Welcome to my NSCA vs ISSA article, let’s see who comes out on top!
I promise that by the end, your confusion about which one to choose will be apparent. Another must read is my comparison guide to the top 5 certifications for trainers! You may also like my VS articles: NSCA vs NASM, ISSA vs ACE and ISSA vs NASM.
It’s recommended that you Take the quiz to find out which PT certification is the best fit for your goals as a trainer. The menu at the top of this page will answer any question related to personal training that you have. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to leave me a comment here (I’ll respond within 24 hours). Also, visit the home page for the most recent and popular articles.
I have a free study guide on my website here as well as a free study guide/practice test for NSCA here. For premium study materials, I highly recommend Trainer Academy as they offer an exam pass guarantee and will overall cut your study time in half. They have study materials for NSCA as well as premium study materials for ISSA. Check out my review on them here.
ISSA vs NSCA Quick Information
ISSA is more of a general certification whereas the NSCA has a stronger focus on sports performance. ISSA is accredited by the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC) while the NSCA is accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA). These two accrediting bodies DEAC and NCCA are well recognized in the USA as standard for quality education and for professional certification program respectively.
Both the ISSA CPT certification and the NSCA certification are highly regarded as great fitness certifications for Personal Trainers in the health and fitness industry.
The NSCA offers a membership option whereas ISSA does not. The NSCA has one of the lowest pass rates in the industry of approximately 54% while ISSA has one of the highest test pass rates at approximately 90%.
The overall Focus of ISSA and NSCA
International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA) is typically seen as a general beginner certification with a slight emphasis on powerlifting and athletic performance. They talk about the “strength curve” a lot in their study materials. This strength curve generally focuses on athletic performance.
This type of training uses explosive movements to propel athletes to their highest level. But ISSA also has a lot of material that is great for the general client that is trying to lose body fat.
This is why I recommend ISSA for fitness trainers that will be working with “the average Joe” or real people that are just starting out. NSCA also has a substantial section emphasizing athletic performance for athletes.
In fact, the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) focuses more on athletic performance more than ISSA’s general certification does. This is because NSCA has a more advanced certification called the CSCS that concentrates solely on athletic performance.
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NSCA try to lead you into their advanced certification through the general certification. If you are planning on training mostly clients that are trying to work on athletic performance, I would go the route of NSCA.
I am guessing that you are just getting started in the personal training industry, make sure to check out my ultimate guide on getting started in the PT industry.
If you want to learn how much money you can make as a personal trainer, check out my article on how much you can earn as a trainer.
The materials, pricing and test information
NSCA certification review:
NSCA only offers one way to study for their examination, and that is their textbook. Their textbook is more significant than most certifying agencies but not quite as significant as ISSA’s. And unlike ISSA, you need to have all of the information memorized because this test is not an open book.
NSCA offers candidates two exam format option. There is a computerized version of the test (which is more expensive) as well as a pencil and paper version. For a nonmember to take the “pencil and paper test”, it will cost approximately $420.
In fact, this examination might be the hardest test out of all of the certifications. The exam consists of 140 multiple choice questions to be answered in 3 hours. There is approximately a 54% passing rate for 1st-time test takers. That does the lowest passing rate I can find out about all of the certifications.
The examination and textbook will cost approximately $511 for a non-member. If you become a member of NSCA, the benefits are numerous. You get discounted prices on certifications, study packages, access to events and journals.
NSCA also go further to offer additional certifications, one of those is Strength and Conditioning Specialist. This specialization helps you to increase your earning power.
One of the criteria to get to this level is that you must have a bachelor’s degree or a higher degree in chiropractic medicine or similar fields to qualify for the CSCS exam.
NSCA certification is valid for 3 years after then you are required to renew your certification by obtaining Continuing Education Credits within the 3 years. The recertification process is simple and similar to other agencies.
Check out other less expensive CEU courses and renew your certification.
You will be able to gain access to all of their research on exercise science on their website. If you plan on going the NSCA route make sure you have plenty of time to study. Check out my full review on NSCA here or my articles on NSCA test FAQ and NSCA exam prep.
Make sure to check out my free NSCA study guide/practice test here or check out the premium NSCA study materials from Trainer Academy to cut your study time in half and receive an exam pass guarantee.
ISSA certification review:
The overall price for ISSA right now is $799, but I regularly see it marked down to $699. What you get for $699 is their textbook, access to the test and extra online study materials. Prices change, you can see the current price here.
The textbook that they give you is a whopping 759 pages of extremely dense information. The textbook is by far the largest out of all of the certifying agencies textbooks.
But the examination is an open book, so make sure to make important highlights and bookmarks throughout your studying so that you could easily access them while taking the test.
Although the textbook is massive, I feel that the test is easier than most other certifications because it is an open book. I think that you should have this information ingrained in your head because you will not be able to flip through a textbook while training a client on the spot.
It is still a tough exam to pass because they have a multiple-choice, small essay questions and case studies. You need to score at least 75% in each section to pass the test and get your certification.
I have heard from many people that the hardest part by far is passing the case study section. You will be given to random individuals with different goals.
You will need to write out a 12-week progressive exercise routine that is individualized for each person. Make sure to study the program design as well as special populations section of the textbook extensively. ISSA has a 90% pass rate.
ISSA offers other certifications that are distance education courses. These courses are online courses that you can attend to obtain CEUs.
Similarly, ISSA offers certifications specialization courses, the Elite Trainer and the Master Trainer certification. These Specializations are more advanced than the Personal Trainer certification. These certifications help you earn better and also expand your knowledge. The criteria that qualify you to write the exam is stricter and more expensive than that of the personal training certification.
ISSA PT certification is valid for 2 years. You are required to get recertified by obtaining 20 hours of Continuing Education Credits within the 2years.
Make sure to check out my awesome free study guide, practice test and flashcards for ISSA here. Also, make sure to check out my ISSA exam FAQ article as well as my ISSA exam prep post. If you want premium study materials and an exam pass guarantee, check out the ISSA trainer Academy Study materials here.
Should you choose either of these certifications, do yourself a favour and find out top fitness trainer certifications, know the independent and corporate trainer salary and ultimately, how to start personal training.
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Conclusion on NSCA vs ISSA
Either certification will provide all fitness professionals with the right amount of experience you started with personal training. Both certifications are great if you’re getting into athletic performance either at a college or high school level.
I do like how ISSA teaches the fundamentals of personal training as well as their exercise progression methods. I believe it is better for training the average American client and for personal trainers that are just starting out compared to NSCA.
- Check out the ISSA cert here for more info
- Check out the NSCA cert here for more info
- Check out my free ISSA study guide here
- Check out my free NSCA study guide here
- Check out Trainer Academy for premium study materials for both
I recommend that you take the quiz to see which certification is best fit for you if you are still undecided.
Both of these certifications are highly recognized within the personal training industry. The NCCA accreditation that qualifies NSCA gives the agency an edge over ISSA in the fitness industry. An ISSA certified trainer might have a tough time being accepted compared to NSCA certified Trainer.
I have seen some gym’s that do not accept non-NCCA accredited certifications, but probably 99% of them do. So make sure you check with your potential employer before you decide which certifications right for you.
It is also essential to figure out what types of clients you will be training. If you know you will be working with sports teams and athletes trying to reach optimal performance; I would go with NSCA or NASM’s PES!).
On the other hand, if you are going to be working with the average sedentary individual (which will be the majority of your clients) that are looking to lose weight, I would go with ISSA.
To work with a group of clients that are sedentary, get a certification that will improve your knowledge to do so effortlessly.
Overall I give ISSA the edge over NSCA.
Here are some other comparison articles that NSCA is in NSCA vs NASM, NSCA vs ACSM and NSCA vs ACE. Here are some additional comparison articles that ISSA is in ISSA vs ACE, ISSA vs NASM and ISSA vs ACSM.
Leave me a comment down below if you have any other questions regarding these two certifications. Have a good day!