This article is a review of the top NCCA accredited personal training certifications. I have all of these fitness certifications, having studied-for and passed each exam, so I am highly qualified to say which ones are better than the others. 

Additionally, my team at PT Pioneer has over 2 dozen different CPT certifications and fitness specializations, so we have a massive amount of insight on all aspects of the fitness industry, especially when it comes to the best NCCA accredited CPT certifications.

The topics covered in this article include:

  • What NCCA accreditation means
  • Breakdown of cost and value of each certification
  • Content coverage for each NCCA CPT
  • Exam difficulty, salary, and continuing education

By the end of this article, you will be well-informed regarding the NCCA and the certifications that receive their accreditation and stand at the top of the fitness industry.

If you want more direct guidance on choosing your fitness certification, be sure to take the quiz to determine which CPT is right for you.

What type of Certification are you looking to get?

So, without further ado, let’s get into the article with a solid introduction to the National Commission for Certifying Agencies.

NCCA Accredited Certifications [year] - A Complete List for Personal Trainers! 4


  • Great technique, programming, and periodization
  • Good aerobic and special populations training
  • Less emphasis on corrective exercise
Check ISSA Pricing


  • Amazing OPT training model
  • Excellent corrective exercise coverage
  • Good coverage of behavior change
  • Vague special populations coverage
Check NASM Pricing


  • Lower cost than comparable certifications
  • Contains essential knowledge for CPTs
  • Great online portal
  • Less brand recognition
Check NCSF Pricing


  • Complete skillset for healthy clients
  • Great IFT model for programming
  • Excellent Mover Model for behavior change
  • Less corrective exercise coverage
  • No sales skills
Check ACE Pricing


  • FORM model is good for new trainers
  • Comprehensive coverage of training principles
  • Very little brand recognition
Check FM Pricing


  • Excellent science and behavioral change coverage
  • Good special populations training
  • Poor coverage of resistance training technique
  • No comprehensive program design framework
Check ACSM Pricing


  • Bigger focus on strength and conditioning
  • Great starter for advanced certifications
  • Comprehensive textbook
  • Limited study materials from NSCA
Check NSCA Pricing

what does NCCA stand for?

The NCCA stands for National Commission for Certifying Agencies, and it an organization developed to uphold standards of excellence across a wide range of professions and industries.

The standards set by the NCCA were the first standards developed for the credentialing industry and they work to ensure the health, welfare, and safety of the public. Accreditation of certification programs is essential to ensure quality quickly with certs so you can trust what you’re learning.  

NCCA accredited fitness certifications are the gold standard when becoming a certified trainer, and virtually every one of the top nutrition certifications and best personal trainer certifications has NCCA accreditation.

You may even see the NCCA accrediting body associated with organizations that focus on group fitness and other fitness categories online.

Finding the best NCCA certification for you and your future career is key to building an excellent personal training resume and ensuring a solid personal training salary.

When you are choosing an NCCA accredited CPT certification, it is important also to assess other factors, and not just whether or not it is accredited.

Having NCCA accreditation can greatly assist your personal training salary, as these certifications are more highly valued.

It is also important that future trainers choose a fitness organization they can grow with, which means they need to consider the other certifications, continuing education opportunities, and specializations they offer.

Ideally, this organization should have multiple NCCA accredited certifications, so you are getting great value.

Choosing an organization with an excellent combination of personal training certification, nutrition certificate, and several other specializations is a great idea to maximize value for you and your clients and add extra authority to your name. 

Purchasing multiple certs can be quite pricey, so I recommend choosing one organization and finding deals on their programs.

For example, if you choose  ISSA for your fitness certifications, one of the top organizations, then I recommend checking out their ISSA Elite Trainer Certification Bundle.

This Elite Trainer Bundle from ISSA includes the ISSA CPT certification, ISSA Nutritionist certification, and a specialization of your choice, like ISSA Strength and Conditioning Certification, ISSA CES certification, and many more options.

For someone choosing to get their CPT program and wanting to maximize the value they get in their purchase, the ISSA Elite Trainer Bundle provides some of the greatest value in the industry.

While completing the CPT program, you have three certifications for half what the price would be outside of the bundle.

ISSA Elite Trainer badge

The ISSA Elite Trainer Bundle is an astonishing deal, and it’s nearly impossible to find a similar bundle in the industry.

This Elite Trainer Program is a unique deal, and the ISSA occasionally discounts the bundle directly on its website.

If a deal on the Elite Trainer is going on now, check it out, as it is hard to pass up.

Now, since we have covered some of the basics of NCCA accreditation, let’s dive in and see the requirements that matter for accreditation.

Certification accreditation process

Accreditation from the NCCA works to show impartial, third-party validation that the program in discussion is recognized to have met the national and international credentialing standards for the development, implementation, and maintenance of certification programs.

This provides assurance that the program is of the highest quality and integrity.

The NCCA analyzes the systems and processes put in place by certifying agencies, which in this case is any organization offering fitness certification.

Programs such as those offered by certifying agencies provide comprehensive systems and processes to ensure that fitness professionals are adequately trained and certified, and these programs are designed to ensure that fitness professionals are knowledgeable and competent in their field.

The NCCA investigates the curriculum provided by the certifying agency, professionalism, and how the certifying agencies administer and score their exams.

The NCCA uses a peer review process to:

  • Establish accreditation standards;
  • Evaluate compliance with these standards;
  • Recognize programs that demonstrate compliance;
  • Monitor and enforce continued compliance; and,
  • Serve as a resource on quality certification.

The NCCA reviews and evaluates personal training certifications to ensure that they are safe and valuable, and provides resources to help trainers understand the certification process.

Now that we know more about what it means to achieve this accreditation and the overall value of certifications that receive it, let’s look into the best NCCA personal training certifications offered in the fitness industry.

International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA)

issa logo
ISSA General Information

ISSA General Information

  • Exam cost: $999.00 (only purchased with study materials)
  • Study material cost: $83.25/month for 12 months
  • Prerequisites: CPR/AED, High School Diploma
  • Exam passing score: Scaled 550/800 – 90/125 Scored Questions
  • Exam pass rate: 89.99% / 70% (NCCA exam)
  • Average completion time: 3 to 5 months
Trainer Academy Guide
Trainer Academy Guide
  • Complete curriculum study preparation
  • Audio guide, flashcards, and mnemonics
  • 800+ practice questions
  • Highest exam pass rate
  • Exam pass refund guarantee
  • Cheaper pricing than ISSA materials
ISSA Materials
ISSA Materials
  • Curriculum study preparation
  • Includes textbook and study plan
  • Follow-along supplementary materials
  • 200+ practice questions
  • No exam pass refund guarantee
  • $950 for starter package
Free ISSA Study Guide
Free ISSA Study Guide
  • Curriculum material overview
  • Complete chapter breakdowns
  • 60 practice questions
  • 130 flashcards and cheat sheet
  • Free from PTPioneer

What is the ISSA Personal Trainer Certification?

The ISSA CPT program is one of the industry’s top certified fitness trainer programs.

Trainers who complete the ISSA Personal Trainer Certification program will gain the knowledge and skills necessary to become one of the industry’s top certified fitness trainers, providing them with the credentials and confidence to help their clients reach their fitness goals.

One key selling point with this certification is that you can take the NCCA accredited CPT exam or opt for the DEAC accredited exam, which is much easier. Still, I’d highly recommend the NCCA version. 

On top of CPT certification, it is an excellent idea to line up programs to get nutrition certification and any other specialization you are interested in.

The ISSA CPT gives you all of the skills you need for general personal training for your clients, and further certifications can address other areas of interest with your clients.

Nutrition is one of these areas of interest that most people seek to discuss with their personal trainer, so why not get certified in more than one area?

It’s always a good idea to think even further ahead and know what specializations you want to achieve to further your earning potential and success rate with clients reaching their goals.

To do this, ideally, you would look for an organization like ISSA with many specializations for all types of trainers.

Specializations give individuals more advanced skillsets for dealing with very specific types of clients and training styles.

Some of the most popular specialization certifications include strength and conditioning, group exercise, corrective exercise specialist, and many more.

The other benefit of pursuing these specializations is that the certifications count toward the already required continuing education credits (CEUs) for ISSA CPT programs and similar personal trainer certs.

Continuing education is part of the personal trainer’s role, and every two years, everyone is required to achieve 20 hours worth of CEU credits to stay certified.

Taking these courses and specializations is the number one way to check off the CEU credits while also improving your skillset for clients.

Cost is the main barrier to getting multiple certifications, so ISSA is highly valued. The Elite Trainer program includes the ISSA CPT program, the ISSA Nutrition Coach certification, and an additional ISSA specialization of your choice for half the cost for them all if bought separately.


The ISSA runs some absolutely crazy deals on their Elite Trainer Program, which you can easily see on their website.

I recommend taking that offer if they currently have a deal running, as it is an extremely valuable package.

ISSA credibility and reputation

ISSA remains one of the top health and wellness organizations out there which offers a CPT. They pioneered the first online training certification. 

While this CPT was not NCCA-approved due to the open-book test, it was DEAC-approved through the Distance Education Accrediting Commission. 

Since then, ISSA bought the NCCPT and uses their NCCA-accredited exam to certify trainers. The NCCPT study materials were sparse and not well-designed, while ISSA does a great job with their online platform, and so now you get the best of both worlds, with a good study experience and a NCCA accredited exam.

Most gyms accept ISSA trainers, but every facility is slightly different, so make sure to check which organizations they like to see on a resume.  

ISSA pros and cons

  • Course is entirely online
  • NCCA-version is widely accepted by employers
  • Excellent training bundle options
  • Limited behavioral change
  • Non-NCCA exam is not highly respected

ISSA CPT study materials and costs

The ISSA personal trainer certification costs $999 if you just get the CPT and it comes with:

  • ISSA-CPT textbook
  • Entrance to the ISSA certification test
  • ISSA-CPT course
  • Extra online study materials
  • Practice tests

You can also use my free ISSA study guide and practice test if you’d like.

For good third-party materials such as flashcards, audio guides, multiple practice tests, and an exam pass guarantee, I recommend using the Trainer Academy ISSA-CPT MVP Study Package.

And, of course, if you really want to get a bang for your buck, the ISSA Elite Trainer Bundle makes a lot of sense.

This gives you the ISSA-CPT, nutrition certification, and another certification of your choice.


With an ISSA CPT, the ISSA Nutritionist Certification, and an ISSA fitness specialization, you will maximize your service offerings and be able to train many types of clients.

You could specialize in something like group fitness instructor, corrective exercise, or many other types of certifications. An ISSA personal trainer would benefit from the inclusion of any specialization to add to their resume.

If they are running a promotion, you’d be crazy not to purchase, as it is a great deal.

ISSA personal trainer content coverage

ISSA strongly focuses on its resistance training programming, technique, and periodization.

ISSA has a new 19-chapter setup that focuses on all of the primary areas regarding personal training.

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6 domains within ISSA’s program are:

  • Applied Science
  • Nutrition
  • Client Intake and Ongoing Evaluation
  • Program Design and Implementation
  • Exercise Selection, Technique, and Training Instruction
  • Professional Practice and Responsibility

These domains cover all essential information and more.

ISSA recently added a business section to their text, completing everything you need to know about personal training, so you can do more than just lead workouts. You can build an actual business using your profession. 

The text and its applied science and program design sections all provide as much quality as that of a degree in exercise science.

One section that is less touched on would be the corrective exercise specialization and screening, but it does mention a bit throughout client screening.

Both aerobic and resistance training sections give all a trainer would need to develop a quality training program. You learn how to administer proper strength training, exercise technique and a variety of helpful tips and tricks you’ll use in your career. 

Whether clients want to lose fat or gain muscle, you will know the basics of what to do and which equipment to use to help them get to their goal. 

Perhaps the weakest section is behavioral coaching, but it does not detract from how well more important sections are done.

If you want a deeper ISSA CPT review, check out the PTPioneer comprehensive review.

Taking the ISSA PT certification exam

The proctored ISSA exam through NCCPT has about a 75% pass rate, much harder than the 90% rate of the open-book test. I was able to pass it on the first attempt, but I’d definitely recommend you spend some time studying.

Make sure to use a study guide to help you better understand the topics covered in the certification and make sure you are well-prepared for the exam.

ISSA CPT continuing education, salary, and career prospects

ISSA requires recertification every two years.

You need 20 hours of continuing education credits (CECs) in that period.

CECs can come from other certifications, like Group Fitness Instructor or nutrition certifications.

ISSA trainers make an average of $65,555 based on Ziprecruiter data, which is pretty high compared to other organizations on this list. 

ISSA is a favorite of PTPioneer, but there are other options for personal training and fitness specializations.

ISSA overall rating

9out of 10

Credibility and Reputation9.5
Study Materials8
Exam Process9
NCCA Accredited Certifications [year] - A Complete List for Personal Trainers! 5
NCCA Accredited Certifications [year] - A Complete List for Personal Trainers! 6

National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM)

NASM-CPT General Information

NASM-CPT General Information

  • Exam cost: $899+
  • Study material cost: Included in exam cost
  • Prerequisites: High School Diploma (or GED), CPR/AED certification from a qualifying provider
  • Exam passing score: 70%
  • Exam pass rate: 79% (proctored), 90% (non-proctored)
  • Average completion time: 3-6 months
Trainer Academy Guide
Trainer Academy Guide
  • Complete curriculum study preparation
  • Audio guide, flashcards, and mnemonics
  • 800+ practice questions
  • Highest exam pass rate
  • Exam pass refund guarantee
  • Cheaper pricing than NASM materials
NASM Materials
NASM Materials
  • Curriculum study preparation
  • Video and written curriculum included
  • Textbook purchased seperately
  • 200+ practice questions
  • No exam pass refund guarantee
  • $899.00 for starter package
Free NASM Study Guide
Free NASM Study Guide
  • Curriculum material overview
  • Complete chapter breakdowns
  • 60 practice questions
  • 130 flashcards and cheat sheet
  • Free from PTPioneer

What is the NASM CPT certification?

The NASM is a great choice for future trainers to pursue!

NASM is possibly the largest and most respected of all NCCA accredited organizations.

NASM thrives off of its innovative Optimum Performance Training Model, OPT.

If you want to work more as a corrective exercise specialist, NASM is a good choice since it has an excellent focus in this arena.

NASM credibility and reputation

The National Academy of Sports Medicine is the biggest name in fitness certifications. 

They were founded in 1987 and they are known for their corrective exercise coverage. 

NASM also offers specializations and certifications in nutrition, strength and conditioning, as well as many other niche categories like virtual coaching, weight loss, and youth exercise. 

The American Fitness and Aerobics Association (AFAA) is an organization that provides certifications in personal training, group fitness, and youth exercise; and, in a move to expand its reach, NASM recently acquired the AFAA in order to use their group fitness certification to certify fitness professionals around the world.

Is NASM accredited?

Yes, the NASM certified personal trainer certification is fully accredited by the NCCA.

NASM pros and cons

  • High credibility in the industry
  • Effective OPT model
  • Practical training skillsets
  • Expensive study packages
  • Difficult certification exam
  • Minimal alternative implement training

NASM CPT costs and package options

NASM offers three package options for their personal training certification: 

Self-study, Guided Study, and the All-Inclusive.

The most inexpensive package from NASM, Self-study, includes:

The Guided Study package includes everything above and:

  • Unlimited access to NASM Fitness Experts
  • Certification exam retest
  • NASM-CPT hardcopy textbook
  • Bonus Course: Motivational Interviewing for Coaches
  • Job guarantee

Finally, the All-Inclusive adds in:

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

The NASM Self-study package costs $899, while the Guided Study, and All-inclusive options cost $1,124, and $1,349, each.

Usually, you can find these on sale for a few hundred dollars less. It’s nice to have a range of study options, which can help increase your results on the test.

NASM’s study materials are excellent and they have an excellent online portal. Navigation is easy and clean and the amount of videos NASM gives you on instruction and technique is pretty astounding.

You can always choose third-party study materials. We have a free NASM CPT study guide and practice exam at PTPioneer or you could choose the Trainer Academy NASM MVP Study System.

There are other options out there as well.

NASM certification content coverage

NASM has an excellent balance throughout all of its domains and teaches the personal training basics for new NASM personal trainers as well as any other certification.

The domains allow for seamless progression right into personal training once the study program is completed.

The domains of study for NASM are:

  • Professional Development and Responsibility
  • Client Relations and Behavioral Coaching
  • Basic and Applied Sciences and Nutritional Concepts
  • Assessment
  • Exercise Technique and Training Instruction
  • Program Design

The OPT model is implemented throughout the textbook as the prime method for NASM trainers to utilize.

It is a great process to help tackle all of the training concepts and simplify them for new and learning trainers in and outside the gym. 

In addition to the OPT model, there is a solid amount of focus on special population training and basic business skills.

NASM does not focus enough on nutrition coaching as some of the other CPT certifications, but their specific nutrition certification can help round off that bit of knowledge.

If you want to get into coaching athletes in the realm of strength and conditioning, and you are a CPT with NASM, it’s worth checking out their NASM Performance Enhancement Specialist.

For general fitness and special populations, NASM is at the top with ISSA and ACE; they all don’t miss a beat in their personal training for general populations.

I have also written a full review of NASM and also have a free NASM study guide on the site.

Taking the NASM certification exam

The NASM personal trainer certification exam is 120 multiple-choice questions which you must complete in 2 hours. You need a 70% or higher to pass.

This is one of the trickier exams out there with a 63% pass rate (although depending on the year this can go as low and 60% and as high as 70%).

NASM CPT continuing education, salary, and career prospects

Your NASM-CPT stays valid for 2 years before you must renew it. The NASM recertification fee is $99 and you must also fulfill 2.0 continuing education credits (CECs). 

NASM trainers make on average $50,905 annually, according to ZipRecruiter.

NASM overall rating

8.4out of 10

Exercise science foundations8
Behavioral coaching9
Client health screening8
Movement screening8
Resistance training9
Special population training9
Aerobic fitness training8

Next, let’s look at the final of the top 3 CPT certification organizations in fitness, NCSF.

National Council on Strength and Fitness (NCSF)

NCSF logo
NCSF CPT General Information

NCSF CPT General Information

  • Exam cost: $299
  • Study material cost: $399 – $540
  • Prerequisites: 18 years of age
  • Exam passing score: 70%
  • Exam pass rate: ~77% 
  • Average completion time: 3 – 6 months
Trainer Academy Guide
Trainer Academy Guide
  • Complete curriculum study preparation
  • Audio guide, flashcards, and mnemonics
  • 800+ practice questions
  • Highest exam pass rate
  • Exam pass refund guarantee
  • Cheaper pricing than NCSF materials
NCSF Materials
NCSF Materials
  • Curriculum study preparation
  • Video and written curriculum included
  • Textbook purchased separately
  • 200+ practice questions
  • No exam pass refund guarantee
  • $419.00 for starter package
Free NCSF Study Guide
Free NCSF Study Guide
  • Curriculum material overview
  • Complete chapter breakdowns
  • 60 practice questions
  • 130 flashcards and cheat sheet
  • Free from PTPioneer

What is the NCSF certification?

The NCSF is a newer face in personal training and offers an amazing deal for certification.

The NCSF is a community-driven health and fitness company in southern Florida.

It is not just an organization for personal training certification but is also used to oversee the NCCA credentialing programs.

The National Council on Strength and Fitness is not as well-known as the three organizations higher on the list, but they offer packages equivalent to their study systems.

NCSF credibility and reputation

The National Council on Strength and Fitness (NCSF) has been around for over 25 years in the fitness field. 

They have certifications that cover personal training along with nutrition and strength and conditioning.

NCSF has certified over 280,000  trainers in over 160 countries and their mission is to inspire people to be their best. 

NCSF programs are NCCA accredited and while NCSF doesn’t have any particular aspect of fitness they are known for, their certifications are very complete and often less expensive than their competitors. These things can be important to consider when you choose your CPT program designation. 

While ACE used to be one of the most inexpensive NCCA certification, now NCSF offers a cheaper alternative.

NCSF pros and cons

  • NCCA accredited program
  • Lower cost than most other CPT certs
  • Solid textbook packed with all essential training knowledge
  • Outstanding e-learning portal for study materials
  • Lesser known brand
  • Less behavioral coaching and business coverage

NCSF CPT costs and packages

The NCSF offers 2 main packages for future trainers to choose from, and they aim to please different types of people.

First, if you were to purchase the CPT exam from NCSF, you would pay $299.

From there, we get into the study material options and the CPT exam.

The first package offered by NCSF is the Home Study package, which comes in at $799, and is sometimes discounted by around $300.

Included in this first package will be these materials:

  • Personal Training Textbook 2nd Edition (Digital)
  • Instructional Videos
  • Lesson Notes
  • Questions and Answers
  • Review Quizzes
  • Instructor Support
  • One Year Membership
  • NCSF Personal Trainer Certification Exam
  • Payment Plan Option

Next, we have the Home Study + Option, which comes in at $899 before any deals they may have currently running.

This Package includes everything in the first study program, plus the addition of the Physical Version of the Personal Training Textbook 2nd Edition.

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Both of these packages are of excellent value and teach their materials well. Still, some people prefer to seek out third-party resources to assist them with their efficiency in studying.

The Trainer Academy NCSF CPT Study Program is the most popular third-party study resources.

This is always highly recommended by my students here on PTPioneer, as they include excellent materials in the form of study guides, flashcards, practice exams, and audio guides.

A main benefit of the NCSF is that they are among the most affordable CPT study programs and earn a spot amongst the cheapest personal trainer certifications in the fitness industry.

The NCSF exam is also worth mentioning as it is easier than two of the certifications above, both NASM and ACE, but harder than ISSA’s CPT exam.

Altogether, the NCSF offers up a valuable program to its trainers, and the name might not carry the weight of some of these other organizations. However, it still offers everything needed to succeed in training.

Make sure to check the NCSF website for more information and deals they may have running for their programs.

NCSF content quality

All of the general skills for personal training and knowledge in exercise science are taught throughout the high-quality study programs.

The first domain of study dives into the anatomy, physiology, and biomechanics basics, which is up to par with ISSA and NASM, and even surpasses that of ACE.

The next primary domain will detail behavioral change, client assessment, basic nutrition, and all of the essentials for resistance training programming.

Compared to other organizations’ study programs, there is a little less coverage on the special populations and the flexibility side of training.

But, the biggest lack of materials would be when it comes to teaching the business aspects of personal training. Some other top certifications have this problem, and it’s quite unfortunate.

When it comes to missing business skills, you will miss out on topics like administration, liability, sales, and insurance.

These can be very helpful for the future of personal trainers when you try to sell your services to gyms, clients, or customers. You can put all your energy into making your training as excellent as possible, but if you don’t know how to sell someone on a training session, you can’t use that expertise. 

If you would like a more detailed review of the NCSF CPT cert, make sure to check out the PTPioneer NCSF CPT review.

Taking the NCSF exam

The NCSF exam consists of 150 multiple-choice questions that you must complete in under 3 hours. 

This exam is not the most challenging on this list, but make sure to study appropriately as, just like any NCCA approved certification, the CPT is not open-book. 

These are the exam topics tested on:

  • Functional Anatomy – 12%
  • Exercise Physiology – 8%
  • Health and Physical Fitness – 11%
  • Screening and Evaluation – 13%
  • Nutrition – 7%
  • Weight Management – 9%
  • Exercise Programming – 19%
  • Training Instruction – 15%
  • Considerations for Special Populations – 3%
  • Professionalism and Risk Management – 3%

NCSF CPT continuing education, salary, and career prospects

After completion of a passing score on the test, NCSF requires 10 CEUs for recertification every 2 years, which equates to 20 hours of education. The recertification fee costs only $75.

There is little data regarding average NCSF salary in the US, but you can assume given its NCCA-accredited status it should be similar to other names on this list. 

NCSF overall rating

8out of 10

Credibility and Reputation6
Study Materials8
Exam Process8

That wraps up what we consider to be the top 3 NCCA accredited personal training certifications. Now, let’s move on and look at another option with ACE.

American Council on Exercise (ACE)

ACE logo
ACE General Information

ACE General Information

  • Exam cost: $499
  • Study material cost: $675 – $1,037+
  • Prerequisites: CPR/AED, High School Diploma
  • Exam passing score: Scaled 550/800 – 90/125 Scored Questions
  • Exam pass rate: ~70% (2019 data)
  • Average completion time: 3 to 5 months
Trainer Academy Guide
Trainer Academy Guide
  • Complete curriculum study preparation
  • Audio guide, flashcards, and mnemonics
  • 800+ practice questions
  • Highest exam pass rate
  • Exam pass refund guarantee
  • Cheaper pricing than ACE materials
ACE Materials
ACE Materials
  • Curriculum study preparation
  • Video and written curriculum included
  • Textbook purchased seperately
  • 200+ practice questions
  • No exam pass refund guarantee
  • $899.00 for starter package
Free ACE Study Guide
Free ACE Study Guide
  • Curriculum material overview
  • Complete chapter breakdowns
  • 60 practice questions
  • 130 flashcards and cheat sheet
  • Free from PTPioneer

What is the ACE certification?

The American Council on Exercise is the most popular nonprofit organization on the list.

This CPT credential is accepted throughout North America and most of Europe, and they utilize their own state-of-the-art model, known as the IFT Training model, for progressing clients.

ACE also has some excellent programs inside their study materials in the form of ACE University and ACE Answers, which help those studying for ACE programs.

ACE credibility and reputation

ACE’s mission is simply to get people moving. 

They are known for their CPT, nutrition, and their group exercise cert is one of the best. Also ACE has some of the best behavior change coverage of all the organizations. 

I put this certification up on the top shelf with the ISSA CPT and the NASM CPT on account of their exercise psychology content and good study materials.

ACE pros and cons

  • ACE IFT® Model is an excellent framework for resistance and aerobic training
  • Mover Model® helpful for behavior change
  • Lack of business skills
  • Easy exam is less respected
  • Less exercise science coverage than other NCCA accredited certifications

ACE CPT costs and package options

Like NASM, ACE gives you three prep packages: the Basic, Plus, and Advantage.

The ACE Basic Study Package costs $675 and includes the following materials:

  • ACE University
  • ACE Certification Exam
  • ACE Practice Test
  • ACE Personal Trainer Textbook (digital only)
  • ACE Personal Trainer Study Companion
  • ACE Answers (basic)

The ACE Plus is $745 and includes:

  • Everything in ACE Basic
  • ACE Personal Trainer Textbook (digital and hard copy)
  • ACE Personal Trainer Study Companion
  • ACE Answers (plus)
  • Exercise Science 101 Course

ACE Advantage costs $975 and gives you:

  • Everything in ACE Plus
  • Facilitated Study Groups
  • Exercise Science 101
  • Dedicated Advantage Team

You can buy the exam by itself for only $499, but I wouldn’t go that route as your chances of failing are high and it’s a costly re-test.

ACE also has a very particular framework where you need to learn the ACE IFT model, which is specific to ACE. 

Third-party study guides are an alternative to purchasing the study materials directly from ACE. 

Some of these guides also give you an exam pass guarantee, meaning you get a refund if you don’t pass the exam. 

I’d recommend the Trainer Academy ACE CPT Exam Prep Course, which offers a full refund guarantee and multiple tiers at a big discount versus the ACE materials.

You could also take the PTPioneer free ACE CPT study guide and ACE practice test to get a rough idea of your current knowledge.

You should check the latest pricing directly from the ACE website if you plan to go with the ACE materials.

Overall, the packages contain solid study materials with a good interface. Even the Basic study package has quality videos, and some solid practice materials. ACE creates a good study environment for students. 

ACE content coverage

ACE teaches all of the essential skills for personal training, and the other two certifications are higher on this page.

The Integrated Fitness Training Model, or IFT, gives one of the best frameworks for program design and progression in the fitness industry.

This IFT model makes it very easy to learn and implement all of the textbook’s information and maximize your future clients’ abilities and fitness goals.

ACE also offers a comprehensive library of exercises, which contains hundreds of exercises with videos and detailed descriptions, all categorized to fit with the IFT model taught by ACE.

This online video resource makes it easy for an ACE CPT to search for and use variations and modifications for all exercises and throughout many circumstances.

ACE breaks up its study materials into these domains:

  • Introduction to Personal Training
  • A Client-centered Approach to Personal Training
  • Assessments, Programming, and Progression
  • Program Modifications for Clients with Special Considerations
  • Professional Responsibilities

ACE also has a well-implemented Mover Method, which is a systematic approach to progressing and simply designing exercise programs based on a client’s unique skills, needs, and goals.

ACE hits the nail on the head in all domains but lacks the business and sales skills to focus on other certifications.

This is a minor negative, but it is important to keep in mind.

Some good news with the lack of information on sales and business skills is that many jobs will help teach how to sell personal training.

Nonetheless, ACE does a great job preparing its trainers for personal training, and clients will have all they need to succeed with these teachings.

If you would like an in-depth ACE CPT review, I have touched on that within PTPioneer.

Taking the ACE exam

Passing score for the ACE exam works out to a scaled score of 500 out of 800, which is 90 out of 125 scored exam questions. The pass rate averages out at 70% for first-time test takers. 

I recommend sitting down for a good 2-3 months at least with your ACE test prep materials so you can easily pass the exam. 

You may also want to purchase a comprehensive ACE study program to hone your exam prep.

ACE CPT salary, continuing education, and career prospects

Similar to other CPTS, ACE requires 2.0 CEU credits to renew every 2 years. Average ACE certified personal trainers bring in $53,838 in the US, so you can expect to make similar numbers, although this figure is larger in big cities versus rural areas where it’s harder for fitness professionals to find clients. 

ACE has several specializations as well, especially their Group Exercise Instructor certification, which teaches you everything you need to know about leading classes. It even covers the basics of yoga and spin exercise, how to manage space as an instructor in a crowded room during a cardio class, and more. 

ACE overall rating

7.5out of 10

Credibility and Reputation6
Study Materials9
Exam Process8

Now, let’s look into a well-known and established organization like ACSM.

American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM)

ACSM logo
ACSM General Information

ACSM General Information

  • Exam cost: $399
  • Study material cost: $400-$1000+
  • Prerequisites: CPR/AED, High School Diploma
  • Exam passing score: Scaled 550/800
  • Exam pass rate: 69% (2020 data)
  • Average completion time: 3 to 9 months
Trainer Academy Guide
Trainer Academy Guide
  • Complete curriculum study preparation
  • Audio guide, flashcards, and mnemonics
  • 800+ practice questions
  • Highest exam pass rate
  • Exam pass refund guarantee
  • Cheaper deals than ACSM pricing
ACSM Materials
ACSM Materials
  • Curriculum study preparation
  • Includes CPT Prep course
  • 200+ practice questions
  • Facebook CPT group (free)
  • No exam pass refund guarantee
  • $600+ for study course, textbooks additional $80+
Free ACSM Study Guide
Free ACSM Study Guide
  • Curriculum material overview
  • Complete chapter breakdowns
  • 60 practice questions
  • 130 flashcards and cheat sheet
  • Free from PTPioneer

What is the ACSM CPT?

The ACSM is a very popular and well-founded organization. They play a major part in the clinical and research-focused areas that other organizations benefit from.

ACSM is the oldest of the organizations on this page, so it makes sense that the name carries weight and value in the industry.

ACSM is a non-profit organization whose goal is to promote and conduct research in exercise science.

The CPT certification from ACSM is not a favorite for PTPioneer, but it is still an excellent option and one that remains an influential organization throughout the world of fitness.

ACSM credibility and reputation

The American College of Sports Medicine was the first organization to create a personal training certification. They were founded in 1954 as a non-profit dedicated to advancing scientific research for educational and practical applications.

In addition to their CPT, they offer a group exercise certification and several other certs on the clinical side of exercise and health. 

ACSM pros and cons

  • NCCA accredited
  • Free continuing education can be obtained from their website
  • Study materials are user-friendly and easy-to-understand
  • Inexperienced trainers unwelcome
  • The least preferred CPT certification by employers
  • Textbook lacks in-depth coverage on important topics
  • Fails to demonstrate how to apply skills to real life

ACSM CPT study materials and costs

If you take the exam by itself, that will cost you $399 ($299 if you are an ACSM member). 

In addition, ACSM offers a prep course bundle that includes the exam for $649 ($439 for ACSM member candidates).

Neither of these includes the textbook, which costs you $79.99 for ACSM’s Resources for the Personal Trainer and $87.19 for ACSM Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription.

Most students here on PTPioneer prefer to go with some third-party study guides, like Trainer Academy and the ACSM CPT Prep Course.

Make sure to check ACSM and their prices for the study materials if you decide to go that route.

ACSM content coverage

Since this organization is well-known for its research in exercise science, it makes sense that its exercise science, anatomy, and biomechanics section is as good as anything in the industry.

In fact, ACSM provides a lot of the basis for other study programs rooted in exercise science.

This foundation in exercise science is very beneficial for personal trainers to learn early in their career.

The other two areas that are well-done through ACSM are the screening and behavior coaching sections.

One big downside with ACSM is that it does not teach actual program design well and does not stand up to the certifications listed above ACSM on this page.

The ACSM could benefit from a state-of-the-art model for implementing programs and training like what is found within the NASM OPT or ACE IFT model.

I’m sure future iterations of the CPT content will expand upon this important domain, as it is the only thing lacking. Unfortunately, it is one of the most essential aspects of personal training certification.

There is also less exercise technique coverage than in other certs, so you learn that using weights is important, but not necessarily how to perform each movement in the workout. At least not through the ACSM curriculum. 

The main type of trainer this certification would be for is the  trainer who desires to take their career in more of a research and clinical side of fitness.

If you would like an in-depth breakdown of the ACSM cert, make sure to check out PTPioneer’s ACSM Personal Trainer Cert Review. ACSM’s Group Fitness certification is one of the few group certs that covers a bit of pilates, so if that’s of interest, you may want to look at that. 

Taking the ACSM exam

The ACSM exam is as difficult as NASM, ACE, and ISSA, with a 69% passing rate.

The test can be taken online or at a testing center. 

You have a live proctor during the exam and software which watches your activity. Just as with the other NCCA certifications, this is not open book. 

ACSM CPT continuing education, salary, and career prospects

Average ACSM yearly income in the United States is $50,907, putting this behind ISSA and NASM but on par with others on this list. 

ACSM requires 45 CECs to renew every 3 years, which equates to 45 contact hours.

ACSM overall rating

6out of 10

Credibility and Reputation7
Study Materials4
Exam Process8

Next, we have one last NCCA CPT certification from another great organization in fitness, NSCA.

National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA)

nsca logo
NSCA CPT General Information

NSCA CPT General Information

  • Exam cost: $435 (non-member price)
  • Study material cost: $435-$1000+
  • Prerequisites: CPR/AED, High School Diploma
  • Exam passing score: 70%
  • Exam pass rate: 66% 
  • Average completion time: 6 months
Trainer Academy Guide
Trainer Academy Guide
  • Complete curriculum study preparation
  • Audio guide, flashcards, and mnemonics
  • 800+ practice questions
  • Highest exam pass rate
  • Exam pass refund guarantee
  • Cheaper pricing than ACSM materials
NSCA Materials
NSCA Materials
  • Curriculum study preparation
  • Video and written curriculum included
  • Textbook purchased separately
  • 200+ practice questions
  • No exam pass refund guarantee
  • $300+ for textbook and prep course (exam not included)
Free NSCA Study Guide
Free NSCA Study Guide
  • Curriculum material overview
  • Complete chapter breakdowns
  • 60 practice questions
  • 130 flashcards and cheat sheet
  • Free from PTPioneer

What is the NSCA CPT?

The National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) has their very own personal training certification, which is among the best out there.

If you are more interested in the athletic performance-side of personal training, this may be the certification for you. 

NSCA credibility and reputation

The NSCA was the first certification for personal training to get NCCA accreditation.

This is the last NCCA Accredited Certification in Fitness and Wellness that we will discuss in the article.

While they are not known for their personal training, it is still a very strong certification for trainers to strive for.

The NSCA is known for its amazing strength and conditioning program, the NSCA CSCS.

This is easily the gold standard as far as certification in strength and conditioning goes.

So, if your objective is to get into that realm of fitness, NSCA is undoubtedly the way to go.

The NSCA is a non-profit, like ACSM, and they lead the industry in research on athletic performance.

They also have many opportunities in the realm of practical application, continuing education, and networking for trainers and strength coaches.

They offer membership to their organization, which brings great discounts and deals, as well as access to the Journal of Strength and Conditioning, which is a valuable resource for anyone in personal training.

NSCA pros and cons

  • Industry-leading scene and practical application 
  • A densely-packed over a 600-page textbook that blows others out of the water
  • Great lead-in for future advanced certifications
  • Respect of being one of the top certifying organizations in the industry
  • Lack of online video and audio from the organization
  • Fewer practice questions are offered than desired
  • Exam not included in study packages

NSCA CPT study materials and costs

Regarding price, NSCA has some reasonable prices but no real deals running on their website. So, if deals for other certs didn’t exist, that would be great.

The NSCA does offer the ability to become a member, which cuts down the fees a little bit, but even then, it isn’t to the level of organizations like ISSA or NASM.

Registering for the exam costs $435 for a non-member and $300 for a member of NSCA.

The textbook, Essentials of Personal Training, runs $119 for non-members and $109 for members.

If you want any quizzes or a practice test, those are $200 for non-members, and $150 for members.

The NSCA-CPT Study Guide costs $20 for members and $27 for non-members.

So, all together the cost is $781 (non-members) or $579 (for NSCA members). 

All these resources are pretty bare bones compared to the other organizations on this list. 

NSCA content coverage

NSCA’s textbook contains a breadth of knowledge for NSCA personal trainers spread across 25 chapters.

All training domains are covered, like training and programming, nutrition, behavior coaching, and much more.

The textbook has been updated as of 2022 and is as current as any program.

The main problem with NSCA and their CPT cert’s study materials is that so much information is included that it is overwhelming and feels like it lacks focus.

Having too much information is not a bad thing, but when it comes to studying, it can be a nearly impossible task for someone new to exercise science.

If you want a more detailed review of this certification, check out this PTPioneer NSCA CPT review.

Taking the NSCA CPT exam

The NSCA final exam lasts 3 hours and has 140 scored questions and 15 non-scored questions (used for testing purposes in the future).

You are tested in these domains: 

  • Client consultation/Fitness Assessment (23% of the test)
  • Program Planning (32% of the test)
  • Techniques of Exercise (31% of the test)
  • Safety, Emergency Procedures, and Legal Issues (14% of the test)

You will also have to analyze video clips as part of these multiple choice questions to recognize good and bad exercise technique.

The pass rate is 72%, however this can vary from year to year. 

NSCA CPT continuing education, salary, and career prospects 

NSCA requires renewal every 3 years. During this time you need to complete 6.0 CEUs to recertify. 

Average salary for NSCA personal trainers in the US is $49,739 according to ZipRecruiter.

NSCA overall rating

8.6out of 10

Exercise Science Foundations10
Behavioral Coaching3
Client Health Screening9
Movement Screening9
Resistance Training10
Special Population Training10
Aerobic Fitness Training9

PTPioneer NCCA cert review methodology

For the coverage and review of the above NCCA-accredited CPT certifications, I have used my own knowledge and experience of the certifications and their associated organizations.

I have over a decade of experience as a personal trainer and a firm understanding of the requirements for passing CPT certification exams. I have assessed the CPT curriculums to see if they adequately prepare future trainers.

The details regarding current prices and deals have been taken directly from the organizations.

DEAC accreditation

The Distance Education Accrediting Commission is a private, non-profit organization created in 1926 that works to accredit courses for many types of institutions.

It operates for institutions throughout the globe and is a reliable second choice when it comes to personal training.

DEAC accreditation is the second form of fitness cert accreditation, which you will find as a sole accreditation for some certifications, and other certifications will offer options for both.

The gold standard is always going to be NCCA, but
DEAC is a good second option, ensuring you learn viable information from your certification.

Make sure you know which program offers what and know the accreditation type you are going for, as this is relevant to your certification, especially if you choose a CPT program outside of those discussed in this article.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

What is the best online personal trainer certification?

Speaking of which online personal training certification is best, I believe the best online personal training certification is ISSA, followed closely by NASM and ACE.

What is the most respected Personal Training certification

The most respected certification will be NCCA accreditation certifications, which are the top certifications mentioned in this article. Non-NCCA accredited certifications are valued a bit less.

Can you personal trainer without a certification?

There is no government guideline stating you must be certified to be a trainer. It is not illegal to work without a credential, like in other occupations. Still, it is highly discouraged in the industry, and it is also much harder to verify to employers and clients that you are qualified to help them. Eligibility requirements for most CPTs involve a high school degree and being 18 in order to apply. 

What are the benefits of NCCA Accredited Certification?

NCCA accreditation for organizations ensures learners get a high-quality course that is verified to teach them the essential information for success in a field, like personal training. Exercise can be dangerous, so making sure you have a solid level of competence in this field before working with people is essential. 

Do gyms accept NCCA-accredited certification?

Yes! Not only do they accept them, but NCCA-accredited certs are the most respected and sought-after of personal training certifications.

Conclusion on NCCA Accredited Certifications

Currently, my top two NCCA certifications are the ISSA and NASM, but any choice on this list will lead to a profitable future as a fitness professional.

Organizations such as the NCCA are dedicated to recognizing certifications that ensure the safety and value of personal training, and by doing so, they help to ensure that the personal training industry is a safe and reliable one for all involved.

Make sure to review all of the PTPioneer study materials offered to get a headstart on your programs.

Also, if you are looking for third-party study resources, Trainer Academy offers many study programs for various fitness certs.

After reading this article, I hope you understand what the NCCA does and how they make personal training certifications safer and more valuable.

Happy personal training!


“National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) Directory.” Institute for Credentialing Excellence, https://www.credentialingexcellence.org/nccadirectory.

Tyler Read - Certified Personal Trainer with PTPioneer

Tyler Read

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31 thoughts on “NCCA Accredited Certifications 2024 – A Complete List for Personal Trainers!”

  1. Hi mate,
    Why there are as many complaints from professionals as the difficulty and the difference in salary when you have ISSA certification ?
    Thank you and great job !!

    • There is no difference in terms of personal trainer salary for the people that have the international sports Sciences Association certification. In fact, now they are accredited by the MCCA since January 2020. Good luck with your personal training career.

    • I have never heard of this personal training certification to be honest. But there are always new ones popping up and is good for me to do more in-depth research in order to fill out my website. Thanks for pointing this out.

  2. What do you think of the NPTI (National Personal Training Institute) program? From what I’ve read, the school offers hands on gym training & classroom instruction vs that of an online program, however, it’s more pricey & I’m not sure if it’s NCCA accredited. I also wonder if it’s recognized & taken seriously by companies looking to hire personal trainers.

    • Hey Lisa,
      The national personal training Institute is a fantastic program overall in you will get tons of hands-on training experience that will be very helpful for when you actually start training individuals. In fact, they probably have the most hands-on experience compared to any other programs I talked about on this website. Kept up being said, they are very costly and they are still not currently Currently accredited by the national Commission for certifying agencies Otherwise known as the NCCA. You can tell this by a list on their website https://nationalpti.org/npti-personal-trainer-certification-comparison/. The biggest problem is that some people do not accept non NCCA Accredited certification still although that is slowly changing in the personal training industry. Don’t get me wrong though, it is still recognized by tons of employers. Might want to check with the potential employers in your area before you start going for it. I hope this helps.

    • Hey Ben,
      This is a great question that I would love to answer for you. Although the national Academy of sports medicine has merged with The aerobics And fitness Association of America, they are still two completely separate certifications. You can purchase either one from the NASM website. They are both fantastic options but I think as a starting personal trainer, NASM is definitely the gold standard. I hope this helps.

    • Hey Amber,
      The material I put on my website is basically just for the United States because that’s where I live. Every area has different requirements for certifications as well as accreditation. I suggest you check with the local gymnasiums in Ireland to see which certifications they accept. Is very possible that they do accept ACE but I can’t guarantee that for you.

  3. Hi
    Great source of info on your website
    Though do you have the official link so that I can verify the list of PT certifications accredited?

    Thank you
    best regards



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