ISSA Certified Personal Trainer Certification Review (Fall 2022 Update)

Personal training can be a lucrative and fulfilling career path as it allows you to help others find their passion for fitness. The International Sports Science Association (ISSA) is a well-known personal training certification that offers 10 nationally recognized programs, including certifications for personal training, bodybuilding, health coaching, and a corrective exercise specialist. This review will take an in-depth look at their personal training certification (CPT).

ISSA started in 1988, which makes it one of the older certifications on the market today. They state their personal training certification is best for people who are “passionate about fitness and want professional and practical programming to get results.” They require you to pass the final open-book test (after 10 weeks of study guides/quizzes) with a 75 percent mark or higher, and they have a 90 percent pass rate, overall. This certification will cover the basics of personal training for the general population, how to operate a personal training business, and how to help clients reach their fitness goals. This certification is best for those who are new to personal training, don’t have an academic background in kinesiology or fitness, and want to work for a gym or start their own business. 

Main Takeaways

  • ISSA is an internationally recognized personal trainer certification, and is accepted in virtually any gym.
  • ISSA offers tons of resources, including audio lectures, readings, one on one sessions, and a “genius” to help you with any questions.
  • They also offer an open-book exam, which can alleviate pressure for those who aren’t the best test takers.


ISSA Personal Training Certification

ISSA Personal Training Certification

ISSA has certified over 475,000 students through their various personal trainer certifications since 1988. It has a 90 percent test rate, a free retest, and tons of resources to help you become the best personal trainer you can be.


ISSA Personal Trainer Certification Highlights

ISSA has certified over 475,000 students across all their certifications since 1989, and they offer a textbook, boot camps, videos, supporting material, a fast track to the certification, a self-paced track, and a success coach who can help you prepare for the final exam. There is a 90 percent pass rate for test takers, and 95 percent of those who pass the test are employed within the first six months of obtaining their personal trainer certification. 

There are three routes you can take via their website: Certified Personal Trainer (CPT), Fitness Coach, and Elite Trainer (all of which require different combinations of certifications). Certified Personal Trainer is the most basic package, Fitness Coach offers a regular training certification, as well as a specialization, such as powerlifting instruction or corrective exercise specialist. The last level is Elite Trainer, which includes CPT, specialization, and a nutrition coach course. 

The personal trainer certification is done through textbook studying (online, unless you opt to buy the hard copy of the textbook) or audio lessons online. The basic course covers anatomy and physiology, nutrition, health and physical fitness, program design, and injury and disease. The test consists of 200 multiple-choice questions. They also allow for a free retest within 30 days of the original test-taking date, which is a huge perk compared to others on the market that have a steep retest fee of $100 or more. 

Who Should Get the ISSA Personal Trainer Certification

  • Future trainers looking to work with the general public as this is a general certification that doesn’t go into specific demographics or populations, such as athletes or the injured. 
  • Folks who want the option for different personal training packages, such as an addition of a specialization (like glute specialist), or those who want to double down with a nutrition certification, as well.
  • Those who want an affordable certification that doesn’t make you pay retest fees. 

Who Shouldn’t Get the ISSA Personal Trainer Certification

  • Those who already have an extensive background in kinesiology or fitness as this covers more basic information that you would have already covered in a degree. 
  • People who prefer a hardcopy textbook, but don’t want to pay extra. You get the online textbook free but will have to pay $40 if you want a physical copy. 
  • Folks who want to work with athletes and professionals may want to opt for an actual degree rather than a certification. 

How Much Does The ISSA CPT Certification Cost?

Depending on which route you want to take with your certification, you’ll have different payment options. For those who want a simple Personal Trainer Certification, you’ll be paying $69 a month for 12 months equaling about $830.00 in total. For the Fitness Coach level, which provides a CPT and specialization, you’ll pay about $79 a month for a total of around $950. Finally, for the Elite Coach, you’ll pay $99 a month for 12 months totaling around $1,190. 

All three buying options include a flexible study schedule, the option for an open book or National College (NCCA) accredited test, unlimited study support from their success coaches, and a guarantee to find job placement, or you get your money back. As with most other organizations, ISSA requires you to renew your certification every two years. This means you’ll have to have 20 continuing education credits (CEUs) every two years. If you obtain those CEUs through ISSA, you don’t have to pay a renewal fee, but if you choose to go outside of ISSA for those CEUs, you’ll pay $99 for your renewal fee. 

Who is ISSA?

ISSA is the International Sports Sciences Association that was founded in 1988. They have issued over 475,000 personal training certifications since their inception and are one of the more well-known personal training certifications on the market. Their mission statement is “Bring healthy living to everybody in the world through education and community”, and their core values include prioritizing personal connection, sharing wellness, enjoying the drive, and living grit and resilience. 

Beyond their three main personal trainer certification routes, ISSA offers hundreds of continuing education classes, such as Nutrition & Professional Development, Bodybuilding Specialist, DNA-Based Fitness Coach, and Back Injury Prevention. They were the first personal training program to require continuing education in order to keep your personal training cert, which they announced in 1992. 

ISSA Certified Personal Trainer Study Materials

ISSA offers a plethora of options for studying and learning the information you will need in order to pass their final examination for your CPT. You’ll have access to the textbook online, but if you want a hard copy of the text, you’ll have to pay an extra $40 to purchase one. They also break it down into a 10-week plan that paces you. They offer lecture videos with key points from each chapter and audio lectures that are broken down into smaller chunks for easy listening and retention. You must also pass 18 quizzes that will set you up for success on the final exam.

You’re offered access to some bonus features for free with your account. They produce an education boot camp, which is a live guide to studying and provides tips for passing your exam. You get access to an ISSA CPT “genius”, who can help you with areas where you’re stuck or struggling. A genius is a professional who works for ISSA that can answer any questions and help you problem-solve any issues you’re having within the program. You also have access to five one-hour study sessions with an ISSA genius, which you can opt to do live or on demand. Finally, you’re offered five one-hour “office hours”, which is a one-on-one session with an ISSA genius who can answer any CPT questions for you.

Study Guides

The study guides for ISSA’s CPT exam are plentiful. You have the online textbook broken up into chapters, but you also have the audio lectures broken up over 10 weeks. Each week is broken down into reading assignments, lecture videos that highlight the important information from each chapter, and quizzes to assess your understanding of the material and better set you up for success on the final exam. If you want to stick to the 10-week program, you’ll want to set aside between two and four hours of study time a day, depending on your study habits and needs. 

Quizzes

There are 18 quizzes you will need to complete and pass (with unlimited attempts allowed) in order to gain access to your final exam. They are all multiple-choice quizzes, and will leave you with a knowledge of what to expect on the final exam. The quizzes will let you know which questions you got correct and which ones you should go back and read up on in order to be fully prepared for the test. 

Online Forum

Issa has a CPT Educational Bootcamp that you can participate in. They meet once a week for a five-week period to help you with your studies and to introduce you to other folks who are working on their personal trainer certification. They set you up with a success coach who can answer any questions you may have, keep you motivated as you are completing your certification, and check in throughout the whole process. Also included are “office hours,” which are one-on-one sessions with an ISSA genius. 

Study Material Medium 

ISSA is versatile and has a medium that should work well for most learners. Although most of the material is online — online book, forum, success coach, lecture, and genius — you have the option to buy a hard copy of the textbook for $40 in their online store. This certification is mostly built for online use, and the resources available to you throughout your certification course are best utilized online though. 

Guarantees

ISSA believes in the quality of their certification, so much that they come with a few guarantees. Their first guarantee is that you’ll find a job within six months of completing and passing your test. If you can prove you applied to three gyms within the first six months and are unable to find a job, they will fully refund you for the price of the certification. 

Final Exam / Certification Practical for the ISSA CPT Program

The final exam is 200 questions, which is pretty long compared to others on the market, such as the 120-question exam from NASM. The format is multiple-choice questions throughout the entirety of the test. It is an open-book test and allows for a free retest if you don’t pass on your first try as long as you retest within 30 days. You’re also able to open and close the exam as often as needed, so the test doesn’t have to be taken in one sitting. 

Exam Sections

There are six sections on the final exam and they’re broken up into over 200 multiple-choice questions. The sections found on the test are Basic & Applied Science, Client Assessment, Special Populations, Program Design, Nutrition, and Professional Practice, Drawing-In Phase, and Fiscal Fitness.

A person performs a one-arm dumbbell overhead squat to full depth.
Credit: Lyashenko Egor / Shutterstock

The quizzes are great indicators of what you will encounter in each of these sections.

Expected Study Time

ISSA has broken their study material into a 10-week program. This will require around two to four hours of study time a day, which may fluctuate depending on your study habits, how quick your retention of new information is, how extensive your previous knowledge is, and how much time you want to spend on the material. Ten weeks is what ISSA broke it down into, but you have six months to complete the coursework and take the test. 

Pass Rate

To pass your ISSA exam you have to score 75 percent or higher. The pass rate is fairly high at 90 percent, especially in comparison to other certifications on the market. This may be due to the open-book testing model that ISSA has, or it could be that the retesting is free, and therefore, it can be more accessible to pass the test without penalty. 

Retest Cost

Retesting for ISSA is free, which is a major perk compared to some other certifications where you’ll have to pay a hefty retest fee. This is good news for those who have test anxiety as it lowers the pressure and allows you to retake the test within 30 days of the original test date. You’ll also only have to retest the questions you got wrong. 

Continuing Education Requirements

Every two years, you’ll have to earn 20 continuing education units (CEUs) to keep your certification. The CEUs can be obtained from outside sources, but if you opt to do all of your continuing education through ISSA, they will waive your recertification fee. If you obtain your CEUs through outside sources, you’ll pay $99 to hold onto your certification on top of the fees you pay for your continuing education. If you are late to your continuing education and still want to be recertified, ISSA will charge a late fee of $40 if you’re three to six months behind, or $50 if you’re six to 12 months late. 

Possible Career Paths

The main career path that most will follow after obtaining a personal training certification is becoming a personal trainer. This could take place in a commercial gym, a private studio, in-home, or anywhere that personal trainers are accepted. Personal training isn’t the only route you can go, though. You also have access to career paths like gym management, fitness modeling, group class instructor, affiliate, or coach.

Image via Shutterstock/Bojan Milinkov

Depending on your niche knowledge and where your passion lies, you may be able to opt into several different career paths — especially if you choose a specialized course through ISSA to have more specific and niche knowledge. 

Expected Salary

The expected salary is pretty versatile and subjective depending on what you’re looking to do with your certification, and how much time you dedicate to it. If you’re business savvy and want to start your own business, the sky’s the limit to your potential earnings. If you’re more comfortable in a commercial gym setting, you’ll generally be paid an hourly rate, and many gyms don’t provide health plans, 401k or savings plans, or a guarantee of customers. 

Accreditation

ISSA is a well-recognized CPT and therefore, is widely accredited by some of the biggest organizations. They are National Commissions for Certifying Agencies (NCAA) accredited, which is nationally recognized and respected. They’re also recognized by the Distance Education and Teaching Council (DETC), which is recognized by the Department of Education. 

Popularity

ISSA is definitely one of the more recognized and respected certifications on the market. Their inception was one of the earliest across the board, especially for the fact that it doesn’t require a background in education in order to be certified. They’re even partnered with gyms such as Life Time Fitness, Anytime Fitness, Equinox, F45, 24 Hour Fitness, and Gold’s Gym. 

Final Word

If you’re interested in pursuing a personal trainer certification, whether it be for your own personal knowledge in the gym or to make it a career path, ISSA may be the certification that’s the best fit for your needs. With a 90 percent pass rate for test takers, the option to retest for free, its well-recognized accreditations, and a well-set-up study schedule, you can’t go wrong by opting for this certification.

They provide you with the tools to successfully complete your course, gain knowledge to make you a top-tier trainer, and allow you to further your education and career through their seemingly endless continuing education credits. As an internationally recognized certification, we believe ISSA is a great certification course for those without an academic background who want to pursue a career in personal training. 

FAQs

Why should I choose ISSA over other personal training certifications?

ISSA has many benefits including one-on-one guidance with an ISSA “genius” who can answer any questions you may have to give their certification an extremely personal feel. They also allow you to take their test with an open book, which is an advantage to those who experience testing anxiety, or who don’t demonstrate their knowledge in a stereotypical test-taking format. They also have free retesting if you fail your first attempt at the test.

Who is an ISSA personal trainer certification best for?

ISSA is best suited for those who want to pursue a personal training career, and don’t already have an extensive PT background from an academic setting. It is also a solid choice for anyone wanting to work with general population clients. If you’re looking to work with athletes or in an advanced setting, you may want to consider an academic route. 

What do I need in order to get a personal trainer certification from ISSA?

You’ll need to pass your 12 online quizzes, score a 75 or higher on your final open-book examination, and become CPR & AED certified in order to obtain your ISSA certification. In order to maintain it, you’ll have to earn 20 CEU credits every two years, and pay the recertification fee unless all of your 20 CEUs come from ISSA classes.

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