Welcome to my NSCA vs ACSM article, Let’s see which of these old school certifications will be the best for you!

After finishing my article, you will have a much better idea of which certification is right for you and your style of training. Don’t forget to read my bread and butter article comparing the best five certifications to one another!

If you like VS articles you might like: ACSM vs NASM, ACSM vs ACE, NSCA vs NASM or NASM vs ACE.

I recommend that you take the quiz to find out which PT certification is best for your training goals. This helps a lot.

NSCA vs ACSM Quick Information

Both the NSCA and ACSM certifications are accredited to the NCCA. Both certifications are highly recognized within the industry of personal training. The NSCA focuses more on sports performance while the ACSM certification focuses more on corrective exercise. Both certifications have an option to be a member with the organization to save on certification costs. The ACSM currently costs $500 whereas the cheapest option for the NSCA is $350. The NSCA requires recertification every two years whereas the ACSM requires recertification every three years.

NSCA vs ACSM

The overall Focus of ACSM and NSCA

These 2 personal training certifications are some of the oldest and well recognized certifications in the industry. Although they have both been around a long time they both have different primary focuses. ACSM focuses primarily on research and development in the field of exercise science.

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They are in fact a scientific body. Most certifications reference ACSM’s research in their own textbooks. They tend to focus on clients that have previous medical conditions or injuries.

There is a lot of functional training and muscular corrective exercise in their training methods. I would put ACSM in the category of a corrective exercise certification.

NSCA primarily focuses on athletic performance for sports. A lot of the training methods involve reactive training, speed, agility and quickness training. They have a more advanced certification called the CSCS that is firmly centered around sports performance.

Their general certification is kind of a precursor to their more advanced certification. Since you are not yet certified as a personal trainer (I am assuming), you should check out my articles for people just starting out such as “how much money trainers make?” and my ultimate guide on how to start personal training.

Let’s get right into my article so you all can find out what’s up!

Information on the test, materials, and pricing

NSCA:

The only study material that NSCA provides you with is their textbook. This book will cost approximately $89 from their website. I’m sure you could purchase a used version somewhere else online like Amazon.

The textbook is quite extensive. It is not an easy read in comparison to other certifications. Approximately 54% of the 1st time test takers for NSCA pass. How much you pay for the test all depends on whether or not you are a member with NSCA.

If you are a non-member, you should expect to pay approximately $420 for the test itself. Overall it will cost you $500 with the additional price of the textbook. They offer you to take the test with a pencil and paper or a computerized version.

There are 150 questions in the test, and you will receive three whole hours to finish it. From the time that you purchased the exam, you will be given one year of study time maximum, before you are required to take the test.

This test is tough. I know a lot of people have used the whole year to study everything that is in the textbook. Check out my full review on NSCA.

ACSM:

Just like the NSCA textbook, they also have a monster. Overall you can purchase three different books that will help you study for the ACSM test. Two primary books help you get acquainted with the material. The 3rd booklet helps you review their primary textbook.

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

This booklet costs approximately $40 on their website. The primary textbook will cost roughly $70. Again you can probably find a cheaper used version on Amazon. This textbook teaches you the basics of exercise science, exercises, and routine development.

The 2nd book focuses strongly on prescribing routines for specific individuals as well as exercise testing. This will cost you approximately $40 if you purchase it from their website. Unlike NSCA, they offer a 3-day workshop where you can get hands-on experience.

This workshop costs $375. Although it is a pricey workshop, it helps you get prepared to work one-on-one with a real client. If the three-day workshop is too much for you, they also have a $129 one-day seminar.

I have heard good things about this one-day workshop. They must cram a lot of information into one session. Compared to other certifications, ACSM is one of the harder exams to pass. Approximately 65% of 1st-time test takers will pass it.

The best advice I can give is to study all three books as much as you can. The textbook and the test are purchased separately just like NSCA. And you can get a discount if you are a member with ACSM.

For some people, this might be worth it, but a yearly fee is not worth it to me. The test will cost approximately $279 for nonmembers. Expect to spend around $450 for the test and all of the textbooks.

Check out my full review on ACSM.

Conclusion on NSCA vs ACSM

Both of these certifications have been around for a reasonable amount of time and are very well recognized within the personal training industry. Both certifications are relatively difficult to pass. ACSM Is a little bit cheaper overall compared to NSCA.

I recommend that you take the quiz to find out which certification is best for you if you’re still having a tough time deciding.

The difference is approximately $100. If your future clients are going to be high school or college athletes, I would hands-down go with NSCA. This is doubly true if you are planning on obtaining their CSCS certification at any point.

On the other hand, if you are going to be working with post-rehab clients or overall sedentary individuals, I would opt towards ACSM. This is the most critical question you need to ask yourself as a personal trainer. Who do you want to train?

I would also make sure to check with potential employers on what certifications they accept and which ones they prefer! And although I think both of these certifications are great, there are better options out there in my opinion.

NASM does a better job with their corrective exercise curriculum (than ACSM), and they also have an advanced performance enhancement specialist certification that I think is better than the CSCS. You can check out their site here.

ACE is also another great option to go with, and their study materials are top-of-the-line. Check out the ACE site here.

Drop me some knowledge or questions down in the box below!

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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