Among the more than 70 fitness professional certifying organizations in the country, the ACSM, ACE and NSCA are considered the top three in terms of quality offerings. They are also the only organizations that not only are NCAA accredited but are also affiliates of the National Organization for Competency Assurance (Claman and Nordval, 2000, p.3).
The American College of Sports Medicine
The ACSM education component offers NCCA accredited certification programs. The Health Fitness certifications are for those who wish to become certified personal trainers or health and fitness instructors. Further it also offers Clinical Certifications as either an exercise specialist or a registered clinical exercise physiologist.
The American Council on Exercise
The ACE, involved in the setting of current standards for fitness program certification and education, offers NCAA accredited certifications for Personal Trainer, Advance Health + Fitness Specialist, Group Fitness Instructor and Lifestyle + Weight Management Consultant (ACE, 2008). In addition, it offers Peer Fitness Trainer Certification specifically adapted for firefighters’ fitness needs.
The National Strength and Conditioning Association
There are two NCAA accredited certifications that the NSCA offers: the Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialists (CSCS) and the Certified Personal Trainer (CPT). The CSCS enables individuals to work professionally as trainers for the purpose of enhancing the performance of athletes while the CPT involves the capacity to work with individuals who want to engage in exercise for various reasons and to tailor exercise programs to meet client needs (NSCA, 2008).
Comparison in terms of the Quality of Education Offered
These 3 organizations differ in many respects. Except for the Personal Trainer program, the ACSM caters more to health professionals and graduates of health-related courses (i.e. nurses, physical therapists, public health workers) who wish to further their professional development so that the added training in sports medicine and exercise science serves to broaden their career choices (ACSM, 2008).
Hence, ACSM certified professionals are also degree holders and their certification is aimed at complementing the health related services they provide. In addition, the ACSM also permits its members to participate in the organization’s health and fitness research undertakings, advocacy and education providing an opportunity for a well-rounded experience in this field (ACSM, 2008).
It also provides continuing education through conferences, meetings, endorsement of non-ACSM offerings and online access. The range of career choices includes academic, medical, community, commercial and corporate settings. Competencies also include consultancy, rehabilitation, management, training, exercise prescription and fitness assessments among others (ACSM, 2008).
The ACE generally caters to any individual interested in pursuing its certification programs tailored not for largely clinical or academic settings but to complement the fitness industry.
ACE curricula is anchored on professional health and fitness practice based on the evaluation of current fitness products, health programs and developments in order to ascertain their effectiveness and safety for use in health and fitness clubs and facilities (ACE, 2008).
The ACE works with leading industry experts to competitively meet the public demand for lifestyle changes such as losing weight or overcoming obesity. Thus, nutrition, physical condition and behaviors are managed at the same time to meet the desired goals (ACE, 2008). Competencies include working with individuals, groups or as an allied medical fitness provider. The ACE also requires certification renewal every 2 years.
The NSCA requires a bachelor’s degree, enrolment as a senior in a higher education institution, or a degree in chiropractic medicine as a minimum requirement for qualification for the certification examinations. However, it does not provide education programs prior to the exams.
It works in partnership with higher education academic institutions by giving due recognition to the strength and conditioning programs of these institutions that have met the NSCA standards (NSCA, 2008).
For NSCA certified professionals, the Continuing Education Unit program organizes conferences, clinics, symposia and online learning courses that provide supplementary education to practitioners (NSCA, 2008). Primarily focusing on fitness and conditioning for athletes but also includes competencies to cater to elderly and obese, the strength of the NSCA is in its rigorous certification system which involves stringent examinations that are stringent and objectively interpreted.
This provides assurance that NSCA certified trainers are competent in “designing and implementing safe and effective strength and conditioning programs” to be implemented in fitness clubs, schools, organizations or even the home (NSCA, 2008). In addition, certified trainers are required to be re-certified every three years guaranteeing continuous competency.
Which is best?
The ACSM is considered the “Yale” or “Beethoven” equivalent among fitness professional certification organizations with its treatment of fitness and exercise as a form of medicine and the wider range of competencies and career choices (Claman and Nordval, 2000, p.3). The NCSA certifications are widely credited by higher education academic institutions and combined with its stringent examinations also gives an edge to aspiring fitness professionals.
The ACE, on the other hand, because of its ties to the health and fitness industry has received much wider publicity. The answer to the question really depends on one’s capacities, interests and goals as well as the preferences of prospective employers.
List of References
American College of Sports Medicine (2008). Certification. Retrieved 22 March 2008 from
American Council for Exercise (2008). Certification. Retrieved 22 March 2008 from
Claman, G.G. and Nordvall, M.P. (2000). Assessing the Value of Health Fitness Professional Certification. Retrieved 22 March 22, 2008 from www.uscg.mil/.../PhysicalFitness/Assessing%20TheValueofHealthFitnessProfessiona lCertification.doc
National Strength and Conditioning Association (2008). Education. Retrieved 22 March 2008 from http://www.nsca-lift.org/Membership/WhyJoin/Benefits/education.shtml