Has the American Council on Exercise Played Fast and Loose with NCCA Accreditation?

A new complaint alleges that the American Council on Exercise (ACE) “rolled over” its NCCA accreditation from an old certification to a new one. Certifying companies simply are not allowed to do that. If true, this means ACE advertised a new certification as NCCA-accredited without actually bothering to get it accredited.

This sounds esoteric, we admit. Yet it has vast implications for the fitness industry. ACE lobbied for licensure laws that required National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) accreditation. (If accreditation is new to you, please see the footnote.*) ACE executive Graham Melstrand led the Coalition for the Registration of Exercise Professionals (CREP), whose members also included the American College for Sports Medicine and the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Each of these three organizations has published baseless claims about CrossFit injuries in apparent attempts to justify their self-serving legislative agenda. They created the CrossFit boogeyman, then came in and promised their legislation would “enhance consumer protection.”

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ACE executive Graham Melstrand.

These licensure laws would have excluded CrossFit’s courses, which are accredited by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). They would have made CrossFit’s affiliate model illegal and criminalized unlicensed exercise instruction. Fortunately, CrossFit Inc. has stopped them dead in their tracks, including in Washington, D.C.

But ACE may not have been playing by the rules it was lobbying to impose on everyone else.

The complaint, which Phillip Godfrey and Donald Alley of Health Care Fitness Integrations LLC have filed with the NCCA, makes five separate allegations. Most important among them is the allegation that the NCCA requires a certification to either have been in place for one year or assessed 500 candidates before it is submitted to be reviewed for accreditation.

Yet ACE does not seem to have fulfilled either requirement. ACE launched its Medical Exercise Specialist certification in August 2015 and announced it was already NCCA-accredited. Meanwhile, it took all of its trainers certified under its old Advanced Health and Fitness Specialist certification and granted them the new certification. ACE granted these trainers its new certification automatically, without requiring them to take the new MES test or to meet the certification’s other new requirements.

ACE’s new certification was vastly different from its old one. It featured new content, and the textbook received a “cover-to-cover overhaul” as ACE itself explained. The new certification also required “a four-year (bachelor’s) degree in exercise science or a related field.” The old one had no educational requirement.

This evidence strongly suggests ACE created a new credential and marketed it as NCCA-accredited without actually going through the NCCA accreditation process for its new credential. How could ACE simply transfer over its NCCA accreditation for an old certification to its new, different one?

Now it will be up for the NCCA itself to evaluate this information. The NCCA must decide if ACE met its accreditation standards, and if not, how it will hold ACE accountable. The integrity and value of NCCA accreditation are on the line, not just for NCCA itself, but for every other NCCA-accredited certification program.

P.S. Still not convinced that the ACE Medical Exercise Specialist certification was a new, different credential? ACE said so itself:ACE 2


ACE 4 (1)
* People sometimes conflate accreditation and certification. A certification evaluates individuals, whereas in accreditation, a third party evaluates the certification itself. Or, as CrossFit Certification Director Nicole Carroll explained, accreditation is the process whereby “a certification program is evaluated to determine if it meets recognized industry standards in such areas as impartiality of program governance and the reliability and validity of assessment.” There are only two bodies that accredit major fitness certification programs in the United States, NCCA and ANSI. NCCA has accredited ACE, NSCA, ACSM, NETA, NASM and other certifications. ANSI has accredited CrossFit’s L1 certificate course and L3 certification.


  1. Pingback: The American Council on Exercise: Nonprofit Authority or Business Scheme? | THE RUSSELLS

  2. Pingback: The American Council on Exercise Either Misled Consumers or It Misled Consumers | THE RUSSELLS

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