NASM vs ISSA CPT Duel - Which Cert Better Suits You in 2023?

Welcome to the most comprehensive comparison of two phenomenal personal trainer certifications, NASM vs ISSA!

In this NASM vs ISSA article, I’ll review the following:

Topical information: pricing, packages, and prerequisites
Content deep dive
Exam difficulties, preparation timelines, and study material review
Explanation of my expert review process

For more tips on which CPT is best for you, please take the quiz to find out which PT certification is the right fit.

By the time you finish reading up on NASM vs ISSA, you’ll know all the ins and outs of these CPT certs.

Let’s get movin’!

Quick Breakdown: NASM vs ISSA

CPTACSM vs ACE Quick BreakdownFeaturesPrice
  • Solid technique and programming
  • Excellent business skills
  • Comprehensive skillset
  • Internationally recognized
  • Best cert bundle deals in the industry
View on ISSA Website
  • Focus on corrective exercise
  • Groundbreaking OPT Model
  • More expensive
  • Difficult exam
View on NASM Website
Exam cost
Exam cost
Study Material Cost
Study Material Cost
Included in exam price
High School Diploma/GED, CPR/AED Certified
18 years of age, High School Diploma/GED, CPR/AED Certified
Exam Passing Score
Exam Passing Score
Exam Pass Rate
Exam Pass Rate
90%, 70% (NCCA version)
Average Completion Time
Average Completion Time
3 to 6 months
2-4 months
Trainer Academy Guides
Trainer Academy Guides
  • Complete curriculum study preparation
  • Audio guide, flashcards, and mnemonics
  • 800+ practice questions
  • Exam pass refund guarantee
  • Cheaper pricing than ISSA and NASM materials
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
  • $899.00 for NASM starter package
PTPioneer Study Guides
PTPioneer Study Guides
  • Curriculum material overview
  • Complete chapter breakdowns
  • 60 practice questions
  • 130 flashcards
  • Exam cheat sheet
  • Free from PTPioneer

NASM vs ISSA: Comparing the Organizations

Let me introduce and compare two of the best personal trainer certifications on the market, ISSA vs NASM.

The National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) is a fitness professional certifying agency established in 1987 which grew to be one of the best personal training certifications out there.

Besides their prestigious Certified Personal Trainer (CPT) certification, NASM offers many other specializations, such as:

  • NASM-CES (Corrective Exercise Specialist)
  • NASM-PES (Performance Enhancement Specialist)
  • Group Fitness Instructor (GFI)
  • Senior Fitness (SFS)

And according to a recent survey, NASM offers one of the best corrective exercise certifications for working with sedentary individuals and post-rehab clients.

The International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA) is a non-profit fitness certifying agency founded in 1988.

ISSA is known as a great certification for entry-level candidates learning how to become a personal trainer and also offers some incredible specialist fitness certifications.

In terms of becoming a successful personal trainer, the specialist certifications are vital.

For example, combining the CPT certification with a nutrition coaching certification puts you a step ahead of CPT-only trainers.

After all, nutrition and physical training go hand in hand.

Without taking the two-pronged approach to fitness that you get by becoming a nutrition coach and personal trainer, you will not deliver the same level of results.

Additional specializations such as corrective exercise or strength and conditioning coach further allow you to serve niche clientele.

Becoming a sought-out expert in a specific area of fitness is the tried and true method for earning a higher personal trainer salary.

Furthermore, a niche specialization will make you have a much easier time finding great clients to work with your training styles.

With a triple-threat of personal trainer certification, nutrition coaching, and a specialization, you will have a much easier time kicking off your fitness career.

On a final argument for tripling your credentials early in your career, you will need to complete CEU credits regardless to keep the CPT certification valid.

The add-on certifications will count towards the recertification credits, meaning you can essentially knock out 2-4 years of CEUs in a single purchase.

Your career also immediately benefit from the added credentials as opposed to waiting 2 years in before becoming a nutrition coach, which would potentially delay early growth in your career.

Sadly these certifications add up in price, potentially costing thousands up front.

The great news is that if you do go with the ISSA certification, you have the option to purchase the ISSA Elite Trainer Program.

The ISSA Elite Trainer bundle includes the CPT, ISSA nutrition coach, and a third fitness specialization for less than the cost of purchasing 2 certifications at full price.


With the Elite Trainer deal, you can get the three certifications for $999 paid in full or just $83 a month for 12 months.

Getting any high quality fitness certification at $333 apiece is by far the best deal in the industry.

If you don’t want to bite off three full certifications right away, you can still get a great buy-one, get-one free deal on the ISSA CPT and Nutrition programs, with the two certs coming in at $828 or $69 a month for 12 months.

That said, any great deal won’t last forever.

While we don’t have a specific date for when the deal ends, I would not delay checking the ISSA website if you do plan to look at the ISSA CPT.

If the deal on the ISSA Elite Trainer still stands, its tough to pass up.

I also have some great news if you prefer to go with the NASM CPT.

NASM also has an Elite Trainer offering, where you can get three or more NASM certifications at a fraction of the cost of purchasing the certs individually.

You can even bundle 6 NASM certifications on their highest tier package. This is a massive deal should you decide NASM makes the most sense for you.

NASM Elite Trainer Bundle

As with any great deal, you never know when it will end, so I wouldn’t delay checking it out if you think NASM is the right move for your career.

If NASM has any slots left, I’d strongly consider signing up today.

While ISSA is accredited by the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC), NASM is accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA).

But now you can choose to take an NCCA-accredited exam with ISSA, which I universally recommend for ISSA students.

Both accrediting bodies are well recognized overall as gold standards for quality fitness education.

Moving on, there are articles I’ve written to broaden your knowledge on each individual certification.

The NASM-CPT review and the ISSA review will surely satisfy your craving for specificity.

If you are still lost on where to begin as far as choosing your starting CPT certification, I highly encourage you to take my quiz to determine the best personal trainer certification for your goals.

Without further ado, let’s compare NASM vs ISSA, their strengths, and their weaknesses.

Skills and Knowledge Covered in NASM vs ISSA

Exercise Science

The wide use of terminology along with its respective definitions in both the NASM-CPT book and this free NASM-CPT study guide definitely prepares you to write your exam.

It really helps that the NASM textbook includes corresponding charts and infographics, especially for visual learners such as myself.

NASM vs ISSA CPT Duel - Which Cert Better Suits You in [year]? 1

Although the ISSA Certified Personal Trainer (ISSA-CPT) certification is dubbed as a basic certification, it is not easily obtainable.

For those just entering the personal training industry, the ISSA-CPT might be the perfect fit.

As one of the best online personal trainer certifications, ISSA provides its fitness trainers with a solid base of knowledge to expand on as they go on throughout their careers.

While their heavy focus is on general populations and weight loss, there is minimal emphasis on corrective exercise.

NASM vs ISSA CPT Duel - Which Cert Better Suits You in [year]? 2

Overall, ISSA focuses on both scientific as well as practical principles of health and fitness.

It’s one thing to know something, but once you can apply it, the world is your oyster.

NASM vs ISSA on exercise science coverage remains neck-and-neck, as neither certification fails to extensively cover exercise science.

But I should point out that ISSA is more practical.

Behavior Change Coaching Skills

Aside from being personable, knowledgeable, and having great time management, personal trainers are cognizant of client behaviors and apply effective behavior change coaching skills.

NASM highlights the Stages of Change Model exceptionally and is essential for you as a trainer to help your clients progress.

NASM emphasizes how to motivate your clients utilizing SMART goals, which is an acronym broken down below:

NASM vs ISSA CPT Duel - Which Cert Better Suits You in [year]? 3

Clients need to have realistic, measurable goals that they can achieve and feel confident about.

Having such goals not only benefits clients’ short-term success but even more, their life-long adherence to a health and fitness regime.

Out of all its course materials, ISSA covers behavior surrounding lifestyle, fitness, and nutrition so richly that there’s even a separate certification on this called the ISSA Nutritionist.

It is one of the best nutrition certification programs in the industry.

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Teaching clients behaviors, such as prioritizing exercise, making healthier eating choices, and avoiding processed junk foods, make their life outside the gym more in their control.

Clients need to know what to do when you aren’t around.

Lifestyle modification and behavioral coaching are definitely key in helping clients transform into better selves.

NASM vs ISSA on behavior coaching skills remains a tie, as they both cover this topic exceptionally and pretty similarly.

Both certifications recognize and reinforce the importance of behavior psychology surrounding health and fitness, and how it impacts clients’ overall lives.

Although, when comparing NASM vs ISSA, ISSA does a much better job at exemplifying these skills as they are used in real life.

Consulting and screening clients to reduce risks of injury

Prior to training your clients, you must understand their strengths and limitations so you can accurately devise a fitness program.

You also want to know if there will need to be any modifications so that you can prevent aggravation of any medical conditions.

NASM exceeds expectations with its coverage on consulting and screening clients in Section 2 of the textbook: Assessments, Training Concepts, and Program Design.

Next, in ISSA’s Basic Assessment of Fitness Participants section, ISSA covers the Graded Exercise Test (GXT).

This is a treadmill or cycle ergometer test that delivers heart rate, ECG, and other data, and does require medical supervision.

The workload is gradually increased until an increase in workload is not followed by an increase in VO2 max.

NASM vs ISSA CPT Duel - Which Cert Better Suits You in [year]? 4

Results of the GXT test help trainers develop an accurate aerobic training program for their clients.

In my eyes, this is so much better than just “winging it” and guessing, and makes training much safer and more effective.

Their comprehensive section on consulting and screening, Assessments, Training Concepts, and Program Design, is heartier than ACE’s personal trainer textbook and free ACE study guide.

Although ISSA’s GXT test stood out to me, ISSA vs NASM on content coverage is a tie overall.

Program design and resistance exercise technique

You’ll find the most exquisite resistance training techniques in NASM’s famous Optimum Training Model (OPT Model).

The OPT Model was developed by NASM based on scientific evidence and principles, and consists of five OPT Model phases trainers use to progress clients safely, effectively, and appropriately.

NASM vs ISSA CPT Duel - Which Cert Better Suits You in [year]? 5

In the Stabilization Endurance phase, trainers aim to help the client’s breathing and heart rate function properly.

Exercises included in this phase include walking, jogging, swimming, and/or biking.

Second is the Strength Endurance phase, which ordinarily involves weight lifting and other functional resistance exercises.

Once clients prove they can handle stabilization and endurance exercises without hesitation, they are ready for this phase.

The third phase is Hypertrophy and is generally used for muscle building. 

Overhead squats, back squats, and fronts squats are strength-building exercises that work for reducing unhealthy body weight.

According to a recent study, the majority of clients hire personal trainers for this type of exercise alone.

It’s dangerous to attempt these exercises without a trainer especially if you don’t know the proper forms and techniques.

Fourthly, the Maximal Strength phase tests the client’s overall strength.

Typically, during the initial session, trainers conduct an overhead squat assessment to give the client feedback on where they’re at.

This brings us to the final phase, Power, which combines both bodybuilding and powerlifting exercises.

I’ve spoken with many trainers, all of whom know that the NASM OPT Model is something to be grateful for.

Similarly, ISSA heavily covers programming and effective administration of programming as well.

Their strong focus on programming and the practicality of being an amazing trainer make ISSA stand out from other fitness certifications.

With ISSA, you’re bound to learn the ropes of getting creative with your exercises, too – no pun intended!

In addition to including tips on creating effective core workouts, the ISSA-CPT curriculum thoroughly covers proper stretching techniques, something rarely prioritized in other CPT curricula.

NASM vs ISSA on resistance training techniques?

I’d say that they are neck and neck.

Aerobic training program design and technique

NASM clearly covers basic components of cardiorespiratory training, along with ways various physiologic systems respond and adapt.

While both certifications cover aerobic training program design, NASM does a much better job at covering this.

NASM is better able to describe implementing aerobic training into a variety of clients’ fitness programs, using an individualized approach.

NASM vs ISSA CPT Duel - Which Cert Better Suits You in [year]? 6

You learn many aerobic training techniques in the ISSA-CPT curriculum, and I’d say they didn’t skip a (heart) beat here.

NASM vs ISSA on discussing the health-related benefits associated with aerobic training, as well as current guidelines and recommendations for aerobic activities, is a tie.

But NASM vs ISSA on this topic overall is a no-brainer – NASM wins.

Helping Special Populations with Fitness

Given NASM’s MO as one of the best corrective exercise certifications, they provide a wealth of information on working with special populations.

Table 16.20 in the NASM-CPT textbook is a great example of training considerations for women who are pregnant.

NASM vs ISSA CPT Duel - Which Cert Better Suits You in [year]? 7

As seen above, their textbook includes many detailed pictures, infographics, and templates on special population exercise routines.

Like most fitness textbooks, ISSA has its own section on training clients in the following special categories:

  • Youth fitness
  • Senior fitness
  • Pregnant women
  • Lifestyle-induced and genetic diseases

Compared to NASM and most other fitness certification programs, ISSA exceeds expectations with its in-depth coverage of special populations.

For instance, section 6 in Fitness for All, is one of the most extensive special populations sections I have ever seen.

ISSA provides the appropriate guideline changes for fitness programs along with insightful descriptions of the issues people in that special category face.

With this knowledge, there’s no doubt that you’ll have a clearer understanding of nearly every client you run into, and be able to provide quality personal training tips for beginners.

Although NASM vs ISSA on content coverage is a tie, NASM vs ISSA on quality of coverage proves ISSA to be the winner.

Thinking Long-Term: Business Skills for Personal Trainers

NASM exceeds expectations with its strong emphasis on the fitness business, cutting-edge personal training marketing ideas, and cultivating a successful career.

You’ll explore the following:

With having this information so easily accessible, you can gauge the pros and cons of ideal workplaces before you even start.

NASM also covers gym memberships and how to sell personal training, which is the key knowledge to apply to kickstart a bangin’ fitness business.

Furthermore, I appreciate how NASM enforces the importance of developing a niche because the most successful personal trainers will always have and know their niche.

While NASM teaches you the solid fundamentals of the personal training business, ISSA goes even further on how to obtain and retain clients.

Something ISSA definitely got right is its emphasis on business and entrepreneurial strategies in ISSA’s very own business guide, Fiscal Fitness.

NASM vs ISSA CPT Duel - Which Cert Better Suits You in [year]? 8

Though this helps accelerate the careers of its qualifying trainers, the one drawback is that the marketing strategies are somewhat dated and exclude online fitness marketing protocols.

So if you want to learn how to become an online personal trainer, consider seeking additional resources.

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Regardless, Fiscal Fitness is still a great foundational tool for business basics and can help tremendously with helping you learn how to be a successful personal trainer in no time.

Both certifications offer some small group personal training tips, too.


It’s fair to say that both ISSA and NASM are neck-and-neck with CPT content coverage for the most part.

Nevertheless, due to the improved business skills resources and better special populations discussions, I personally put ISSA a tad bit ahead of NASM when it comes to the best personal trainer certification.

NASM vs ISSA Certification Requirements

Most fitness certifying agencies have similar personal trainer requirements.

Here’s what both ISSA and NASM require of you:

  • High school diploma or the equivalent (GED)
  • CPR and AED certified

While the ISSA-CPT exam requires you to be at least 18 years of age, NASM does not.

Although you are not required to be at least 18 years of age to take the NASM-CPT test, most employers require personal trainer insurance.

And here’s the kicker.

Most insurance companies require the insured to be at least 18 years of age.

Study Materials: Quality and Price

If you wonder how much personal trainer certifications cost, stay tuned as I compare NASM vs ISSA on study materials and price.

Rather than just one NASM-CPT exam cost, there are four distinct CPT certification packages:

NASM vs ISSA CPT Duel - Which Cert Better Suits You in [year]? 9
  • NCCA accredited exam
  • NASM-CPT textbook
  • Lecture videos
  • NASM Exercise library
  • NASM-CPT practice exams
  • NASM online practice tests
  • Comprehensive NASM study guide

This is the best option for those who just want to study and sit for the exam, without any additional resources, like flashcards.

Secondly, NASM’s Premium Self-Study includes exactly what the Self-Study does, with the addition of the following features:

  • Anatomy Memorization Activity
  • Correcting form videos
  • Learning Activities
  • Flashcard bundles

This package is the most ideal visual, hands-on learner.

Then, the NASM Guided Study is the most popular package and includes the following:

  • Reading materials
  • Exam readiness webinars
  • Access to coaches and mentors
  • Nine discussion questions
  • NASM Live workshop
  • NASM exam prep guarantee
  • NASM-CPT hardcopy textbook

This package is perfect for those who crave the hands-on aspect of studying.

And finally, the fourth and juiciest one of all – the NASM All-Inclusive, which costs the most

Here’s what you get:

  • NASM job guarantee after completing your NASM Gymternship
  • Real-life experience
  • All the benefits from the NASM Guided Study

You’ll even get the ultimate level of assurance with the “Job Guarantee,” which means that if you do not get a job within 90 days, you get your money back.

The job guarantee is an excellent addition because sometimes even if you are certified, it’s hard to get hired as a trainer.

Remember that combining the CPT certification with nutrition coaching and other fitness certifications is the best way to kick start your career.

With the exclusive offerings available to PTPioneer readers, you can get a massive discount on every tier of the NASM package.

NASM Elite Trainer Bundle

If you are serious about getting the absolute most out of your fitness career, I would not delay checking the NASM deals, because you just never know when they’ll decide that their offer is too good.

Also, while most personal training organizations neglect the sales, marketing, and business aspect of the profession, NASM does the exact opposite.

In fact, the NASM Business Accelerator Program provides guidance on the personal training business, and even how to get a personal training internship.

You’ll learn actionable techniques to help you maximize your profits, use of time, and value that you provide.

If you want in on the fast track to becoming a successful, industry-leading personal trainer, then this is definitely the package I’d recommend for you.

But what if you’d rather test only?

Thankfully, there is a CPT Exam Only option, which costs $599 and does not include study materials, online courses, or any other perks of the full packages.

As long as you are willing to put in the time, this bundle practically assures you that you will successfully pass the exam.

I wouldn’t recommend this unless you have a strong exercise science or kinesiology background, or a Bachelor’s Degree in either discipline.

But if you decide to go this route, it’s recommended to browse through this free NASM study guide.

To get access to better premium materials at a lower cost than official study materials, my students prefer the Trainer Academy NASM-CPT MVP Study Package, which includes flashcards, audio guides, practice tests, and an exam pass guarantee.

You are always free to buy the more expensive NASM CPT study packages directly from the organization.

Now let’s look at ISSA.

As I mentioned, its seriously worth considering the ISSA nutrition coach and fitness specialization certificatoin right after your CPT program.

Why waste time with just a CPT when you could come out of the gate offering full-spectrum fitness, nutrition, and niche clientele training.

There is no doubt that the initial investment will pay off quickly as you surpass your peers with just the CPT certification.

Additionally, you’ll have to do CEUs at some point regardless, so why delay the inevitable?

In line with this, I will again encourage you to consider the ISSA Elite Trainer Package.

The Elite Trainer includes the triple-threat CPT, nutrition, and fitness specialization certification.

Overall, the price tag for the Elite Trainer is lower by far than if you were to purchase the CPT and nutrition certification alone – meaning even without the third included specialization, you are still saving money.


With that in mind, the Elite Trainer really is a no-brainer if you plan to go with ISSA.

On a final note, you can routinely find promotions on the Elite Trainer package from the ISSA website – effectively stacking your savings on top of each other.

With the exclusive offers on the ISSA programs for PTPioneer readers, its tough to pass up on the ISSA Elite Trainer.

As PTPioneer reader, you can also combine the CPT and nutrition certification for the same price as the standard retail price of just the ISSA CPT alone.

Thankfully, ISSA provides a free physical book with your purchase of its online personal trainer certification course.

Some people, such as myself, love the idea of a hardcopy book because it is much easier for note-taking purposes.

NASM vs ISSA CPT Duel - Which Cert Better Suits You in [year]? 10

Its conversational tone makes the information accessible while still expanding on technicality and terminology.

I’d strongly advise you to read the ISSA-CPT book thoroughly, but if ever you’re stuck, the ISSA support team is on hand.

The general price for ISSA personal trainer certifications is $828, and comes with:

  • ISSA-CPT textbook
  • Entrance to the ISSA certification test
  • ISSA-CPT course
  • Extra online study materials
  • Practice tests

Note that you may also refer to 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.

If you really want to get a bang for your buck, I definitely recommend the ISSA Elite Trainer Bundle.

This includes the ISSA-CPT, nutrition certification, and another certification of your choice.

Comparing NASM vs ISSA on this matter, ISSA takes the lead because its high-quality fitness education and reasonable prices simply can’t be beaten.

While some argue that having multiple options and NASM-CPT costs makes you freer to choose, others actually appreciate the simplicity and straightforwardness of the ISSA-CPT cost.

In case you are wondering how long it takes to become a personal trainer, the program duration of the ISSA-CPT is less than that of the NASM-CPT.

But this really varies from person to person based on experience and education.

Which Exam is Harder, NASM or ISSA?

Let’s explore NASM vs ISSA on exam difficulty.

NASM falls in line with other top-notch fitness certifications, like NSCA, with its exam difficulty.

The exam consists of 120 multiple-choice questions, which you’re given two hours to attempt.

You must achieve 70% or higher to pass.

As of 2021, the NASM-CPT pass rate is 60% for first-time test-takers, making it slightly harder than ACE and ACSM, both at 65%.

Personally, I found the NASM-CPT practice tests to be most helpful when preparing for the exam.

Should you fail, you may retake this exam as many times as you need to pass it.

There is a $199 retest fee, but if you choose the Premium Self-Study Package, you will be allowed to retake the exam entirely for free.

The ISSA certification test is open book, which makes the ISSA-CPT the easiest to obtain.

There is a 90% pass rate, where a vast majority of test-takers pass their first attempt.

The ISSA exam is a non-proctored test, which means no one or nothing monitors the integrity or activity of a candidate during an exam.

Also, because it’s an entirely open book, you can refer to all your study materials as you do the exam.

And, your ISSA-CPT certification exam is self-paced, which means there isn’t a time constraint.

But there’s just one caveat.

Although it is easier to pass than, say, ACSM or NASM, there are sections of this exam that are relatively difficult.

The passing score is at least 75% in each area and overall.

And while most other CPT exams are exclusively multiple-choice, the ISSA exam also includes case studies.

According to almost all ISSA-CPT test-takers, the hardest section is the case studies.

You will receive two random fictional clients with different challenges and goals and will be required to provide an appropriate 12-week individualized program for both clients.

You must know how to transition different clients through a routine in order to pass.

My only advice to you would be an extensive study of the special populations and program design sections.

Thankfully, ISSA has a more lenient approach to retakes, where immediately following the failure, you are permitted to retake the exam for free.

This is a one-time deal, so if you fail your free retake, you must pay a fee of $50 to be allowed another shot at it.

This retake fee is still pretty decent considering what other certifications charge, which can sometimes be as high as $200.

While some suggest this is convenient, others might argue that it’s a little too convenient.

Having a retake fee with a stringent policy equals quality control.

Comparing NASM vs ISSA on exam difficulty, NASM is much harder and certainly requires more prep time.

NASM vs ISSA Continuing Education

Comparing NASM vs ISSA on continuing education and recertification was fairly easy.

The NASM-CPT certification is valid for two years after passing your exam.

During that two-year period, you will be required to obtain 2.0 continuing education credits (CECs), and this is made easy with all the NASM continuing education credit options available.

Technically, it’s 1.9 CECs because the last .1 comes from your CPR/AED recertification course.

Note that you can use a completed college degree related to the field (i.e. exercise science or kinesiology) toward your CECs.

Taking courses for the purpose of certification renewal from other organizations not yet recognized by NASM requires you to pay a $25 fee for the NASM certification board to verify them.

Similarly, ISSA requires certification renewal every two years.

And in that two-year period, you must obtain 20 hours of CECs.

While CECs provided by ISSA make your recertification free, CECs from other organizations will cost you $99.

Review Methodology

For my NASM vs ISSA review, I critically looked at the key areas covered in each CPT certification.

I focused on the overall skillset needs for personal trainers and how the NASM vs ISSA CPT curriculum covers each skill.

I also used my knowledge of the fitness industry, personal training, and individual certifications to analyze each certification for strengths and weaknesses.

NASM vs ISSA Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)


So that’s a wrap on my NASM vs ISSA article.

Is a CPT from NASM or ISSA worth it?

I’d agree.

Although ISSA and NASM both provide high-quality fitness education, comparing NASM vs ISSA overall really depends on where you see yourself as a professional.

While I recommend ISSA for entry-level trainers, NASM is the better certification to broaden your horizons.

Knowing there are many personal trainer certification programs, I hope that my NASM vs ISSA article helps you on your quest.

Perhaps now, you’re one step closer toward your official personal trainer certification, and honestly, whichever one you choose will be right for you.

If you want a deep look at the individual certifications, check out our in depth NASM review and ISSA review, respectively.

If you are still wondering which certification is best for you, consider taking the quiz to discover the best CPT for your goals.

Are you ready to start your CPT studying?

If so, I highly recommend checking the latest pricing directly on the organization website. As a PTPioneer reader, you can get access to our exclusive discounts on both NASM and ISSA certifications.

Thank you for reading!

Tyler Read

Tyler Read, BSc, CPT. Tyler holds a B.S. in Kinesiology from Sonoma State University and is a certified personal trainer (CPT) with NASM (National Academy of sports medicine), and has over 15 years of experience working as a personal trainer. He is a published author of running start, and a frequent contributing author on Healthline and Eat this, not that.

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41 thoughts on “NASM vs ISSA CPT Duel – Which Cert Better Suits You in 2023?”

  1. PTPioneer User

    Hello, I am Dr. Rashmi Shah.

    I have done specialization in fitness Nutrition from ISSA.
    Now want to enhance my knowledge in Exercise science.
    After completing my certicfications, i will be working in India in the fitness industry.

    Could you please guide me , which certification will be better for a beginner like me? NASM/ACE/ISSA?

    Is NASM worth investing $1300 ?

    Looking forward for the positive feedback from you.

    Thank you for taking time to read my mail.

    1. Ben Rose - Certified Personal Trainer with PTPioneer

      Thanks for commenting on the blog. To be honest I think that ACE and NASM are pretty even in terms of a beginning PT certification. And since ACE is so much cheaper I have been recommending it over NASM lately especially for people trying to save money. And since they just made there most expensive package $100 off, this is a something I would definitely take advantage of because they provide great study materials for their advanced package. Hope my input was helpful and good luck studying for to become a PT! Here is a link to the special that is going on right now: ACE premium plus $100 off

  2. PTPioneer User
    francis Raymores


    I decided to make a career change, but does not have a health background, I live in the Dominican Republic and need to decide which beginners certification is better for me. I am planing to work with people my age 40 +

  3. PTPioneer User

    Hi, I’m Nga from Viet Nam. Could you please recommend the most suitable course for me to be become a internationally certified PT? Thanks

    1. Tyler Read - Certified Personal Trainer with PTPioneer

      ISSA is a good internationally recognized certification. For the other ones you should get in contact with a local gymnasium and ask which certifications they accept.

    1. Tyler Read - Certified Personal Trainer with PTPioneer

      I am not quite sure you will have to talk to the local gymnasiums in your country to see if they accept NASM.

  4. PTPioneer User

    This breakdown of both certifications definitely gave me clarity and helped me decided which certification to persue. This article was extremely insightful, thanks again!

  5. PTPioneer User

    I currently went with ISSA after completing the program, what college classes should I take to further extend my career as a personal trainer?

    1. Tyler Read - Certified Personal Trainer with PTPioneer

      Hey Gabriel,
      Are you planning on going through a kinesiology program? I think that the best additional classes in the personal trainer could take our a nutrition class, a biomechanics class and an anatomy class. I hope this helps and good luck with becoming a personal trainer!

  6. PTPioneer User

    For someone living WAY outside of the US (Russia namely) but still aiming to have a PT certification that is going to be recognised globally, which one should I go with? So to say, I’ve been trying to get in touch with NASM, but they simply don’t answer my mails or my feedback requests from their site. So I’m thinking about alternatives.

    1. Tyler Read - Certified Personal Trainer with PTPioneer

      Hey Alex,
      In terms of taking the exam, the ISSA exam is taken online so you can be wherever while taking the exam. In terms of a certification being internationally recognized, that really depends on the country you’re in and even the specific gym that you want to apply to work for. I would go around asking local employers what certifications they accept and which ones they recommend before jumping into studying and purchasing a certification. I hope this helps.

  7. PTPioneer User

    This is great Tyler thank so much! Above you mention that NASM goes more indepth into corrective training but ISSA also offers two specialized courses on corrective exercise and exercise therapy. Do you know if these are any good and give you in-depth knowledge to work with corrective training?

    1. Tyler Read - Certified Personal Trainer with PTPioneer

      Hey Shaini,
      Yes, when I mentioned that it goes more into corrective exercise, I mean it talks more about it in the general personal training certification. However, if you do get a specialized certification such as the corrective exercise or exercise therapy certifications from the international sports science Association that will be much more in-depth than any general personal training certification will be on the topic. I hope this helps answer your question.

  8. PTPioneer User

    Hey, just wanted to say thanks for all the info… i think I’ve narrowed my choices down to NASM and ISSA. Ive recently left behind strength building to pursue bodybuilding and want to turn my focus on independent training for strength and/or bodybuilding. I want to also drop programs online. I was hoping you could help me come to a conclusion. I’m not extremely concerned with what gyms prefer. Im more concerned with my clietns and the knowledge these programs will provide me with.

    1. Tyler Read - Certified Personal Trainer with PTPioneer

      Hey Morghan,
      In this instance I would go for the international sports sciences Association over NASM. NASM Focuses more on muscular imbalances and fixing those as opposed to bodybuilding focused training. The great thing about ISSA is that they actually have a specific bodybuilding certification specialization that you can get either after the general CPT, or you can study for it at the same time. They also have a fantastic deal where you can get three certifications, there general training certification, their nutritionist certification and one other of your choice. You could actually pick the bodybuilding specialization to be your third choice which would be an excellent route to take. Here is a link to the special elite trainer deal

  9. PTPioneer User

    I am 28 years old (female ) and i had just started my journey into fitness field. I had completed a basic certification in fitness . But now i wanted to pursue a certification which is good and recognized. As being a fresher i am very much confused which certification should i go for.
    Mainly on Fitness & Nutrition.
    Because i want to invest once in any best course.
    Please help me with my confusion.

    1. Tyler Read - Certified Personal Trainer with PTPioneer

      Hello, I suggest you check out my article on the top five personal training certifications. That will help you get a better understanding about what each of these certifying agencies is all about. In terms of price, they all have a very similar price to one another. All of them are nationally recognized in the United States as legitimate certifications. So on that front, you are clear. Here is the link.

  10. PTPioneer User

    Good evening and thank you for your time.
    I read through your articles and it gave me a good amount of info, but I’m still left wondering which Cert would be right for me. I’m a seasoned PTA of 6yrs and have had the honor of working with a variety of patients/ clients from seniors to professional athletes. I have no interest in working in any mainstream gyms. My goal is to be able to provide training from post rehab to peak performance for my previous patients and future clients. Cost is obviously a huge factor in my decision making ,but as an independent entity recognition and accreditation are very important as well I’m guessing. What are your thoughts?

    1. Tyler Read - Certified Personal Trainer with PTPioneer

      Hey Nat,
      if you are working with high-end athletes and you are looking to perfect that craft. The best certification in the industry for strength and conditioning/athletes is the certified strength and conditioning specialist certification from the NSCA. The only thing is that you do need a bachelors degree in order to be eligible to take this exam. Besides that I would deftly recommend the performance enhancement specialist from NASM. I hope this helps answer your question.

  11. PTPioneer User

    Hi Tyler , Thank you for all the informations , I’m physiotherapist and wondering which type of Certification do you recommended for a physiotherapist want to be a trainer at the same time I want to get benefit from the certification as a physio, and how can physiotherapy affect my career as a trainer in a positive way.
    Thank you so much .

    1. Tyler Read - Certified Personal Trainer with PTPioneer

      I think that any of the top General personal training certifications would work for your needs whether it be the National Academy of sports medicine, the international sports Sciences Association for the American Council on exercise are all fantastic options. None of them at the beginning level will Tailor exactly to your knees as a physiotherapist. But they all provide fantastic Base information that will help you on your way towards becoming a great personal trainer.

  12. PTPioneer User

    Hi, I see that you talk about the performance training specialization of NASM. Although ISSA seems to have a strength and conditioning specialization too. How would you compare these two? If they are comparable. Thank you!

    1. Tyler Read - Certified Personal Trainer with PTPioneer

      Hey Anthony, this strength and conditioning certification from the international sports Sciences Association is also a viable option. If you can though, I recommend getting the CSCS certification as it is the most recognized strength and conditioning certification. But, you do need a four-year degree in order to get it.

  13. PTPioneer User

    Hi Tyler,

    Thank you for all this wonderful information! I am currently receiving my Master’s Degree in Health Psychology. I have also taught group fitness classes for 3 years. My goal is to incorporate nutrition and psychology to offer services for disease prevention, provide information for overall physical/mental health, and be able to develop nutrition plans/workouts. I am looking at both AFPA and NASM but not sure which one would be better for me. I have seen different information about NASM being accredited and not-accredited. Does accreditation matter if you want to start your own business?



    1. Tyler Read - Certified Personal Trainer with PTPioneer

      Hey Hayley,
      Meditation can matter in some situations such as if you are being hired as an employee. Although, the National Academy of Sports medicine is very recognized as an organization and most people accept it even though the nutrition certification is not yet accredited. In terms of clients, they will not know the difference between any certification weather is accredited or is not accredited.

  14. PTPioneer User
    Mikhaela Clavio

    Hello Tyler,

    I’ve been doing a lot of research here trying to figure out if ISSA is the way to go or if i should choose a different CPT course. This is completely new to me and I don’t want to be surprised with having problem with my certification in the long run. My goal is to become a very knowledgeable CPT. I’m planning on becoming certified in nutrition and specializing in Strength and Conditioning. Both things I talked to another CPT at ISSA about. CPT’s from ISSA said I could get could get CPT certification, Nutrition certification, and a strength and conditioning certification. Is that 100% correct? I saw you previously stated that you needed a 2 year degree to get that kind of certification. Also, if I choose to go with ISSA will that hold me back from building clientele compared to getting certified through NASM? I want to eventually be on my own and have my own business after getting certified and getting my feet wet working through a gym for the first couple months or until I build up my clientele and business. Therefore, will my ISSA CPT Certification hold me back at all from becoming the well known CPT that I am working towards?

    1. Tyler Read - Certified Personal Trainer with PTPioneer

      The most important thing about becoming a well-known and successful personal trainer is the knowledge and dedication you put in year after year. The certification is just to get your foot in the door. That being said, the three for one deal is definitely a good one because you can get multiple certifications for a very low price.

  15. PTPioneer User
    David Bajramovic

    Hey Tyler,

    now that NASM offers online course for the first time, would you say that it has a clear advantage over ISSA in almost all aspects? I am looking to get PT certification and will be looking for a job mainly in Middle East, Asia and possibly Europe, but definitely not US. So would you say that NASM is as respected outside the US as it is there? Thank you in advance

    1. Tyler Read - Certified Personal Trainer with PTPioneer

      These are some excellent questions. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the National Academy of sports medicine has for a limited time the ability to take the exam online. And since they are so well recognized this is definitely an opportunity I would jump on if I were you.

  16. PTPioneer User
    Ana Carolina Morrone

    I live in Orlando, Florida and I want to become a personal trainer, I want to focus on bodybuilding/ weight training, which program would be the best one for me? I have zero knowledge but I love to work out and really want to have a certificate to work with it.

    1. Tyler Read - Certified Personal Trainer with PTPioneer

      I would go with ISSA as they do have a fantastic transformation specialist certification that helps with body building that you can get alongside the general personal training certification. This seems like the route that would best suit you.

  17. PTPioneer User

    Hi Tyler,

    Im looking for more nutrition based knowledge with PTC as a bonus.. My focus would primarily be online clients and friends and family at first. Im having a hard time deciding between NASM and ISSA because NASMs nutrition program is not accredited. Any Help would be awesome.


    1. Tyler Read - Certified Personal Trainer with PTPioneer

      Both nutrition certifications are great. The National Academy of sports medicine is still really well recognized. If you decide to work with friends and families that want to focus on sports-related goals, I would go with the international sports Sciences Association.

  18. PTPioneer User

    Is the Nasm material more difficult to learn than the ISSA material? I’m wondering if I should start with Issa and do Nasm later.
    I live in Canada, can I write the Nasm exam in Canada? I see something in their site that says they have something called Uproctor, but I am unsure if this is only during covid?

    Thanks for all your insight!

    1. Tyler Read - Certified Personal Trainer with PTPioneer

      The NASM Is definitely harder than the ISSA exam. About one out of every three people do not pass the National Academy of sports medicine. Approximately 90% of people pass the ISSA exam.

  19. PTPioneer User

    Good news.
    Just last month ISSA declared that ISSA is now NCCA accredited.
    Now ISSA is great choice for certification. Isn’t it?

    Amit Patil

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