NCCPT vs NASM - Which Certification is right for you in 2022?

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    Welcome to the best comparison article for the NASM and NCCPT CPT certifications.

    After reading this article, you will know which of these two certifications suits you like the best personal training cert.

    This NASM and NCCPT comparison article will look at these main personal training domains:

    The General Pricing, Packages, and Prerequisites for Both Certs
    A Deep Dive Into the Content, Knowledge, and Skills of the Two Certs
    The Difficulty of Exams, Timelines for Preparation, and Study Material Reviews
    Explanations of the Review Methodology Used at PTPioneer

    Let’s dive in and compare these two excellent certifications!


    Quick Breakdown: NASM vs. NCCPT

    These tables will give you a brief look at the major pros and cons of both certifications, as well as comparisons between price, difficulty, and other stats.

    But, make sure to read the rest of the article to get the most in-depth information and reasonings for the Pros and Cons.

    CPTACSM vs ACE Quick BreakdownFeaturesPrice
    • A leader in the fitness and wellness industry
    • An organization with many specializations to further a trainer’s career
    • A good platform for immersive professional development 
    View on the NASM website
    • Well-established organization partnered closely with ISSA
    • Over 20 years in the fitness industry certifying personal trainers
    • Considered to be a great entry-level cert for personal training
    View on the NCCPT website
    Exam cost
    Exam cost
    Study Material Cost
    Study Material Cost
    $899 (includes exam)
    $799 (on top of exam cost)
    Exam Passing Score
    Exam Passing Score
    Exam Pass Rate
    Exam Pass Rate
    60% – 67% (varies each year)
    Average Completion Time
    Average Completion Time
    3 – 6 months
    3 – 6 months


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      NASM vs NCCPT Video Breakdown

      For those of you that prefer to see my breakdown between these two organizations in video form, here it is.

      NASM or NCCPT? - Which Personal Training Certification is right for you?

      NASM vs NCCPT: Organization Comparison

      The NASM and NCCPT are two excellent CPT certification program options for a new personal trainer to pursue. They both offer NCCA, National Commission for Certifying Agencies, accredited exams, but they have some differences in the organizations to consider. Let’s dive into that.

      NASM has been an established organization for a longer time, or since 1987 to be exact. They are fully registered with the NCCA, which is the gold standard in fitness certifications. 

      Since becoming an established organization in the health and fitness industry, they have grown to become one of the best options for future health professionals to certify with. They are often considered to be in the top 5 of certifying organizations.

      NASM, National Academy of Sports Medicine, focuses on the OPT training model, which might be the single best model for exercise programming that I have seen in all Personal Training Certifications. 

      The OPT model consists of 5 phases of progression. We will discuss these phases and the OPT model in other parts of this article but remember that name.

      NASM also has some excellent specializations for their NASM-certified personal trainers that are offered, like with the CES or PES. In fact I prefer the NASM specializations over the NCCPT specializations.

      These really help focus on training more specific populations and correcting exercise differently. These are some of the top specializations in the industry, which speaks for the value of the CPT cert.

      Here is the official video from NASM:

      What is the NASM Optimum Performance Training™ Model (OPT Model™)?

      The National Council for Certified Personal Trainers, or NCCPT, was founded in 1995. They are a rising force in the fitness industry, and they have a firm partnership with ISSA, the International Sports Science Association. 

      They set out in the fitness industry to act as a quality control portal for fledgling professionals seeking to enter personal training. 

      The NCCPT is now considered to be a subsidiary of ISSA, which is one of the more reputable organizations in the health and fitness landscape. This really props the NCCPT resources and name up a bit in the industry. Most health clubs will recognize this certification now.

      They have a firm grasp of the programming principles, which is evident throughout their testing in the examination process. They have significant differences between their study materials and the typical study materials from competing organizations. 

      The NCCA still accredits this NCCPT certification, so it is up to the industry’s gold standard. 

      Check out this video from NCCPT regarding their certifications:


      Let’s look at the general coverage of knowledge and skills next for these two CPT certifications.

      Knowledge and Skills Covered Throughout NASM and NCCPT

      These two organizations are accredited fitness certs with skills and knowledge that overlap one another, but you are not going to get the same content depth from each cert. So, we need to look at specific coverage areas to find how these two certifications differ. 

      Let’s look at the main topics of Exercise Science, Behavior Change, Consultation, Screening, Program Design, and Special Populations.

      Keep in mind, NCCPT offers multiple forms of text that you can choose from to study for their certification exam. We will mainly discuss the most popular text, which comes through its association with ISSA.

      Exercise Science

      I will start with NASM’s CPT first in these comparison sections, as it is generally considered the gold standard of the fitness industry. 

      The NASM certification text has the best exercise science content coverage in all of the certifications for personal training. It received a 10/10 in the PTPioneer personal trainer certification review of the NASM CPT. They also have an excellent focus on the corrective exercise aspects of training.

      Exercise science is covered throughout the main text’s Fundamentals of Human Movement Science section. 

      The text teaches all of the essential information regarding anatomy and physiology, cardiorespiratory and muscular systems, and more. 

      These are expanded on through informative infographics and charts, and visual learners will have no problem retaining all of this. 

      Fitness nutrition ideas also fall in line with exercise science’s foundational aspect. NASM covers these areas well in the third section of their text. They go into depth regarding the macronutrient breakdowns, as well as the structures and functions and how everything is digested within the body.

      As any top organization should, they knock it out of the park with their exercise science information. 

      Exercise science and physiology stand up to what is needed in a CPT program. The ISSA text for the NCCPT certification has a firm grasp on teaching exercise science. It would rank just under the NASM program, but has all the necessary content.

      The first domain is the Applied Science domain, and it explains the human body from a perspective of physical performance. Nutrition, the second domain, also has a seamless transition into the fundamentals of exercise and biochemistry within the body. 

      This exercise science knowledge flows from the fifth domain, which is exercise selection, technique, and training instruction. So, it is not as quickly identifiable and contained in one area as text like NASM. However, it still includes all the necessary materials you should expect to learn from a CPT certification. 

      Behavioral Coaching 

      NASM handles behavioral coaching as well as any other certification in personal training. 

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      They implement and teach a few different models or theories on behavior change. The one they teach the best is the stages of change model.

      NASM vs NCCPT - Which Certification is right for you in [year]? 4

      The five stages taught in this model will allow you to help clients transition from one stage to the next in their physical fitness training. All stages are thoroughly explained and the basis of behavior coaching for NASM.

      Another main focus is the setting of goals to enhance training and coaching for behavior changes. SMART goals are emphasized to use with clients for short-term and long-term success.

      NASM also works well on breaking down the common barriers to lifestyle modification and training, which is above and beyond some of the other certifications we run into within the personal training realm.

      NCCPT does not enforce the same level of knowledge on behavioral coaching as we see in NASM. This is unfortunate, as being able to change a client’s behaviors is a skill that sets successful trainers apart from the unskilled.

      The topic of behavior change is covered less than I would like in a personal training certification. It is found chiefly within the nutrition domain, the second study domain. 

      Since NCCPT offers multiple ways to study, the only way to enforce this the most in their supported textbooks would be with the ISSA. The rest of the textbooks cover it even less than this. 

      Client Health Screening

      The NASM uses some assessment methods before using their state-of-the-art OPT model. The client screening and assessment will include health screening and movement screening. 

      The certification’s text does an excellent job of teaching how to screen clients before entering into an exercise program, just as much as they do teaching how to handle the design of a program. 

      The organization also has an extensive exercise library that users can view for another way to digest the information for the exam. 

      This is something that NASM does better than some others, as video references are one of the best ways to see how to perform an exercise, as opposed to just reading about it and trying to imagine how to perform the activities.

      NASM vs NCCPT - Which Certification is right for you in [year]? 5

      NCCPT also shines in their client assessment section as they cover the assessment, screening, and monitoring rather in-depth throughout their fifth domain.

      The third domain is titled intake and ongoing evaluation, and this entirely focuses on screening and assessments/tests for movement assessments. That would compare to what NASM has before their OPT model.

      These domains come together to form the critical information dealing with client health screening and movement assessment. 

      The exam tests pretty extensively on this, so it is good that the certification’s materials cover it well. 

      NCCPT covers most of the required pre-program materials; some of the focuses in health screening include past injuries, medical conditions, chronic conditions, and current medications. These all play a role in the following sections that go over program design. 

      In order to design the best and most-individualized programs, you will need to have proper assessments protocols in place. This will allow you to run a successful personal training business.

      NCCPT allows for professionals to be ready to make the best programs they can. 

      Program Design and Resistance/Aerobic Exercise Technique

      The OPT Training Model is how the NASM teaches this section regarding resistance training, and it is the most crucial aspect differentiating these two from each other. The OPT training model is based on scientific evidence and principles that progress clients through 5 phases of training. 

      This model makes the process of resistance training and program design simple, safe, effective, and productive so that people can achieve the results they desire. 

      Here are the phases of the OPT model:

      • Phase 1: Stabilization Endurance
      • Phase 2: Strength Endurance
      • Phase 3: Hypertrophy
      • Phase 4: Maximal Strength
      • Phase 5: Power

      These phases are the order in which personal trainer certification programs should follow. For example, you would never start a brand new client with power training. You must build the base with the essential exercises and teachings within the former phases. 

      NASM vs NCCPT - Which Certification is right for you in [year]? 6

      The areas covered in the OPT model are all enforced in the exercise library provided by the study platform. This is a great way to add to the already fantastic experience of the NASM OPT model. You will be able to build excellent strength training programs for your clients as a NASM personal trainer.

      Aerobic training receives its own chapter, just like resistance training, and it really details the different modalities and training methods well. 

      You will be able to differentiate the program design in these two very different forms of training. 

      You can’t go wrong with Resistance Training, Aerobic Training, and Program Design with NASM, so let’s dive into the NCCPT next.

      Resistance training and program design is around 15% of the NCCPT exam, and it is enforced pretty well in the study materials from ISSA. 

      You really learn many of the resistance exercises, the training principles, safe practice, correct form, and technique that is needed, but perhaps not to the depth that we see with the top organizations. This is a flaw with the NCCPT partner, ISSA, also.

      They do not have the ultimate roundup and teaching simplicity of the OPT model, but most of the same foundation is there. 

      You are not going to miss out on any of the absolutely essential information, but you will miss out on having that extended knowledge offered by other programs. Sometimes it may feel like all NCCPT does is ask you to differentiate between aerobic and resistance training, and it does not assess the training protocols properly. 

      Future iterations of the NCCPT and some associated training study materials should improve this formula. 

      It would be nice to develop a competing model for training, as other top organizations have similar breakdowns based on the phases of training. 

      Special Populations

      The training of particular population groups is touched on to the perfect amount in the NASM, as they have dedicated chapters to the many population groups that are needed. 

      The NASM goes into great detail and has many charts for their special population group training guidelines. This is entirely different from the NCCPT.

      NCCPT barely glosses over the subject of special population training, and this is actually a significant negative of this certification.

      NCCPT even struggles to include athletes, which is a relatively common special population that is discussed within certification to some extent.

      Another lesser discussed special population could be people who prefer classes or training in groups. These certifications do offer some help in this, similar to what a group fitness instructor would cover.

      It would be beneficial to change this in future iterations of the NCCPT cert, and they should even look to be more like the certification we are comparing to, NASM.

      Nutrition Coverage

      When it comes to NCCPT, assuming you are using the ISSA study materials, you will have some of the best nutrition content coverage.

      The ISSA text is only met by the NASM in quality. Both of these certifications stand at the top of the fitness industry, and they handle their nutrition content nearly perfectly.

      I would rate both of these a 10 out of 10, as they handle their nutrition content like it is the beginning of their specializations for nutrition.

      Both organizations offer nutrition certs, and as such, they know how to effectively teach the content. You will find information on every macronutrient, micronutrient, and popular supplement.

      Both organizations also cover all of the popular diets, as well as how metabolization works for all of the nutrients. The study programs go very in-depth.

      Let’s look at the certification requirements next.

      Certification Requirements

      The requirements for certification are easy to compare, as there are actually no differences in the requirements to sit for the exam and get a job.

      For both NASM and NCCPT, you will need to be 18 years of age to get the certification. In the case of NASM, it is not an explicitly written requirement, but it is a requirement for personal trainer insurance, which is required. 

      Trainers will also need to have a valid CPR and AED certification. This is typically a requirement to sit for a CPT exam and get a job as a trainer, and it generally exists across the board for personal training certs.

      The last requirement is a high school diploma or some equivalent degree. You could also have any form of education higher than that.

      These are the only three fundamental requirements that exist for these certifications, and they are all pretty standard when it comes to personal training.

      Let’s take a look at the pricing and quality for these two certifications next.

      Price and Quality of Study Materials

      The NASM and NCCPT personal training programs differ significantly in the materials offered, and a bit in the quality of these materials. 

      NASM offers the cheapest study program, which is their self-study, and this comes in at a base price of $899. They also have packages that go all the way up to $2,699, which is their All-Inclusive package. 

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      Let’s look primarily at the self-study package, which compares better with the NCCPT offerings.

      The cheapest package from NASM is going to include these items:

      • The certification final 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 other packages are the premium self-study, which is $1199; the NASM guided study, which is $1599; and the All-inclusive package, at $2699.

      The self-study package is fantastic and should allow most people to pass the exam without any problems. It doesn’t include flashcards or an internship like the more extensive packages offered with NASM, but it consists of the necessities for studying.

      The most popular options for study are self-study and guided study packages. Another thing to note is that the all-inclusive package includes an option to receive your money back if you do not land a job within 90 days of completing the program.

      And then, we have a completely different approach with the NCCPT certification. 

      The NCCPT starts with the certification exam purchase at $599. But, when it comes to study materials, they do not offer specific materials from their organization, but instead, they provide references for texts that you should use to study for the exam. 

      The most commonly used text would be the ISSA CPT study materials, as these fall in line with the NCCPT perfectly. The ISSA actually uses the NCCPT exam as the NCCA accredited exam for their CPT program, as the usual ISSA exam does not have accreditation with the NCCA.

      So, as far as the quality of materials goes, it is hard to put an exact quality on NCCPT as they have no specific study materials. It is the biggest flaw of the organization, but for the likes of ISSA, it is pretty great.

      Let’s look at how difficult the exams can be!

      Difficulty of Exams

      Both the NASM and NCCPT exams hover around the 60 – 67% pass rate year after year. 

      This means that you are more likely to pass than to fail, but it means you need to make sure to study and be as prepared as possible. 

      The passing grade required for NASM is 70% or higher for the 120 multiple-choice question exam. The NCCPT personal trainer exam is 125 multiple-choice questions and requires a passing grade of around 73%. 

      So, the two are very similar in the number of questions and the score required to pass the exam. You will likely have the same level of difficulty with these two certification exams. 

      You can find some NCCPT practice tests and NASM practice tests to help online.

      The main thing setting them apart would then be study materials for the exam, with which the NASM is a clear winner as it is going to include the study materials and exams in the packages together. In contrast, the NCCPT will simply show outside sources to choose from.

      NASM vs. NCCPT Continuing Education

      The NASM CPT cert is valid for two years from the date of passing the exam. From then on, you will need to continue your education and earn credits to recertify with the organization. 

      The recertification fee comes in at $99, but there are fees for the courses you take to earn your continuing education credits. 

      You also have the option to recertify forever with their recertify for life options at $399. 

      For recertification credits, you will need to choose from many online courses to make sure you are staying informed and educated as a fitness trainer. Once you have achieved the 20 hours for NASM, you will be able to submit your recertification application.

      For NCCPT, the certification is going to need to be recertified every two years, just like the NASM. 

      They will also require 20 hours of credits from specialization courses either offered by NCCPT or through accompanied and verified organizations. 

      The fee for recertification for NCCPT is $75, and they do not offer any options similar to NASMs recertify for life. 

      So, the two certifications are very similar, and not much difference can be made from this section alone. 

      Let’s take a look at the methodology used here at PTPioneer for our comparison.

      Review Methodology

      For this comparison, I critically reviewed the key areas that each fitness certification covers. I have focused on the overall skillset required for personal trainers and how each of the CPT certifications stacks up to these skills.

      I used my years of knowledge in the fitness industry, along with the individual certifications, to analyze the certs for their strengths and weaknesses. 

      Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)


      Both the NASM and NCCPT are well-respected within the fitness industry. They both have many similarities, but one is much more popular than the other and for many of the reasons within this article. 

      I believe NASM to be the best personal trainer certification for fitness professionals when compared to most organizations, and this includes NCCPT. 

      NCCPT not having a dedicated study material package associated with it and having referenced texts for people to choose from makes one of the most significant negatives of the certification.

      NASM covers all of the main topics needed for personal training certification, and they offer many different study materials to allow people to digest the information properly. 

      NCCPT is still a great option, but it does not stand up to the likes of NASM.

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      5 thoughts on “NASM vs NCCPT – Which Certification is right for you in 2022?”

        1. Hey Talijanac,
          It is an up-and-coming certification that is gaining traction quickly. It is not the most highly recognized but it is definitely recognized and accepted by a wide variety of employers for personal training.

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