How to Study for (and Pass) the ACE Personal Trainer Exam 10

study for ace personal trainer exam

As a newly certified personal trainer through ACE (American Council on Exercise) taking on clients, I’m ready to share what I know. With the test behind me and the information fresh in my mind, I wanted to offer up my best few tips and tricks to help you study for the ACE personal trainer exam. It can be tough knowing where to begin, and even more daunting trying to sift through the 700-page book. I remember becoming very frustrated trying to find online resources – a few helpful blog posts and semi-okay YouTube videos (not to mention, numerous Quizlet flashcards!), but there really wasn’t much free, reliable, relevant information out there. After all of the searching and sifting (and finally taking a couple practice ACE personal trainer exams), I realized everything I needed to know was in the book – it’s just about knowing what to focus on.

ACE Personal Trainer Exam Commonly Asked Questions:

How long did I spend studying? Hmm. To be honest, “enough” to pass the exam, but not as much as I could have – I’d suggest a little bit everyday, but it’s really based on your style. I didn’t study religiously, but I brought along the book with me on road trips, class (don’t tell my professors), to the gym, and set aside solid chunks of time (30 minutes, 1 hour, 90 minutes) to read a chapter or two, focusing on one section at a time.

How did I study? Read the book – several times. Highlighted info, typed it out, made charts, and finally, took two practice exams a few weeks before (which caused me to re-study a lot after that). I tend to be a “skimmer,” when it comes to studying certain areas, but I found that skimming doesn’t really work in this case (or ever). Reading the ACE manual, you’ll see a lot of the same things again and again (especially when it comes to applying certain concepts).

Do I have to buy the book? You don’t have to, but everything from the exam comes from the book. If you don’t buy, definitely rent or borrow. Initially, I borrowed the book from a friend for a few weeks, but ended up ordering my own used copy from Amazon and found it very helpful to highlight/write notes in/bring everywhere. And it’s great in practice – now I’m glad to have it to refer to when planning exercise programs for clients.

Did I use any supplemental books? No. Aside from ACE’s Essential’s on Exercise (which I really only used to review the Anatomy in the beginning – muscles, insertions, etc). If you already have a background in Anatomy and Physiology, it may not better just to borrow a copy for a refresher, or quiz yourself using online resources. Knowing the muscles and their functions is crucial to understanding ACE’s I didn’t use any study books not created by ACE and cannot advocate them. Not to say they aren’t helpful, but they aren’t necessary.

Which certificate is best? To that, I have no answer. There is no one “right” certification, only ones that may be right for you. In addition to ACE, there is NASM, ACSM, NCSC, ISSA and plenty of other good ones out there!

ACE actually derives a lot of their curriculum from ACSM, but they do vary in some ways. Which one you should go with depends on your background, your focus, and your goals. ACE is a good one to start with (offers an integrated training model, which focuses on a Stages of Change model and establishing rapport), while I’ve found that others like NASM are more functional-focused and medicine-based (a little trickier to wrap my finger around, especially without a physical therapy-based background).

Be sure to check with the facility you hope to work at and make sure it’s a valid certification. The ones I mentioned are generally accepted at most gyms – ask if you don’t know. A handy side by side comparison of certifications by PTDC here.

My Top Study Tips for How to Pass the ACE Personal Trainer Exam:

What you need to know in a nutshell: Assess and Recommend. It really is all about (A) the fitness assessment and (B) what to recommend. Other than that, there’s a section on exercise programming (definitely a biggie) and another on professional practice, etiquette, and liability.

+ Nail down your anatomy – this is the foundation for everything on the exam. Although a degree isn’t required, I highly recommend a course in Anatomy if you’re in college, or at least a review of the muscles used in strength training. These include trapezius, pectoralis major, gluteus medius/maximus, etc.

+Know which exercises work each muscle and what a compensation in exercise might indicate (such as shoulders rising during a set of rows. (Which muscles would be tight/weak and what stretch/exercise would you suggest?)

+ Functional Assessments and charts – hurdle step screen, bend and lift, Thomas test – all things you should know how to assess. Go over the charts and know which muscles are weak (underactive) vs. tight (overactive). I can almost guarantee one or all of these will be on your test!

+Study vocab – isometric, eccentric, concentric, contraindication, – know more than just definitions, be able to apply them!

More tips?

+Be able to design an exercise program. So you assessed the client… now what do you do? Knowing the types of progression for both cardio and strength training is a must. Be able to distinguish between: undulating vs. periodization? How many sets/reps for strength vs. muscular endurance vs. hypertrophy?

+Know about sarcomeres/myosin/contractile fibers – what are they and what role do they play in strength training?

+Review even the basic definitions – this may seem obvious, but make sure you’ve got ’em down. What is a muscle strain? How would you define self-efficacy? What is rapport?

+Know the effects of medications on HR response (ex. beta blockers decrease both exercise and resting HR).

+Review business practices – forms of liability, what is covered/not covered; assuring legality in your training is key. This makes up a whole part of the test!

+When an injury/diet issue/risk is at stake, refer your client to a certified physician, physical therapist, or registered dietitian.

+Take the practice exams – or at least one. I thought I could get by without them (or by finding free questions online). In the end, I’m glad I paid the extra $44 to take both. My lower-than-expected score got me to buckle down and study more!

Grab the ACE Personal Trainer Exam book (new or used, via Amazon):
ACE Personal Trainer Manual: The Ultimate Resource for Fitness Professionals (Fourth Edition)acemanual

Recommended Readings:

Ignite the Fire -: The Secrets to Building a Successful Personal Training Career

Becoming a Personal Trainer For Dummies

Before taking the exam…

Joe Cannon’s ACE study tips (definitely helped me!)

ACE Tips from Run Eat Repeat

ACE Tips from Run Meg Run

After passing the exam…

Visit the PTDC – Personal Trainer Development Center! This site is run by Jonathan Goodman, author of Ignite the Fire -: The Secrets to Building a Successful Personal Training Career. He offers extremely valuable info/advice for developing your personal training business that I am currently making incredible use out of to get started. Not only that, but his insights and articles feature numerous other top trainers and fitness industry professionals.

Still have questions about how to study for the ACE personal trainer exam, or just personal training in general? Comment on this post or shoot me a message! And feel free to share this post with any potential personal trainers!


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10 thoughts on “How to Study for (and Pass) the ACE Personal Trainer Exam

  • Simona Hostetler

    The ACE personal trainer manual is the only book we need to focus on when getting ready to take the ACE exam to be certified?

  • Erin McDermott

    Hey Megan,
    I am currently working through Chapter One in the Essentials of Exercise Science and I am trying to figure out what is the most important things to really buckle down and memorize. Of course the muscular system, but in the book they also emphasize the other systems. I do want general knowledge of these, but how much of the other systems are even included on the exam? Are they necessary to really memorize?

    And which book did you focus on the most? I feel quite overwhelmed trying to focus the same amount of attention on both books, especially because I do not have a background in Exercise Science.
    Thanks!

  • John

    Thank you for this, I also randomly came across practicequestions.net and found it to be really useful after reading the ACE Personal Trainer Manual. Extra questions to prepare you for your final exam.

    • Erin

      After studying for several months, I would say no. I have been lifting for a long time but there is a lot in here that has nothing to do with knowing what exercises work specific muscles. Bodybuilding will certainly help, but the exam is extremely specific to the textbook and in the text book there is not much that bodybuilding will help with. If you already know how to apply program design to different kinds of fitness levels then you will have an easier time in that section of the book, but there is a whole lot more in the textbook than that.
      I found lots of lists of things to know for the exam, I’d recommend googling that and seeing if you already know those topics. If you do not, you will definitely need to at least buy the ACE Personal Trainer Manual.
      Just my opinion, hope it helps!