American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) Certification Examinations

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) is the largest sports medicine and exercise science organization in the world. ACSM certifications open up many career opportunities for those who wish to become an exercise instructor, personal trainer, and other certified health fitness specialists. Many employers require ACSM certification as a condition of employment. The ACSM offers the following eight certifications:

Health fitness certifications:

1. Group Exercise Instructor (GEI)
2. Certified Personal Trainer (CPT)
3. Health Fitness Specialist (HFS)

Clinical certifications:

4. Clinical Exercise Specialist (CES)
5. Registered Clinical Exercise Physiologist (RCEP)

Specialty certifications:

6. Cancer Exercise Trainer (CET)
7. Certified Inclusive Fitness Trainer (CIFT)
8. Physical Activity in Public Health Specialist (PAPHS)

Health fitness Certifications

1. The Group Exercise Instructor (GEI) works in a group setting with both healthy individuals and those with health conditions who have their doctors’ permission to embark on an independent exercise program. To become an ACSM Group Exercise Instructor (GEI), you must be 18 years of age or older, have a high school diploma or the GED equivalent, and hold a current adult CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) certification. The breakdown of test material is as follows:

Participant and program assessment (10 questions)
Class design (25 questions)
Leadership and instruction (55 questions)
Legal and professional responsibilities (10 questions)

2. The Certified Personal Trainer (CPT) works with people on an individual basis; with healthy clients and with clients who have their doctor’s consent to exercise. A personal trainer will develop an exercise program to meet their client’s personal fitness goals. To become an ACSM Certified Personal Trainer (CPT), the applicant must be 18 years of age or older, have a high school diploma or the GED equivalent, and hold a current adult CPR certification with a practical skills component. CPR certifications from the American Heart Association and the American Red Cross meet this requirement. Topics covered on the examination, and to the extent in which they are covered, break down as follows:

Exercise training and the establishment of an exercise program: 28 percent
Exercise science and physiology: 24 percent
Health appraisal and fitness exercise testing: 13 percent
Clinical and medical considerations: 10 percent
Nutrition and weight management: 9 percent
Safety, injury prevention, and emergency procedures: 8 percent
Human behavior: 4 percent
Program administration, quality assurance, and outcome assessment: 4 percent

3. The Health Fitness Specialist (HFS) typically works in a university, business, or hospital setting. An HFS conducts physical fitness assessments, and recommends healthy behavior lifestyle changes to patients based on the results of these assessments. To become an ACSM Health Fitness Specialist (HFS), it is necessary to have a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology, exercise science, or another exercise-related field. The applicant must also have a current adult CPR certification with a practical skills component. The following topics are covered on the certification examination:

Exercise training and the establishment of an exercise program: 31 percent
Exercise science and physiology: 23 percent
Health appraisal and fitness exercise testing: 12 percent
Nutrition and weight management: 8 percent
Program administration, quality assurance, and outcome assessment: 8 percent
Safety, injury prevention, and emergency procedures: 7 percent
Pathophysiology and risk factors: 5 percent
Human behavior: 4 percent
Electrocardiography and diagnostic techniques: 1 percent
Medical and surgical management: 1 percent

Clinical Certifications

4. The Clinical Exercise Specialist (CES) works with individuals who have controlled cardiovascular, pulmonary, and/or metabolic diseases. A CES implements the best possible exercise programs for their clients and their individual medical conditions. A bachelor’s degree in an exercise science-based field is required in order to become an ACSM Clinical Exercise Specialist (CES). Examples of fields related to exercise science include kinesiology, kinesiotherapy, physiology, exercise physiology, and exercise science.

A student in his last semester, term, quarter, or trimester of his degree program may sit for the examination. An accumulation of at least 400 hours of clinical experience in a program approved by the Committee on Accreditation for the Exercise Sciences (COAES) is required. Programs not accredited by the COAES require at least 500 hours. Current certification as a basic life support provider or CPR certification for the professional rescuer is also required. Examination material is as follows:

Health appraisal and fitness exercise testing: 26 percent
Development of an exercise program: 19 percent
Electrocardiography and diagnostic techniques: 17 percent
Exercise science and physiology: 10 percent
Pathophysiology and risk factors: 10 percent
Human behavior: 5 percent
Safety, injury prevention, and emergency procedures: 5 percent
Nutrition and weight management: 2 percent
Patient management and medications: 2 percent
Program administration, quality assurance, and outcome assessment: 2 percent
Medical and surgical management: 2 percent

5. The Registered Clinical Exercise Physiologist (RCEP) provides exercise counseling for people with cardiovascular, pulmonary, metabolic, orthopedic, musculoskeletal, neuromuscular, immunological, and/or hematological disorders. A master’s degree in exercise science, exercise physiology, or kinesiology is necessary to become an ACSM Registered Clinical Exercise Physiologist (RCEP).

Current certification as a basic life support provider or CPR for the professional rescuer is required. Also required is a current or expired ACSM Clinical Exercise Specialist (CES) certification, or 600 hours of clinical experience. The ACSM’s recommendation for the 600 hours of clinical experience breaks down as follows:

200 hours working with cardiovascular patients,
100 hours of pulmonary study,
120 hours working with patients with metabolic disorders,
100 hours working with patients with orthopedic or musculoskeletal difficulties,
40 hours of neuromuscular study, and
40 hours with patients with immunological or hematological disorders.

The certification examination covers the following topics:

Health appraisal, fitness, and clinical exercise testing: 25 percent
Exercise program development: 21 percent
Exercise science and physiology: 19 percent
Medical and surgical management: 13 percent
Pathophysiology and risk factors: 9 percent
Human behavior: 5 percent
Safety, injury prevention, and emergency procedures: 4 percent
Program administration, quality assurance, and outcome assessment: 4 percent

The following areas are also covered in the RCEP certification examination:

General population: 40 percent
Cardiovascular patients: 15 percent
Pulmonary patients: 10 percent
Metabolic patients: 14 percent
Orthopedic and musculoskeletal patients: 7 percent
Neuromuscular patients: 5 percent
Immunologic, hematologic, and neoplastic patients: 9 percent

Specialty Certifications

6. The Cancer Exercise Trainer (CET) is a fitness professional that works with cancer patients who have a low risk of treatment complications from vigorous exercise. A CET implements appropriate exercise programs for their clients’ overall health.

A current exercise or fitness certification from the ACSM or the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) is necessary to become a certified Cancer Exercise Trainer (CET). Certification in adult CPR and the ability to use of an automated external defibrillator AED (automated external defibrillator) is required. Also required is either a bachelor’s degree in any field with 500 hours of experience training older adults or individuals with chronic conditions, or 10,000 hours of experience training older adults or individuals with chronic conditions.

Before sitting for the Cancer Exercise Trainer (CET) certification examination, it is recommended that the applicant have experience and be comfortable in the following:

  • Discuss cancer treatment side-effects with the patient, family members, and healthcare providers.
  • Discuss how an exercise program could improve the patient’s quality of life and prognosis.
  • Select and modify an exercise program based on the needs of the patient.
  • Recognize adverse responses to an exercise program and be able to determine when other healthcare providers should be called in for consultation.

7. The Certified Inclusive Fitness Trainer (CIFT) works with disabled individuals who have medical clearance to exercise. A CIFT develops exercise programs that take their clients’ needs into consideration and helps them to become as physically fit as possible. A CIFT is aware of the special precautions required when beginning and undergoing a fitness regimen with people with disabilities. A CIFT also knows the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) policies regarding facility design for access to recreation facilities.

To obtain CIFT certification, an individual must hold a current ACSM or NCCA certification related to health or fitness, and be certified in adult CPR with the practical skills component and the use of an AED. The following topics are covered on the proficiency examination:

  • Planning of an exercise program
  • Exercise science and physiology
  • Health appraisal, fitness and clinical exercise testing
  • Safety, injury prevention, and emergency procedures
  • Clinical and medical considerations
  • Human behavior and counseling
  • Disability awareness
  • ADA and facility design
  • Physiology, diagnosis, and treatment
  • Nutrition and weight management
  • Program administration, quality assurance, and outcome assessment

8. The Physical Activity in Public Health Specialist (PAPHS) promotes physical activity in public health at the national, state, and/or local level. Those interested in obtaining ACSM Physical Activity in Public Health Specialist (PAPHS) certification can meet the requirements to sit for the examination in one of the following ways:

  • A bachelor’s degree in a health-related field. Examples of health-related fields include exercise science, exercise physiology, kinesiology, physical education, sports management, athletic training, recreation, nutrition, health education, health promotion, public health, community health, and healthcare administration,
    or
  • A bachelor’s degree in any subject and 1,200 hours of experience in settings that promote physical activity and/or a healthy lifestyle. Examples of such settings include locations that involve community or public health, a YMCA, parks and recreation departments, federal, state, or local government agencies (such as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services), health clubs, or fitness centers.

Subjects covered on the ACSM PAPHS certification examination include:

Planning and evaluating: 23 percent
Intervention: 20 percent
Data and scientific information: 18 percent
Exercise science in a public health setting: 17 percent
Partnerships: 12 percent
Organizational structure: 10 percent

 

Last Updated: June 27, 2019