ISSA vs NASM! Which One Should You Choose!?

Focus of Each Certification:

The ISSA certification is a good entry-level certification for people who want to focus a little bit more on power lifting. This certification has a strong emphasis on what is called the ‘strength curve’. This style of training is primarily used by power lifters and athletes. NASM on the other hand has a strong focus on corrective exercises and muscular imbalances. This is a great certification for understanding how to train individuals coming back from an injury or individuals that are coming from a very sedentary lifestyle. NASM teaches their trainers how to progress people through an exercise program no matter what level of fitness there currently at. While ISSA does a very good job of teaching you the basics, they fail to focus on functional training compared to NASM. If your main goal is to work with athletes and peak performance ISSA might be a better choice. NASM does offer a more advanced certificate called PES (Performance Enhancement Specialist). This certificate focuses on athletic performance. This advanced certification can only be obtained after getting their standard certification. The PES uses cutting-edge techniques and knowledge for performance enhancement. In my opinion is better than the standard ISSA certification.


ISSA vs NASM: Study Materials…the Test and Price

The cost for ISSA is $595 which includes the textbook, the exam and access to training information on their website. They have a large textbook of about 800 pages. ISSA’s exam has a higher pass than NASM primarily because the test is open book. You are given an unlimited amount of time to take it. Once you register for the program you have two years before your exam deadline. This gives you ample time to study the textbook and other materials. Since the test is open book, you could, in theory, take the test right away and browse through the textbook to find the correct answer to any question. NASM on the other hand gives you three months to take the exam after purchasing the program. To take the test you need to go to a laser grade testing facility where you have two hours to complete their 120 question multiple choice test. You have access to your grade directly following the online test. NASM is a much harder test because you need to have all the information memorized. This is shown with their 70% pass rate. The study materials that come with the NASM program depend on which program you choose. If you just want their textbook, it’s will cost $629. You can find out much more the NASM bundles here! I recommend that you check that out! The thing I like the most about the ISSA trainer exam is that there is a multiple-choice section as well as a essay/practical section. The practical section really tests your knowledge about program design. But on the other hand you can have the book open right in front of you while taking the test so that makes it easier.

Industry Recognition:

NASM is quickly becoming the most recognized certification on the market. Their use of cutting-edge training methods and progressive programming are making them the most sought after certification. Being accredited by the NCCA, in my opinion, makes them more credible than the ISSA who is accredited by the DETC. The NCCA is more stringent. They have stronger guidelines. Almost all gyms will accept either ISSA or NASM when hiring potential personal trainers. However, most gyms hold the NASM at the top of their list. This is because most clients are elderly people that need a safe and progressive training program. The knowledge learned through NASM fits those clients more appropriately.


If you are looking to train athletes, they would benefit more from a training program based on the strength curve. ISSA focuses strongly on this. But don’t count out NASM’s advanced certification! They also place a strong emphasis on peak performance and it is even more specialized than ISSA. On top of this if you want to get a specialization certification they offer one called the PES(performance enhancement specialist). For general training, which almost always deals with weight loss and correcting muscular imbalances that were caused by a sedentary lifestyle, I would go with NASM. Most personal training comes down to the individual that holds the certification, and not the certification itself.  I do think you have the same chance of getting hired and making good money with either certification. But some gyms do not accept certifications that are not NCCA accredited like ISSA. I think this is really stupid because ISSA is a great certification. But make sure to check with the your potential employers to make sure they accept ISSA before you pay for it. Let me know if I missed anything in regards to ISSA vs NASM.  Leave me a comment! Also, if anyone holds certifications in both it would be great to hear your thoughts! You should check out the NASM to learn more about this certification and how you could make 44,000 a year with them! You should also check out my individual articles on NASM and ISSA if you want to learn more about each certification. If you found this helpful please share with with social media on the left side of the page :) If you are interested in the TRX training system I just wrote a new article about it here! Since you are most likely just starting out I would like to point you in the direction of my 3000 word guide on becoming a personal trainer. This is the best way to start learning the ropes!


  1. Lindsay says

    Hi Tyler!
    Really enjoyed your personal trainer certification comparisons. Good information! I was wondering if you had advice for me as an army wife wanting to get certified. I saw ISSA works with military and since it is largely done online that is a plus. I read that with NASM you have to go somewhere to take the test. How easy is it go find a local testing center? Since I live somewhat remote now and since the army can move us with little notice, does that make NASM less advisable? Should I just leave you alone and be asking an ISSA or NASM advisor? Haha. Thanks!

    • Tyler Read says

      These are some great questions. I have recently heard that NASM is offering the certification abroad now. It seems that you will have one year to take the exam online and have 3 chances to pass it. I believe that if you are in the United States you need to go to a testing facility to pass the test. They have them in most major cities around the United States

  2. Sandy says

    Our son is 16 and would like to be a personal trainer. We understand he must be 18 however ,would he be allowed to purchase the materials and begin studying before his 18 birthday and H.S graduation?

    • Tyler Read says

      Yes you can purchase the study materials from their website I believe without having to purchase the exam. And if I am wrong on that you can always order the textbook from Amazon

  3. Justin says

    ISSA has several certification options, not just the Certified Fitness Trainer Course. There are other courses that focus on specialized areas, such as the Exercise Therapy Certification Course, the Senior Fitness Certification Course, the Youth Fitness Certification Course, the Strength and Conditioning Certification Course, and the Master or Elite Trainer Courses that include combinations of the courses along with the Fitness Nutrition Certification Course. The Fitness Trainer Course is a great personal training base, including 33 chapters covering absolutely everything in exercise physiology. I’m not an ISSA representative, but I have experience with their courses, and I find them to be much better than I expected from a self paced online course.

    • Tyler Read says

      Hate Justin,
      I agree I think ISSA is a good certification that goes very in depth. Actually wish that more certifications had such an elaborate final exam for their certifications. I do know that they have multiple specializations certifications that they offer. At this point in time I’m only talking about the basic certifications from each agency. I’m working on reviews for advanced certifications at the moment. These should be up on the website and the coming months.

  4. balwanth says

    hai tyler i just want to know that,
    i would like to be a personal trainer can u please suggest me that which is the best certification for me

    please reply me

    • Tyler Read says

      Hey balwanth,
      well it all depends on what type of personal training you would like to do. The 1st thing I would do is go read all of my cert vs cert posts. I compare all 3 certifications mentioned against each other. You will find the best answers in that those posts :)

  5. Tyler Read says

    Hey Jeff,
    I love your comment. It was very informative! I was never trying to knock the ISSA as a bad search by any means. The case study is that you have to do are very difficult and it demonstrates that you know how to make the appropriate program for individual needs. I think this is something that should be incorporated it every certification. And yes no certification is as good as a four-year degree in exercise science. In regards to getting certified after you have obtained a four-year degree in exercise science I would not always recommend the CSCS. Just because it is the only certification requires a degree does not mean it is the best. It all depends on what type of clients you will be training in the future. One thing I do not like about the CSCS is that you do not need a degree in health related field any longer. Any degree will suffice. That means a communications major can go get their CSCS if they wanted to. 99% of clients have no idea what certification you obtain and even if they did they would not know what that meant for them. Continuing education is the most important factor for any personal trainer and that is a great point you made. But still there is a need to differentiate certifications from one another for people just starting out. And that is what this website is primarily about.

  6. Doug says

    Just wanted to says thanks for the awesome blog.
    Looks like I’ll go the NASM route and then pick up a CSCS.
    What do you suggest for youth performance training?

    • Tyler Read says

      NASM has a YES(youth exercise specialist) certification that I have heard good things about. I don’t know of any other certification that specializes in youth training.

      • philip says

        Issa has a youth fitness course as well I have obtained my CFT,fitness nutritionist cert, and strenght and conditioning training certs from ISSA and am half way to their degree in exercise science. the finals for the exams are not open book dont know where that came from. the end of week quizes are though. ISSA is the only fitness program that Army TA will pay for so that does say something for their program. So far I am pleased with the program. ISSA does as well offer ten week structured courses as well as the 8 month self paced program.

        • Tyler Read says

          Hey Philip,
          I think that the ISSA is a great certification. As far as the open book and unlimited time limit that I am talking about is for their basic certification. I am not sure about their more advanced certifications. It seems like that is what you’re talking about. You could check their website right now, it says that there is no time limit and the final exam is open book.

  7. Oli says

    This info helped me greatly, I am researching on my options and debating between ISSA & NASM to get a certification. Eventually I do want to focus on power lifting but do not want my learning process or certification to be limited just to that..Thanks!

    • Tyler Read says

      Hey Oli,
      yes, both are great certifications. The NASM PES is also a great advanced certification for powerlifting. The more certifications the better in my opinion :)

      • Craig says

        ISSA has a senior (elderly) specialized training cert as we’ll as youth training cert; and several others that I don’t think you are aware of…according to what you’ve posted.

        • Tyler Read says

          Hey Craig,
          the certifications I’ve talked about so far are the general certifications. I have not started talking about advanced certifications as of this moment. I am in the research phase and should be getting some advanced certification reviews up on the site sometime in the next month or two. When I talk about the general certifications I am talking about their general focus, not the focus of the certifying agency as a whole. Which may or may not have advanced certifications that really specialize on a particular population.

  8. adrian says

    hey tyler im at a cross road with these two certs. from reading your post it really helped me. i think ISSA works better for me since i am 23 and looking to train athletes and help myself train at a higher level.

  9. Sean says

    Hey Eric,
    I live in Canada, and heard can fit pro is a bit of a joke. I was wondering which certification in your opinion would be beat recognized where I live? Im having a tough time deciding but i was leaning towards ISSA. Also if I wanted to train in the USA, and i am just getting into personal training, is ISSA the way to go?



    • Tyler Read says

      Hey Sean, the certs that are recognized in the USA should be the same over there in canada. ISSA is a good cert. You might want to consider a look at NASM though.

      • larry says

        Just thought I’d add a comment on this thread. I have the ISSA fitness nutrition cert and just finished the senior fitness cert. I’m retired and doing this as a hobby. Although I don’t have a degree in science, I have a college and law degree and have taught law at major law schools- in other words lots of formal education!

        The ISSA courses I took are actually very good. The nutrition course was exceptional( text written by Dr.John Berardi)-technical enough to be technical and explain the Krebs cycle and its relevance to nutrition for example, but not to the point of having to detail and require memorization of the steps in the Krebs cycle as one might in Biochem.

        Although some folks question the open book on-line testing format of ISSA, I actually found it refreshing. The ISSA exams I took included case study essay format problems rather than just memorized multiple choice questions that many other certifications are based on. So you have to think and write on an ISSA exam and you get review and feedback. And who cares if you have to look up an answer and go over it during the test. That’s exactly what professionals do when uncertain! Believe me I did it in practicing law practically every day. That process itself reinforces the concepts.

        I took 2 weeks to finish the ISSA senior fitness test. Of course I didn’t work steadily for 2 weeks,but there was a fair amount of research and writing so it was nice to work on the test on my own schedule!

        Could someone game the system and get an ISSA cert without taking the test themselves or otherwise cheat? Perhaps its possible with the online format. I don’t know. For those of us who have studied the ISSA texts and taken the tests, however, I think we’d say we had to put in some work and learned a lot.

        p.s. I have no connection to ISSA other than my certs, but I am a little put off by some of the nonsense I read about the relative merits of one cert over another just because one requires a timed proctored multiple choice exam and the other is open book take home( I gave many of the latter to students in law school!) .

        • Tyler Read says

          hey Larry,
          I do not know too much about their nutrition course. I agree 100% about how valuable their information is. I really like how they make you do case studies. It really cements the fact that you know how to make the correct program. The biggest reason I do not like open book tests is because you will not have a textbook with you(in most situations) when you are working with a client. Trying to flip through a textbook in the middle of the session is not only waste of time but it is also an extreme inconvenience. I am sure people could cheat the system and pass the test with very little studying. Don’t worry, I don’t think you have a connection with ISSA. I agree with most of your points.

  10. Minh says

    Hey Tyler, amazing post. I was caught in limbo after I announced to a couple co-workers I was going to look into doing the ISSA certification. One of them quickly responded that I look into NASM and that ISSA is crap. I have a lot on my plate, and I really just want to work with the younger age group who are not obese but not cut either, more so the average joe, who have some athletic background. I think I will start with ISSA, and as soon as the certification expires, I will then pursue NASM afterwards. Hows that sound? Shoot me an email with your thoughts. , [email protected]

    • Tyler Read says

      Hey Minh. Yeah that sounds like a good plan of action. It is always better to have more than one cert to get more knowledgeable. The only thing that I do not like about ISSA is that you can take the test online. But the info is solid none the less.

  11. Holly says

    This is great. I asked some trainers about this and they are ISSA certified. NSAM, according to this article, will be better for me. I am middle aged – doing this for a hobby, side job. I would work with people in my age range or older. Thanks for the info!

    • Tyler Read says

      Hey Holly. Yes NASM might be a better choice for you if you are going to be working with an older population. There is a higher chance that these people will have multiple muscular imbalances.

  12. Josh says

    I’m going for an ACE certification, but many people online state that this certification is a joke. Will it be difficult to find a decent paying job with an ACE certification? I chose ACE because of its affordable price. I have extensive experience in working out and nutrition, but I have no cert. Your thoughts? Thanks.

    • Tyler Read says

      There should be no difference in the job you get from ace to nasm to acsm. ACE is very well recognized within the industry. I know great trainers that have ACE.

    • philip says

      the fact is you should look to where you wish to work and see what cert they like. the paper certification is really just so the buisness can cover you for insurance purposes. you dictate how much knowledge you will ultimately have in your field. its the knowledge pursued after the certification continuing to keep yourself healthy and fit that will validate your cert not your cert validating you.

      • Tyler Read says

        I agree, you should check with your potential employer about what type of certain they recommend. This will help you get your foot in the door. Once you are in it is all up to showing what you can do. A large part of this is being self-motivated in the field of health and fitness and continuing to push yourself with new knowledge and practices.

  13. Danielle says

    I think I am going to do the ISSA because it is open book. I do not test very well and growing up I had to have all of my test given to be verbally because of my comprehension disorder. Thanks for the info!

    • Tyler Read says

      Hey no problem. ISSA is still a great cert just try to make sure you know it as well as you can so that you do not need to look at the book that much during the test.

    • susie says

      Hi Danielle… Just because something is open book does not mean that it is easy. First off you must know the material in order to find the answer. I completed my degree online and all of my exam is open book, some I passed with flying colors others I fail because I did not know the material. Looking at both ISSA and NASM, I personally like both, studying both and eventually will be certify in both. Study the material and you would be open.

  14. justin says

    I found it helpful to read your post, I am an ISSA certified personal trainer. I thought the program went through training an athlete very well but i agree with you that they do not teach a great deal on how to train the average joe coming into the gym for the first time or for the first time in years.

    As i am also getting my degree as an athletic trainer issa is just fine for me.

    • Tyler Read says

      Hey Justin! Ya it all really depends on what training you want to do. If you are going into athletic training then ISSA is a perfect cert. You might also want to check out CSCS. You need a college degree for that one but since you are already working on your degree it might be worth looking into. My senior year we used the cscs textbook for one of my classes. It has some valuable info that’s for sure.

  15. Eric says

    very good post, was very helpful in deciding on the two, i think ill go with the ISSA because of where i live and what i want to do with the certification. Any thoughts on obtaining both?, Of course not at once but later on.

    • Tyler Read says

      Hey Eric! both certifications are very good. The information you learn from one certification will definitely help you in obtaining the next. I would say approximately 50 to 60% of the information in one certification is the same as the next. All of the anatomy and physiology you will learn from one will be exactly the same. After that, it comes down to learning their specific training model. It is good to diversify your certifications. It makes you a more versatile and knowledgeable trainer.

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