Exactly two weeks ago I passed the certification exam for the American Counsel on Exercise (aka ACE). Going into this exam I honestly had no idea what to expect. The main textbook is over 600 pages long. There is another 200-page textbook and a study guide helper book. There are online resources. And essentially ACE hands you a giant dose of stress. I know I turned to the Internet for a little guidance, but surprisingly there isn’t much out there… So here are my tips for studying for this exam!
Before you read my tips, you need to know a few things about me. I have worked with personal trainers before, and I have been doing my own training for many months. But I have never taken any classes on personal training. I have also never taken an anatomy class or anything of that nature. I am not a science/medicine/fitness/health student of any kind (other than researching because fitness is a job and hobby to me). So, some of you may know more than I did going in, and some of you may know less. But that was my background before I opened these books.
- Read the entire book more than once. This was actually the one thing I found from online, and I agree with it. It gets less overwhelming when you realize that the book repeats itself a lot. But I didn’t notice that the first (or second) reading. You’ll catch the repeats because you’ll realize you already know that! And then you’ll be excited because that means you’re absorbing and learning the material. But also because the book is so big with so much information, one read through won't do it justice.
- There are a lot of instructions on how to perform investigation tests, stretches, exercises, etc. While you should definitely know how to do all of that as a trainer, the exam does not test your knowledge on actually administering/teaching any of these. For example, you need to know what VT1 is and when to administer it, but actually, the step by step process to the submaximal talk test are not steps you need to memorize for the exam.
- The additional 200+ page textbook on the human anatomy for trainers is a MUST read! Somewhere I read online said I didn’t need to other than to maybe skim chapter 3. But as I studied, I found myself seeming to be out of the loop… the main textbook and practice tests thought I knew the human anatomy. And I know your butt is made of glute muscles, and you have quads (which, by the way, is not a term used...), but what the heck is the latissimus dorsi? So I opened this additional textbook and my stress level was cut in half. This baby is awesome. There is definitely a ton of material you don’t need to know (like nerves and the heart chambers). But the muscles and bones, yes. The charts that lay out the muscles associated with different body areas are so, so helpful. Read this after you read the main textbook (or maybe after round 2), but definitely, read it. I cannot stress this enough... Unless you're a lucky ducky and took an anatomy class and knew exactly what the latissimus dorsi is and what exercises would be appropriate.
- If you buy the practice tests… jk just don’t. The main exam is 150 questions. The practice tests are 60. TBH I was kind of pissed I paid like $30 for a fake practice test. And honestly, it just stressed me out (because I got like a 63%). I think the practice questions at the end of the chapters in the study guide helper are much better. Plus there are like 17 chapters and each chapter has like 8-15 questions in the study guide so you get around 150 questions in total in that guy. I checked my work by marking on the answer key, so when I read the textbook again, I did the questions again too. Very helpful.
The bottom line? (aka what I wish I read somewhere) These are the three main things you need to know:
- How to interpret the investigation stage tests
- What muscles are associated with what exercises (or vice versa)
- How to appropriately adapt to injuries/ medical issues (existing or new)
Yes, the test involves most every part of the main textbook. But these areas ^^^ are what I remember popping up over and over. Yes, there are one or two questions on the scope of practice, or whether a form is a liability waiver vs. informed consent. But there are like 3 questions on exercises involving leg muscles alone.
The majority of the textbook will be a great resource for you, or me, or any trainer, once they start working with clients. But the test is definitely not weighted equally across all the chapters. Chapter 6,7,14,15 are the biggies, in my opinion.
ACE recommends you allot 3-4 months to studying. I feel that is actually too long, in the sense that there is so much material, you’ll forget what you learned 4 months ago! Yes, maybe give yourself some time, and a break in between, for your first (and second) read through. But when you really get into it all, plan that to be closer than 2 months to your exam! It’s a lot of little things… 4 months from now I will not still have it memorized that normal range of motion for the flexion of hip flexors is 120 degrees.
Once I start working with clients, I plan to write another blog post about how I feel the ACE studying and exam prepared me for actually training clients. It’s definitely an extensive knowledge base, but creating training programs and deciding what exercise to put in a program are a whole new beast to tackle. So check back for that post!
I really hope this has been helpful for someone in the studying stage, or for someone considering taking the ACE exam. I know this would have been so helpful for me to focus my studying and alleviate stress. If you have more questions, or maybe need a pep talk before your exam, hit me up!!