ISSA vs. NASM: Which Personal Training Certification is For You?

A career in personal training can be a rewarding one! The CPT you choose could ultimately define your career path. 

We will quickly help you determine which certification is fit for you. 

Here, we will go over the details and background of both the ISSA and NASM and the differences you’ll find. Once you’ve finished reading, you will better understand what to expect with each certification.

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What is ISSA?

What does ISSA stand for? Let’s begin here. 

ISSA stands for The International Sports Sciences Association. Founded in 1988 by a team of fitness experts and exercise scientists, their personal training certification is recognized worldwide.

Once a student takes and passes the ISSA exam, which covers a wide array of fitness topics, you are qualified to offer fitness and personal training services. Exam topics include Anatomy & Physiology, Kinesiology and Biomechanics, Health and Physical Fitness, Nutrition, and General Fitness.

What is NASM?

The National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) is in its 30th year of being world-renowned for their personal trainers and scientific rigor of their certifications. 

NASM develops its training and knowledge programs based on scientific and evidence-based research. NASM is also partnered with the Athletics and Fitness Association of America and Premier Global in the UK.

Pricing of ISSA vs. NASM

NASM starts at $799* for the basic self-study option (Click here for 30% Off). This cost includes:

  • 100% Online Course
  • NCCA Accredited Exam 
  • NASM-CPT Digital Textbook
  • Content Learning Videos
  • Exercise Video Library
  • Practice Exams & Quizzes

For the premium self-study option, the cost is $1,099* and adds the benefits of:

  • Exercise Coaching Demonstrations
  • Job Guarantee within 90 days (or you’ll receive money back)
  • One-year NASM EDGE Trainer Plus, an app to help personal trainers perform assessments, create personalized client workouts, and utilize nutrition calculators.

ISSA has a higher starting cost but includes a bit more to hit the ground running. This certification course starts at $1,598* for the self-study option, but you can find exclusive promotions here.

This option includes:

  • A full online textbook and course materials
  • Complete 10-week guided study program
  • Audio Lectures and Written Notes
  • Online Exercise Lab
  • Practice Exams and Section Quizzes
  • Online Student Forum
  • Online certification exam
  • Job guarantee within six months or a full refund
  • Free Professional Website for your personal training career
  • Unlimited Educational Support with on-staff professors

*Note: prices are subject to change, and terms and conditions may apply.

Pass Rate of ISSA vs. NASM

While both exams require extensive study and knowledge, ISSA’s pass rate is much higher. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean it’s easier material.

ISSA Pass Rate: 89.9%
NASM Pass Rate: 64.3%


The focus of education:

ISSA: General fitness training with an emphasis on program design, athletes, powerlifting, and peak performance.

NASM: Exercise technique, training instruction, corrective exercise training, muscular imbalances, post-rehab clients.

Number of Test Questions on the ISSA vs. NASM

While NASM has among the fewest test questions in the industry, ISSA offers unlimited time. So if you’re a test-taker who needs a bit of extra time to think, or has a tendency to cave under the pressure of being timed, ISSA may be the better choice for you.

NASM: 120 questions with an allotted 120 minutes (70% or higher is passing)

ISSA: 160 questions with unlimited time allotment (75% or better is passing)

To increase pass rates of either exam, students often use third-party educators like Fitness Mentors to provide more in-depth education.

Continued Education Requirements for ISSA vs. NASM

Maintaining your certification is a requirement of both ISSA and NASM. Continuing Education Units (CEUs) come with an additional cost throughout your personal training career. It’s essential to consider these costs and the time periods for which you’ll repeatedly incur them.

Both NASM and ISSA’s CEU requirements are the same:

NASM: 20 hours of CEUs and $99 to recertify every two years

ISSA: 20 hours of CEUs and $99 to recertify every two years

Average Income of ISSA and NASM Personal Trainers

One of the most popular questions asked when it comes to obtaining a certification is, “how much money will I make as a personal trainer?”. The income averages can vary based on which certificate you possess, so it’s vital to consider this when choosing which direction to go.

NASM certified trainers average $42,000.

ISSA certified trainers average $36,235.

Remember, what you do with your certification will ultimately determine your success and your salary. Some trainers make $200,000 per year if they have the drive and knowledge paired with prime location and a great approach. To make the most of your business, taking a course such as this one can help you get a full load of clients and make the most money possible.


Is ISSA accredited?

Yes. ISSA offers five accredited exams, including that of Certified Personal Trainer. They also offer advanced coursework in several specialties. ISSA is accredited by the Distance Education and Training Council (DETC), which the Department of Education recognizes.

Is NASM accredited?

Yes. NASM CPT certification is accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA).

What are the prerequisites to personal training certification?

Personal trainers must be at least 18 years of age and have completed high school (or equivalent) education.

Final Thoughts From a Certified Trainer: Which Certification is Better, ISSA or NASM?

Both ISSA and NASM are highly regarded personal trainer certifications that are likely to help you form a sound foundation for program design and training. Further, they are both likely to help you with job eligibility. There is not one certification that is objectively better than the other, just the certification that is best for you.

Before making any decisions, it’s essential to check with employers for whom you wish to work. Not every certification is accepted or preferred everywhere, so checking around first may ultimately be a quick determining factor in which certification to pursue. 

While both certifications are nationally accredited, NASM’s accreditation is with the NCCA, and the ISSA is accredited by DETC. These differences may also define which your potential employer prefers.

Of course, it is also imperative to know what type of training you’d like to do to determine which choice to make. While NASM focuses on general populations, ISSA may be a better focus if you’d like to train athletes.

There are many other certifications to compare, as well. Take a look at our ACE vs. NASM comparison to determine if the ACE option might be a good fit for you.

For more information on how to become a personal trainer, check out our post on the topic or feel free to give us a call, and we can always help point you in the right direction (424) 675-0476.

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