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Are you stuck in a career rut? Are you lost in the indecisiveness of what’s next for you? Well, have you ever thought about taking your passion for fitness and becoming a personal trainer?

The International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA) is one of the many certified personal training certifications you can earn to land you a job at a commercial gym. While ISSA offers several certification programs (including corrective exercise specialist and nutritionist certifications) this ISSA certification review will focus on the certified personal trainer (CPT) certificate. 

As a CPT myself (with the NSCA), I did my best to examine the ISSA CPT certification from an unbiased perspective. I followed our Garage Gym Reviews testing methodology for certification courses to review and rate the following categories on a 1-to-5-star scale: 

  • Course and exam price
  • Course length
  • Accreditation 
  • Prerequisites 
  • Continuing education requirements
  • Study materials and learning options
  • Final exam 

A CPT Reviews the ISSA Personal Training Certification 

For this ISSA certification review, I did a ton of sleuthing on the ISSA website, used the live chat function to speak with an enrollment advisor, read forums, and mulled over review sites like Trustpilot. 

I also called on a handful of my peers in the fitness industry for a first-hand ISSA certification perspective. I spoke with three former coworkers of mine (Alex Souza, Lizz Walsh, and Catie Herman) from Iron Legion Strength Co. who are all ISSA certified personal trainers. 

Plus, I also spoke with D’Annette Stephens, ISSA CPT, and fitness contributor to websites like BarBend, Sports Illustrated, Livestrong, and PopSugar. 

A Quick Look at ISSA Personal Trainer Certification 

The ISSA is a well-known certification in the fitness industry and has been around since 1988. ISSA is not just popular, it’s accessible, too. Neither the personal training or nutritionist certifications require a formal education or a bachelor’s degree in exercise science to pursue a career in fitness. 

ISSA partners with popular commercial gyms like Anytime Fitness, Lifetime Fitness, Gold’s Gym, Equinox, Crunch, and F45 to help ISSA test-takers have job prospects upon receiving a passing score. 

Before You Buy:

  • Take advantage of ISSA’s financing options, which are interest-free for up to 12 months
  • If you miss a payment, you will get locked out of your ISSA account
  • You’ll need to complete your coursework in a six-month period from the time you enroll
  • ISSA offers two exam options: at-home (NBFE-accredited) or an in-person, proctored exam (NCCA-accredited) 
  • ISSA now offers the CPT course in Spanish 

Is the ISSA Certification Worth It?

The ISSA CPT course is worth it for folks with busy schedules, who need accountability, and seek a variety of learning materials. The basic package earns you access to an online textbook, workbook, practice quizzes, video lectures, and a student forum. 

Depending on what package you choose, you can expect to pay anywhere from $950 for the base package to $1,800 for extensive bundles. The more expensive packages bundle in a nutrition certification and a select number of specialization courses. 

Even though you’ll be ballparking around $1,000 to get certified—which doesn’t guarantee you a job—you’ll be able to use the financing options for monthly payments ranging from $79 to $149 per month for 12 interest-free months. 

It’s also worth noting there is a 95% pass rate for at-home test takers and 90% for in-person, proctored exams. If you want to take an exam that has all the study materials bundled into one price and a high likelihood of passing the final exam, ISSA is worth the nearly $1,000 investment. Overall, ISSA earns a 4-out-of-5-star rating for overall value. I docked one point because it’s a bit more expensive than other CPT courses on the market. 

RELATED: Best Personal Training Certifications 

personal trainer study materials

Great for:

  • Landing a job at a commercial gym
  • At-home test-taking options
  • Self-paced studying 

Not recommended for:

  • Tight budgets
  • Coaching athletes and teams
  • Training special populations 

ISSA CPT Certification Specs

PrerequisitesHigh school diploma and CPR/AED certification 
Number of study options3 package options 
Hard copy materialsHard copy textbooks sold separately 
Pricing$950 to $1,800
Term length6 months 
PlatformOnline
Exam format2 options: Online/open book or in-person/proctored 

Course Prerequisites 

Like many CPT certification programs, the ISSA requires you to have a high school diploma and a CPR/AED certification to complete your exam. From your date of enrollment with ISSA, you’ll have six months to complete your CPR/AED certification. 

ISSA offers a fully online CPR/AED certification program that you can enroll in for $50, which is a similar price (if not slightly less expensive) to in-person certifications through organizations like the Red Cross. 

ISSA Certification Costs

ISSA has three different bundles you can choose from to get certified. All packages have an online textbook, online training models, workbook, study guide, and an online CPT “bootcamp” for guided study options.  

What makes each bundle different is the fact that ISSA rolls in other specialty certifications like nutritionist, glute specialist, or online coaching certification. 

The base package includes the CPT course materials, an online textbook, one speciality course of your choosing, and a HIIT training course. The Elite package includes all of the same things with a nutritionist certification added in. The Master Trainer package includes everything from the Elite Trainer package and adds in the Certify for Life option. This feature doesn’t eliminate the need to recertify and participate in continuing education, but it does waive the $99 renewal fee, provides discounts for CEUs, and free CPR/AED training every two years. 

personal trainer instructing overhead press

Because there are many options to choose from, and all offer pretty much everything you need to prepare for the final exam (and to help clients achieve their fitness goals), ISSA earns a 4.5-out-of-5-star rating for study package options. What I don’t like is the fact you can’t customize what’s in your package and the fact none of the bundles have a hardcopy textbook included. 

It’s also worth noting that I found in the FAQ section of the ISSA website that if you miss a payment your account gets locked and you will not be able to access your course or materials. Additionally, while you may be able to pay for your course over a 12-month period, you’ll be expected to complete the course in six months. If you don’t, you can request a 1-month extension, for a non-refundable fee (that price was not disclosed online). 

Here’s a quick breakdown of what to expect with each bundle: 

Fitness Coach

The Fitness Coach package costs $79 per month for 12 months, totaling $948, and includes: 

  • Personal Trainer (CPT) Course
  • Specialization Course [Your Choice] 
  • T3 HIIT Training Course
  • Online textbook

Elite Trainer 

The Elite Trainer package costs $83.25 per month for 12 months, totaling $999, and includes: 

  • Personal Trainer (CPT) Course
  • Nutritionist Course 
  • Specialization Course [Your Choice] 
  • T3 HIIT Training Course 
  • Online textbook 

Master Trainer

The Master Trainer package costs $149 per month for 12 months, totaling $1,799, and includes: 

  • Personal Trainer (CPT) Course
  • Nutritionist Course
  • Specialization Course [Your Choice] 
  • Certify For Life
  • T3 HIIT Training Course
  • Online textbook 

Specialization Courses

As I mentioned above, each bundle will allow you to hand select a specialization course that suits you. Below is an abridged version of your options: 

  • Nutritionist certification 
  • Corrective exercise specialist 
  • Senior fitness instructor 
  • Yoga or pilates instructor
  • Strength and conditioning
  • Running coach
  • Bodybuilding specialist
  • Powerlifting instructor 
  • Glute specialist
  • Group exercise instructor 

Course Material: What You’ll Learn

The ISSA certification for personal trainers offers an ideal place to start for people who want to switch careers to personal training. The course materials guide you through each chapter of the textbook: Foundations and Applications for a Certified Personal Trainer (The Tenth Edition). 

At the end of each chapter you’ll be quizzed on the highlights and get a sneak peak of what’s to come in the final CPT exam. 

My former colleague Lizz Walsh, ISSA-CPT, says, “The practice quizzes let me know where I needed to spend most of my time studying for the exam.”

Overall, the ISSA experience is different from my experience with the NSCA-CPT exam, because the NSCA offers an in-depth study guide. I didn’t end up reading the textbook from front to back. I used the study guide to fast track me through the materials and figure out where to spend my efforts studying. 

According to another former coworker, Alex Souza, ISSA-CPT, “The ISSA course has elements that are important to understand to be a personal trainer. If someone was just starting out as a fitness professional they would be able to get a good concept of the fundamentals of creating a program for a client.”

Female-spotting-decline-bench

That said, Alex mentions that she had been apprenticing and working as a personal trainer for several years before she became certified. “I personally did not think the course was useful, but I went into it with years of research and experience,” she says. 

As far as basic courses go, ISSA will get you started on the right foot. For this reason, ISSA earns a 4-out-of-5-star rating for the quality course materials.

If you’re curious if the ISSA will provide you with enough information to break into a career as a fitness trainer, take a look below at the table of contents from the ISSA Foundations and Applications for a Certified Personal Trainer textbook . 

Section One: Anatomy and Physiology

  • Metabolism
  • Basic anatomy and physiology
  • Musculoskeletal anatomy and physiology

Section Two: Kinesiology and Biomechanics

  • Kinesiology of exercise
  • Biomechanics of exercise
  • Musculoskeletal deviations
  • Muscle mechanics

Section Three: Health and Physical Fitness

  • Strength
  • Cardiovascular training
  • Flexibility training
  • Body composition

Section Four: Program Development

  • Drawing-in phase
  • Basic assessment of fitness participants
  • Training principles
  • Periodization
  • Determining training loads

Section Five: Nutrition

  • The big picture of nutrition
  • Nutrition and physiology
  • Nutritional science
  • Nutritional coaching

Section Six: Fitness For All

  • Exercise and older adults
  • Exercise and adaptive fitness
  • Exercise and our youth
  • Exercise and hypertension
  • Exercise and diabetes
  • Exercise and arthritis
  • Exercise and coronary heart disease
  • Exercise and pregnancy
  • Exercise and asthma
  • Sports medicine in the trenches
  • Basic first aid

ISSA Course Design and Layout

The ISSA final exam features multiple-choice questions that will test your knowledge of exercise science, training programs, and the personal training business. The website outlines the core domains on the exam as follows: 

  • Basic and Applied Sciences
  • Assessments
  • Program Design
  • Special Populations
  • Nutrition
  • Professional Practice
personal trainer study materials

Much like my experience with the NSCA exam, the ISSA certification exam features questions on trainer programs, exercise technique, and exercise selection. You’ll find a selection of true and false questions in addition to math-based questions like calculating a one-rep max, target heart rate, or macronutrient requirements. 

RELATED: NSCA Certifications

Exam Options and Test-Taking Experience

From the time you enroll in the ISSA CPT course, you’ll have a six-month timeline to study, take practice quizzes, and complete your final exam. And when it comes time for you to take your exam, you’ll have two options: 

  1. In-person exam at a proctored exam center: NCCPT-accredited exam 
  2. Open-book exam at home, not proctored: NBFE-accredited exam

The main difference between these two exam options is that one can be taken in the comfort of your own home and one is taken at a proctored exam center. There is also a difference between the accreditations you’ll receive with each exam. The in-person, proctored exam is an NCCA (National Commission for Certifying Agencies) accredited exam, which is similar to proctored exams through educational organizations like ACE, NASM, NSCA, and ACSM. 

RELATED: ACE vs NASM

Man studying the NASM online module at a computer

The open-book exam is accredited through NBFE (National Board of Fitness Examiners), which is a recognized accreditation organization. I did not find this detail on the website, I found out using the live chat function to speak with an enrollment advisor. 

The enrollment advisor went on to explain the difference: “You would choose the proctored exam if you want to work with professional sports teams or colleges, D1 sports, or a specific facility that requires a proctor,” they said. “If you just want to be a personal trainer, start a business, or work at a gym, then you can take the at-home exam. Both exam types allow you to work and train in the USA and Canada.”

RELATED: Best Strength and Conditioning Certifications 

While the accreditation is not exactly the same, there are a few more perks of the at-home test including the fact it’s not timed and can be paused as much as you need. You’ll also be able to retest if you fail any portion of the final exam. According to the FAQ section on the ISSA website, you will be offered the opportunity to resubmit that portion of the examination, free of charge (aka the second attempt). Each retest after your second attempt will require a fee.

ISSA Study Experience 

Studying for the ISSA CPT certification is different for everyone. While some folks prefer the CPT bootcamp or online learning modules offered, others just want to sit and read the textbook materials. 

You’ll get online access to a textbook, but the hardcopy comes with additional fees. My former coworkers I spoke with about their experience with ISSA all think the practice quizzes are the most beneficial way to study and check to make sure you’re retaining the material from each chapter. 

using laptop sunny rower

D’Annette Stephens, ISSA-CPT, says when reading the text, “You are prompted to take a quiz at the end of each chapter. You’ll have to pass quizzes with 100% in order to unlock the final exam.”  

Catie Herman, ISSA-CPT, says she read the textbook from front to back and took the quiz at the end of each chapter as a practice exam. She was able to go at her own pace and read through each section with as much time as she needed—within the six-month timeline, of course. 

ISSA Recertification Requirements

Much like other popular certifications for personal training, once you’re certified you’ll also need to stay current with your certification through continuing education units—also known as CEUs. This recertification process for ISSA happens every two years, which is similar to most other certs. 

You’ll have to stay current with your CPR/AED certification and complete 20 CEUs either through ISSA or from one of the ISSA’s approved partners for continuing education. Buying and studying for one of ISSA’s specialization courses can count toward your CEUs in addition to other educational courses or workshops.
RELATED: The Best Gifts for Personal Trainers

ISSA CPT vs ACE CPT

ACE Certification

ACE CPT Certification

GGR Score: 4.25 starstarstarstarstar

Product Highlights

  • Personal trainer certification 
  • 6-month timeline to complete program
  • CPR/AED certification required 
  • 90,000 ACE CPT professionals globally

Pros & Cons

Pros

  • Live, remote proctored exams available
  • Straightforward program guidelines
  • Ability to sign up for a free preview
  • NCCA-accredited program

Cons

  • Hard copy textbook costs extra
  • 2-year recertification cycle

Bottom Line

ACE certified personal trainers will learn the fundamentals and scope of practice for CPTs. You’ll need to be at least 18 years old, have a high school diploma, and a CPR/AED certification. From there, you can study and sit for the ACE CPT exam. The certification is NCCA-accredited and over 90,000 fitness professionals also have their ACE certification.

The ISSA and ACE certified personal training programs are similar in what you learn, how long you have to study, and qualifications to stay certified. 

Exam options with ACE are proctored, but you will have the option to take your test at home with an online proctor. In comparison, the ISSA offers in-person proctored exams that are NCCA-accredited and an open-book, at-home exam that is not NCCA accredited. This at-home option allows you to open and close the exam as many times as needed and will even allow you to retake the exam. While it won’t earn you an NCCA-accredited CPT credential (NCCPT) it is accredited through the National Board of Fitness Examiners (NBFE). 

If you’re looking for an at-home option that will gain you NCCA-accredited credentials, ACE might be a better choice for you over ISSA. 

RELATED: What is the ACE Certification?

ISSA CPTACE CPT
Study package options33
Hard copy materialsYes, for an additional costYes
Pricing$950 to $1,800$675 to $975
Term length6 months8 months
PlatformOnlineOnline 
Exam formatOpen-book/online; in-person/proctored In-person/proctored; online/proctored

ISSA Personal Trainer Certification Review: Final Verdict

The ISSA offers an ideal introduction if you’re looking to break into the fitness industry. You’ll have two test-taking options, which is ideal for anyone who is limited on time or intimidated by the logistics of a proctored exam. It’s important to remember that each exam provides a different accreditation, though. Here are a few things to keep in mind before you enroll: 

  • ISSA is ideal for beginners, but is not the best option if you’d like to coach athletes, teams, or special populations. 
  • ISSA offers 12-month payment plans, but if you miss a payment, you will be locked out of your account and coursework. 
  • You have a six-month timeline to complete your coursework and final exam. 
  • To unlock the CPT final exam, you must complete the practice quiz at the end of each chapter. 

ISSA Certification Full Rating

ISSA CPT Certification

Find out what our CPTs think of the International Sport Sciences Association in this ISSA Certification review.

Product Brand: ISSA

Product Currency: $

Product Price: 950

Product In-Stock: InStock

Editor's Rating:
4.18
Study package options – 4.5
Getting started/delivery of materials – 4.5
Navigating online course material – 4.5
Quality of course material – 4
Exam experience – 4
Post-exam perks – 4
Customer service – 4
Value – 4
Check Price

ISSA Certification: FAQs

Below are some commonly asked questions regarding the ISSA personal trainer certification.

Is ISSA certification legitimate?

The ISSA CPT certification is legitimate and accredited by the NCCA (or the NBFE for online test takers). 

How long does it take to get ISSA certified?

Once you enroll in the ISSA CPT program, you’ll have to complete the coursework and exam within 6 months. If you take any specialty programs, you’ll have up to 8 months to complete them. 

What is the ISSA certification?

ISSA has several fitness certifications, with the most popular option being the CPT certification. 

How much does the ISSA exam cost?

The ISSA certification program for personal training is sold as a package deal. There are three options on the website running from $950 to $1,800. The cost of the exam is rolled into the package whether you choose to do the open-book exam at home or register for an in-person proctored exam. You can pay for the ISSA cert up front or choose to break up your payments over the course of 12 months interest-free. 

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