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Personal Training Certification Schools Comparison: ACE vs. NASM vs. ACSM vs. NSCA

Updated on May 19, 2012

Comparing the major personal training certification institutions

There are many organizations which provides for personal trainer certification. This article compares 4 of the most recognized NCCA-accredited programs for certification as a personal trainer. I compiled this table while I was researching personal trainer certification and I am posting it here in the hopes that it will help others as well.

Personal Certification Schools

Personal Training Certification School
American Council on Exercise (ACE)
National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM)
American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM)
National Sports Conditioning Association (NSCA)
Industry recognition
Very High
Very High
Certified Personal Trainer (CPT), Group Fitness Instructor Certification
Certified Personal Trainer (CPT)
Certified Personal Trainer (CPT), Group Exercise Instructor,
NSCA-Certified Personal Trainer (NSCA-CPT), Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS)
18 years old, Adult CPR/AED Certificate
18 years old, Adult CPR/AED Certificate
High School Diploma, Adult CPR/AED Certificate from American Red Cross or American Heart Association
18 years old, Adult CPR and AED Certificate, high school diploma or equivalent
Materials cost
Materials and Tools (in addition to text books)
Online course materials, practice tests, Exam preparation blogs, study coach program, flashcards, online exam review course
Bundles may include online exercise library, interactive learning, online practice exams, interactive program design modules, flashcards, live workshops, 90 day employment guarantee, 3-month Sharecare Pro membership
Webinars or live workshops can be purchased
Program Cost
$299 - $599
$599-$999 (without promotion)
$129 or $375
Different packages and prices for members and non-members, depending on pencil or computer-based tests. Members:$189.95 - $536.95; Non-Members: $349.95 - $815.95
Exam Cost
$219 (pencil/paper), $249 (computer)
Vouchers are included in many of the packages sold, but without the packages, they are: $235-270 (members)/ $355-390 (non-members) (Pencil/paper exam) $285(members) /$405(non-members) (Computer-based exam)
Retest Cost
$135 (pencil/paper) $184 (computer)
$185-220 (members) $305-340 (non-members) (Pencil/paper exam) $235 (members) $355 (non-members) (Computer-based exam)
Workshop length
2 days
1 or 3 days
2 days
Exam Questions
Exam Time
3 hours
2 hours
2.5 hours
3 hours
Exam deadline
1 Year
180 days from course purchase date. Done by PSI
Schedule is separate from course, done by Pearson VUE
1 year
Exam locations
Major cities worldwide
Major U.S. Cities
Major cities worldwide
Major cities worldwide (pencil/paper) United States only (computer-based)
Time to Complete (Approx.)
3-6 months
3-6 months
4-9 months
4-9 months
Every 2 years
Every 2 years
Every 3 years
Every 3 years
Recertification Required CEU
2.0 CEU
2.0 CEU
45 CEC
2.0 CEU
Approximate Recertification Cost
Approx. $400
Approx. $500
(2.0 CEU from ACE or NASM = 20 CEC for ACSM). Approx. $800
Approx. $500
Additional Certification Programs or Credentials
Lifestyle and Weight Management Coach, Advanced Health and Fitness Specialist
Performance Enhancement Specialist,Senior Fitness Specialist, Fitness Nutrition Specialist, Corrective Exercise Specialist, Golf Fitness Specialist
Health Fitness Specialist, Certified Clinical Exercise Specifist, Registered Clinincal Exercise Physiologist, Certified Cancer Exercise Trainer, Certified Inclusive Fitness Trainer certifications requires at least Bachelor's Degree in Exercise Science, Exercise Physiology or Kinesiology from a regionally accredited college or university plus additional course work or credits.
Certified Special Population Specialist requires NSCA CPT or CSCS, Bachelor degree in exercise science or related field, and current CPR for Healthcare Provider (American Heart Association, Professional Rescuer (American Red Cross), or higher.
Reputation on forums and internet
ACE is one of the most popular certifications and well-recognized by health clubs and gyms. It is considered to be good for beginners and is less expensive than the other big names. ACE has improved its courses in 2009 with its Integrated Fitness Training model and is considered more general and practical in its course work.
NASM is a favorite for gyms and is affiliated with Reebok. NASM offers the Optimum Performance Training model. NASM certification seems to be a good investment because the starting pay for those holding NASM certification is highest.
ACSM is known as "the gold standard" in personal training certification and has a lot respectability among professionals in the field. The test is hard to pass, and the course is known to be the more clinical of all the CPT courses.
NSCA is highly respected because it has been around for a long time and is the first fitness-related credential to have earned accreditation from NCCA. CSCS certification is targeted toward the training of athletes
Additional Notes
Has course bundles available on Women's Fitness, Youth Fitness, Old Adults, Mind-Body
NASM is in presale for Youth Fitness and is currently developing a Women's Fitness courses.

Personal Training Certification Choice Poll

Which Certification for Personal Training (CPT) would you choose? Please feel free to comment below as well.

See results


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    • profile image

      Lynette Bernard 2 years ago

      There are over 10 certifying agencies accredited through NCCA but the top ones are as above -ACSM, NSCA, NASM.

      Trainer D.A.D. is right about Bsc.

    • profile image

      Trainer D.A.D 3 years ago

      In most cases the gym will get you approved to work for them if you already hold a Bsc.

    • profile image

      trainer 3 years ago

      @trainer123, I wouldn't consider it laughable. If anything they laugh at you for doing 6 years in college to get the same job as them. In my opinion.

    • profile image

      trainer123 4 years ago

      I went with NASM because when I was looking for gyms to work for, all the ones require that you have NASM or get NASM eventually within x amount of time.

      Having had a BS and Master's in kinesiology and exercise physiology, respectively, I think it is bullshit I have to get any certification to work afterwards because none of them even come close to a degree. Being compared at a gym to someone who has more certifications and no formal education is laughable.

    • ishen profile image

      ishen 5 years ago

      Because I am not planning on working for a gym and have young kids, I actually went with ACE. If I planned on working at a gym, I would have gone with NASM or ACSM.

    • Tyasin profile image

      Tyasin 5 years ago from NY

      The comparison table is very helpful. Which one did you end up choosing? I chose ACSM because they set the standard for all of the other agencies. It is very clinical, however, I like knowing that I can hold a conversation with a physician on certain topics and know exactly what I'm talking about, like when I developed plantar fasciitis. On the other hand, it isn't all encompassing and I can understand why NASM is popular in gym settings.