ACE Personal Trainer Certification Review – American Council on Exercise Certification

By FredrickHobbs

I will say one thing about ACE, their website is a difficult one to learn about their certifications. All of what is mentioned below is available on the ACE website itself, but there is so much junk on their website that it’s so much easier to just throw all the important stuff into one page that you can just bookmark for quick reference.

Is Ace NCCA Certified?

Yes, ACE is a well-respected personal training certification. It has quite a few certifications available, including:

Personal Trainer (PT) – standard

Group Fitness Instructor (GFI)

Lifestyle & Weight Management Consultant (LWMC)

Clinical Exercise Specialist (CSE)


Let’s talk about the serious stuff, the EXAM! Well, like many certification organizations, ACE doesn’t require that you actually show anyone that you know anything about how to properly be a trainer in person!

All you have to do is sit and take a computer (or pencil) test. It’s like taking a drivers test behind a computer…well, that’s all that ACE requires. They strongly recommend that you do 100 hours of practical, hands on experience, but it’s hardly a requirement.

So what do you need to know? Let’s start with where the exam comes from and how it’s created.

Supposedly, a group of industry experts analyzes personal training requirements to create an outline of your average expected job tasks, knowledge and skill sets required to perform a personal training job effectively. The results from this are then made into a survey, which is sent to a random sample of fitness professionals to, hopefully, validate the presumptions.

Somehow from this, a set of questions are selected to be approved by the “exam committee” that will decide what are good questions and what go into the trash. And that’s basically how these exams are made!

A “passing score” is determined by calculating (secretly, of course) the overall difficulty of the exam questions. Your goal is to get a passing score the first time.

There are 150 questions on each certification exam, and you have three hours to complete the exam. The Personal Trainer exam even mixes it up and adds two written simulation questions.

A simulation question checks your ability to recognize and use information you can expect on a real job. These are probably so ACE feels better about itself when it doesn’t require you to show some practical skills. For example:

You have a new client fill out an introductory form and get the following information: Age: 39 Height: 5253 Weight: 135 lbs. Lean body mass: 103 lbs. Triceps measurement: 15 mm Suprailium measurement: 25 mm Thigh: 34 mm. What is this clients body fat percentage?

The ACE exam isn’t the easiest, it isn’t the hardest, and there’s plenty of material on the web about sample exam questions.

Exam Materials

ACE sells its own study materials. (That’s my guess as to where the real money is made…)

They break it into “Study Material”, “Study Aids”, and then practice exams. The Study Materials is what you’d expect; books, instructions, etc. The Study Aids are live workshops and online courses. Finally there are practice exams given online.

The prices vary whether you get the Premier, Deluxe, or Standard package. Basically it’ll run you between $300-$400 for the exam materials. The difference between the three is minor, so check their recent offerings to see if you really need the Premier for the extra $100.

Every three months or so, the ACE certification group runs an Exam Review course in major cities in the US. For a mere $220 (plus travel, hotel, etc) you can get two days of asking questions about things that concern you. (It can also count as 1.6 CEC’s towards your 2.0 CEC requirement, see below for more on CEC’s)

I don’t know, but all that money to ask a few questions…seems like the local ACE certified trainer at my gym should be able to explain it to me for the price of a latte. Up to you how you want to learn! But if you need help before you sit for the exam, this is an option.

Also every three months, ACE runs a 2 day Practical Training Program. This 15-hour course is supposed to give you insight into critical areas such as Assessment, Program Design, and Strength Training. This runs about $300 and can be counted as 1.5 CEC’s. Again, if you need help before the exam, this is an option.

The Online Diagnostic Test costs about $30 and, but as the website tells my mac here…, it is only compatible with Windows. You get a sample of real questions from old exams and I believe it gives a much better feeling for what the exam really will be like on exam day. I don’t know about you, but doing something once makes the second try – even if the material is 100% different – so much less stressful and easier.

If there’s anything I recommend doing before the ACE certification, do the $30 Online Diagnostic Test!


There is a fairly short list of eligibility requirements for the ACE exams:

– You must be at least 18 years of age

– You must hold an adult CPR certification and it must be current at the time of the exam


There are two formats you can take the ACE certification exam in; good ol’ fashioned pencil-and-paper or computer. Contrary to all that makes sense, the computer exam costs more than the pencil-and-paper exam. Well, whatever, right? I guess getting the answer right away is worth the extra dough.

Here are the current costs for taking an ACE exam:

Paper and Pencil Format (U.S. and Canada)

First Time: PT – $219

Retake: PT – $135

2nd ACE Certification: $150 for any certification.

Computer Based Format (Only available in the U.S.)

First Time: PT – $249

Retake: PT – $184

2nd ACE Certification: All are $199

Continuing Education Credits

Good ol’ Continuing Education Credits (CEC), each organization does it differently. ACE requires them, but luckily you can apply them to all your certifications if you have multiple ACE certifications. (Like Personal Trainer and Group Fitness Instructor) So there is no penalty for adding certifications. (However you do have to pay to renew each certificate! What did you expect, a free lunch?)

Here’s how ACE’s CEC’s work, first of all ACE requires that you get 2.0 CEC’s before your two year renewal period. What counts as a CEC credit? Well, 0.1 credit is one hour of instruction. That means that for 2.0 CEC’s, you need 20 hours of structured “ACE learning” before your renewal period.

ACE offers their own CEC’s or you can get a variety of credits from other organizations. Sometimes college credit counts, CPR recertification counts, etc. Basically what you need to calculate into your certification is the fact that you’ll have to pay over the two-year life of your certification for at least 20 hours of additional instruction or recertification classes.

CEC’s are such a great way to add a bit of skills to your repertoire. (Who expected me to use that word?) Maybe add Yoga Instructor or Pilates and not only will you get your CEC credits, you’ll open up many new opportunities for your career. Plus it can be fun and a great networking opportunity.


As stated earlier, your certification is valid for a two-year period. During that two years, you need to complete 2.0 CEC’s and then and submit your renewal application(s) and fee(s) to ACE before your certification expires.

Each certification has a $69 renewal fee. Luckily, you can renew at any time during your certification period, so you don’t run the risk of being uncertified while waiting for all the processing. Even better, renewing early does not change your two-year certification period.

If you’re a procrastinator, then you’re going to pay for it…ACE certification renewals up to two months after your expiration date have a renewal fee of $89. For renewals between two and six months, the fee is $109.

If you’re really late, like after six months, you may be required to take the certification exam again. That would not be a smart move!


The ACE certification is well recognized in the industry and well respected. It’s testing format does allow for a significant amount of really bad trainers to get ‘certified’ and tarnish our image with our customers. Obviously, I feel strongly that ACE let’s us down with it’s lax exam and experience requirements for PT’s.

However, there are many good trainers with the ACE certification that the number of bad trainers that have your certification won’t affect your career in the slightest.

My suggestion is to work at a gym part-time while you’re studying for your ACE certification exam to get the practical skills that ACE ignores. This will also get your network going, get you comfortable working with clients, and show you if it’s really the career for you before you plunk down hundreds of bucks.

Leslie Smith is a Certified Personal Trainer and owner of Fun-2B-Fit, LLC. She has published a book on “How to Become a Certified Personal Trainer” to assist aspiring trainers with their goals of becoming certified fitness professionals.