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ACE Personal Training Certification Review

Today I'll be reviewing the ACE personal training certification. I recently went through the course and I want to share my thoughts on the entire experience. Overall, I thought the folks over at ACE did a few things really well. Unfortunately, they definitely dropped the ball when it comes to a few things in particular too. I plan on breaking down the good, the bad and the ugly in pretty extreme detail on this one. So get ready.

If you'd rather watch instead of read, click this video link, otherwise, the rest of the post is below

I'll spend some time comparing this certification to the NASM and ISSA certifications. They're all competing for your hard earned dollars, so it seems only fair. Also, I went through both of those courses recently too, so they are still fresh in my mind. All of that being said, I won't be doing too many comparisons between these three certifications because I do want this video to be mostly about ACE. They deserve their time in the spotlight, just like those other two. That being said, this certification will receive a grade and a spot on our trainer education tier list alongside the others.

So first things first, everything discussed in this video is just my opinion. I'm a personal trainer, exercise physiologist and studio owner, who's been in the field for over a decade. That being said, I'm just one guy and I don't have all the answers on what a personal trainer should be. So keep all of that in mind as we go through the upcoming stuff.

We're going to kick things off by talking about something that I don't like about the ACE certification, and that is that they don't focus enough on actual resistance training, especially when it comes to lifting technique. I would argue that at least two thirds of your job as a trainer involves taking your client through resistance training exercises in one form or another. This is certainly the case with in-person and virtual training anyways. And even for online training, I would argue that queuing skills are still important to have.

Because of how important it is to be able to successfully teach your client a squat or a deadlift, you'd think ACE should be all over teaching you that, right? Well, I'm pretty sure you already know where I'm going with this. They're not all over it at all. In fact, in over 800 pages of their textbook, I don't think they shared cuing for the deadlift ever. Just like with NASM, cuing for compound lifts, something you'll have to teach to clients every day for as long as you are a trainer, either doesn't exist or it's a tiny footnote somewhere if you're lucky. This actually infuriates me and it should make you mad too.

I can't tell you how many ACE or NASM certified trainers I've seen over the years, finish up their certification, get into the field and not be able to coach basic moves properly like the squat, deadlift, and bench press. ISSA isn't any better by the way, I just don't see those trainers as much. It seems as though trainers always feel a little bit lost as soon as they get into the field. I'm going to tell you why that is, even if it's a little bit painful for you to hear. To some extent, these organizations have failed you. Instead of teaching you skills that you'll be using every day, such as coaching compound lifts, they've chosen to teach you about ventilatory thresholds. We'll talk more about ventilatory thresholds later in this video. I know you don't really know what they are, that's okay, don't worry about that.

These training organizations, ACE of course being one of the most prominent ones, shouldn't be able to keep getting away with this. They'll make you memorize the stages of the transtheoretical model, what the acronym OARS stands for, and a whole bunch of other things, but they wouldn't dare test you on how to coach a deadlift. There is value in knowing the transtheoretical model, OARS, et cetera, but it shouldn't overshadow things that you'll use daily. And in this certification, as well as most of the others, it does.

Okay. So after that somewhat painful introduction, let's talk about something that ACE did really well.

ACE nailed the social aspect of being a personal trainer. It seems like over at ACE, they believe personal training is more of a social job than anything else. For better or worse, they're right. Their ABC approach, which A stands for ask open questions. B stands for break down client barriers, and C stands for collaborate. Well, that's really what personal training is all about. If you can do those ABC things I just mentioned, you're going to do well as a trainer, even if you're only halfway decent at training people.

That doesn't mean they shouldn't teach you how to coach compound lifts, but hey, I think we've ragged on ACE enough for that right now. They're really big on their client centered approach. They say, "Each professional interaction is client centered with a recognition that clients are the foremost experts on themselves." Again, this sounds a little bit fluffy or cheesy, but I do think this is the best way to approach things. Treat clients with respect, always look to collaborate, to solve problems, and ask lots of open ended questions. I was surprised ACE handled some of this as well as they did, and I think that's because NASM and ISSA did kind of a meh job when it comes to the social aspects of training.

Another thing that I was surprised at in a good way, was their video content. Of all three certifications, ACE, NASM, and ISSA, ACE had the best video content. I should let all of you know that I've only reviewed the sixth edition of NASM so far. I'll cover their new seventh edition content in the next few months, so maybe their stuff now is as good or better. We'll find out soon. For right now though, ACE's video material is the best I've seen. They would always have a video that broke down a good amount of the content featured in the text, and then they would follow that up with a video that attempted to put some of the information into practice using the ABC approach.

Every once in a while, I thought the trainers in their videos sounded a little robotic, or maybe they seemed like they were trying to be too technical when they were talking to clients, but overall though I did think the videos did a very solid job of showing you how you should be interacting with your clients. And I think that coming from me, a person who runs a YouTube channel, which is in large part about client interaction, well, I think that's pretty high praise.

The next thing I don't like about ACE and their certification is the IFT model. Just like NASM's OPT model, it's not terrible. There are some good ideas in here. That being said, mixed in alongside those good ideas, are impractical systems and some just downright silly suggestions. Essentially the IFT model has two sides. There is the cardio respiratory side and the muscular side. On the muscular side, you have the functional phase, the movement phase and the load/speed phase. Both the movement and load/speed phases are fine to me. They involve compound lifts, traditional strength training, et cetera. The load/speed phase also includes some plyometric things as well, that's all good.

However, the functional phase is pretty dumb, and it seems as though ACE has fallen into the same trendy exercise trap that NASM has fallen into as well. In this functional phase, this is one of the first exercises that ACE recommends. It's basically a bird dog where you have to balance a dowel on your back. Now don't get me wrong, bird dogs are good. That is a good exercise that you should consider having your clients do. Are we really going to pretend that a bird dog is more functional than a squat though? I've probably done 20 squats so far today, just getting up and down out of chairs, et cetera, and it's only like 7:00 AM.

Guess how many bird dogs I've had to do so far? The most functional movements are the compound moves. Squats, deadlifts, pressing, pulling, et cetera. ACE doesn't start talking about them too much until this phase. This means a large amount of time could have passed working with a client, we're talking a good bunch of sessions, before you even attempt the most important movements with a client, if you're following ACE's approach. If ACE is going to recommend that clients do a phase, mostly, if not entirely consisting of exercises like this, then they should have to prove that is the most effective way to train a new client. The most effective way that I've seen to train a new client, and it's funny because pretty much all the other skilled trainers that I see do it the same exact way, is to teach compound movements very early.

You keep them very light in the beginning until form is near perfect, and then gradually you increase things there. Alongside those compound foundational moves, you put in things like this or this. You don't devote an entire phase to these functional moves though. They're not actually very functional. I could go on and on here and continue to pick this functional phase apart, but I think I've made my point.

So now let's go talk about the other side of the IFT model, the cardio respiratory side. I'm torn on how to handle my critic of this part of the program. On one hand, there is a lot of good information presented here. On the other hand, none of this information will be useful to the vast majority of your clients. I'm going to let all of you in on a little secret, almost all the clients who hire you on to be their trainer, yeah, they don't like cardio very much. Why do you think they're hiring you in the first place? If they were willing to do a whole bunch of cardio, there is a good chance they wouldn't be overweight, and then of course they don't need you. Never forget, at least three quarters of clients, certainly in the USA, maybe even globally at this point, well, they're focused on weight loss.

Anyways, the cardio side of the IFT model has three stages. On paper, all three do make good sense to me. And again, I think some of this information is good stuff to know. Each stage has different intensity levels that are partially determined by a client's ventilatory threshold. When a client hits their first ventilatory threshold, their ventilation increases at an increase and less linear rate. Sound a little bit confusing? Yeah. Well, this is like 1% of all the information they're going to throw at you when it comes to all this cardio stuff. This is bad because oftentimes it's hard to get your average clients to do extra cardio at all.

My sessions are 45 minutes long, I have clients do 15 to 20 minutes of cardio before or after their sessions. About two thirds of my clients are willing to do that. The other third refuses even after many attempts to try and get them to do it. People are busy. They're already seeing you for a session. They don't want to spend tons of time away from home. If you're expecting most clients to do a lot of cardio around your sessions, you'll be disappointed. So you may be able to incorporate a small amount of this IFT cardio stuff before or after your sessions, but that's about it. And even then a lot of your clients aren't going to be interested in what ACE is recommending. By the way, while we're on the topic, you'd be a fool to include this cardio machine work inside your paid sessions. That would definitely decrease your perceived value and you'll lose clients if you do that. Good luck getting clients to do any of this cardio stuff on their off days.

Again, think about the mindset of someone who buys training in the first place. These are people who most often don't like to work out. They're not going to do cardio plans that you create for them outside of sessions. I could go on and on here, but at the end of the day, ACE spends as much time, maybe more, talking about cardio compared to resistance training. That's not how you'll be training your clients. You'll be doing mostly resistance training with some cardio work on the side. This huge emphasis on cardio training is just a really poor and impractical decision on ACEs part. It feels like it was designed by an exercise physiologist working in a lab, not a group of skilled trainers working in the field, trying to make a living doing sessions.

On that note, things feeling like they were created by exercise physiologist in a lab rather than trainers themselves, well, there are some positives associated with that too. Anatomy, physiology, kinesiology, and other background stuff is covered pretty effectively. The textbook, like the videos, is very heavy on the social aspect of being a trainer, which I don't have a big problem with that because training is a social job. I definitely would change some things with the textbook and course, but we'll cover that at the end of the video. As I was completing this course, at one point, I called my wife Alexis over to show her something funny. I'll reveal what the funny thing was very shortly, but she made the comment, "Wow. This one looks way better than the others. Everything is much neater looking." What she was referring to there was the online interface where you access all the ACE material. It looks and functions better than the ones from ISSA and NASM. At least it's better than NASM's sixth edition online interface. We'll see if it's better than their current one very shortly.

Anyways, ACE has a whole bunch of online things that I really like though. They have live study sessions online that you could do with a proctor. I couldn't access any of them because I purchased the cheapest ACE package, but I like that it's available for those who want it. They also give you an ebook study companion, which I'm sure some of you will find useful. I personally don't really use those practice study books, but some people like them so I'm glad they included them. ACE also included a lot of study questions that go with each chapter. Some of these questions did a good job at enforcing the material. ACE also gives you a practice test, which I, and many others definitely appreciate, and they give you the option to purchase more practice tests as well.

We already talked about the videos that go with each chapter. Yeah, they're pretty good. They do a good job of bringing that textbook information into the real world. Overall, the ACE presentation is just really good. The whole package looks and feels like a trainer certification should in 2022.

This brings me to the last thing that I don't like about the ACE certification, and I suppose this really kind of includes the other two things that I didn't like about it too. Basically the certification just doesn't seem practical and the creators seem out of touch. Again, my previous criticisms of the IFT model and the lack of focus on actual lifting fit in here, but this extends beyond that too.

Let me share with you why I called my wife over as I was going through this course. In the final practice test, yes, the one that you should be taking right before the actual exam, ACE asks you this, a client's vehicle is in the repair shop and he's requesting a ride from the ACE certified personal trainer. Which of the following is the most appropriate course of action? A, request the client to use public transportation. B, offer the client a ride to the fitness facility, but have them sit in the back seat. C, cancel the personal training session. Or D, call the automobile insurance company to inquire if coverage for their client regarding injuries slash accidents are covered.

The correct answer according to ACE is D. They want you to call the automobile insurance for your client. I'm still not even 100% sure of what ACE actually wants you to do here. Am I supposed to call my insurance company or my client's insurance company? Whatever. It really doesn't matter. I will go against the entire ACE company on this one. They're wrong. If a client is having car trouble and they can't make it into their session, rebook their session for a different day. Just act like a normal human being. Don't call any insurance company.

They asked a bunch of other dumb questions like this one by the way, and the fact that this question was included at all, and that they asked me very little about actual lifting technique, I think speaks volumes about ACE and the training education industry as a whole. These organizations are completely out of touch with what trainers do on a daily basis. I don't know why this is, but it's true.

The last thing that I like about the ACE certification is their reputation and the fact that this certification will get you a job. That's ultimately why you're here, right? If I get this certification, will I be able to get a training job afterwards? The answer is a resounding yes. ACE has a great reputation and if you pass this course, you'll be able to get a training job. ACE has been doing their thing for a long time, and they are without a doubt, one of, if not the most trusted names in the industry.

I purchased this course for $499 around Black Friday, Cyber Monday time, and I feel like it's a pretty good deal for that price. A quick note on the final exam, it's 150 questions and you need 70% correct to pass. It's medium difficulty at worst. ACE did a decent job of pulling material from all the different chapters and videos to create that final exam. So I do recommend going over all the material.

Would I recommend the ACE course overall? I would, for the simple fact that you need it or something similar to get a job. Unfortunately, while this course, as well as the others I've seen, do a suitable job at teaching some background information, they do a bad job at preparing you to actually be a trainer. It makes me sad because I feel like in ACE's case, it didn't have to be this way. Had they taken out some of the fluffy psychological acronyms, added in some actual lifting information and made their IFT model more practical to use in real life, this would've been a great certification. Where it stands now though, this certification is just okay, like all the others. It's good in some areas and bad in others. The only thing that's great about it is its ability to get you in the door and get you working in the field, which in fairness, that is a pretty big deal.

This brings me to my trainer education tier list because it's to time to give this puppy an actual grade. I think some of you will be surprised where it ends up. What I realized in revisiting this tier list is that I've been making a mistake this entire time. I've been rating all of these things too high. One of the main things that determines placement on this list is how practical these courses or experiences are to actual trainers working in the field. These base certifications, like we've said, teach you some background information and help you to get a job, no more, no less. They don't do too much to help you become a successful trainer, even though in my opinion, they could and should. A lot of the information presented in these courses, heck, even in courses like PN, well, that info isn't as usable in the field, as it should be. Therefore, before putting ACE on here, I'm dropping everything a half a letter grade. I believe this more closely resembles where all these things actually deserve to be.

I believe this version of ACE deserves to go here at B+, just ahead of the sixth edition version of NASM. And I'm actually going to put FMS down here, because at the end of the day I like a lot of what they do, but I don't think that's practical information for all trainers. Anyways, I like this newest version of ACE very slightly more than the sixth edition of NASM, because I think the social aspect of being a trainer is handled really well here in ACE's course. I also think that ACE's online platform, including their videos and other resources, are better than what you got with NASM. I also think the way ACE advises trainers to structure their workouts, which is like this, well, this is much better than some of the weird stuff NASM recommends. This all being said, neither certification is great or awful, and they're about the same in terms of quality. ISSA is on the same level too, but with a slightly lesser reputation. I could see the newest NASM cert moving past this version of ACE on here, but we'll have to wait and see on that for now.

Anyways, what do you guys think? Do you agree with my review? Was I too hard on this certification? Maybe even all certifications? Make sure to let me know down below in the comments. And if you haven't already, please consider liking the video and subscribing to the channel, as this does help the channel to grow, which does allow me to make more free content for all of you. Thanks for watching everyone, and until next time, stay sorta healthy.


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