Welcome to the ultimate ISSA vs ACSM review.
In this article, I break down ISSA vs ACSM on the following areas:
By the end, you’ll have a clearer understanding of ISSA vs ACSM and which certification is best for you.
If you are still unsure about which CPT you should choose, I recommend that you take the quiz to find out which PT certification is right for you.
Alright, let’s plunge right in!
Quick Breakdown: ISSA vs ACSM
|CPT||ACSM vs ACE Quick Breakdown||Features||Price|
|ISSA||View on the ISSA website|
|ACSM||View on the ACSM website|
ISSA vs ACSM Certification Review: Comparing the Organizations
Let me introduce two of the best personal training certification programs, ISSA and ACSM.
The International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA) is the quintessential global certifying agency for health and fitness.
The ISSA CPT ranks first among the best online personal trainer certifications in the industry.
The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) certification was founded in 1954, and, like ISSA, is a non-profit organization.
Both the ACSM and ISSA personal trainer exams are NCCA accredited, which is the gold standard for determining the quality of a CPT certification.
They are both non-profit organizations saddled with the responsibility of accrediting distance education and professional personal training programs, respectively, in the United States.
Personally, I think the ISSA CPT is a far superior personal training certification than the ACSM CPT in all but a few niche circumstances.
However, the ACSM is still respected, just not as practical.
The ISSA also has better additional certification offerings for professionals in the fitness industry.
For example, the ISSA has highly respected nutrition, strength and conditioning, and corrective exercise certifications – which the ACSM does not.
Generally speaking, I advise all my CPT students to also consider becoming certified as a nutrition coach alongside an additional specialization.
This will greatly boost your credentials for maximal long-term success.
After all, delivering impressive results to clients without any nutritional coaching skills is very difficult.
The powerful combination of a CPT and nutrition certification is undeniably superior to the personal trainer certification alone.
For even greater potential, you might consider a client-specific specialization such as corrective exercise or senior fitness
This type of client-specific specialization allows you to laser-focus your skill set and make you a sought-after fitness trainer with a much greater earning potential than a non-specialized trainer.
While you can pursue further specializations at any point in your fitness career, the cost for each certification tends to add up very quickly.
If you choose to go with ISSA CPT, consider saving money and advancing your career from the get-go by looking at the ISSA Elite Trainer Program.
Typically, you can get the Elite Trainer for just $999 paid in full, or $83 a month for 12 months. In either case, its a killer deal.
I highly recommend checking if the deal is still running. If it is, its tough to pass up.
If doing three full certifications is more than you want to start with, you can still get a sweet discount on the combination of the ISSA CPT and ISSA Nutrition Coach, which often run for $828 or $69 per month for 12 months.
This is essentially getting a free ISSA nutrition certification since the CPT alone normally retails for $828 itself.
Even if you do not complete the nutrition program immediately, picking it up for the same price as a CPT program alone is an amazing opportunity.
Defintely take a look at the official ISSA website to take advantage of the latest discounts.
Skills and Knowledge Covered in ISSA vs ACSM
The ISSA Certified Personal Trainer (ISSA-CPT) exceeds expectations with its sharp focus on the average client’s needs.
If you want to learn how to become a personal trainer, this program builds a solid base of knowledge for entry-level trainers.
Their heavy focus is on muscle building and weight loss, with a moderate emphasis on corrective exercise.
This makes sense because average clients typically want to build muscle, lose weight, and avoid injury.
While the ISSA personal training certification provides both scientific and practical principles of health and fitness, the ACSM personal training certification focuses mainly on scientific research.
The ACSM certification is harder to obtain unless you have a background in biomechanics, physiology, or anatomy.
However, this does not mean that the ACSM is better for the actual practical aspects of being a personal trainer.
Aside from it being a certifying body for personal trainers, ACSM is a scientific body dedicated to research and progression in the field.
In fact, almost every other certifying agency, including ISSA, references ACSM’s research in their study materials.
They offer other specialization courses which require an Exercise Science degree to qualify for the specialization exams.
ACSM specializations and certificates allow those who already have an NCCA-accredited certification to better work with special populations.
These certifications include:
- ACSM Exercise is Medicine Credential
- Autism Exercise Specialist
- ACSM/ACS Certified Cancer Exercise Trainer
- ACSM/NCHPAD Certified Inclusive Fitness Trainer
- ACSM/NPAS Certified Physical Activity in Public Health Specialist
You can work with clients of different fitness levels, individuals affected by cancer, and those with disabilities.
You can also promote physical activity in public health at national, state, and local levels.
Generally speaking, ISSA vs ACSM compare decently among one another.
Behavior Change Coaching Skills
Successful personal trainers are those with, drum roll, please…
Killer behavior change coaching skills!
Moreover, important personality traits that are best for trainers include the ability to read clients so well that it’s easy to know when to push them farther and when to pull back a little bit.
Let’s compare ISSA vs ACSM on this.
ISSA emphasizes nutrition and nutrition coaching, which works well because clients need to be held accountable for the food choices they make for their health and fitness.
And where there is the consistency of positive, healthful behaviors over time, there are results.
In fact, ISSA provides one of the top nutrition certifications in the industry.
ISSA’s strong emphasis on behavior and how it impacts clients’ overall health is crucial for trainers to know and apply.
The ACSM-CPT book exceeds expectations with its own chapter on behavior change.
In some cases, this behavioral change-focused interview begins the moment before clients even step foot into your gym.
Regardless, ACSM provides an excellent framework as well as real-world client case studies to demonstrate the different motivational interviewing and behavioral change topics.
When comparing ISSA vs ACSM, both certifications definitely prepare you to motivate your clients inside and outside the gym.
Exclusive PTP CPT Offers
|Gold Standard Cert||Most Popular Cert||Best Study Materials
|A Good Option||A Good Option||Best CPT for you?
Consulting and screening clients to reduce risks of injury
Below is a comprehensive outline of ISSA’s Basic Assessment of Fitness Participants section.
ISSA covers GXT, which stands for Graded Exercise Test.
GXT is a treadmill or cycle ergometer test that delivers heart rate, ECG, and other data, and is used to identify clients’ maximal oxygen uptake (VO2 Max).
The GXT test is important for trainers to develop a more tailored, effective aerobic fitness routine while weeding out estimations and guessing.
ACSM and ISSA use the same criteria of two or more primary risk factors as the basis for recommending a GXT prior to clients beginning an exercise program.
You’ll also learn the following cardiovascular endurance assessments:
- 12-Minute Run-Walk Test
- l2-Minute Swimming Test
- 12-Minute Cycling Test
ISSA covers both the upper and lower body tests, as well as advanced 1RM testing techniques for muscular strength.
ISSA’s flexibility tests are easy to follow.
The following muscular endurance assessments are covered:
- Sit Ups
There are even charts to show the standard number of each exercise completed in one minute based on age and gender.
On the other hand, ACSM holds its utmost value in the initial client consultation.
With ACSM’s heavy focus on disease prevention, risk reduction, and exercise as a treatment protocol, their CPT curriculum highly prioritizes the initial screening process.
This component of training involves subjective and objective reports from your clients, typically on a PAR-Q form.
PAR-Q stands for Physical Activity Readiness Questionnaire and was designed to ensure a safe and effective fitness routine based on your client’s abilities and needs.
ACSM fitness assessments typically involve your client performing activities to get baseline levels of strength, endurance, flexibility, and similar measurements.
ACSM’s movement assessments focus on qualitative aspects of a client’s fundamental movement patterns.
This may also reveal underlying muscle imbalances and similar issues which must be addressed through corrective exercise.
Unfortunately, ACSM lacks sufficient corrective exercise content coverage, whereas ISSA does not.
So when comparing ISSA vs ACSM on this topic, ISSA wins by default.
ISSA is even home to one of the best corrective exercise training programs, which would be a great addition to your repertoire.
Program design and resistance exercise technique
Now, prepare as I dissect ISSA vs ACSM on program design and resistance exercise technique coverage.
First, I appreciate ISSA and its strong focus on applying essential personal training equipment to fitness assessments and designing client-appropriate routines.
This definitely makes ISSA stand out from other personal training certifications.
I should mention that ISSA also provides one of the best strength and conditioning coach certifications.
On the contrary, this topic is one of the major weaknesses of the ACSM-CPT curriculum.
While most CPT curricula, like ISSA and NASM, have substantial exercise libraries both online and in their books, the ACSM-CPT barely provides enough exercise coverage to put basic fitness routines together.
ACSM’s program design section follows a similar pattern, lacking a true framework for daily, weekly, and monthly progressions in terms of overall program progression.
I must say that ACSM covers resistance training guidelines in a decent fashion, but they can certainly confuse newer trainers with its idea of programming.
Although ACSM provides an extensive stretching techniques section, this too lacks fluidity and fails to teach you appropriate ways to design programs or coach exercise techniques.
So clearly, when comparing ISSA vs ACSM on program design and exercise technique, ISSA wears the crown.
Aerobic training program design and technique
It’s no surprise that ISSA does fairly well covering aerobic training program design and technique, too.
You learn the benefits of cardiovascular fitness, along with common myths, important terminology, and proper cardio machine techniques.
With ACSM’s predominant focus on improving public health outcomes, its aerobic programming section is the juiciest yet.
In fact, the ACSM aerobic exercise guidelines are the basis for many other fitness certification aerobic training protocols.
You learn effective ways to customize your client’s aerobic programming as needed.
But one downside is ACSM’s lack of technique discussion for running or other aerobic training modes.
For instance, there is no mention of various kinetic checkpoints during running phases.
This is definitely important, given that there are various risks associated with improper running techniques.
For ISSA vs ACSM on aerobic training, it’s tied because both certifications provide sufficient coverage.
Helping Special Populations with Fitness
Like most fitness textbooks, ISSA has its own section on training clients in the following special categories:
- Pregnant women
- Lifestyle-induced and genetic diseases
The ISSA-CPT curriculum descriptively covers special populations and provides examples of what a typical fitness routine would be based on the client’s condition.
Being able to work with special populations is a great way to start getting creative with your exercises and workouts, too.
ACSM provides more solid guidelines for training special populations, which are useful for keeping these clients safe as they work to improve their health.
However, further education will be needed if your career goals involve working with special populations.
For instance, you can choose to specialize in personal training for seniors, youth, or even for pre-, peri-, and post-natal clients.
Although ISSA vs ACSM on special populations remains a tie on content coverage, ACSM provides much broader details.
Thinking Long-Term: Business Skills for Personal Trainers
Of course, business and entrepreneurial strategies are essential for personal trainers to know.
Unfortunately, many other fitness certification organizations fail to provide adequate personal training tips for beginners, but this is where ISSA shines.
ISSA’s business guide, Fiscal Fitness, is the absolute best.
While it isn’t quite as comprehensive as taking a business course, it’s a major step up from what you’d normally expect from a fitness training certification.
Though you’ll learn decent personal training marketing ideas, one drawback is that these strategies are somewhat dated and exclude online fitness marketing protocols.
Regardless, Fiscal Fitness is still a great foundational tool for business basics and should be utilized.
On a final note, when you compare personal trainer salary among certifications, ISSA is among NASM and ACE on top-earning trainers.
Shockingly, ACSM also exceeds expectations at covering personal training business skills.
ACSM includes sample compensation models for personal trainers right off the bat.
If you want to, you can browse through lists of which gyms accept which personal trainer certifications.
Exclusive PTP CPT Offers
|Gold Standard Cert||Most Popular Cert||Best Study Materials
|A Good Option||A Good Option||Best CPT for you?
Spoiler alert: you will find that both ISSA and ACSM-CPT certifications are accepted by most gyms.
This would be a great way for especially new trainers to get a feel for how they want to go about their fitness careers.
Overall, the ACSM business skills section touches upon the following:
- Types of employment as a personal trainer
- Personal trainer job hunting
- Developing risk management programs
- Basic marketing and analysis for gyms
- Sales for personal trainers
Most trainers strive to help people live healthier, happier lives, which is why having business sense and knowing how to sell personal training is essential, especially to make a decent living as a trainer.
I’d suggest that if you do want to work independently only, you should certainly consider checking out the best personal trainer insurance to protect yourself against anything that may go wrong.
Finally, you could never go wrong with learning some small group personal training tips to enhance your practice and expand your income.
In my perspective, when comparing ISSA vs ACSM, both do fairly well providing enough business information to help you create the successful fitness career you desire.
To really increase your professionalism when applying for jobs, I’d recommend seeking out some kick-ass personal trainer resume advice.
Overall, when it comes to choosing between ISSA vs ACSM based on its content coverage, it’s ultimately your call.
Both personal training certifications lead you toward certification and a lucrative fitness career.
But on quality of education?
ISSA vs ACSM Certification Requirements
Both ISSA and ACSM, as well as most other fitness professional certifying agencies, have the following personal trainer requirements:
- At least 18 years of age
- High school diploma, or the equivalent (GED)
- Current and valid CPR/AED certification
Sitting for the exam does require a government-issued photo ID, so please remember to bring it with you on your exam day.
Study Materials: Quality and Price
- Complete curriculum study preparation
- Audio guide, flashcards, and mnemonics
- 800+ practice questions
- Exam pass refund guarantee
- $79.00 for Rookie package
- $199.00 for MVP package
- Curriculum study preparation
- Includes text, graphics, and videos
- 200+ practice questions
- No exam pass refund guarantee
- $950.00 for ISSA starter package
- $800+ for ACSM materials
Now I’ll review ISSA vs ACSM on study packages and prices.
Most online personal trainer certifications provide you with an eBook and the option to purchase a hard copy.
Some people, such as myself, prefer a physical textbook.
It’s easier to leave bookmarks and sticky notes, and just have the satisfaction of a physical object to supplement your studies.
ISSA provides a free physical book, Fitness: The Complete Guide, with your purchase of its certified personal trainer certification.
However, if you choose to purchase the exam only, then the ISSA personal trainer textbook costs you $40.
The ISSA-CPT book has a conversational tone that makes it accessible while still expanding on technical aspects and terminology.
This makes reading and comprehending a whole lot easier, and less boring.
The ISSA certification test is open book, and the most common price for an ISSA personal trainer certification is $828.
This comes with their textbook, entrance to the ISSA certification test, and extra online study materials and practice tests to go with your online courses.
On a final note, you do have the option to take the ISSA Certified Personal Trainer NCCPT Exam Only.
This is not something I’d recommend unless you have a strong background and/or experience, and are prepared to write your exam.
If you are ready to start studying right now but don’t want to shell out a bunch of money just yet, you can check out my free ISSA study guide and practice test.
For premium materials such as flashcards, audio guides, multiple practice tests, and an exam pass guarantee, I highly recommend the Trainer Academy ISSA CPT MVP Study Package.
I also highly recommend considering tacking on the ISSA nutrition certification and specialization through the Elite Trainer Package.
The combination of nutrition and a fitness specialization on top of your personal trainer certification will put you leagues ahead of trainers who only have the CPT certification.
I always recommend checking for any current discounts directly through the ISSA website.
If they are running a promotion, it’s worth seriously considering the deal.
Finally, you can always purchase the official ISSA CPT prep course on its own directly through ISSA.
Also, if you do want field experience while studying, you should definitely consider learning how to get a personal training internship at a gym.
Okay, ISSA-nough of that.
Now, let’s review ACSM-CPT study materials and personal trainer certification costs.
There are multiple textbooks that you can purchase to get ready for the ACSM Certified Personal Trainer exam.
Two of the textbooks are primary textbooks.
The smaller review booklet that lets you take practice exams only costs $40.
The main ACSM-CPT book will give you the basic principles and techniques for personal training, and costs roughly $70.
Additionally, there’s a complementary textbook designed to take you through exercise screening/testing and properly designing workout routines.
The ACSM certification cost is relatively cheap compared to other certifications, like NASM.
Also, the ACSM test cost depends on membership status.
While members shell out approximately $279, nonmembers must pay $349, although that price will increase next year.
Though not required for certification, you may purchase ACSM-CPT workshops that provide you with one-on-one training with a certified ACSM instructor.
For these workshops, you could either purchase the $129 one-day or a $375 three-day workshop.
If you do not learn well from textbooks, I would recommend signing up for one of these workshops because you can learn hands-on.
You can start studying for the ACSM CPT today before purchasing anything by using my free ACSM study guide and practice test.
To get access to better premium materials at a lower cost than official study materials, my students prefer the Trainer Academy ACSM CPT MVP Study Package, which includes flashcards, audio guides, practice tests, and an exam pass guarantee.
Looking at ISSA vs ACSM on their official study materials and pricing, it’s yet another tie, as both certifications provide decent options for the prices you pay.
Although the official study materials seem pricey, both ISSA and ACSM rank among the 10 cheapest personal trainer certifications.
Which exam is harder ISSA or ACSM?
Based on pass rate statistics, the ACSM exam is somewhat harder than the NCCA accredited ISSA exam, and substantially harder than the non-accredited ISSA exam.
The NCCA accredited ISSA version of the ISSA exam has a pass rate of roughly 70 percent.
The non-accredited ISSA exam hovers around a 90 percent pass rate.
The non-accredited exam is fairly easy for the following reasons.
Firstly, it’s a non-proctored test, so candidates are not monitored by anyone or anything.
Secondly, because it’s an entirely open book exam, you can refer to all your study materials and notes as you test.
Thirdly, your ISSA-CPT certification exam is self-paced, which means there isn’t a time constraint and you can test anywhere at any time.
Due to the importance of NCCA accreditation, I highly recommend choosing the accredited version of the ISSA exam.
The passing score is at least a 75% in each area and overall.
On a specific note, while most other CPT exams are exclusively multiple-choice, the ISSA exam also includes case studies.
Those who have taken this exam report the case studies as the hardest sections.
You will receive two random fictional clients with different challenges and goals.
You’re then required to come up with an appropriate 12-week individualized program for both clients.
You need to know how to transition different clients through a routine in order to pass.
I definitely recommend extensive studies of both the special populations and program design sections.
I would recommend getting the full breakdown of the ISSA exam information and FAQ for a deeper look at the stats on this exam.
Thankfully, ISSA has a more lenient approach to retakes, where immediately following the failure, you are permitted to retake the exam for free.
Of course, it’s a one-time deal, so if you fail your free retake, you then must pay a fee of $50 to be allowed another shot at it.
This fee is still pretty decent compared to other fitness certification exam retake fees, which can go as high as $200.
The ACSM test is a bit more challenging than the ISSA, although I still prefer the ISSA curriculum.
Statistics indicate that the ACSM-CPT exam pass rate sits at 69% as of 2020.
Minimum passing scores are determined beforehand and applied to all candidate’s results.
ACSM exams are scored on a 200-800 score scale, in which all candidates are required to meet the passing score of 550 in order to pass.
“Un-scored” questions that are still being tested for use in future exams are inserted randomly throughout this exam.
They will not be included in the final exam results.
Overall, for ISSA vs ACSM on exam difficulty, they are actually both among the top 10 easiest personal training certifications, but it is still important to study.
ISSA vs ACSM Continuing Education
ISSA requires that you must obtain 20 hours of continuing education credits (CECs) for a period of two years, and then submit your documents for recertification.
If you obtain all your CECs from ISSA, your recertification will be free.
Getting CECs from other organizations besides the ISSA continuing education courses costs $99.
ACSM requires personal trainers to renew their certification every three years.
This is longer compared to ISSA, NASM, NSCA, and ACE, which require renewal every two years.
They have different CEC requirements for different certifications.
For the ACSM-CPT, you are required to obtain 45 CECs within three years and pay the recertification fee of $45.
And, you also can CECs from other specialization programs, or by learning how to become a health coach and get certified.
Generally speaking, you want to pick your CEUs based on the desired overall direction of your career as a fitness professional.
Common career paths include:
As previously mentioned, if you are going to do the ISSA CPT, I highly encourage you to consider the ISSA Elite Trainer Program, which includes the CPT, the nutrition certification, and an additional ISSA specialization.
In terms of career advancement, the triple-ISSA certifications are a formidable boost to your career.
If ISSA is currently running the Elite Trainer promotion, consider taking advantage the deal while it’s still running.
Comparing ISSA vs ACSM on price for CECs, ACSM’s recertification fee is actually lower.
However, you can learn more ways to obtain cheap CEUs for personal trainers, specifically with ISSA and ACSM certifications.
For my ISSA vs ACSM review, I critically looked at the key areas covered in each fitness certification.
I focused on the overall skillset needs for personal trainers and how each CPT stacks up in each skill.
I used my knowledge of the fitness industry, personal training, and individual certifications to analyze each certification for strengths and weaknesses.
ISSA vs ACSM Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
So which is better, ISSA vs ACSM?
I recommend ISSA, especially for entry-level trainers trying to build a good base of knowledge to work with the general population.
And please know that these basic certifications are not the end of the road.
There are multiple advanced certifications for you to increase your knowledge of personal training and expand your horizons.
Employers always like seeing individuals with multiple certifications.
Because then, they can throw any client at you, and you’ll be able to effortlessly design a kick-ass routine for them.
Overall, both certifications are good in my eyes, but they are not my favorite certifications that are on the market right now.
I hope that I was able to help you choose the correct certification for you in my ISSA vs ACSM article.
Thank you for joining me, and happy training!
Ready to start your certification program?
Then be sure to head to the official organization websites to view the latest deals!