ISSA vs NASM – Personal Training Programs Duke it Out

If you are looking to get a personal training certification, maybe you are stumped by the level of options available.

As a personal trainer, you want to be sure your certification is legit, and that’s where ISSA vs NASM comes into play.

Both personal training certifications offer options for you to become a personal trainer, but how are they different? How are they similar? How do they compare to each other overall?

It’s time to sit back and enjoy the show as ISSA (International Sports Sciences Association) and NASM (National Academy of Sports Medicine) duke it out over the winner in personal training certifications. Grab some popcorn!

What is a Personal Training Certification?

Let’s start by explaining what a personal training certification is and why it’s crucial if you are a trainer.

Suppose you decide that you want to be a personal trainer. In that case, specific courses are recognized by the fitness industry and accredited by NCCA, National Commission for Certifying Agencies.

To be recognized by NCCA means the personal training certification meets specific standards that are vital to teaching and coaching others in the fitness industry.

The material taught is up-to-date and thorough. Most gyms require a certified personal trainer to hold an accredited certification like ACE (American Council on Exercise), NASM, or ISSA.

Personal trainers require certification through an accredited organization, so they are prepared for any type of client.

When you work at a gym, there are a variety of people who use personal trainers. The range varies from those who are super fit to those who are just beginning their fitness journey.

Certain people might be coming back from an injury or have a disability, requiring the personal trainer to be highly knowledgeable about the body and how it works.

With a personal trainer certification, you are ready to handle any type of training that comes your way.

Personal Training Certifications – Let’s Compare

It’s time to start comparing these two personal training certifications to help you decide which is best for you. The gloves are off, people! 

The Focus of Personal Training

When it comes to focus, NASM and ISSA differ.

With a NASM certification, the focus is muscular imbalance and corrective training to fix those issues.

The program is broken down into six sections that are outlined below.

  • Professional Development and Responsibility – This section explains the process of what a personal trainer does and career path options. It focuses on how to identify chronic health conditions in individuals in your initial assessment.
  • Client Behaviors and Behavioral Coaching – Here, you learn the psychology of why exercise is vital to us as human beings. It discusses how to assess a client, work with them through particular issues, and how to communicate with them through their training progress effectively.
  • Basic and Applied Sciences and Nutritional Concepts – It’s back to biology and anatomy class for you with this section. Learn all about the different systems in our bodies to include muscular, digestive, and cardiovascular. Understand how metabolism works and how vital nutrition and supplements are for your workouts.
  • Assessment – Learn how to assess your clientele through documentation and movement to ensure their personal training experience will be effective and successful.
  • Exercise Technique and Training Instruction – The most significant part of the course, learn about exercises, flexibility, training techniques using the NASM OPT model (Optimum Performance Training), and more.
  • Program Design – Learn more about the OPT model and how to handle clients with chronic issues.

For the ISSA certification, the focus is more of a general training certification than NASM.

They focus a bit on powerlifting and peak performance which makes it an excellent feature for serious athletes. The ISSA certification is also broken out into six sections similar to the NASM training as described below.

  • Anatomy and Physiology – Back biology and anatomy class again to learn all you need to know about the body’s different systems.
  • Kinesiology and Biomechanics – Understand the science behind exercise and how different muscles work together.
  • Health and Physical Fitness – Learn about all of the different types of training to include strength, cardiovascular, and flexibility.
  • Program Development – Study how to assess your clients and train them according to their specific needs.
  • Nutrition – Realize the importance of the foods we put into our body and how they can fuel us or cause inflammation issues.
  • Fitness for All – Delve into different chronic issues clients might have and how to navigate their training to keep them flourishing.

Study Materials

Training materials are imperative when it comes to a personal training certification. There’s plenty of information to digest, and study materials with substance are essential.

Both of these programs offer in-depth study materials for their training certifications. Let’s take a look at each one.


NASM Courses and Products | Personal Trainer Certification NASM Courses and Products | Personal Trainer Certification

With a Personal Trainer Certification from the National Academy of Sports Medicine, you’ll master the necessary skills to start training clients and the tools required to help them see results.

$699 $999 $300 OFF

For NASM, the study materials depend on which course you sign up to take. The entire NASM certification is online and there are four different options for training. See below.

  • Self Study – This course is self-taught with videos, chapter summaries, practice exams, an exercise library, and virtual coaching all provided by NASM to ensure you pass the exam at the end of the course
  • Premium Self-Study – Get all of the benefits of the self-study course with the addition of a job guarantee once you pass the course and access to the NASM EDGE Trainer Plus, a personal trainer app, for one year.
  • Guided Study – All of the above materials are included with a few hearty additions. Receive access to NASM personal trainers for guidance and questions and the ability to retake the certification exam if needed. Obtain a hard copy of the NASM textbook and enjoy the bonus course “Motivational Interviewing for Coaches.”
  • All-Inclusive – Who doesn’t love an All-Inclusive option? Receive the Guided study package with NASM’s EDGE CPT exam prep and the Gymternship option which allows you to intern with a personal trainer to get hands-on experience. This option lets you recertify for life and includes the CPR/AED certification course.


ISSA also provides a few options for your personal training certification. Let’s take a look at what they look like below.

  • Start Training – Get all of your online study materials and a personal coach to help you pass the personal training certification. The course is four weeks and features CPR/AED certification and a job guarantee upon completion. Get access to the ISSA community membership with a retake option for the exam and an online study group. 
  • Kickstarter – Receive everything from the Start package along with the guarantee of five clients in five weeks upon completion and a free nutrition course.
  • Top Trainer – All of the Kickstarter package is included along with gym training experience with clients.


Exams can be daunting, but the more you know about them, the better prepared you will be.

For the NASM exam, you must answer 120 questions in 120 minutes. To pass the exam, you must score 70% or higher and on average, students score 64% the first time they take the test. It’s difficult, but if you work hard, you will be fine.

The ISSA exam features 160 questions with an unlimited amount of time to complete. The passing grade is 75% or higher to get your personal training certification. The average grade when people first take the exam is a 90%. Woot woot!

Recognition Status

In the personal training industry, both ISSA and NASM are highly regarded in the fitness industry. Businesses will high you with either personal training certification.

That said, NASM is a more popular option in the USA while ISSA is more popular internationally.

NASM is NCCA accredited, which is the most recognized accreditation in the USA.

ISSA has accreditation through DETC (Distance Education Training Commission), which is another well-known organization. 

Careers as a Personal Trainer

At the end of your certification, you will be a personal trainer. What’s next? Hopefully, you will get a job in the fitness industry at the gym of your choice.

Before picking a personal trainer certification, check out the gyms you would like to work for and see which certifications they accept. For the most part, facilities will take either of these certifications since they are so highly regarded in the fitness industry.

If you are in the USA, a NASM certification is a better choice, according to some studies done. If you are a certified personal trainer internationally, ISSA may be a better option since it is highly regarded on an international level.


We went through the different study options before, but let’s look at how they are priced for each personal trainer certification.


NASM Courses and Products | Personal Trainer Certification NASM Courses and Products | Personal Trainer Certification

With a Personal Trainer Certification from the National Academy of Sports Medicine, you’ll master the necessary skills to start training clients and the tools required to help them see results.

$699 $999 $300 OFF

  • Self Study – Offered at a one-time price of $629 or a monthly fee of $57 for 11 months
  • Premium Self Study – Get this package for a one-time price of $839 or a monthly fee of $76 for 11 months
  • Guided Study – Package costs $1,039 as a one-time fee or $$94 for 11 months
  • All-Inclusive – One-time fee of $1889 or $172 for 11 months


  • Start Training – $69 per month for a year
  • Kickstarter – $79 per month for a year
  • Top Trainer – $119 per month for a year

While the NASM Self Study is cheaper than any ISSA option, the Guided Study and All-Inclusive are more expensive than ISSA.

Pros and Cons

We’ve gone through the main topics that are the most vital when choosing a personal trainer certification. It’s not a battle until we break out the pros and cons of each. Remember, the gloves are off, people!

NASM Pros and Cons

  • Most popular personal trainer certification in the fitness industry
  • Accreditation through the NCCA, a highly regarded organization.
  • Training materials are incredibly detailed and well-organized
  • Excellent certification for a personal trainer who wants to work with correcting exercises for clients
  • NASM personal trainers earn the most money in their job
  • The pass rate of the exam is much lower than the ISSA test
  • Training is difficult and more expensive than ISSA
  • It doesn’t focus on peak performance which some athletes prefer

ISSA Pros and Cons

  • Highly regarded in the fitness industry
  • The passing rate of exam is much higher than NASM
  • Certification is preferable to international trainers
  • Excellent training for those seeking peak performance
  • Study materials are fantastic
  • Less expensive than NASM certification
  • It doesn’t focus on corrective exercise as NASM does
  • NASM is more popular than ISSA certification
  • Personal trainers are usually paid less than those with a NASM certification

And the Award Goes to…

NASM Courses and Products | Personal Trainer Certification NASM Courses and Products | Personal Trainer Certification

With a Personal Trainer Certification from the National Academy of Sports Medicine, you’ll master the necessary skills to start training clients and the tools required to help them see results.

$699 $999 $300 OFF

Can we give the award to both personal trainer certification programs? We know that a draw is no fun, but both of these certifications offer different benefits that make them excellent choices. 

The ISSA certification is less expensive, more recognized worldwide, and features excellent material for peak performance training.

The NASM personal trainer certification is the most popular in the USA, features learning about corrective exercises, and NASM certified trainers make more money than any other certification program.

Depending on what kind of focused training you are looking for and where you are located will decide whether ISSA or NASM is better for you.

Study hard and learn the material, and you’ll pass with flying colors. Good luck!

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Kristen holds a bachelors in English from Louisianna university. With a longstanding passion for fitness, she owns and operate her own gym and is a certified jazzercise instructor.

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