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:
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
|CPT||ACSM vs ACE Quick Breakdown||Features||Price|
|ISSA-CPT||View on ISSA Website|
|NASM-CPT||View on NASM Website|
- Complete curriculum study preparation
- Audio guide, flashcards, and mnemonics
- 800+ practice questions
- Exam pass refund guarantee
- Cheaper pricing than ISSA and NASM 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
- Places personal trainers can work
- Employment type
- Which gyms accept which personal train certifications
- In-home personal training rates
- Much more
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.
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.
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.
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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:
- 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.
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.
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 $699, and comes with:
- ISSA-CPT textbook
- Entrance to the ISSA certification test
- ISSA-CPT course
- Extra online study materials
- Practice tests
If you wish to test only, ISSA’s Certified Personal Trainer NCCPT Exam Only option costs $599.
It does not come with the textbook, so if you do want it, it’ll cost $40.
This test-only option is not ideal unless you are definitely confident in your ability to pass your exam, and/or already have background knowledge and/or related experience.
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.
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?
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 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!
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