ISSA vs ACSM (2019) – Which one is right for you as a trainer?

Hello everybody and welcome to my ACSM vs ISSA article.

By the end, you will have a good understanding of which certification is right for you if either one of them is the best choice. Afterwards, make sure not to miss my ultimate comparison of the top five certifications!

Afterward, I suggest checking out the ACSM site and ISSA sites as well.

I also recommend that you Take the quiz to find out which PT certification fits your particular training style the best. If you decide to go with ISSA, I have a free study guide on my website here.

The menu at the top of this page will answer any question related to personal training that you have. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to leave me a comment here (I’ll respond within 24 hours). Also, visit the home page for the most recent and popular articles.

ACSM vs ISSA Quick Information

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) certification is more of a corrective exercise certification whereas the International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA) fitness certifications are considered general PT certifications. ACSM is NCCA accredited while ISSA is accredited by the DEAC.

Get 3 certs for 1 with the ISSA Elite Trainer Program ($1,400 of savings).

Save 25% on NASM with code PTP25 or Save $200 on the ACE CPT.

Get 50% off MVP study materials for NASM, ACE or CSCS at Trainer Academy
50% off NASM study materials or 50% off ACE study materials or 50% off CSCS study materials

National Commission for Certifying Agencies and Distance Education Accrediting Commission are a non-profit organization saddled with the responsibility of accrediting professional certification program and distance education program in the United States.

Both the ACSM and the ISSA certifications are well-recognized in the health and fitness industry. ISSA CPT currently costs approximately $799 whereas ACSM CPT will typically run around $349 for nonmembers. ISSA has one of the highest pass rates in the industry at approximately 90% while ACSM has one of the lowest sitting at approximately 54% for first-time test-takers.

General information on ISSA and ACSM

ISSA Personal Trainer certification is typically seen as a basic certification. This does not mean that it is an easy certification to obtain. For people just starting out with personal training, this “basic” certification might be exactly what they need.

ISSA CPT does an excellent job of focusing on the “average” clients needs regarding program design and builds a solid base of knowledge for any personal trainer starting out.

This typically means focusing on weight loss since that is the goal of the average American client. It also has a small emphasis on sports performance and powerlifting.

ISSA offers other certifications besides PT certifications to boost your expertise in health-fitness. These other certifications include exercise therapy, strength and conditioning, and many more.

ACSM, on the other hand, is more focused on the scientific research of exercise science. This certification is harder to obtain if you do not have any background in Biomechanics, physiology, and anatomy.

ACSM is not only a certifying agency for personal trainers, but it’s is also a scientific body dedicated to the research and progression of the field. They offer other specialization courses which require that you have an exercise science degree to qualify you to sit for the specialization exams.

Almost every other certifying agency references ACSM’s research in their study materials for their certifications.

ACSM has a strong focus on muscular imbalances, how to diagnose these imbalances and how to design in an exercise routine to progress a client in the right direction.

If you are going to be training clients that have multiple muscular imbalances or disabilities, then ACSM could be the certification to go for also I prefer NASM for this type of training.

Let PTpioneer help you get started in the personal training industry! I suggest you check out my article on how to get started as a personal trainer.

How much money can you make as a personal trainer? Make sure to head over to my article here. Let’s jump right into my ACSM or ISSA article, shall we?

Let’s talk about the test, pricing and study materials for ISSA and ACSM!


There are multiple different textbooks that you can purchase to get ready for the test. Two of the textbooks are primary textbooks, and there is also a smaller review booklet that lets you take practice tests.

The review booklet only costs $40. The most significant book out of the three will give you the basic principles and techniques for personal training. This textbook will cost you approximately $70.

There is also a complementary textbook, and that takes you through exercise screening/testing and how to design workout routines. ACSM also gives you the option to purchase live workshops that let you get 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 very well from textbooks, I would recommend signing up for one of these workshops so that you can learn hands-on.

The overall cost will depend on whether or not you are an ACSM  member. If you are a member of ACSM it will cost you approximately $219, whereas nonmembers will have to pay $279.

The total price for purchasing all of the textbooks as well as the examination will be around $440 for nonmembers. I have not included the cost of the workshops in this total. Make sure to check out my full article on ACSM here.

Get 3 certs for 1 with the ISSA Elite Trainer Program ($1,400 of savings).

Save 25% on NASM with code PTP25 or Save $200 on the ACE CPT.

Get 50% off MVP study materials for NASM, ACE or CSCS at Trainer Academy
50% off NASM study materials or 50% off ACE study materials or 50% off CSCS study materials

ACSM Recertification

ACSM require their Certified Fitness professionals to renew their certification every three years. They have different Continuing Education Credits requirement for different certifications.

For the ACSM certified PT, you are required to obtain 45 CEUs within three years and the recertification fee is $45.

You can also do another certification course to get Continuing Education Credits.


The most common price for the ISSA Personal Training certification is $799. Although they frequently have deals from time to time which changes the prices. For approximately $600 you will receive their textbook, entrance to take the test and some extra online study materials to help you through the material. Prices sometimes change, check the current price here.

The textbook that they have is massive. It contains more information than most other certifications offer. It is approximately 759 pages, and very dense with information. Although the textbook is more extensive than most, the test will be an open book.

This makes it significantly easier to obtain than most other certifications. The passing rate for ISSA is considerably higher than that of ACSM at 90%. Although it is easier to pass than ACSM and others, there are sections of the test that are relatively difficult.

Most other certifications only have multiple-choice questions. ISSA, on the other hand, has multiple-choice as well as two case studies that you need to analyze and write an appropriate response to.

You have to receive at least 75% overall to pass the exam. On top of that, you need to get at least 75% in each area to pass. By far the hardest section of the test is the case studies. You will receive two random fictional clients that each of the different goals.

You will be required to come up with an appropriate 12-week individualized program for these two clients. My biggest tip would be to study the special populations as well as program design section of the textbook extensively.

ISSA recertification

Issa require that all their health and fitness professionals renew their certifications every two years. You are to obtain 20hours of Continuing Education Units courses of a period of two years. You then submit your documents for recertification.

If you obtain all your CECs from ISSA your recertification is free but if you get them from other organisation the recertification fee is $99.

You need to know how to progress multiple different clients through a routine to pass this section of the exam. Make sure to check out my entire ISSA review here or check out the ISSA site here for more info!

Check out my free and awesome study guide, practices and flashcards for ISSA here.

The conclusion of ACSM vs ISSA

When trying to figure out which one is better, ACSM or ISSA, you need to ask yourself one simple question. What clients are you going to be working with the most? If your typical client is going to be focusing mainly on the weight loss (most American clients), then I would go with ISSA.

Also if there is a possibility that you will be working with “peak performance” individuals such as athletes, ISSA  again would be a good choice (or NASM PES). On the other hand, if you are going to be working with individuals that have many muscular imbalances and or people with disabilities than ACSM wins in this category (or NASM).

Overall for the average trainer starting out that is trying to build a good base of knowledge to work with the general population, I recommend ISSA. For this reason, ISSA has the slight edge over ACSM.

If you’re still having trouble deciding, I recommend that you Take the quiz to find out which you should choose.

There is one more tip I have for you. These basic certifications are not the end of the road!  There are multiple advanced certifications you can get to increase your knowledge of personal training and expand your horizons regarding who you can train.

Employers always like seeing individuals with multiple certifications. They know that they can throw any client at you, and you will be able to make a kick-ass routine for them. What certification you obtained is only a small portion of how good of a personal trainer you will become.

Overall both of these certifications are good in my eyes, but they are not my favorite certifications that are on the market right now. If I had to choose my top two certifications, it would be NASM (check their site or my review) and ACE (check out their website or my review) due to their industry recognition, curriculum, and excellent study materials.

I hope that I was able to help you choose the correct certification for you in my ACSM vs ISSA article. Here are some additional comparison articles with the ACSM certification: ACSM vs ACE, ACSM vs NASM and ACSM vs NSCA.

Here are some additional comparison articles with the ISSA certification: ISSA vs ACE, ISSA vs NASM and ISSA vs NSCA.

Please leave a comment below if you have any questions! Also if this article was helpful to you please share it via social media using one of the buttons on my website or just tell your friends or family about it!

Thank you and happy personal training!

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