ACE vs NASM vs ISSA: Which One Should I Go For?

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By Nick Benhoff

Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS)

Nick is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) through the NSCA and a Pn L1 Nutrition Coach. He has over 10 years in the fitness world, including training, coaching athletes, and working 1 on 1 with clients in the gym.

Are you struggling to decide which personal training certification you should get?

With so many different options, it can be frustrating deciding on the right certification for you. In today’s post, we’re covering three of the top certifications in the industry.

Today’s post will review the ACE CPT, NASM CPT, and the ISSA CPT.

ace vs nasm vs issa

We’ll compare essential aspects of each certification, allowing you to decide which would best work for you as a personal trainer!

What should we look for in a Personal Trainer Certification

Choosing the proper certification can start your career as a new personal trainer on the right foot.

Each personal training certification comes with its own strength and weaknesses. Still, the most important quality is how it can best help you.

When looking for a personal training certification, there are four areas to pay attention to. These four areas are how we’ll compare the ACE, NASM, and ISSA certifications.

  • Accreditation – Are these certifications accredited by an authorized certifying agency? Why does this matter?
  • Study Materials – You want to pass the certification exam, correct? Well, the study materials can make or break that. They’ll also teach you what you need to know to get started as a personal trainer.
  • Cost – Is this certification affordable, or will it break the bank before you have started on the gym floor?
  • What you’ll learn – Just as in the study material, what you learn from the certification can start you off well or set you back. You may already know quite a bit about personal training and exercise. Still, a certification may just push you over that edge from good to great!

With these qualities in mind, let’s get into the personal training certifications!


ace logo

American Council on Exercise (ACE) CPT

ACE has been a certifying fitness organization since 1985.

With over 25 years in the industry, ACE has impacted fitness and health professionals quite clear.

Their personal training certification is one of the most sought-after certifications with over 90,000 certified professionals.

ACE takes pride in its mission to get as many people moving as they can. By doing this, they provide excellent education and learning opportunities to their students and members.

ACE has recently updated its personal training certification making it more comprehensive and evidence-based than ever before.

So, how does the ACE CPT stand up to our four guiding qualities above?

Accreditation

The ACE CPT is accredited through the top certifying agency, the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA).

This agency is the gold standard for certifying bodies, so this is the credential we will look for in certifications.

Study Materials 

ACE offers its students three different study programs.

  1. Basic
  2. Plus (most popular)
  3. Advantage

Each of these programs provides learners different resources and study materials.

The basic option is just that, basic. This program provides students with

  • the ACE University – This the learning platform they provide for you
  • the certification exam (available for take home at the time of writing this)
  • one practice test
  • a digital textbook
  • a digital study companion
  • answer bank

This is quite a bit of study material, even for their basic package.

If you decide to upgrade to their Plus program, you’ll receive everything in the Basic program, plus

  • a second practice test
  • a digital and hardcover textbook
  • a digital and hardcopy of their study companion
  • live Q&A webinars
  • Exercise Science 101 supplemental online course designed to support your education in anatomy and physiology

Lastly, the Advantage option will provide you with everything in the Plus option and

  • Four practice tests
  • An audiobook version of your textbook
  • A study group, led by an ACE study coach
  • A dedicated Advantage team provides you with a representative who ensures you receive a personalized experience throughout your studies

Cost

Now, this is a decent amount of study materials, so the cost must be outrageous!

The cost, even for the Advantage program, isn’t too bad.

At the time of writing this, the cost for each program is the following:

  1. Basic – $509, or you can make monthly payments as well. $170/month for 3 months, $85/month for 6 months, or $43/month for 12 months.
  2. Plus – $599 or monthly payments of $200/month for 3 months, $100/month for 6 months, or $50/month for 12 months.
  3. Advantage – $899 or monthly payments of $300/month for 3 months, $150/month for 6 months, or $75/month for 12 months

The monthly options give you a bit more flexibility when purchasing these programs and allow more people to become certified!

What Will You Learn?

Education is by far the most crucial aspect when it comes to purchasing a certification program.

As noted above, the study materials will vary depending on which level you purchase, but what you learn will remain the same throughout.

ACE is heavily promoting its new and improved certification. Within this certification, you will undoubtedly learn a lot.

Within the ACE curriculum, you’ll learn what it takes to be a personal trainer and how to use their model to develop lasting change in your clients.

  • The role and scope of practice as a trainer
  • The ACE Mover Method – Develop positive behavior change for your clients
  • Program design
  • Assessment, progressions, and regressions
  • The ACE Integrated Fitness Model (IFT Model)
  • Professional and legal guidelines

So, as you can see, ACE offers a balanced and extensive curriculum that teaches new personal trainers how to go from good to great.

If you choose ACE as your certifying body, you will not be disappointed!

nasm logo

National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) CPT

NASM has been a name brand in fitness for over 30 years. With a wide variety of certifications, NASM has become a household name in certifying personal trainers.

NASM has educated over 1 million fitness professionals and has partnered with over 10,000 gyms and health clubs.

NASM has become such an influential organization in fitness. Nasm made its way into schools, promoting itself not on bachelor’s degree programs and master’s degrees.

With a NASM certification, you’re getting an evidence-based curriculum designed to prepare to train anyone of any age.

If you’re searching for a recognizable name in fitness, the NASM CPT may be the choice for you!

Accreditation

The NASM CPT is accredited through the NCCA, which, as we noted above, is the gold standard in certifying agencies.

NASM also employs a governing board of seven people who sets the policies for certification and recertification. The governing board just ensures that there are no violations in testing and their code of conduct.

Study Materials

NASM offers four different study programs for its students.

  1. Self-Study
  2. Premium Self-Study
  3. Guided Study (Most Popular)
  4. All-Inclusive + Virtual Coaching (Best Value)

Just like the ACE certification, each one of these options will provide the student with additional amenities.

The Basic option includes

  • An online course
  • The exam
  • Exercise demonstrations
  • Additional resources
  • Practice exams and quizzes

The Premium Self-Study includes everything in the Basic option plus

  • A job guarantee – NASM will help you get a job in 90 days, or they’ll refund the cost of the job guarantee back to you.
  • One-year NASM edge Trainer Plus – The NASM Edge is a premium app that will allow you to provide a more extensive and premium service to your clients!

The Guided Study option includes everything in previous options plus

  • Access to NASM fitness experts
  • A certification retest
  • A hard copy of the textbook
  • A bonus motivational interviewing course

Lastly, the All-Inclusive + Virtual coaching option gets you everything NASM has to offer!

  • Virtual coaching course – Learn how to train clients online and in the gym
  • NASM’s Edge CPT exam prep – your Edge app will be upgraded to provide you with extra study tools to pass the exam
  • Gymternship – receive 80 hours of actual coaching experience!
  • Recertify for life

Cost

There are definitely a lot of perks and add-ons as you choose the higher options.

But what does all of this cost?

Just like ACE, NASM provides you with the ability to make a one-time payment or a down payment and eleven interest-free monthly payments.

  • Basic – $499 or $49 down and $41/month
  • Premium Self-Study – $769 or $49 down and $65/month
  • Guided Study – $1049 or $49 down and $91/month
  • All-Inclusive – $1889 or $49 down and $167/month

What Will You Learn? 

The NASM curriculum is broken into 6 sections.

  1. Professional Development and Responsibility
  2. Client Relations and Behavioral Coaching
  3. Basic and Applied Sciences and Nutritional Concepts
  4. Assessments
  5. Exercise Techniques
  6. Program Design

Once you get through each of these sections, you’ll take the final exam.

Throughout the NASM curriculum is their Optimum Performance Training Model (OPT), which you’ll use to develop training plans and assessments.

The OPT model is your blueprint for success as a NASM-certified personal trainer. Within this blueprint are 5 phases.

  1. Stabilization Endurance
  2. Strength Endurance
  3. Muscular Development
  4. Maximal Strength
  5. Power

Using these phrases, you’ll provide your clients with a premium service and help them achieve all of their fitness goals!

NASM is one of the top fitness certifications out there, and for a good reason. If you choose NASM as your certifying body, you’ll be on your way to a fitness professional in no time.

issa logo

International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA) CPT

The last certification to discuss is the ISSA CPT.

The ISSA was founded in 1988 to provide fitness professionals the education to enjoy the world of fitness.

Since then, the ISSA has established name recognition and a comprehensive program certifying personal trainers worldwide.

The ISSA is another name-brand certifying body that will provide you an exceptional education like ACE and NASM.

Accreditation 

The ISSA CPT isn’t accredited through the NCCA like the above certifications but is instead accredited by the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC) responsible for accrediting distance learning programs.

Although not NCCA accredited, the ISSA CPT still has a quality accreditation and even higher quality information provided within the certification.

Study Materials

The ISSA only offers one package but comes with a lot of extras included at no extra cost.

Inside the personal trainer certification package, you’ll receive

  • The Complete Guide to Fitness textbook
  • Online practice exams and quizzes
  • Online study guide and workbook
  • Take-home exam
  • CPT Bootcamp
  • Trainer Guide to Success

Unlike the ACE and NASM certifications, you only get one option, so everyone will get the same thing when starting their personal trainer journey!

You can opt to pay more for different levels of training by upgrading to their Fitness Coach, Elite Trainer or Master Trainer options. However, these aren’t necessary at the start and may just slow down the process.

Cost

The cost of their certified personal trainer course is very competitive with ACE and NASM. You can opt for three different payment plans:

  1. 12 monthly payments of $69
  2. 6 monthly payments of $138
  3. 1 payment of $828

However, along with all of the study material above, you’ll receive a few extra add-ons

  • Their nutritionist certification
  • CPR/AED certification
  • Free t-shirt
  • Free website

What would initially cost around $2,065 costs less than half of that!

What Will You Learn? 

With any certification, you’ll learn in-depth knowledge of human anatomy and physiology and how the human body responds to exercise.

Also, the ISSA curriculum will teach you

  • How to properly assess a new client
  • How each client’s individual body will respond to exercise
  • Enrich your client’s lives through health and fitness and teach them how to make lasting change
  • How to build custom training programs for every type of client
  • Adjust your client’s diet and lifestyle to best accomplish their goals

The ISSA certification has a section dedicated to training various types of clients, from older adults to athletes to clients with hypertension.

This certification truly covers every client you’ll see in the gym!

If you’re looking to train any type of person, the ISSA certification can prepare you to do so.

Which should You Choose? 

After diving into each of these incredible certifications, I hope I’ve made your choice easier.

I can’t tell you which certification will be the best fit for you, but I know you’ll choose the right one with the information provided.

Whichever you choose, use the information to help people make lasting change and be the best personal trainer you can be!

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Nick, is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) through the NSCA and a Pn L1 Nutrition Coach. He has over 10 years in the fitness world including training, coaching athletes, and working 1 on 1 with clients in the gym.

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