Issa and NASM are two of the most popular personal training certifications on the market.

But which one should you choose if you can only pick one?

In this article, I will answer that question and more. You will know exactly which one is right for you by the end. After this article, don’t forget to check out my article on the top five certifications compared. That is a must read. Let’s jump right in.

NASM vs ISSA: The overall Focus of Each Certification

You will learn which beginner certification is perfect for the type of training that you would like to do. ISSA is an excellent certification for personal trainers that are just starting out. They have a slight emphasis on powerlifting or reactive training. They focus on what they call “the strength curve.”

Right now you can save up to 30% on all NASM CPT certifications!
Here is the link to the NASM sale
The best deal from ACE is $100 off ALL CPT CERTIFICATIONS with the code GOACEPT
Here is the link to the ACE sale
Now is the time to start your PT career!
Here is the link to the current ISSA sale!

This type of training is usually emphasized in powerlifting and athletes that are trying to reach peak performance. But overall I would put ISSA in the “general” category for certifications.

NASM primarily focuses on muscular imbalances and corrective exercise training. This certification lets you trained a wide variety of individuals with it’s OPT progressive training model. It teaches you how to deal with post-rehabilitation clients.

Level one of the OPT training model is stability training. This stage makes sure all of your clients are fit enough to move on to other advanced training methods.

I would put NASM in the “corrective” category for certifications. Although ISSA does a good job with the basics of personal training, they tend to ignore functional training more than they should. If your future clients are going to be high school or college athletes or you would like to focus on peak performance training, you should consider going with ISSA.

Although NASM does have an advanced certification called the PES or performance enhancement specialist That is much better than ISSA for working with athletes.

This certification also emphasizes peak performance for athletes. Since the PES is wholly focused on performance, it does a better job than the general ISSA certification.

Since you are most likely just getting started in the fitness industry, I recommend you check out my article on the ultimate guide on how to become a CPT.

Also if you would like to learn how much money personal trainers make, check out my article on personal training income, and my article on how long it takes to become a CPT.  Let’s jump right into my NASM or ISSA article.

Here is a quick comparison chart of NASM and ISSA for all of you individuals that are for visual information. Below the chart will be a more in-depth comparison between the two.

  • Industry Recognition
  • General Focus
  • Base Price
  • Study Materials
  • Exam Pass Rate
  • Exam Questions
  • Continuing Education
  • High
  • Corrective exercise
  • $699
  • Great
  • 64%
  • 120
  • 20 hours and $99 every two years
  • Medium/High
  • General Training
  • $599
  • Good
  • 90%
  • multiple-choice, true false and short essays
  • 20 hours and $99 every two years

Information on the test, materials, and pricing


After purchasing the NASM exam bundle, you will have a total of 6 months to complete your studying and take the exam. To sign up to take the test you need to register date and time with a local lasergrade facility.

You can locate these facilities in most major cities in the United States. And one of the best things about it is that you get your test results immediately after you finish taking it.

You need to score at least 70% to pass. The test contains 120 multiple-choice questions, and you receive 2 hours to complete all of them. In my opinion that is plenty of time.

There are three general packages that you could purchase through NASM. The cheapest option is the exam only package. And as the name suggests, you get no study materials.

This option cost $599. The next option is the self-study package. This costs $699 and includes entrance to the examination; there is a textbook, online study resources, and flashcards. The next bundle is the self-study with live workshop bundle. Prices change from time to time, check out the current prices.

It costs $849 and includes everything that the self-study bundled did with an additional live workshop and “exam prep super bundle.”

The next bundle is called their online classroom. Thibundleed costs $999 and includes access to their eTeach program. This program takes you through the learning process and breaks down complicated concepts for you.

And it comes with a money back guarantee if you do not pass the exam! Check out my full review on NASM for more information. I also suggest you take a look at their site for the most current information!



ISSA has a set price of $599 for their test and study material bundle. I often see them discounted down to $499 though. Make sure to check for the special around holidays. ISSA has promotions going on frequently, check out the current price.

Right now you can save up to 30% on all NASM CPT certifications!
Here is the link to the NASM sale
The best deal from ACE is $100 off ALL CPT CERTIFICATIONS with the code GOACEPT
Here is the link to the ACE sale
Now is the time to start your PT career!
Here is the link to the current ISSA sale!

The study bundle includes the textbook, entrance to the exam and online study materials to aid you in your studying process.

The textbook that they provide you is huge! It is approximately 800 pages long. ISSA has an open book testing format.

Make sure to highlight important information in the book as well as add bookmarks so that you can easily find the information you are looking for. Although the test is an open book, there are multiple difficult sections to it.

They have multiple-choice, true-false, short essay questions and two case studies. The hardest part of the test by far is answering the case studies correctly.

You will be given to random individuals with different goals and capabilities. You will need to develop a 12-week progressive exercise routine for them to fit their needs.

In my opinion, I do not like tests that are open book because it does not force you to memorize the information. You will need to have all this information memorized when working with your clients. You need to score at least 75% in each category as well as 75% overall.

Once you purchase their certification, you have two years to complete the test. Check out my complete review on ISSA for more information or head over to their site for more info.

Conclusion on NASM vs ISSA

Overall it is pretty clear that NASM is the most well-recognized certification in the industry right now. Their OPT training model has been revolutionary, and most trainers apply their principles.

Before you choose either certification, you should check with potential employers to see which certifications they except and which ones they prefer.

Some employers do not accept certifications that aren’t NCCA accredited.

ISSA is not accredited by the NCCA, but they are accredited by the DETC (which I think is an excellent accreditation).  The most crucial question is what type of individuals you would like to train when you become a personal trainer.

With NASM you will be able to train a wide range of individuals.

You will be able to work with the “average American” that is very sedentary and has many muscular imbalances. You will also be able to work with post-rehab patients that need a safe, progressive exercise routine. If you are looking to train only athletes, ISSA might be the best way to go.

On the other hand, NASM has a perfect advanced certification geared towards athletic performance.

This certification is called the PES or performance enhancement specialist. In my opinion, this certification is much better than ISSA’s general certification in regards to working with athletes.

Overall I give the trophy to NASM because of their study materials, industry recognition and a wide variety of clients that you can train.

ISSA is still a fantastic certification, don’t get me wrong. You will learn a ton from the certification, and it will still provide an excellent foundation for you to become an exceptional personal trainer.

Make sure to check out both of these certifications websites to you more information before you make a decision.

Another great option is the American Council on exercise or ACE (my review), they are definitely in my top two for best certifications of 2016. I hope I provided good information on NASM vs ISSA for you!

Here are some additional comparison articles that compare the NASM certification: NASM vs NSCA, NASM vs ACE, NASM vs NCCPT and NASM vs ACSM.

Here are some additional articles that compare the ISSA certification: ISSA vs ACE, ISSA vs NSCA and ISSA vs ACSM. Write me up a comment down below!

Tyler Read has a Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology. Tyler is also a certified personal trainer with NASM, ACE and CSCS. Tyler’s main goal is to help people get started in the personal training industry and to become successful personal trainers. Tyler is the owner of Personal Training Pioneer which helps people get started in the personal training industry and become successful.

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