There are many different agencies that are in the business of certifying personal trainers and group exercise instructors… ACE, NASM, ISSA, AFAA, ACSM, NESTA, NFPT… the list goes on. But how do you know which one is the best and right for you?
First, you should make sure the certification is accredited by the National Commission of Certifying Agencies (NCCA). Some employers may not require a trainer’s certification to be NCCA accredited, but more and more reputable companies are looking for this. In my experience, the companies that do require certain certifications usually look for ASCM, NASM, NCSA, and ACE.
Also, NCCA accredited agencies usually allow CEUs (continues education units) to cross over. For example, I have my Group Exercise certification from ACE and a Cycle certification from AFAA; since AFAA is not NCCA accredited (and maybe because they are a for-profit company), they require you to get continued education specifically through them to keep that certification up-to-date. Which ever way you choose to go, this is something to research and keep in mind because the costs do add up when you have to get continued education for various certifications!
Here is a great resource on the ACE website that compares certification agencies by various categories (price, requirements, NCCA certified, exam procedure, study materials, etc.)
I chose to get my Personal Training certification from ACE because I got my Group Ex cert from them and I love the company.
The American Council on Exercise is NCCA accredited, offers comprehensive study packages and continued education, and has a valuable website and an extremely knowledgeable and helpful staff. One of the things I love about ACE is the staff members are available on instant message that you can talk to them and ask questions.
When I was looking into getting another certification with them, they were very helpful and even offered me a coupon code. Also, when I did not realize I had to pay to renew my Group Ex certification every 2 years (pretty standard procedure), they waived the late fee. The customer service is great and the monthly IDEA magazine is a great educational resource and also has quizzes in the back that you can take to use towards continued education.
No matter what certification you choose, staying up to date on the latest research and continuing to expand your knowledge and fuel your passion is what will make a trainer great!
CHOOSING YOUR STUDY MATERIALS:
You can choose one of three home study packages with ACE or buy study materials a la cart.
At the least, I would say you need the ACE Personal Training Manual and ACE Essentials of Exercise Science for Fitness Professionals. I chose to order a la cart because at the time, I did not know exactly when I would schedule my test and some of the packages offer an Exam Voucher that has to be used within a certain amount of time. I ordered the above two mentioned text books as well as the Musculoskeletal Anatomy and Human Movement book.
The ACE website also offers an exam prep blog and various webinars that are helpful when studying.
If you consider yourself to have good study habits and are able to set study schedules and stick to them, the ACE home study program is the way to go! Other companies offer workshops and classes to teach you the information if you learn better/quicker that way versus reading and studying on your own.
I learned from this experience that I probably would have learned the material quicker in the class room setting where someone was teaching me and I could ask questions. I think I learned just as much (maybe more) by studying at home, but I spent a lot of time re-reading text, doing extra research on things I didn’t understand, taking a lot of study breaks, and not making the most of my study time.
Since I did not really have a date in mind to take the test, I would go a month or two of studying, then kind of stop, and then when I restarted I would have to refresh on the chapters I already read.
This past summer, I decided I was going to take the PT exam by the end of the year for a job. I did not set a very strict study schedule in the summer and did NOT get as much done as I would have hoped! Once fall hit, I really made an effort to schedule days and times to study and have goals to complete certain chapters by a certain time.
I woke up before work, stayed in on weekends, and brought my study materials with me to holiday gatherings so I could study when everyone went to bed.
My nephew loved the Personal Training Manual text book, especially the chapter about injuries and the page with a picture of a guy holding his knee. He would carry the book around with him and then excitingly say “knee” every time he found the page (shown above). :)
I felt like I was never fully ready to take the exam because there always seemed to be more to learn, but 2 and a half weeks before the end of the year, I figured I better just schedule the darn thing!
I traveled down to King of Prussia, PA on December 30th to the exam site with a double espresso in hand.
The test is administered by a 3rd party and when I arrived, the test proctor took my belongings and locked them up. Apparently, you are not allowed to bring your phone, purse, or even a water bottle into the exam room.
The test administrator/proctor then explained the test taking process and rules to myself and the two other people who were taking a test that day before bringing us into the exam room and getting each one of us logged in to our personalized exam on our computer.
I was pretty nervous at first, but once I got going, I relaxed and felt more confident of my answers.
Some of the questions were a little confusing and I wrote the number of the question down on the provided note pad so that I could go back and revisit them at the end.
The test has a 3-hour time limit and is graded out of a score of 800, with over 500 being the passing rate. I finally clicked submit at about the 2 and a half hour time mark and the test immediately gave me my results. The results were broken down into four categories and you were given a passing percentage in each category and then your total score out of 800.
I was a happy camper with slightly sweaty arm pits when my score came up as 707/800. Woohoo!
The test was tough with questions that really tested your knowledge on various topics. However, I don’t think the test was extremely difficult if you have a good understanding of how the human body works and are able to reason and make educated guesses on the questions that stump you.
Studying text books and taking a multiple choice test are just part of being an effective and successful trainer. It take time and experience to really excel. Even though I passed the test, I still feel like I have a lot to learn and I spend quite a bit of time putting together training plans for clients and continue to use my text book and notes and quality website for reference.
As an ACE certified fitness professional, you must also get continued education credits and renew your certification every 2 years.
Here are some great resources for personal trainers:
If you are a trainer, what is one piece of advice you would give to new trainers?
If you have ever worked with a trainer, what was your favorite part about it?
If you have never worked with a trainer, why might you decide to invest in one?