ACSM vs ISSA (2021) - Which one is right for you as a trainer?

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    This is an accurate breakdown of the similarities and differences between ISSA and ACSM.

    The highlighted areas are:

    Quick information
    General info on both certification
    Test, pricing, and study materials

    Based on my 10+ years of experience in the fitness industry, you will be well-informed on both certifications, ISSA vs ACSM.

    Let’s plunge right in! Shall we?

    ISSA vs ACSM ([year]) - Which one is right for you as a trainer? 4

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      Hello everybody and welcome to my ACSM vs ISSA article.

      We are going to be looking at two of the best personal trainer certifications out there.

      By the end, you will have a good understanding of which certification is right for you and if either one of them is the best choice.

      Afterward, make sure not to miss my ultimate comparison of the top five certifications!

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

      I also have a free ISSA study guide and free ACSM Study guide right here on my website.

      For premium study materials, make sure to check out Trainer Academy, we also have materials for the American Council on Exercise, the National Academy of Sports Medicine, the National Strength and Conditioning Association, and much more.

      Check out my certification review on them here.

      I also recommend that you Take the quiz to find out which PT certification fits your particular training style the best.

      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

      ISSA vs ACSM ([year]) - Which one is right for you as a trainer? 5

      This segment will show you the focus of each certification.

      Check below for details!

      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.

      National Commission for Certifying Agencies and Distance Education Accrediting Commission are non-profit organizations saddled with the responsibility of accrediting professional certification programs and distance education programs, respectively, 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

      General info on ISSA  and ACSM

      Below are insightful information on what make each certification unique.

      Read on to discover more!

      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” client’s needs regarding program design and also 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 aimed at boosting your expertise in health-fitness.

      These other certifications include Exercise Therapy, Nutritional Coach, 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 in 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.

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      ACSM has a strong focus on muscular imbalances, how to diagnose these imbalances, and how to design 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.

      I also prefer NASM for this type of training.

      As far as broad comparisons, the ISSA and ACSM certs general compare best to other top certification training programs like NASM-CPT, ACE certification, and other top CPT certifications.

      NASM and the OPT model are generally considered the gold standard in the fitness training world.

      These two usually are clear winners when placed against organizations like NCSF or NCCPT, as they are mid-tier.

      All of these certifying organizations have prerequisites which include completion of a high school diploma, or the equivalent.

      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 vs ISSA article, shall we?

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

      test, pricing, and study materials

      Below, you’ll learn about the prices of the different study packages and test format of both certification.


      There are multiple 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 and it 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 that is designed to take you through exercise screening/testing and how to design workout routines. 

      ACSM also gives you the option to purchase live workshops that allows you to 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 for more.

      I also have a free and awesome ACSM study guide and practice test here.

      Overall, the best ACSM study materials are created by Trainer Academy as they provide you with an exam pass guarantee.

      ACSM Recertification

      ACSM requires 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.

      Obtain your CEUs with other specialization programs in Nutritional courses, Health coaching, CSCS, Group Fitness Instructor, and several others.


      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 ISSA exam, and some extra online study materials to help you through the material.

      Prices sometimes change, so 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 certification exam.

      On top of that, you need to get at least 75% in each area to pass.

      You need to make sure to utilize all of the practice exams that you can.

      By far the hardest section of the test is the case studies.

      You will receive two random fictional clients with different challenges and 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 the program-design section of the textbook extensively.

      Check out my free ISSA study guide and practice test here.

      If you want to cut your study time in half, check out the premium ISSA study materials here.

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      The Top PT Software
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      ISSA recertification

      Issa requires that all their health and fitness professionals renew their certifications every two years.

      You are to obtain 20 hours of Continuing Education Units courses for a period of two years.

      You then submit your documents for recertification.

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

      You need to know how to transition different clients through a routine to pass this section of the CPT exam.

      Make sure to check out my entire ISSA review here or check out the ISSA site here for more info!

      Nonetheless, there are other cheaper continuing certification courses that you can obtain.

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

      The conclusion on ACSM vs ISSA

      The conclusion on ACSM vs ISSA

      These are top-notch info that you need to guide you on your journey to becoming a certified personal fitness trainer.

      Kindly use the comment box to drop a message if you need more clarification.

      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 weight loss (like 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, then ACSM wins in this category (or NASM certification).

      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 a 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 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 the best personal training certification, it would be between NASM (check their site or my review) and ACE CPT (check out their website or my review) due to their industry recognition, curriculum, and excellent study materials.

      Those two certifications can work for their extended knowledge on kinesiology, fitness nutrition, wellness, and the ability to further specialize in other online courses like senior fitness and more. They are both worth it, depending on your reasons.

      Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

      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.

      Find below my other great articles on

      Learn the business side of personal training to help you succeed in the fitness industry. If you are contemplating working for somebody first before starting out as an entrepreneur, find out where you can work as a personal trainer.

      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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