NSCA vs ACE - Which one is Currently the Best in 2021?

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    This is the most complete review of ACE vs NSCA to help you get a better understanding of each certification with respect to:

    The General Focus and Popularity/Recognition
    The Study Materials and Pricing
    Information on the Tests and Recertification

    I’ll be sharing first-hand information based on my experience, considering that I possess both certifications.

    Who will come out on top in this head-to-head battle for the best personal trainer certification? Let’s find out!

    ACE vs NSCA - Which one is Currently the Best in [year]? 4

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      Welcome to my NSCA vs ACE article! Coach Tyler at your service.

      Here, you will learn which one is perfect for you and your training style.

      Make sure not to skip my essential article on the 5 top CPT certifications compared head to head! If you like this ‘vs’ article format I also suggest ACE vs NASM, ACE vs ISSA and NSCA vs NASM.

      Once you are done, I suggest checking out the NSCA site as well as the ACE site.

      Check out Trainer Academy for ACE Study materials and NSCA study materials.

      The team over there offers an exam pass guarantee and overall will reduce your study time by 50%.

      Check out my review on them here.

      I also have a free ACE study guide and a free NSCA study guide that are great places to start getting nerdy.

      I also suggest that you take the quiz to find out which training certification is the best fit for your training style.

      The menu at the top of this page will answer any question related to personal training that you have.

      If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to leave me a comment here (I’ll respond within 24 hours).

      Also, visit the home page for the most recent and popular articles.

      NSCA vs ACE Quick Information

      NSCA vs ACE Quick Information

      Whereas NSCA lay more emphasis on sports performance, ACE is more of a general personal training certification.

      Check below for more info on what make them tick.

      The NSCA certification programs lay more emphasis on sports performance while ACE is more of a general personal training certification, and less of a corrective exercise-focused cert. Both will allow you to become effective in your program design for any type of person.

      The NSCA certification goes into the biomechanics of advanced movements, which adheres well to furthering a training career and working with athletes in the future with more advanced certifications.

      Both NSCA and ACE will have some advanced specializations for the fitness instructors to add into their abilities, like senior fitness, certified trainers for specific illnesses, the famous strength and conditioning specialization form NSCA, and much more.

      Both the NSCA and ACE certifications are accredited by the NCCA and are both very popular and well-recognized certifications overall. They are some of the best certification options in the industry, no doubt.

      The NSCA has a membership that can affect the prices of the certification whereas ACE does not have a membership option and prices are based on which package you choose.

      Currently, the prices for the ACE CPT study program is $499 and $299 (depending on respective packages) while the prices for NSCA CPT exam registration for a non-member is $435.

      The recertification price for ACE is $129 for one certification every two years while the recertification price for NSCA is only $70 every three years. It is definitely worth it for either of these excellent companies.

      ACE offers a wide variety of study materials that are very intuitive to follow whereas the NSCA study materials are basically the textbook which can be difficult for some people.

      The general prerequisites for both of these certifying companies are to have completed high school or the equivalent of that.

      This profession requires that you get protected from a lawsuit.

      Make sure to apply for great professional liability insurance designed for personal trainers.

      Let’s look more into what it takes on the journey of becoming a personal trainer with these two fine companies.

      The General Focus and Popularity/Recognition of NSCA and ACE

      The General Focus and Popularity/Recognition of NSCA and ACE

      Here, I’ll be dissecting the focus and popularity status of each certification.

      NSCA CPT

      The National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) has a strong emphasis on athletic performance to help progress athletes to a higher level.

      They are a bit more popular for their outstanding certified strength and conditioning specialist certification.

      The reason they have a strong focus on peak performance is that they are trying to lead their exercise trainers into their more advanced certification called the CSCS (Another option is the NASM certificate for PES).

      I think some of the materials are too specialized for individuals just starting out as Personal Trainers in the health and fitness industry.

      It all depends, however, on what types of individuals you would like to train.

      Most people that go for the NSCA certification are planning on training athletes or for peak performance training.

      For these two agencies to have the NCCA accreditation, it means they are doing something right in the health and fitness industry.

      NCCA stands for the National Commission for Certifying Agencies.

      If you are just getting started with your training journey, I suggest you check out my article on getting started as a personal gym trainer and what type of physical trainer salary you can expect to make. With both of these certs, you can expect to make a solid fitness trainer salary.

      Here is the official video from the NSCA Youtube channel.

      ACE CPT

      The overall focus of the American Council on Exercise (ACE) personal trainer certifications is very ambiguous and broad.

      It covers a lot of basic and essential information.

      That is why it is one of the most popular certifications on the market today.

      The way ACE presents their information is perfect for health fitness trainers that are just starting out from scratch without any prior exercise science knowledge.

      You should look out for other amazing exercise training programs, health coach programs on my website.

      ACE goes over multiple topics so that each of their trainers can train a wide variety of individuals.

      They do a great job at teaching their trainers how to build an exercise program for the average sedentary American.

      And since this will most likely be your average client once you get hired as a personal trainer, ACE is always a safe bet.

      ACE uses a training model called IFT (Integrated Fitness Training) that is perfect for moving clients through a progressive program with safety and injury prevention being the primary components.

      They also encourage their learners to attend the in-person workshops.

      Attending the workshop can earn you 0.8 CEUs credits while you meet and learn from the leading instructors in the industry.

       NSCA is more specialized than ACE on the athletic training side of things.

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      Overall I think that the ACE IFT model, and the fact that they focus primarily on training for the general population, let ACE win this section.

      ACE also has some great options outside of their general certification for personal trainers and these different certifications work with other groups like special populations, group exercise, and much more.

      The Winner for certification focus is ACE

      ACE vs NSCA - Which one is Currently the Best in [year]? 5

      Certification Popularity and Recognition


      The NSCA certification is one of the first certifications that was created for personal trainers.

      In fact, their textbook, as well as the textbook for the CSCS certification, are used as a college curriculum for many Kinesiology and Exercise Science majors.

      The NSCA is widely recognized in the personal training industry and your potential employer will have no problem recognizing this certification.

      Personal fitness trainers that hold both the general NSCA certification, as well as the more advanced NSCA CSCS certification, are highly sought after in the realm of sports performance training. ISSA offers similar advanced courses to that of NSCA.

      The NSCA certification is NCCA accredited.

      When we look at the strength and conditioning certification from the NSCA, it is recognized as the gold standard in that realm of fitness.

      It should be prioritized if anyone wishes to seek out strength and conditioning focus in their careers.


      ACE has not been around for quite as long as the NSCA certification but it certainly holds its own in terms of popularity and industry recognition.

      Just like the NSCA certification, ACE will be recognized by any employer you want to work with within the United States as well as Europe.

      There is only one other certification that is recognized in Europe as well and that is the NASM CPT certification, which is the National Academy of Sports Medicine.

      According to the ACE website, they have certified over 75,000 people with the ACE personal training certification.

      Some popular employers for trainers that hold the ACE certification are Anytime Fitness, Crunch Fitness, as well as 24-hour Fitness.

      Here is a screenshot of the last 12 months of Google trends comparing the ACE certification and the NSCA certification.

      ACE vs NSCA - Which one is Currently the Best in [year]? 6

      Although the NSCA certification is seen as one of the best fitness certifications for athletic training, the ACE has surpassed it in terms of popularity and industry recognition.

      If you are looking toward becoming a women’s and men’s athletic coach, then NSCA wins, but when talking about the generally best personal training certification, the winner for popularity/recognition is ACE.

      ACE vs NSCA - Which one is Currently the Best in [year]? 7

      The Study Materials and Pricing

      The study materials The study materials

      Join me below as I share with you the study packages and materials available for each certification with its cost implication.


      Unlike most other personal training certifications, the NSCA certifications programs let you pick and choose the study materials you want in order to prepare for their test.

      The typical study materials that they offer are their primary textbook, and exam content description booklet, complete practice questions bundle, exercise technique manual and live clinics.

      They also recommend a few third-party books such as the Strength Training Anatomy as well as a sports nutrition textbook.

      For those of you who are hands-on learners, you might want to consider their live clinic because it is overall very helpful because not everybody can learn and memorize information straight out of the book and pass the test.

      This is especially true with NSCA due to the fact that the test is very difficult.

      The price for NSCA is very tricky because it depends on how many study materials you purchase as well as whether you are a member of the NSCA or not.

      Membership costs approximately $65 per year for the cheapest membership, which is the student membership.

      The cost to take the exam is $300 if you are a member and $435 if you are not a member.

      The typical study material options are $277 for nonmembers or $179 for NSCA members.

      This study bundle includes their primary textbook, practice exams, and the content booklet only.

      Overall, this is the bare minimum that you should get with NSCA in terms of study materials.

      The NSCA CPT Essential Plus Package option costs $511 for nonmembers and $455 for members.

      This includes all of the study materials I mentioned above including the in-person workshop.

      The NSCA has three different study packages to choose from.

      If you somehow can receive all the study materials from a friend, the cheapest option for a nonmember would be $435 just to take the test.

      The average online personal trainer certification cost for the basic study materials and the test for nonmembers is approximately $511.

      You could check out the current prices for NSCA here.

      If you want more information on the NSCA exam, I recommend checking out my NSCA exam prep article as well as my NSCA exam FAQ article.

      If you want to start studying, head over to my free NSCA study guide or the premium study materials from Trainer Academy that guarantees that you pass the exam.

      You can also access the other study materials such as flashcards and practice test questions.


      The ACE certification has two different prices for different packages; these include different study materials.

      The Plus package costs $499, the Basic package costs $299.

      However, prices change from time to time, so I suggest checking out the current prices for ACE here.

      The cheaper package which is the Basic package includes the primary textbook in e-book format, practice tests, access to personal coaches, a training manual to accompany the textbook, a fitness professionals e-book, access to the ACE Academy Elite, and access to certified PT resources.

      The best thing about the study materials is the ACE Academy Elite which reduces the difficulty by helping you to understand concepts through instructional videos as well as access to ACE professionals in case you have any questions while you are studying.

      The ACE Plus package is basically the same as the Basic study package except it includes a hard copy of the primary textbook, a hard copy of the study companion manual as well as a hard copy of the ACE Essentials of Exercise Science.

      If you are the type of person that wants a hard copy, this is definitely the root you should take.

      The ACE Plus study package includes everything that the Basic study package has with the addition of a fitness math online course.

      This is extremely helpful especially for those that have a tough time with math concepts such as how to calculate body composition or VO2 maximums.

      Overall for the price and study materials you receive, ACE is the winner for this category as well.

      The ability to reach out and talk to ACE fitness professionals is a game changer while you are studying.

      For study materials in the best certification programs, check out Trainer Academy.

      Reduce your study time by 50% and get an exam pass guarantee.

      You should look out for other amazing exercise training programs, and health coach programs, to gather more knowledge and increase your worth in the industry.

      Check out my free ACE study guide here to get you on your way with learning.

      Also, check out my ACE exam FAQ and ACE test prep post.

      The winner for study materials/price is ACE.

      ACE vs NSCA - Which one is Currently the Best in [year]? 8

      Information on the Tests and Recertification

      Information on the Tests and Recertification

      Check below for updated info on the tests and recertification to aid your preparation.


      NSCA is also one of the hardest exams to pass in the past but recently about 77% of the people passed on their first trial in 2018.

      You can either choose to take the test with a pencil and paper or opt for a computerized version.

      For some reasons, the paper and pencil version is slightly cheaper.

      Overall, the test consists of 140 multiple-choice questions. 15 of these 140 are not scored.

      The NSCA test is based on a scaled rating and you need at least 70 in order to pass the test.

      After signing up for the NSCA certification you will have six months to set a test date and take the test.

      You need to sign up to take the test at a VUE test-taking facility.

      You will have three full hours to answer all 140 multiple-choice questions.

      If you end up failing the test, there is an extremely steep retest fee of $250 for members or $385 for nonmembers.

      Luckily the recertification process with NSCA is fairly cheap.

      you will pay only $70 to recertify if you are a nonmember and it is $45 for the recertification fee for NSCA members.

      Furthermore, you are required to renew your PT certification every three years.

      You need approximately 20 hours of continuing education credits to get recertified.

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      Best online PT course
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      The Top PT Software
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      Take my free NSCA practice test here.

      To qualify to write the Personal Trainer Certification exam, ACE and NSCA require that you do the following;

      • You have to be at least 18 years of age
      • You must have high school diploma or equivalent
      • Lastly, you must have your current CPR and AED certifications on or before the exam day.

      You can also apply for group fitness certification to earn your CEUs and renew your certification with NSCA.


      The ACE exam is also only multiple-choice questions.

      The test has 10 more questions for a total of 150 multiple-choice questions.

      The pass rate for the NASM certification test is slightly higher at 65%.

      In order to pass you will need to answer approximately 90 out of the 150 questions correctly.

      This equates to approximately 500 points on ACE’s scale.

      This test is also graded on a scaled platform.

      After purchasing your chosen ACE study package, you will have six months to set a test date and take the test.

      Eligible testing facilities are listed on the ACE website.

      Just like the NSCA, you will have three full hours to complete the test.

      The ACE retest fee is not quite as steep as NSCA.

      It will cost you $199 to retake the test if you fail the first time.

      In order to be recertified with ACE, you also need 20 hours of continuing education credits (CECs) every two years.

      The cost to recertify is $129 compared to the $70 with NSCA.

      ACE offers some personal trainer certification online courses you can attend to earn CECs to renew your certifications.

      ACE have some courses that can set you up for success in the personal training business.

      The ACE exam is slightly easier than NSCA.

      It also has a much cheaper retest fee in case you do not pass on the first time around.

      Once again, ACE wins this category.

      Test your knowledge with my free ACE practice test here.

      The winner for the test and recertification is ACE

      ACE vs NSCA - Which one is Currently the Best in [year]? 9


      Conclusion on NSCA vs ACE

      Well, you’ve gotten all the info you need to decide on either ACE or NSCA for your personal training certification.

      Now make that choice and get going!

      Just like any other certification that you might consider getting, it is mostly dependent on what type of individuals you would like to train when you become a personal trainer.

      If you want to do sports and performance training for athletes, you should go with NSCA (or NASM for the PES).

      If you are planning on working with typical clients, ACE is definitely the way to go.

      I strongly suggest that you take the quiz to find out which personal training certification fits your training style the best especially if you are still undecided.

      The overall winner for my comparison is ACE

      The Trainer Academy study materials will cut your overall study time in half and they provide in exam pass guarantee.

      If you would like to watch this comparison in video format, here is the YouTube video I created approximately 3 years ago!

      If you decide to go with NSCA, you can then later progress into the more advanced certification – the CSCS.

      The combination of these two will give you tons of knowledge on reactive training, agility, quickness, and powerlifting.

      On the other hand, if you are planning on working out from a commercial or local gym (which most people do), I would go with ACE.  

      The most typical client in the United States is the overweight, sedentary individual that needs to lose body fat.

      With ACE you will have tons of knowledge on how to train all sorts of individuals, but I feel like they did the best job of teaching how to build an exercise routine for progressing individuals through it.

      You still learn a good amount from ACE about how to work with more fit people.

      Overall you get a wider range of skills from ACE.

      Since most personal trainers start out working at a commercial gym, I think ACE is one of the top 2 certifications (NASM being the other).

      With ACE  you will be able to have a wide variety of clients thrown at you and know what to do with them.

      It is not as specialized as NSCA, but I think that is a good thing for somebody just starting out!

      Frequently Asked Questions

      I hope you liked my article on NSCA vs ACE! Here are some additional comparison articles that I have compared the ACE certification: ACE vs ACSM, ACE vs NASM and ACE vs ISSA.

      Here are some additional comparison articles comparing the NSCA certification: NSCA vs NASM, NSCA vs ISSA and NSCA vs ACSM.

      We also offer other articles for information on organizations like NFPT, NCCPT, and other PT certs.

      After you have made your decision between these two organizations, do check my articles on:

      Leave me a comment below if you have any other questions or concerns regarding these certifications!

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