This year marks the 35th anniversary of the founding of the American Council on Exercise (ACE). To celebrate this milestone, we’re looking back at our history, recognizing how the organization and the industry have evolved as well as peeking forward as we continue to champion our mission to Get People Moving.
The IDEA Foundation was founded in 1985.
In the beginning (1980s)
ACE made its first debut in 1985 as the “IDEA Foundation,” a sister organization of the International Dance Exercise Association (IDEA), a membership organization for fitness professionals. In the mid-1980s, a rising number of injuries among exercise participants had led to a demand for more education among professionals. The IDEA Foundation was established by Peter and Kathie Davis in an effort to provide certification for aerobics instructors by researching, developing and implementing standards in the field of dance exercise for the safety and protection of the general public.
Standardizing guidelines for aerobics instructors was no small feat. At the time, there were 50 organizations involved, each with their own ideas of what should be included and what was important. The IDEA Foundation brought these organizations and fitness leaders together to help grow an industry that was taking off in the consumer market but had no real foundation to support it. Among this group were internationally renowned experts in the field, including Dr. Kenneth Cooper (Cooper Institute), Jackie Sorenson (aerobic-dancing pioneer), and Judi Sheppard Missett (Jazzercise).
Within one year of its founding, 3,000 people had taken the standardized dance-exercise instructor exam lead by the IDEA Foundation. Where previously there had been no national standards or exam, there were now qualified fitness professionals, giving consumers more confidence that classes were both safe and effective. The Aerobic Dance-Exercise Instructor Manual was published soon after and became known as the “bible of fitness.” By the end of the ‘80s, more than 30,000 fitness professionals had taken the IDEA Foundation Aerobics Instructor Certification Exam. Recognizing the growing trend toward personal training, the IDEA Foundation soon began development of its first Personal Trainer Certification Exam.
In 1992, the IDEA Foundation formally separated from IDEA and changed its name to the American Council on Exercise.
The next phase (1990s)
In the 1990s, the IDEA Foundation continued to move forward as health and fitness became more mainstream. In a decade marked by new government initiatives related to regular physical activity (e.g., Healthy People 2000 created by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services), the IDEA Foundation embraced its evolved role as a resource and expert to help support the general public and fitness professionals.
In 1992, the IDEA Foundation formally separated from IDEA, changed its name to the “American Council on Exercise” and updated its mission statement to promote safe and effective exercises by setting certification and education standards for fitness instructors and through public education and research. ACE launched three new certifications during the 1990s including the ACE Personal Trainer, ACE Lifestyle & Weight Management Consultant (which would grow into the current ACE Health Coach), and ACE Clinical Exercise Specialist (which would evolve into the current ACE Medical Exercise Specialist). All four of ACE’s professional fitness certification programs earned accreditation from the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA). In addition, ACE hosted a toll-free hotline for the general public to get fitness advice, released new educational publications for both the public and fitness professionals, received recognition as “America’s Workout Watchdog” from The Wall Street Journal due to our research on popular fitness products, programs, and trends.
In 2001, construction is completed on ACE’s new headquarters, which features a state-of-the-art gym, classroom, and call center.
Into the new millennium (2000s)
The turn of the millennium was dominated by fitness crazes including Latin-inspired dance workouts and high-intensity studio gyms, but also a national call to prevent and decrease the prevalence of chronic conditions like type 2 diabetes and obesity through regular physical activity. In response to this, ACE developed new partnerships and resources to promote health and exercise to help address rising rates of diseases related to physical inactivity.
Among ACE’s partners were the American Heart Association (AHA), the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), the Medical Fitness Association (MFA), and AARP. These collaborations resulted in a variety of new resources including CPR and AED training specifically targeted for fitness professionals, a national campaign to encourage more physical activity through a walking app, a Peer Fitness Trainer Certification for fire service professionals, increased public awareness of medical fitness benefits, and new specialist education programs for specific communities and age groups.
ACE debuts new brand and logo in 2017.
The past 10 years (2010s)
During the 2010s, the fitness industry expanded rapidly as new programs and certification options emerged and consumers began exploring high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and wearable technology to track their workouts. This was a busy time for ACE as the organization expanded its commitment to certified exercise professionals and health coaches, as well as to research and partner collaboration. Highlights include:
- Launching the ACE Integrated Fitness Training Model® (ACE IFT®) to help exercise professionals develop and deliver personalized and client-centered programming
- Providing scholarships to qualified, aspiring fitness professionals like veterans and individuals working to combat childhood obesity
- Co-founding the Coalition for the Registration of Exercise Professionals (CREP), which advocates for exercise professionals who hold NCCA-accredited exercise certifications and manages the United States Registry of Exercise Professionals (USREPS), an internationally recognized registry of exercise professionals in the United States
- Debuting the ACE Walking Toolkits, which provide information about the benefits of walking and guidance to create successful walking groups, in support of the U.S. Surgeon General’s call-to-action on walking and rolling
- Collaborating with the Sports and Fitness Industry Association (SFIA), to advocate and support the Personal Health Investment Today (PHIT) Act, which calls for the opportunity for individuals to pay for gym memberships, fitness equipment, youth sports and activity fees using funds from pre-tax accounts, including flexible spending accounts
- Convening and funding the Prescription for Activity Task Force, which brought together more than 30 leaders in public health, medical, insurance, government and fitness sectors to better integrate well-qualified exercise professionals and health coaches and their programs as an extension of clinical care
- Expanding the understanding and practice of behavior change through the ACE Health Coach Certification and ACE Behavior Change Specialist Program, hosting in-person training events, and funding academic research to explore the efficacy of behavior change. This education better equips exercise professionals and health coaches to empower their clients to make healthy, productive and permanent lifestyle changes
ACE CEO Scott Goudeseune, front row, second from left, represents ACE and its participation in First Lady Michelle Obama’s Joining Forces Initiative in 2011.
In addition, ACE was increasingly invited to serve in leadership and advisory roles on highly regarded national and international groups such as First Lady Michelle Obama’s Joining Forces, the National Coalition for Promoting Physical?Activity’s?(NCPPA), the Europe Active/European Registry of Exercise Professionals (EREPS), the International Coalition for the Registration of Exercise Professionals (ICREPs), National Academy of Medicine’s Obesity Solutions Roundtable, and the World Health Organization’s (WHO) advisory panel for the Global Action Plan for Physical Activity Initiative.
ACE President and Chief Science Officer Cedric X. Bryant, front row, second from left, poses with fellow public health and physical activity leaders from around the world during a 2019 WHO Global Action Plan for Physical Activity meeting.
Today and into the future
Today, ACE is honored to support and serve more than 700 organizational partners and its family of more than 90,000 currently certified exercise professionals and health coaches in more than 110 countries around the globe.
In 2020, ACE introduced the ACE Mover Method™, a philosophy that exercise professionals or health coaches can facilitate the development of sustainable, healthy lifestyle behaviors by empowering clients, meeting clients where they are, and employing evidence-based strategies; announced its partnership with The Cooper Institute; and developed a wide variety of resources to ensure that exam candidates, certified exercise professionals and health coaches, and the public are equipped with timely information to stay safe and adjust during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since its founding in 1985, ACE has evolved from a small team developing a standardized certification exam for aerobic-dance instructors to an internationally recognized certifying organization for exercise professionals and health coaches. Throughout its 35 years of existence, ACE has led various projects and programs amid changing fitness fads and the growth of the fitness industry, but two underlying themes remain constant:
- Commitment to exercise and health professionals. ACE consistently works to serve and support aspiring and current exercise professionals and health coaches so they may promote safe, effective and healthy behavior changes to the general public. The ACE family of certified exercise professionals and health coaches are the foundation of our approach to fulfill our mission to get people moving regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, physical or intellectual abilities, religious beliefs, ethnic background or socioeconomic status.
- Collaboration. ACE has reached its milestones and achievements to date thanks to the collaboration and partnership of multiple organizations, industry leaders, and fitness experts. These collaborators and partners have helped ACE evolve into the organization it is today, and ACE will continue to seek collaborative projects and programs in support of our mission.
No matter how things have changed over the years— from leg warmers and aerobics, to infomercials for VHS at-home workouts, to wearable devices and social media “fitness influencers”— ACE has continued to pursue its goal of encouraging and empowering people to engage in physical activity that is safe, effective and enjoyable. For the past 35 years and still moving forward, ACE is here to provide education, research, and support to get all segments of society moving around the world.