ISSA vs NASM vs ACE Certification: Which is BEST? (2024 Reviews)

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Are you wondering which personal trainer certification you should take to maximize your chances of getting clients or a job? In this post, we’ll cover the pros and cons of each of the top three certifications to help you make the right decision for you. Selecting the best certification among ISSA, NASM, and ACE will depend on your specific career goals, interests, and learning preferences. Here’s a brief comparison of the three certifications in 2024:

1. ISSA (International Sports Sciences Association)

ISSA (International Sports Sciences Association) has a LOT of positive reviews online (the most out of any certification we reviewed) and is rapidly gaining popularity in the personal training industry. It’s growing rapidly mainly because it’s a more flexible option and thus more suitable for busy people with limited time. It’s recognized internationally and covers very similar topics as NASM.

  • ISSA Ratings & Reviews:
    • TrustPilot: 4.7 stars (‎12,286 reviews! The best reviewed certification we found)
    • PT Pioneer: 4.5 stars
    • BBB Rating: B
  • Year Founded: ISSA was founded in 1988.
  • Average Completion Time: 2-4 months
  • Costs: The cost of ISSA certification programs can vary depending on the specific program and any ongoing promotions. Generally, it includes study materials and the exam fee. As of 2024, fees start at $83.25 per month for the basic certification plan.
  • Time to Certification: ISSA offers self-paced study options, allowing you to complete the program in your own time. Typically, candidates take several months to prepare and take the exam.
  • Popularity: ISSA is a respected certification organization, but it may not be as widely recognized as NASM or ACE. However, it’s popular among those seeking flexibility in their studies.
  • Strengths:
    • ISSA has over 12,286 positive reviews published on TrustPilot, making it the top-reviewed certification out there.
    • ISSA offers a well-rounded curriculum on personal training, sports nutrition, and other fitness-related topics.
    • ISSA is known for its flexibility, allowing learners to study at their own pace.
    • ISSA may be a better focus if you’d like to train athletes
  • Weaknesses: ISSA has a bit of a “new kid on the block” reputation, due to it being slightly newer than the other two.
  • Consider if: You want a flexible learning schedule, are interested in sports nutrition, or plan to work as a personal trainer.

Want to learn more about ISSA? Read our ISSA Review.

2. NASM (National Academy of Sports Medicine)

NASM is probably the most popular personal trainer certification out there, recognized by most gyms. One thing that makes it stand out is that it places a significant emphasis on postural imbalances and movement assessments. It teaches the OPT (Optimum Performance Training) model, which helps trainers understand how to train individuals with different fitness goals. This includes phases like Stability Endurance, Muscular Endurance, Muscular Hypertrophy, Maximal Strength, and Power.

  • NASM Ratings & Reviews:
    • TrustPilot: 3.4 stars (‎1 review)
    • PT Pioneer: No rating
    • BBB Rating: A+
  • Year Founded: NASM was established in 1987.
  • Average Completion Time: 3 to 6 months
  • Costs: The cost of NASM certification programs can vary based on the level and specialization chosen. As of 2024, the basic package starts at $79 per month. This often includes study materials, practice exams, and access to online resources.
  • Time to Certification: NASM provides a structured curriculum, and candidates typically complete their studies in 10-12 weeks on average.
  • Popularity: NASM is highly popular and respected in the fitness industry. Its evidence-based approach and corrective exercise specialization make it a preferred choice for many fitness professionals.
  • Strengths:
    • NASM is highly respected in the fitness industry and is known for its evidence-based approach to training. It offers various specializations and has a strong emphasis on corrective exercise and injury recovery.
    • NASM offers a Virtual Coaching Specialization, which suggests that NASM certifications can be used for online coaching in addition to in-person training.
    • NASM offers a “Recertify for Life” program that waives future recertification fees. It costs $399, but it can save you money in the long run if you plan to maintain your certification for many years.
  • Weaknesses: Some users on Reddit noted that NASM may have some outdated information, particularly in the hypertrophy section. They mentioned that the OPT model might not always be suitable for all clients and that more flexible approaches might be needed.
  • Consider if: You seek a comprehensive, evidence-based education, and want to work as a certified personal trainer or specialize in corrective exercise.

Want to learn more about NASM? Read our NASM Review.

3. ACE (American Council on Exercise)

  • ACE Ratings & Reviews:
    • TrustPilot: 3.2 stars (‎26 reviews)
    • PT Pioneer: 4.8 stars
    • BBB Rating: A+
  • Year Founded: ACE (American Council on Exercise) was founded in 1985.
  • Costs: The cost of ACE certification programs can vary depending on the level and specialization you choose. As of 2024, the basic package starts at around $675, which includes study materials, practice exams, and access to online resources. ACE often offers promotions and discounts, so it’s advisable to check their website for the most up-to-date pricing.
  • Time to Certification: ACE provides a structured curriculum, and candidates typically complete their studies in about 3-4 months on average. However, the exact time it takes to become certified may vary based on individual study habits and prior knowledge.
  • Popularity: ACE is a well-established and respected certification organization in the fitness industry. It is recognized by many gyms and employers, making it a popular choice among fitness professionals.
  • Strengths: ACE is known for its comprehensive curriculum and commitment to health and fitness education. It offers various specializations, including group fitness, health coaching, and clinical exercise specialist certifications. ACE is also known for its emphasis on practical application, which prepares trainers to work effectively with a diverse range of clients.
  • Weaknesses: While ACE is generally well-regarded, some individuals may find the certification process challenging due to its comprehensive nature. Additionally, like other certification organizations, ACE’s material may need to be supplemented with ongoing learning to stay current in the ever-evolving field of fitness.
  • Consider ACE if: You are looking for a well-established certification with a strong emphasis on practical application and you want to pursue a career in personal training, health coaching, or related fitness fields. Additionally, if ACE aligns with your career goals and is recognized by employers in your area, it can be a solid choice for certification.
  • Strengths: ACE provides a well-established and widely recognized certification program. It focuses on health coaching, behavior change, and general fitness instruction.
  • Weaknesses: ACE’s primary certification, the Certified Personal Trainer (CPT), provides a strong foundation in general fitness training. However, if you’re looking for highly specialized training or niche certifications (e.g., sports performance, clinical exercise, or corrective exercise), you may need to pursue additional certifications from other organizations.
  • Consider if: You are interested in health coaching, behavior modification, and a broad range of fitness instruction, and want a respected certification that is almost as recognized as NASM.

Ultimately, the “best” certification depends on your specific career goals and interests. It’s advisable to research each program in more detail, consider your long-term objectives, and potentially speak with professionals who hold these certifications to gather insights.

Conclusion

The choice between NASM, ISSA and ACE depends on various factors, including career goals, personal preferences, and whether you prefer a more established name (aka NASM or ACE) or a flexible, self-paced approach that is rapidly growing in popularity (ISSA).

In summary, the consensus online suggests that while certifications like ACE, ISSA, and NASM are valuable for getting started, the quality of a personal trainer’s knowledge and expertise goes beyond certification.

Practical experience, continued learning, and an understanding of business and marketing are equally important in building a successful career in personal training.

Ultimately, certifications are just a starting point, and all three of the certifications mentioned in this article should be recognized by most gyms.

Personal Trainer Certifications FAQ

1. What is a personal trainer certification?

  • A personal trainer certification is an officially and nationally-recognized certification that demonstrates an individual’s knowledge, skills, and competence in fitness training and coaching. It allows them to work as a professional fitness trainer, designing exercise programs and coaching clients to achieve their fitness goals.

2. Why should I get certified as a personal trainer?

  • Just like you need a certification to be an electrician, plumber, or a massage therapist, you also need one to be a certified personal trainer. A PT certification validates your expertise, enhances your credibility, and can lead to better job opportunities and higher earning potential. It also ensures that you have the knowledge to provide safe and effective training to clients.

3. Which are the most recognized personal trainer certifications in the United States?

  • The most recognized certifications in the U.S. include NASM (National Academy of Sports Medicine), ACE (American Council on Exercise), ISSA (International Sports Sciences Association), ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine), and NSCA (National Strength and Conditioning Association).

4. How do I choose the right certification program for me?

  • Consider your career goals, the specialization you’re interested in (e.g., general fitness, sports performance, nutrition), your budget, and the program’s reputation. Research each certification’s curriculum, requirements, and continuing education options.

5. How long does it take to get certified?

  • The time required varies based on the certification and your study pace. Most programs can be completed in a few months with diligent study, while others may take longer. Some certifications offer flexible study timelines.

6. What’s the cost of personal trainer certification?

  • Certification costs vary by organization and the level of certification. Be prepared for expenses such as study materials, exam fees, and possible renewal fees. Costs can range from a few hundred to over a thousand dollars.

7. Do I need prior fitness experience to become a certified personal trainer?

  • While prior fitness experience can be beneficial, it’s not always required. Many certification programs provide the necessary education and training to become a competent trainer. However, many of them will require you to take a CPR class before being able to get your certification.

8. Are online certification programs as reputable as in-person ones?

  • Online certification programs are recognized and reputable when offered by established organizations. Look for programs with accreditation and a history of producing successful trainers. Some online programs also include practical assessments.

9. How do I maintain my certification?

  • Most certifications require continuing education credits (CECs/CEUs) to renew your credential. This involves completing courses, workshops, or seminars related to fitness or your specialization.

10. Can I work as a personal trainer without certification?

  • While some gyms may hire trainers without certification, most reputable fitness facilities and clients prefer or require certified trainers due to the assurance of competency and safety.

11. Is it possible to specialize in a specific area of personal training?

  • Yes, many certifications offer specializations such as sports performance, nutrition, corrective exercise, calisthenics, and more. Earning additional certifications or specializations can enhance your expertise.

12. What’s the job outlook for certified personal trainers?

  • The demand for personal trainers is expected to grow due to increased awareness of health and fitness. Job prospects may vary by location and specialization.

13. Can I start my own personal training business after certification?

  • Yes, certification can prepare you to start your own personal training business. However, you may also need knowledge of business management and marketing to succeed as an entrepreneur in the PT space.

14. Do I need liability insurance as a personal trainer?

  • Liability insurance is highly advisable to protect yourself in case of accidents or injuries during training sessions. Many certifying bodies offer insurance options for their certified trainers.

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