Welcome to my NSCA vs ACE article! 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.

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

ACE vs NSCA

NSCA vs ACE Quick Information

The NSCA has an emphasis on sports performance while ACE is more of a general personal training certification. Both the NSCA and ACE certifications are accredited by the NCCA and are both very popular in well-recognized certifications overall. 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 ACE range between $599 and $799 while the prices for NSCA range between $350-$625. The recertification price for ACE is $139 every two years while the recertification price for NSCA is only $50 every two years. 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 Focus and Popularity/Recognition of NSCA and ACE

NSCA CPT

Save 25%+ on most NASM CPT certifications at checkout (DO NOT CALL THEM!)
Here is the link to the 25%+ off sale
Get $100 off the ACE Pro Plus CPT Certification or get a FREE nutrition certification with their Pro Advantage program!
Here is the link to the ACE CPT sale
Get a FREE Nutrition Certification or apple watch with the purchase of the ISSA certification!
Here is the link to the ISSA deal

The NSCA has a strong emphasis on athletic performance to help progress athletes to a higher level.

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

I think some of the material is too specialized for individuals just starting out in the personal training industry. It all depends 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.

If you are just getting started with your training journey, suggest you check out my article on getting started as a personal trainer and what type of salary you can expect to make.

Here is the official video from the NSCA youtube channel.

ACE CPT

The overall focus of ACE is very vague 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 trainers that are just starting out from scratch without any prior exercise science knowledge.

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 a 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 is called IFT (integrated fitness training) that is perfect for moving clients through a progressive program with safety and injury prevention being the primary components.

Since this is most likely the type of client, you will receive it is very important to know how to progress with someone like this. NSCA is more specialized than ACE on the athletic training set of things.

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.

The Winner for certification focus is ACE

Certification Popularity and Recognition

NSCA

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 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 trainers that hold both the general NSCA certification, as well as the more advanced CSCS certification, are highly sought after in the realm of sports performance training.

The NSCA certification is NCCA accredited.

ACE

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 train 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 certification.

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 for the last 12 months of Google trends comparing the ACE certification and the NSCA certification.

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

The winner for popularity/recognition is ACE

The Study Materials and Pricing

NSCA

Unlike most other personal training certifications, the NSCA lets 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 sport 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. 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. Memberships cost approximately $47 per year for the cheapest membership.

The cost to take the exam is $279 if you are a member and $349 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 standard option costs $486 for nonmembers and $287 for members. This includes all of the study materials I mentioned above including the live workshop.

If you somehow can receive all the study materials from a friend, the cheapest option for a nonmember would be $349 just to take the test. The average cost for the basic study materials and the test for nonmembers is approximately $626. You could check out the current prices for NSCA here.

Save 25%+ on most NASM CPT certifications at checkout (DO NOT CALL THEM!)
Here is the link to the 25%+ off sale
Get $100 off the ACE Pro Plus CPT Certification or get a FREE nutrition certification with their Pro Advantage program!
Here is the link to the ACE CPT sale
Get a FREE Nutrition Certification or apple watch with the purchase of the ISSA certification!
Here is the link to the ISSA deal

ACE

The ACE certification has three different prices for different packages that include different study materials. The Pro essentials package costs $599, the Pro Plus package costs $699 and the Pro advantage package costs $799. Prices change for time to time so I suggest checking out the current prices for ACE here.

The cheapest package which is the Pro essentials package includes the primary textbook in e-book format, practice tests, access to study coaches, a training manual to accompany the textbook, a fitness professionals e-book, access to the ace Academy elite, and access to personal trainer resources.

The best thing about the study materials is the ace Academy elite which goes over difficult 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 Pro plus package is basically the same as the Pro essentials package except it includes a hardcopy 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 Pro advantage package includes everything that the Pro plus package did 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.

The winner for study materials/price is ACE.

Information on the Tests and Recertification

NSCA

NSCA is also one of the hardest exams to pass with only 58% of the people passing on their 1st try.

You can either choose to take the test with pencil and paper or a computerized version. For some reason, 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 to score at least 70 in order to pass the test.

After signing up for the NSCA certification you will have six months in order 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 in order to answer all 140 multiple-choice questions.

If you end up failing the test, there is an extremely steep retest fee of $300 for members or $435 for nonmembers.

Luckily the recertification process with NSCA is fairly cheap. It will cost you only $50 to recertify every two years. You need approximately 20 hours of continuing education in order to get recertified.

ACE

The ACE exam is also only multiple-choice questions. The ace test has 10 more questions for a total of 150 multiple-choice questions. The pass rate for the MASM 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.

Likely, the ACE retest fee is not quite as steep as NSCA. It will cost you $199 to retake the test if you fail on the first time.

In order to recertified with ACE, you also need 20 hours of continuing education credit every two years. Unfortunately, the cost to recertify is $139 compared to the 50 with NSCA.

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

The winner for the test and recertification is ACE

Conclusion on NSCA vs ACE

Just like any other certification that you might consider getting, it is mostly dependent on what type of individuals who 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.

This is why the overall winner for my comparison is ACE!

I strongyly 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.

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 they are 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 a commercial or local gym (which most people do), I would go with ACE.  The most typical clients 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!

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.

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

Tyler Read has a Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology. Tyler is also a certified personal trainer with NASM, ACE and CSCS. Tyler’s main goal is to help people get started in the personal training industry and to become successful personal trainers. Tyler is the owner of Personal Training Pioneer which helps people get started in the personal training industry and become successful.

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