ACE Personal Trainer Certification: Everything You Need to Know Before Enrolling (Sports Illustrated)

Posted: Mar 06, 2024 in In the News

This article originally appeared in Sports Illustrated on March 6, 2024.


ACE Personal Trainer Certification: Everything You Need to Know Before Enrolling

By Anna Marie Clear

The products featured in this article have been independently reviewed. When you buy something through the retail links on this page, we may earn commission at no cost to you, the reader. Sports Illustrated editorial staff are not involved in the creation of this content. Learn more here.

There are numerous pathways to a career in the fitness industry as a personal trainer or group fitness instructor. Receiving an education through a reputable company can help propel your career in the right direction and provide you with the confidence you need to tackle your professional goals. Whether you want to begin a career in the fitness industry or take your current business to the next level, the American Council on Exercise (ACE) has you covered.

ACE is highly respected in the fitness industry, making the certification well worth your time, cost and effort. In this article, I cover my personal experience studying and training to become an ACE-certified personal trainer, along with key takeaways to know before purchasing a certification through this company. I will also cover certification cost, study tips, course content and more.

ACE Personal Trainer Certification at a Glance

  • Cost: $675 for ACE Basic Study Package, $745 for ACE Plus Package (most popular) and $945 for ACE Advantage Package
  • Course Length: 3–6 months
  • Pass Rate: 65 percent
  • Accreditation: National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA)
  • Best for: Those seeking to obtain a highly reputable and cost-effective personal training certification through an online course

To become a certified personal trainer (CPT) through ACE, you’ll enroll in a course that provides you with the knowledge and credentials necessary to work in the industry with clients or in a gym. Most commercial gyms require a certification to be hired as a personal trainer. It is important to note that obtaining an accredited training certification is crucial if you want to train clients online, or from your home gym or personal studio.

With an ACE certification, you will be well-equipped with evidence-based education and long-term career guidance to impact the health, wellbeing and longevity of your clients.

ACE is a solid program for developing practical skills and foundational knowledge in the principles of personal training. Whether you are a beginner with no fitness experience or a fitness aficionado interested in becoming a trainer, the ACE-CPT certification is for you. ACE provides you with the appropriate tools you need to succeed regardless of your starting baseline knowledge, but the amount of time you spend studying and preparing for the exam will likely vary based on your previous experience.

Level of difficulty

ACE University is the self-paced online study program that will serve as the foundation to your CPT course. You will receive a course textbook and syllabus; corresponding online education modules will also be provided through ACE University. These include video explanations of critical topics, demonstrations of common personal training scenarios, quizzes, knowledge check points and additional learning activities to help aid in your online learning experience. On-demand study support is available for one-on-one guidance or help regarding a specific topic to ease the study process. If you struggle with online learning, you may find the course difficult, as it’s entirely online.

ACE generally advises online students to set aside about three to four months to study for the ACE-CPT certification exam. ACE also suggests spending about 12–15 hours on each online lesson to get through the videos, readings, study companion and quizzes. It is important to note the length of the program and overall time put toward studying for the ACE-CPT exam will vary from student to student.

The ACE-CPT certification exam is one of the more challenging CPT exams with a pass rate of 65 percent. The level of difficulty of the exam is dependent on multiple factors including: your previous knowledge and experience, the time you set aside to prepare for the exam and the type of learner you are.

In order to be eligible for the ACE exam, you must be at least 18 years old, have a high school diploma or GED, hold a current CPR/AED certification with a live skills check and present a current government-issued photo ID with signature (driver's license, passport, military ID). I recommend becoming CPR/AED certified before starting your ACE-CPT studies so you can fully invest your time into the program.

Exam info

The ACE-CPT exam consists of 150 multiple-choice questions in which 125 questions will be scored and 25 questions will be considered as experimental items. You’ll have a three-hour time limit, and to pass you must score at least 500/800, which corresponds to answering about 90 out of 125 questions correctly. The exam pass rate is 65 percent.

If you do not pass the exam on the first round, you can retake the exam. Depending on what package you purchased, you may have a voucher for another exam. If not, you can purchase an additional retake exam for $249. You can retake the exam as soon as 10 days from the first attempt; however, ACE recommends you schedule the retake exam based on a realistic timeframe and on how close or far away you were from the passing point.

After enrolling in the program, you’ll receive an exam voucher that must be redeemed within six months. You can schedule an exam date outside of the six-month window, but the voucher to schedule your exam is only valid for six months after enrollment. Keep in mind this is a proctored exam, so you’ll need to plan accordingly, especially if you want to take it in a testing center. You’ll likely be able to book up to 60 days in advance. Currently, ACE exams are administered at over 800 proctored testing centers in over 110 countries. Using the ACE exam schedule within the online portal, you can search through exam dates, times and locations that best suit your desired time frame and testing center location. You can also take the exam online from home using a live online proctor.

My Experience With the ACE Personal Trainer Certification

As an undergraduate student, I studied exercise and nutritional science and then went on to obtain my Master’s Degree in sports nutrition. My education provided me with a solid foundation in the anatomy of the body, the science of exercise and the practice of counseling clients in a fitness space.

I dedicated about one to two months of study time before taking and passing the exam, but much of the material was similar to my college courses. I do not believe studying for one to two months is the right approach for everyone. If you are completely new to the health and fitness space, if your study time is very limited or if you are a slower learner, then I recommend taking at least the recommended three to four months, and even up to the full six months, to study and prepare adequately prior to taking the exam.

I bought the “Basic” study package, which gave me access to ACE University, the online textbook, one online practice test, the ACE study companion and one exam voucher. I completed ACE University in its entirety, created my own personal study guide, completed every single quiz and test available several times and reviewed all study flashcards within the online course.

I also purchased one third-party practice test for more experience with example questions. There are a wide variety of third-party study guides available on the market that may serve as a cost-effective alternative to purchasing more study materials directly from ACE. Overall, my two biggest tips are to prioritize studying the entire ACE University Course and to complete as many practice questions as possible before stepping in to your exam.

Benefits of the ACE Personal Trainer Certification

One of the primary benefits of passing the ACE-CPT course is becoming certified by an accredited organization. ACE is accredited by the NCCA, the gold standard credentialing agency in the health and fitness space. ACE Fitness certifications are amongst the most recognized on the market. Becoming an ACE CPT will allow you to confidently launch your career in fitness, whether you plan to train your clients one-on-one in a gym or through a personal training app.

ACE claims to be the largest certifier in health and fitness for over 35 years. According to the ACE website, there are currently more than 90,000 ACE-certified professionals in the world. These certified professionals work in various fitness settings, including commercial gyms, boutique fitness studios, group fitness studios, hospitals, physical therapy offices and even work as online personal trainers.

If you are truly passionate about a career in fitness, obtaining an ACE credential will allow you to do what you love and make money doing so. ACE Certified Personal Trainers earn an average annual income of $62,927, according to There is an expected increase in employment of 14 percent among fitness trainers between 2022–2034, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

As an ACE CPT, you will have access to a unique set of tools and resources to help you continue to learn and grow as a certified fitness professional. You’ll also have access to discounts on select athletic apparel, training equipment and software, like prAna, TRX and Trainerize.

In order to maintain an active ACE-CPT credential, you must renew your certification every two years. You aren’t required to retake the exam as long as you stay up to date with your continuing education credits (CECs) and renew on time. If you work in a gym, your employer will likely require you to maintain an active credential.

Within your two-year certification renewal cycle, you must complete 20 hours totaling 2.0 credits of ACE-approved CECs. CECs can be costly, so I recommend spacing out these credits to lessen both the financial burden and time crunch of trying to complete your CECs last-minute.

If for some reason you do not complete your 2.0 CECs within the two-year period, your certification will expire and you will have to retake the exam. To avoid that scenario, signing up for the CEC Power Pass—which gives users unlimited access to ACE courses for 24 months—can be an easy way to continue your education in a cost-effective way.

ACE believes it is vital for all ACE-certified fitness professionals to stay up to date on professional conduct and ethical practices to limit client risk and professional liability. In order to do so, ACE requires students to complete a one-hour (0.1 CEC) course focused on Professional Conduct & Ethics during every two-year certification period to become eligible to renew their ACE Certification(s).

Other ACE Certifications

If ACE’s continuing education offerings, such as kickboxing instructor training, corrective exercise or pilates instructor training interest you, it may be worthwhile to pursue ACE’s Group Fitness Instructor (GFI) certification. This course will take between three and six months to complete, and by the end you’ll be certified to teach a variety of classes including dance fitness, strength training, cardio training, yoga, indoor cycling, aerobics, HIIT, kickboxing, sports performance, Pilates, martial arts, boot camp, Tai Chi, barre and aquatic exercise.


The National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) is one of ACE’s direct competitors in the fitness certification space. NASM currently has over 75,000 certified fitness professionals, whereas ACE has over 90,000 certified professionals. Both NASM and ACE are accredited by NCCA and require a high school diploma or GED equivalent and a current CPR/AED certification.

NASM’s Certified Personal Trainer course packages range from $799–$3,499, whereas ACE’s CPT packages range from $675–$975. NASM includes more expensive bundle package options that provide additional certifications. Overall, the most basic CPT packages for both NASM and ACE are fairly comparable in price, NASM being $124 more than ACE. While both courses can be a financial investment, there are frequently sales occurring for both programs, bringing the overall cost down.

NASM differs from ACE by providing two different exam options, both with fewer exam questions than the ACE-CPT exam. NASM offers an online, non-proctored and open-book exam containing 100 exam questions with a passing grade of 70 percent and a three-hour window to complete the exam. The other exam offered by NASM is a proctored, closed-book exam with 120 exam questions, a passing score of 70 percent or better and two hours to complete the exam. Similar to ACE, NASM also requires you to book your certification exam within six months from the date of course enrollment.

...Read the full article here.

More ACE in the News