Self-study, Premium Self-study and CPT Essentials Bundle.

The Self-study package includes the following::

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

The Premium Self-study includes everything in the Self-study package, in addition to

  • Job Guarantee
  • One-year NASM EDGE Trainer Plus
  • Certification Exam Retest
  • Unlimited Access to NASM Fitness Experts

The CPT Essentials Bundle, which in addition to everything you’ve already seen, includes the following:

  • Certified Nutrition Coach (CNC)
  • CPR/AED certification
  • Metabolic Makeover (0.3 CEUs)

So what do all these packages cost?

The Self-study package costs $899, while the Premium Self-study and Guided Study cost $1,399 and $2,397 respectively before discounts.

This makes NASM one of the most expensive certification providers, and while NSCA is not the cheapest personal trainer certification compared to something like ACSM, it is much less from a cost perspective.

You can kick off your NASM exam prep before you buy anything by checking out my free NASM study guide and practice exam.

For a better deal on premium NASM study guides, I recommend the Trainer Academy CPT MVP Package, which is quite popular with my students.

Don’t forget to check out the NSCA official site for up to date pricing and sales.

NASM and NSCA certification course layouts

NSCA vs NASM - table of contents for NASM and NSCA laid out on table

Before you click “buy” and purchase your cert, it’s a good idea to know what’s in the box regarding content and curriculum.

For the most part, you won’t be able to get a full view of what the syllabus or curriculum of a certification looks like outside of a basic profile you might find in a student’s handbook or website.

So, I’ve taken it upon myself to purchase and go through the certifications curriculum as it exists for candidates. Having taken both of these, I can give you some greater insight. 

With resources such as the NSCA study guide and NASM study guide, as well as textbooks and practice exams, I review all the significant aspects of interest regarding  how well each personal trainer course covers them.

Exercise Science Principles

Exercise science is typically at the beginning of every personal training certification curriculum.

This usually means the first several chapters of the course textbook will cover this topic. You learn about muscle anatomy, the ways training with weights influences the body and the biomechanics of motion. 

For NASM, exercise science is well presented in the first five chapters in the textbook’s first section.

These chapters cover topics on the page such as

  • The Scientific Rationale for Integrated Training 
  • Basic Exercise Science 
  • The Cardiorespiratory System 
  • Exercise Metabolism, and Bioenergetics 
  • Human Movement Science.

Chapter 5: The Nervous, Skeletal, and Muscular Systems provides a firm foundation for understanding exercise science.

As for NSCA, exercise science is expertly presented in the first part of the textbook, covering eight chapters.

The most fundamental of these is Chapter 1: Structure and function of the muscular, nervous, and skeletal systems, similar to NASM.

There isn’t too much difference between NASM and NSCA, but based on the sheer volume of content, I have to say NSCA comes out on top for exercise science.

Behavioral Coaching Principles

Behavioral coaching and coaching psychology are quintessential to pushing toward goals and successful outcomes from training sessions.

The bulk of the work you’ll be doing is motivating your clients inside and outside the gym and inspiring changes in lifestyle habits.

This is the only way they’ll be able to develop successful and effective strategies towards their goals.

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NASM covers behavioral coaching in the final section, Section 4: Client Interaction and Personal Development.

Within this section, only a single chapter is dedicated to behavioral coaching, that being Chapter 4: Behavioral Coaching.

In the case of NSCA, this is presented in Chapter 8: Exercise psychology for the personal trainer.

While neither organizations offer as much as the ACE CPT, I think it’s a tie when comparing NSCA vs NASM here. 

Consulting and Screening Clients to Reduce Risks of Injury

Before any training commences, and even through the duration of your client/coach relationship, regular screening, assessments, and monitoring are necessary to gauge your client’s limitations and avoid the risk of injury and aggravation of preexisting conditions.

This is where consulting and screening come into play.

There are two modalities involved when it comes to consultations and screening.

The first is health screening, where you assess a client’s current health status and what contraindications exist when implementing a training program.

A health screening assesses things such as:

  • Pre-existing and chronic conditions
  • Vital stats (blood pressure, heart rate, body composition)
  • Impediments and disabilities
  • Previous injuries and surgical procedures
  • Current medications
  • Age-based sensitivities (training children or seniors)
  • Dietary requirements
  • Pregnancy and post-pregnancy status.

The second one is fitness and movement screening.

This assessment allows you to determine a client’s limitations and considerations towards achieving their fitness goals, so you can coach anyone effectively. Knowing these restrictions tells you what exercises they are a good candidate for. 

Movement assessments test the fitness level and biomechanical capability of your clients utilizing the following screening methods:

  • Cardiac endurance assessment
  • Dynamic assessment
  • Loaded assessment
  • Overhead squat assessment
  • Postural assessments
  • Single leg squat assessment
  • Split leg assessment

By establishing the current level of physical fitness, your client is subject to; you can more accurately map out a realistic, results-driven program with adequate progression steps. You can also look at body composition if fat loss or muscle gain is a goal. 

This, along with establishing your client’s health status, allows you to determine safe and effective parameters for exercise implementation.

NASM tackles this component of personal training practice in Chapter 11: Health, Wellness, and Fitness Assessments and Chapter 12: Posture, Movement, and Performance Assessments.

NSCA takes on client screening in Part II of its course textbook.

However, unlike NASM, the entirety of this section, spanning three chapters, focuses on assessments and screening.

These chapters are Chapter 9: Client consultation and health appraisal, Chapter 10: Fitness assessment selection and administration, and Chapter 11: Fitness testing protocols and norms.

NSCA gives you more details, so in the area of assessments, they do come out on top. 

Resistance Training Program Implementation

Resistance training is a key component in exercise implementation.

Many of the exercises you prescribe will be resistance-based.

Understanding the biomechanical implications and implementation of resistance training forms the backbone of your program design.

NASM does a decent job of highlighting this concept in Chapter 20: Resistance Training Concepts.

I especially enjoy simplifying the GAS or general adaptation syndrome and other training adaptation concepts.

Learning progressive overload so you can create adaptations in the muscles is key to exercise and any physical transformation. 

Also learning periodization concepts so you can adjust intensity, reps, volume, and weight will help to progress clients effectively.  

NSCA’s coverage of resistance training is in the textbook’s 13th chapter, Resistance training exercise techniques.

However, NSCA expands by splitting resistance training into its science and theory in chapter 13 and its program design implementation in Chapter 15: Resistance training program design.

This gives you a fully equipped approach to resistance training. Not just learning what it is and how it works, but also how to include it in your strength training repertoire with clients.

You get a more comprehensive range of tools here for workouts. 

Therefore, I would say NSCA has a better take on resistance training.

NSCA and NASM - textbooks open to content on flexibility and nutrition for NASM and NSCA, which course content is better

Aerobic Training Program Implementation

Aerobic training, known in layman’s terms as cardio, is the basis of all physical fitness. It naturally forms the basis of any fitness programming tips for personal trainers such as yourself. A higher aerobic base means you can produce more effort in a workout. 

But why is that the case?

Cardio training is the heart’s training, and your heart is the organ directly responsible for the shuttling of nutrients and metabolic materials through the body.

That means your physical ability and fitness directly correlate with your cardiac output and aerobic status.

So what do NASM and NSCA do about this critical topic?

NASM dives into cardiac fitness and aerobic training in Chapter 15: Cardiorespiratory Training Concepts.

I like that this chapter looks at the respiratory component of aerobic training with as much focus as the cardiac component.

NSCA follows the same pattern as it was established with resistance training by separating aerobic training principles from aerobic training practice in Chapter 14: Cardiovascular training methods and Chapter 16: Aerobic endurance training program design, respectively.

This again provides a level of depth and comprehension slightly superior to what NASM brings to the table. 

Helping Special Populations with Fitness

When dealing with personal training clients, you’ll very often encounter special scenarios and considerations from person to person.

This is a common function of dealing with different people.

However, these special scenarios and considerations sometimes define individuals’ profiles and how or what goals can be achieved.

This type of client would be considered part of a special population group.

Examples of clients who fall into a special needs and preferences category include:

Special populations, in this sense, are defined as clients with unique physiological needs or profile differences.

This garners the need for a unique approach and sensitive considerations.

NASM touches on special populations or special needs in Chapter 23: Chronic Health Conditions and Special Populations.

The coverage in the NASM textbook pales compared to how in-depth and well-rounded the NSCA curriculum tackles the topic.

In NSCA, special populations’ scope covers every standard scenario I previously listed.

NASM only deals with special populations limited in their training capacity and only in the realm of chronic health conditions.

In contrast, NSCA tackles how to train athletes and the youth, population groups that may be considered to have physical advantages.

The following chapters present NSCA’s take on special populations:

NSCA covers this topic over an entire part, that being Part V, while NASM only assigns a single chapter to this coverage. Knowing more about these populations helps you create functional training programs for your clients.

For specific insight on these certifications, check out my NASM CPT and NSCA CPT reviews.

Business Skills

NASM excels with an emphasis on cutting-edge personal training marketing ideas, and how to build a successful career as a trainer.

You learn:

With this info so easily accessible, you can scan the fitness landscape and see where you fit in. 

NASM also covers gym memberships and how to sell personal training; an ideal way to build a fitness business.

I appreciate how NASM enforces the importance of developing a niche because most successful personal trainers always have and know their appropriate niche in the world.

NSCA does not give you much in the way of business skills. They have an appendix at the end of their textbook that briefly covers the topic, but it’s not emphasized to the extent of NASM.

In this case, NASM wins out. 

NASM vs NSCA - The Best of The Best [year] 3
NASM vs NSCA - The Best of The Best [year] 4

NSCA vs NASM prerequisites

Prerequisites are there to safeguard the quality and integrity of qualifying candidates.

This ensures those enrolling in an academic program are up to the task and can do so within the bounds of any laws or bylaws.

When it comes to personal training certifications, the prerequisites are pretty basic.

All you need to provide to gain access to either NASM or NSCA is the following:

  • High school diploma or equivalent
  • Be at least 18 years 
  • Have current first responder certifications (First Aid, CPR, AED)

NASM vs NSCA salary

Ziprecruiter data shows that the average NASM trainer makes $50,905 per year, while trainers certified through the NSCA CPT earn $49,739 on average.

These numbers only offer a view of the salary landscape; they do not tell you how much you will make as a trainer. In my experience, with a good amount of hard work, you can surpass these after a few years. 

Which exam is harder, NSCA or NASM

NSCA vs NASM - NSCA and NASM textbooks on table with scantron exam sheet in between them with a sharpie pen

Now I go into the final exams and discuss how they are structured.

I feel it’s important to have a good grasp of what to expect in the exam so you can prepare for any potential surprises and to have a sense of calm confidence when writing.

Finding the easiest exam option might be the deciding factor for new learners, so it’s worth knowing.

I give you the structure of the exam from a technical perspective and the content layout.

Now, let’s look at these personal trainer certification exams. 

NSCA Certification

The NSCA CPT exam is a 155 question test. 140 of those questions are scored, while 15 are non-scored questions.

The non-scored questions are impossible to distinguish from those that will earn you points. They are there to test their viability for future exams.

Since you can’t tell them apart, answering all possible questions is best.

The passing grade is 70% which you have 3 hours to achieve.

The exam curriculum is broken down and weighted as follows:

  1. Client Consultation/Assessment 23%
  2. Program Planning 32%
  3. Techniques of Exercise 31%
  4. Safety, Emergency Procedures, and Legal Issues 14%

The most recent personal trainer statistics present that 72% of test-takers pass the NSCA exam. An NSCA retake for the exam is quite costly, too.

This shows me that the test has an adequate entry barrier, but one which isn’t prohibitive, so while it’s not the easiest personal trainer certification, it’s certainly not the hardest.

NASM Certification

The NASM CPT final test runs for two hours and consists of 120 multiple-choice questions.

The passing grade is 70%, of which current statistics indicate a 79% pass rate.

This makes NASM’s CPT certification exam challenging, so you better get to work if you want that certification.

There’s also a non-proctored version which goes at 90% however I recommend picking the former option because of the extra clout.

The NASM CPT exam content breaks down as follows:

  1. Basic and Applied Sciences and Nutritional Concepts 15%
  2. Client Relations and Behavioral Coaching 15%
  3. Assessment 16%
  4. Program Design 20%
  5. Exercise Technique and Training Instruction 24%
  6. Professional Development and Responsibility 10%

NASM and NSCA recertification

Let’s look at recertification and the procedures behind maintaining your certification, including CEUs (continuing education credits).

As for NSCA recertification,  you’ll be required to submit 6.0 CEUs after every three years from the initial certification.

In most cases, you’ll need to recertify after just two years.

As I mentioned, the common trend with certifications is recertifying after two years. NSCA requires renewal after three years. NASM-certified trainers have to renew after two years like most others. 

You must submit 2.0 CEUs and pay a small recertification fee for this.

Other offerings from NSCA and NASM

Both NASM and NSCA have excellent courses you can take which give you additional credentials and CEUs, which help you recertify your current fitness trainer certification. This gives you a two-pronged benefit as a new trainer, so I recommend going this route.

NASM certification courses:

NSCA certifications;

  • Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (NSCA-CSCS)
  • Certified Performance and Sports Scientist (CPSS)
  • Certified Special Population Specialist (CSPS)
  • Tactical Strength and Conditioning Facilitator (TSAC-F)

NSCA vs NASM overall ratings

NSCA vs NASM - NASM and NSCA textbooks on table with yellow starts and yellow question boxes behind them

Which is the best between NASM and NSCA?

That isn’t a question with a clear objective answer.

Both of these are nationally recognized personal training certifications and are, therefore, valid and relevant.

There are many areas where NSCA is stronger than NASM and many where NASM is stronger than NSCA.

It all hinges on your preferred approach to a career as a fitness instructor, how long you want to take to become a personal trainer, or the business model of your personal training business.

Some people might want to focus more on working in the sporting field, while others would prefer more general population interactions.

The truth is the bulk of the fitness industry lies in the hands and wallets of general population members, those with fundamental needs and goals.

For that reason, NASM would be your best choice. NASM also gives you much better study resources, making the journey to become a personal trainer much easier for most people out there.

These are my thoughts.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

What does personal training look like in future job outlooks?

The future of personal training is online as digital and web-based economies continue to grow exponentially.
Everything from program design and implementation all the way to payment methods and eCommerce is now optimized for online coaching.

How can I become an NSCA or NASM Certified Personal Trainer?

After reading this personal training certificate comparison guide, you will be fully equipped to decide which of these two certifications is for you.
From there, it’s simply a matter of purchasing the right package and setting up your exam prep protocols.

Do Fitness Trainers need a degree?

There are different schools of thought here, but the short answer is no, they don’t.
However, a degree in the field of sports science or sports medicine and any other related fields can provide some decent leverage when it comes to expanding your business and opening up to more lucrative opportunities.
A degree can also be leveraged as part of your value proposition, allowing you to charge a premium based on your qualifications.

NASM vs NSCA (Video)

NASM vs NSCA Certification - Which one should you choose in 2023? 🤷‍♂️
40 Years of History with the NSCA
The World's Best Trainers Start with NASM

References

  1. “Salary: NASM-CPT | United States.” Ziprecruiter, Ziprecruiter, 2023, https://www.ziprecruiter.com/Salaries/NASM-Personal-Trainer-Salary.  
  2. ZipRecruiter. “Nasm Nutrition Coach Salary.” Ziprecruiter, 13 Apr. 2023, https://www.ziprecruiter.com/Salaries/NASM-Nutrition-Coach-Salary.
  3. “Recertify Your Nasm Personal Trainer Certification.” NASM, https://www.nasm.org/recertify/personal-trainer-recertification.
  4. Personal Trainer (Cpt) (Nasm) Salary | Payscale. https://www.payscale.com/research/US/Certification=Personal_Trainer_(CPT)_(NASM)/Salary.
  5. NASM: Administrative Fees. National Academy of Sports Medicine. https://support.nasm.org/nasm-administrative-fees 
  6. NASM: Recertify for Life. National Academy of Sports Medicine. https://www.nasm.org/recertify/lifetime-recertification 
  7. NSCA: Study Materials. National Strength and Conditioning Association. https://www.nsca.com/nsca-cpt-study/ 
  8. NSCA: Certified Personal Trainer Exam Description. National Strength and Conditioning Association. https://www.nsca.com/certification/nsca-cpt/nsca-cpt-exam-description/ 
  9. NSCA Certification Handbook. https://www.nsca.com/globalassets/certification/certification-pdfs/certification-handbook.pdf
  10. NSCA: Membership Overview. National Strength and Conditioning Association. https://www.nsca.com/membership/membership-overview/
Tyler Read - Certified Personal Trainer with PTPioneer

Tyler Read


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36 thoughts on “NASM vs NSCA – The Best of The Best 2024”

  1. Hi Tyler,
    Thank you for writing and sharing this article. It is super helpful and well put together.

    I am fresh into the fitness industry, but love to exercise and have passion for sports. I have been investigating between NASM CPT and NSCA CPT and looking to decide which one to take as my first professional fitness cert.

    If my goal is to eventually work with athletes, it seems like NSCA CPT would be a better option. However, I have also heard NSCA curriculum is harder to study for a fresh, aspiring PT. Which CPT certification would you recommend to be a good starting point in my case?

    Thank you for your time!

    Reply
    • Hey Gary, I completely agree that if you desire to work with athletes, then NSCA is one of the best options. They have a strong focus on strength and conditioning, and their cert in that field is the gold standard. Therefore, altogether, NSCA and their CPT certification would be a great place to start. I wish you well in your future in the fitness industry!

      Reply
  2. Hello Tyler,

    thank you for this article, it was very helpful to me.
    What would you suggest if I am not sure if I want to work with athletes or general population. At this point I feel like I would love to work with both, but I honestly have no experience in the field of personal training, I am just starting to learn.

    I was thinking on maybe do NASM CPT and then after exploring more the field I could do the CSCS.

    what do you think?

    Reply
    • Hey Reyes, I think it would be best for you to get experience in personal training and start with the general population, as training athletes can become more and more specified. Either way you go, getting your foot in the door is ideal. If you aim to go for the CSCS certification, then I think the NSCA CPT would be best, as it will translate more easily to the gold-standard strength and conditioning certification from the NSCA.

      Reply
  3. Hi Tyler, I been reading your posts on all CPT certificates and vs each others. My question was that if I would get they NSCA CPT certification can you take courses from the NASM organization for more specializations, because my goal is to work with the general public but I also want to work with athletes. Thank you for your time and great articles.

    Reply
    • Hey Maggie, yes, you can certify with as many organizations as you want, and for most, these will count toward your recertification with continuing education credits. Choosing to certify in multiple organizations can be beneficial, and more education will never hurt your career.

      Reply
  4. Hello-
    Love your articles. I find them fascinating and they have helped me a lot! I am struggling to pick between the the NASM-PES or the NSCA CSCS. I’m not 100% sure which population I will be working with, but my dream would be to train high schoolers while they prepare for college sports. In my research of the jobs that are available right now it seems like everyone wants the CSCS. Not many places have the NASM PES listed as a preferred qualification. What are your thoughts on this? Do you think it would be hard to find a job working specifically with athletes with PES instead of CSCS?

    Reply
    • Really comes down to your education. If you have a four-year bachelor’s, I would definitely go with the strength and conditioning specialist. If you do not, the performance enhancement specialist is a fantastic certification as well. I hope this helps.

      Reply
  5. This was a really helpful article, thank you! I had gotten the sense that NSCA was a little more respected and so had purchased their textbook, but I’m finding it a little overly academic and lacking in practical application. I hopped back on NASM’s website recently and although I think they are a little too pushy with their marketing, it does seem like their corrective angle is more useful for a broader overview and that their model is a more practical structure for getting started as a trainer. Thanks for your detailed analysis of both and the reassurance that both are seen as respected in the field. Exactly what I hoped to know!

    Reply
    • Very good analysis of both organizations. I agree with all of your points. I think that they are both fantastic organizations and they are both very well respected.

      Reply
  6. Hi Tyler
    Warm Greetings !!
    I am a Physical therapist and have been training people since last 6 years. Planning to train people better on and off field, focusing on their conditioning and preparing them for competition as well. Can you suggest the best certification for the same.

    Thanks In Advance

    Reply
    • If you have already gotten your general personal training certification, I would definitely try to get a strength and conditioning as well as a corrective exercise certification those seem like it would fit perfectly with what you were trying to do. If you were just trying to get a general personal training certification, I would recommend the National Academy of sports medicine over NSCA.

      Reply
  7. I am living in Canada and looking at taking a PT course online. I am leaning toward the NASM training but I am wondering if I can take the exam here through the local college because you mentioned it needed to be a Lasergrade facility. That is my main concern and hoping you can answer my question!

    Thanks!
    Talitha

    Reply
    • Hey there, you can definitely check on their website where the closest lasergrade facilities are to see if there are any near you. Actually, right now for a limited time they are allowing you to take the exam online which is something that they have never done. You might want to take advantage of this.

      Reply
  8. Hello Sir,
    I’m ab18 years old student from India and I’ll pass my high school next month.
    I want to start my career in fitness

    Which certification and Bachelor’s degree should i do ?
    I want to be all rounder so that I could train special population ,any one with any issues ,even if he’s a athelete

    I want have successful in fitness world

    Please answer me

    Reply
    • Hey there, you do not need a bachelor’s degree for either one of these certifications. All you need is the equivalent of a high-school diploma for these. Let me know if there’s anything I can help you with to start your Fitness career.

      Reply
    • I believe you could. But I typically don’t recommend getting an addition that is two times removed from the current edition which is the 6th edition. The 4th edition should be fine, but I can’t tell you exactly how much has changed.

      Reply
  9. Hi Tyler,
    I am currently CSCS but planning on getting another cert under my belt. Was looking into getting the CPT and have been comparing the NSCA’s and NASM’s. Thank you for providing this article as it has helped cut down the amount comparing the two.

    My question to you is: does it seem necessary to get a CPT if I already have a CSCS?

    I currently work at Orangetheory Fitness as a sales associate and want to get to a coaching position. I know they would already accept me with the CSCS, but again, wanting to add a couple more letters to my name. Let me know what your thoughts are.

    Reply
    • Hey Britt,
      The certified strength and conditioning specialist certification is seen by a lot of people is the gold standard. Although it does focus on strength and conditioning more than that say corrective exercise that a lot of the general personal training certifications do. If I was to go between one or the other between the national sports sciences Association or the national Academy of sports medicine, I would go with NASM. This will give you an overall wider perspective and let you train a wider variety of clients compared to getting the general NSCA. You already have the elite certification from the NSCA, and NASM is quite different overall. That would be my suggestion.

      Reply
    • Capital depends on what type of gymnasium you are trying to work at when you get to Canada. You should ask and see which certifications they prefer but I wouldn’t be surprised if they accept both the national sports sciences Association as well as the NASM certification. I know that they have specific certifications that are widely accepted in Canada such as Canfitpro and others. I would look into that as well as see which certifications are accepted at the places that you are going to try to work at. I hope this helps.

      Reply
  10. I actually have a study book for the NSCA but when I took your quiz it said I should actually take the NASM. I am wondering if you know how much carry over the NSCA book would have for the NASM exam. Or if I should buy the NASM book as well.

    Reply
    • Hey James,
      The NSCA book will not carry over pretty much adult over to the National Academy of sports medicine exam. They have a much different way of looking at things and although some of the study material will carryover such as the anatomy and exercise science portions, the program design will be significantly different and you will not be able to pass the exam by studying from the NSCA book. I hope this helps.

      Reply
    • Hey Omar,
      The National Academy of sports medicine exam is taken in a PSI test taking facility. You can look on their website to see all of the various locations around the world that you can take the exam.

      Reply
  11. I ultimately want to be able to work with a broad spectrum of clients. From the athletes needing sport specific training (and crossfit) to the elderly and those who need corrective exercises. I am currently a physical therapist assistant so I feel like my background will help me in some sense. But I still can’t decide which one to go with

    Reply
  12. I work in physical therapy and am hoping to start seeing athletes in our clinic. But I also am wanting to work with crossfit athletes at my box. Both NSCA and NASM seem like the way to go for what I want to be doing. How do I choose between the two? Even after reading this it’s dofficult. I do, at some point, plan to work towards CSCS

    Reply
  13. Hi Tyler! Thanks for all the great info that you are sharing on the website, much appreciated!

    I wonder which certification (and possible follow up certifications) you would recommend if I would like to work with parkour athletes and American ninja athletes? (I would like to build upon what I’ve learnt from the book overcoming gravity and the courses from gymnastic bodies)

    Reply
    • Hey Bo,

      I am glad that you like the information I’m providing 🙂 In terms of your specialty certification is seems like you want to build explosive power, agility, quickness and overall strength in your athletes. For this you would need a specialty certification. I would recommend looking into the NASM PES or performance enhancement specialist certification. In order to get this you would need to have a general CPT certification already such as the general CPT or ACE certifications. I hope this helps answer your question!

      Reply
  14. I have a son who will complete his B.S. in Exercise Science from an accredited program recognized by the NCSA. He will have done 2 internships with this degree, one at an athletic performance facility, and one at Athletico at a PT tech. He is also a cross country and track runner on a nationally-ranked team. He has outstanding grades, and very much excels in all areas of kinesiology/A&P. Everything considered, which route for certification would you suggest? (or perhaps there are several certifications which would serve him well).

    Reply
    • Hey Lisa,
      NSCA is a fantastic certification in a lot of colleges in the United States use their curriculum for teaching their classes. If you 30 gone down the NSCA route, You might want to check out there more advanced CSCS certification. Also I like to recommend NASM for people that are going to work with people with muscular imbalances or elderly people in general. What types of clients would you like to work with?

      Reply
    • Hi Tyler, great article.
      I am looking to go into personal training but not your traditional route in the “gym.” I am looking at taking the crossfit philosophy, along with other movements in the functional fitness realm. I am not a strong believer in isolation movements although I believe they have there place. I went the gym route for many years and after doing crossfit/ functional movements i prefer this methods hands down. with that in mind would the nasm or nsca or other certifications be more beneficial. I was also looking at OPEX fitness. I will probably get my CFL1 crossfit level 1 down the road.

      Reply
      • Hey Alan,

        If cross fit is your ultimate goal I would definitely focus on the cross fit programs that you’re planning on taking. Most of what you will get out of the general training certification will be the general anatomy, biomechanics and general principles of exercise science. You will not learn any of these cross fit movements or progressive cross fit patterns from any one of these certifications. That being said, I would think that injury prevention and corrective exercise would be an important thing for people doing cross fit. In this case I would recommend the NASM certification.

        Reply

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