ISSA and ACSM are quality personal trainer certifications that allow you to get a job at most gyms or fitness studios. The ISSA is well-regarded for its special populations and business skills coverage, whereas the ACSM is more focused on clinical exercise recommendations, health screening, and generalized training principles.

Continue reading and take the quiz to discover which of these certifications is right for you.

What type of Certification are you looking to get?
Tyler Read holds up ACSM and ISSA textbooks - which is best - ISSA vs ACSM

Welcome to my ISSA vs ACSM review.

I wrote this certification review based on taking and passing both ISSA and ACSM personal training certifications, using my experience as a personal trainer for over 10 years.

Here at PTPioneer, our team of fitness professionals includes trainers certified through both organizations and we have taken our combined experience to give you the best comparison between ACSM and ISSA CPTs

In this article, I break down ISSA vs. ACSM based on:

  • Topical information: pricing, packages, and prerequisites
  • Content deep dive: knowledge and skills 
  • Pros and cons of ISSA and ACSM
  • Exam difficulties, preparation timelines, and study material review

By the end, you’ll have a clearer understanding of ISSA vs. ACSM and which of these personal training programs is best for you.If you are still unsure about which CPT you should choose, I recommend you take the quiz to find out which PT certification is right for you.

ISSA vs ACSM - Which Fitness Certification is Best? 3
ISSA vs ACSM - Which Fitness Certification is Best? 4

Alright, let’s plunge right in!

Quick Breakdown: ISSA vs ACSM

CPTACSM vs ACE Quick BreakdownFeaturesPrice
ISSA ISSA
  • Great exercise technique
  • Good scientific coverage
  • International CPT recognition and use
  • Elite Trainer package offers the best value in the industry
View on the ISSA website
ACSM ACSM
  • Deep on exercise science
  • ACSM is source of fitness guidelines
  • No comprehensive program framework
  • Weak coverage of exercise technique
View on the ACSM website
ISSA
ACSM
Product
Product
ISSA
ACSM
Exam cost
Exam cost
$699+
$279 (Members), $349 (Non-Members)
Study Material Cost
Study Material Cost
$600+
$400-$1000+
Prerequisites
Prerequisites
18 years of age, High School Diploma/GED, CPR/AED Certified
High School Diploma/GED, CPR/AED Certified
Exam Passing Score
Exam Passing Score
75%
Scaled 550/800
Exam Pass Rate
Exam Pass Rate
90%
69% (2020 data)
Average Completion Time
Average Completion Time
2-4 months
3 to 9 months
9.5
Trainer Academy Guides
  • Complete curriculum study preparation
  • Audio guide, flashcards, and mnemonics
  • 800+ practice questions
  • Exam pass refund guarantee
  • Cheaper pricing than ISSA and ACSM materials
8
Provider Materials
  • Curriculum study preparation
  • Includes text, graphics, and videos
  • 200+ practice questions
  • No exam pass refund guarantee
  • $999 from ISSA
  • $650 from ACSM
7
PTPioneer Study Guides
  • Curriculum material overview
  • Complete chapter breakdowns
  • 60 practice questions
  • 130 flashcards
  • Exam cheat sheet
  • Free from PTPioneer

What is ISSA?

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.

Exclusive PTP CPT Offers


Gold Standard Cert
NASM Gold Standard Personal Trainer Certification - Save 25&percnt off
Most Popular Cert
ISSA - Most Popular Online Personal Trainer Certification 3 Certs for
Best Study Materials
TA - Trainer Academy - Best Study Materials for Personal Trainer Certification Online - See MVP discount
A Good Option
ACE Certification- A Good Fitness Course Online Option - 25&percnt off
A Good Option
NCSF Certification - A Good Option - Save 25%
Best CPT for you?
Best CPT For You? Take the Personal Trainer Certification Online quiz and Get a Personalized Recommendation Just for You

ISSA aims to educate a robust fitness community to bring healthy living to the world. 

The International Sports Science Association has a job guarantee with their personal trainer certification, a nice bonus over other main organizations out there. The only other program that offers this is the NASM CPT. 

I like that ISSA puts business skills in their programs, which can be key to your success as a trainer. If you can’t sell your services and manage your income, you will not be successful as a trainer in most cases. 

Generally speaking, I advise all my CPT students to 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 in training sessions 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, learners might consider a client-specific specialization such as corrective exercise or senior fitness.

This type of client-specific specialization allows you to laser-focus on 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.

Exclusive PTP CPT Offers


Gold Standard Cert
NASM Gold Standard Personal Trainer Certification - Save 25&percnt off
Most Popular Cert
ISSA - Most Popular Online Personal Trainer Certification 3 Certs for
Best Study Materials
TA - Trainer Academy - Best Study Materials for Personal Trainer Certification Online - See MVP discount
A Good Option
ACE Certification- A Good Fitness Course Online Option - 25&percnt off
A Good Option
NCSF Certification - A Good Option - Save 25%
Best CPT for you?
Best CPT For You? Take the Personal Trainer Certification Online quiz and Get a Personalized Recommendation Just for You

The ISSA elite trainer bundle includes the ISSA CPT, ISSA Nutrition Coach, and a third ISSA certification of your choice, all at a steep discount compared to purchasing the certs individually.

Typically, you can get the Elite Trainer for just $1308 paid in full or $109 monthly for 12 months. In either case, it’s a killer deal.

I highly recommend checking if the deal is still running. If it is, it’s tough to pass up.

issa elite trainer logo

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 runs for $1188 or $99 per month for 12 months.

This essentially gets a free ISSA nutrition certification since the CPT normally retails for $999.

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.

Definitely take a look at the official ISSA website to take advantage of the latest discounts.

Typically, you can get the Elite Trainer for just $999 paid in full or $83 monthly for 12 months. In either case, it’s a killer deal.

I highly recommend checking if the deal is still running. If it is, it’s tough to pass up.

One other thing to note with ISSA is that they have two different versions of their certification exam: 1) an open-book one that is DEAC approved that you can take online, and 2) a NCCPT version you take at a testing center which is NCCA-approved. The National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) is the most reputable certifying commission in the US and many gyms like to see a NCCA-accredited certification on a personal trainer resume.

What is ACSM?

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) certification was founded in 1954 and, like ISSA, is a non-profit organization with industry recognition. 

ACSM came out with the very first personal training certification. They have strong roots in clinical exercise research, and their certifications are heavily weighted towards exercise science, similar to NSCA. 

Just as with ISSA, their CPT certification is NCCA-accredited, the gold standard for any program.  

Pros and Cons of ACSM vs ISSA

Tyler Read holds up ACSM and ISSA textbooks against a whiteboard saying ISSA vs ACSM

Both ACSM and ISSA offer their strong and weak areas.

In the case of the ACSM CPT, the exercise science portions and cardiovascular testing assessments give you the most comprehensive content of almost any personal training certification. Additionally, ACSM’s special populations section stands out as particularly thorough.

Some of the negatives regarding the ACSM model come from their lack of strong exercise programming guidance and technique coverage. I’d also say that the ACSM textbook feels a bit dated compared to ISSA and some of the other certifications. 

With the ISSA CPT, you get really good practical personal training content. The sections on resistance training programming stand out and ISSA also has a good emphasis on nutrition.

Additionally, the ISSA cert provides a lot of good practical business advice, which will serve you well in the real-world, as you have to know how to get clients and manage your training career. 

The negatives surrounding ISSA mostly come from the fact that it’s a bit more expensive than ACSM if you just get the one certification. 

ISSA and ACSM certification packages and study materials

ACSM vs ISSA - ISSA and ACSM textbooks on a table with gold coins and a bag with a money sign - which is more costly
Trainer Academy Guides
Trainer Academy Guides
  • 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
Provider Materials
Provider Materials
  • 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
PTPioneer Study Guides
PTPioneer Study Guides
  • Curriculum material overview
  • Complete chapter breakdowns
  • 60 practice questions
  • 130 flashcards
  • Exam cheat sheet
  • Free from PTPioneer
Tyler Read - Certified Personal Trainer with PTPioneer

Tyler Read


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