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An In-Depth Guide To ISSA Certification

Personal trainers are currently in higher demand than perhaps ever before and are trending worldwide, on everything from job adverts to social media.

The greater understanding people have about how a personal trainer can improve both your health and fitness, the more demand there is.

People are seeking personal trainers from a diverse range of backgrounds, and employment opportunities are opening up everywhere from public facilities to private lessons, and online tutoring is growing by the day.

As a result, countless people are now considering getting into the industry for the first time.

The problem for them is that there are a lot of factors to consider when you first set out on a new career path.

The most pressing of these is choosing an organisation and course to get you started.

One of the most popular CPT (Certified Personal Trainer) course options people have been turning to is ISSA certification.

The question is, is ISSA certification popular because it is the best, or simply because it is the best advertised?

In the following article, we will look at all of the ins and outs of ISSA certification, including available packages, study materials, exams, continuing education, recertification, and more.

This should help you to gauge just how good their program is and decide whether or not it is the one for you.

What Is ISSA – International Sports Sciences Association?

The International Sports Sciences Association, or ISSA for short, is one of the leading certifying organizations for personal trainers (CPT) in the world.

They are well known for offering quality courses, each of which includes ample supplies of detailed study materials.

The end of each course will see students take extremely achievable exams, which they will have been fully prepared for during the course of their studies.

Those that pass will then receive a widely recognised and respected qualification.

Not only do they have an incredibly wide variety of specialisations, but they also carry on supporting students with continuing education courses after certification, to help them progress as far as possible in their careers.

ISSA Background

The ISSA was founded in 1988 by Dr. Sal Arria, who was the chiropractor for the USA track and field team in 1984.

Before becoming the president and co-founder of the ISSA, Dr. Arria had the largest sports medicine clinic between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

In order to create the program, Dr. Arria contacted a world champion athlete and world-renowned sports scientist, Dr. Fred Hatfield, who is affectionately known as Dr. Squat. 

Dr. Hatfield had already written over 20 textbooks in the field of exercise science and training at this point.

Dr. Arria believed their combined knowledge was perfect to design a well-rounded curriculum.

When it was finally set up, the ISSA became the first organization to educate and certify personal trainers in the world.

More than 30 years on and the ISSA has expanded to incredible heights, offering 24 different fitness certifications and having certified over 400,000 trainers in 174 countries.


Accreditation is an essential requirement for any CPT organisation, as their clients need to be sure that the qualifications they receive will have the credibility necessary to gain employment.

Of all the options available, the ISSA course is one of the most widely recognised and accredited choices.

At present, the ISSA is accredited by the BBB, CAPPS, DEAC, IHRSA (International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association), and NYCC, and is an NBFE Provisional affiliate.

While the core ISSA CPT course is not accredited by the NCAA, there is the option to take an additional NCCPT exam that is NCCA accredited.

Popularity Of The ISSA Certification

ISSA qualifications are among the most popular and recognised CPT certifications in the world, with almost all gyms accepting them as a valid proof of ability from those seeking employment.

That said, it is always worth checking what a specific gym or establishment accepts, before applying for a job.

Being so widely recognised has helped the ISSA courses to become incredibly popular with students as well, due to the confidence that it will help them to gain employment.

Statistically, ISSA is the third most popular certification of its kind in the world, based on enrolment figures.

According to Trustpilot, ISSA has currently received more than 9,000 reviews and has an average rating of 4.7 out of 5.

ISSA Personal Training Certification Costs

ISSA offers a wide range of different training packages, each with their own varying price tags.

The price can even vary within each package itself, as there are different options available, such as study materials and other inclusions.

Certified Personal Trainer

The basic ISSA Certified Personal Trainer course includes only the CPT certification.

The basic “Start Training” package costs $69 per month for 12 months, while the slightly more detailed “Kickstarter” package sells for $79 per month for 12 months.

Those that want to select the complete package with all additional materials included will want to go for the “Top Trainer” option, which is available for $119 per month for 12 months.

Fitness Coach

The next course up is the Fitness Coach course, which includes CPT certification plus 1 specialisation.

While initially priced slightly higher, the current promotion has been running for an extended period of time and has the Fitness Coach course priced the same as the CPT only option.

“Start Training” is $69 per month for 12 months and includes online study materials, a 4-week fast track program, access to a dedicated student success coach, ISSA community membership, a free CPR/AED course, and pass protection that offers a free retest in the event that you fail an exam.

It is also available on affordable payment plans and comes with the guarantee of a job offer upon completion.

The “Kickstarter” option still costs $79 per month for 12 months and includes everything offered in the “Start training” course.

In addition to this, it then also offers access to online bootcamps and study groups, a free nutritionist course, and assistance in gaining 5 clients in your first 5 weeks.

The “Top Trainer” option again retails for $119 per month for 12 months and features everything on offer in the “Kickstarter” plan.

The difference here is that the “Top Trainer” plan also includes live training experience, which is absolutely invaluable for any prospective new personal trainers.

Elite Trainer

The “Elite Trainer” course includes CPT certification, 1 specialisation, and a nutritionist course, and costs $99 per month for 12 months.

While there is very little information available on this particular course, it appears to be somewhat of a middle ground between the “Kickstarter” and “Top Trainer” plans on the “Fitness Coach” course.

Master Trainer

The “Master Trainer” course is the top option offered by the ISSA and retails for $149 per month for 12 months.

For your money, you will receive a CPT certification, nutritionist course, access to all of the tools listed in the previous courses, and courses in 4 different specialisations.

What Is Included With An ISSA Course?

All ISSA courses are completed completely online.

All students will receive in depth materials which cover health and fitness in the form of an eBook, with the option of a physical textbook if required.

Study Materials

Both the digital and physical versions of the textbook will contain almost all current and up to date materials required to educate you to the highest degree possible.

However, it is possible that the eBook may be slightly more recent, as it is easier to update on a regular basis.

In addition to your choice of textbook, you will also receive access to a student forum, and audio and video lectures with specialised tutors, as well as a study guide and workbook, to give you plenty of different ways to learn.

You will even be given practice exams, to help you properly prepare for the final test, which will also be completely online.


The primary CPT course is divided up into 6 different learning sections, each covering unique topics, split into their own chapters.

The current syllabus is as follows:

  • Module 1: Anatomy and Physiology
    • Chapter 1: Metabolism
    • Chapter 2: Basic Anatomy and Physiology
    • Chapter 3: Musculoskeletal Anatomy and Physiology
  • Module 2: Kinesiology and biomechanics
    • Chapter 4: Kinesiology of Exercise
    • Chapter 5: Biomechanics of Exercise
    • Chapter 6: Musculoskeletal Deviations
    • Chapter 7: Muscle Mechanics
  • Module 3: Health and physical fitness
    • Chapter 8: Strength
    • Chapter 9: Cardiovascular Training 
    • Chapter 10: Flexibility Training
    • Chapter 11: Body Composition
  • Module 4: Program Development
    • Chapter 12: Drawing-In Phase
    • Chapter 13: Basic Assessment of Fitness Participants
    • Chapter 14: Training Principles
    • Chapter 15: Periodization
    • Chapter 16: Determining Training Loads
  • Module 5: Nutrition
    • Chapter 17: The Big Picture
    • Chapter 18: Nutritional Physiology
    • Chapter 19: Nutritional Science
    • Chapter 20: Nutritional Coaching
  • Module 6: Fitness for All
    • Chapter 21: Exercise and Older Adults
    • Chapter 22: Exercise and Adaptive Fitness
    • Chapter 23: Exercise and Our Youth 
    • Chapter 24: Exercise and Hypertension
    • Chapter 25: Exercise and Diabetes
    • Chapter 26: Exercise and Arthritis
    • Chapter 27: Exercise and Coronary Heart Disease
    • Chapter 28: Exercise and Pregnancy
    • Chapter 29: Exercise and Asthma
    • Chapter 30: Sports Medicine in the Trenches
    • Chapter 31: Basic First Aid

Study Time

All of the ISSA courses allow students 6 months of study time from the purchase date of their course before they are required to sit their exams.

That said, the average length of time before most students choose to sit their exam is 8 to 10 weeks, with the majority stating they studied for at least 1 hour per day during that period.

All courses also include a “fast track” option, which is a much more intensive learning experience that aims to have students ready to complete their exams just 4 weeks after starting the course.

ISSA Exams

As with most courses, you won’t gain any form of certification until you have passed all of the required exams at the end of your course.

All exams are completely online, as well as untimed and open-book.

Practice exams are available to help prepare you for the real thing and are often included as part of the course study materials.

These will usually be past exams, so are perfect to give you a true sense of exactly what to expect when the big day arrives.

In the event you fail an exam, you will have the option to retake it as many times as necessary. While each additional retake will usually incur a fee, some packages do have free retakes included in the price.

There is also the option to take an additional NCCPT exam to become NCCA accredited, as the regular CPT certification is not. This will again incur an additional fee.

Exam Format And Requirements

In order to sit your exam, you will first be required to have completed and submitted all of the quizzes from each of the modules.

You must also have proof of an adult CPR/AED certificate,  which will be included in some packages or can be obtained separately.

The open book, untimed exam will consist of 160 multiple choice questions and the use of study materials to assist you is allowed.

In order to pass the exam, you must score 75% or higher on all sections.

ISSA Exam Pass Rate

Despite the fact that the ISSA is known to have slightly easier exams than courses like ACE, ASFA, and NASM, perhaps due to the extremely forgiving format of the exams, the pass rate is still exceptionally high.

To date, around 90% of all students who have taken the exam have passed.

Retake Fees

You can retake the exam as many times as necessary if you fail and many packages include one free retake should you fail the first exam.

After that, you will be required to pay $50 per retake.

ISAA Recertification

ISSA recertification is the same as any CPT certification, in that you must recertify every 2 years, as this is the industry standard.

It is designed to ensure all trainers have maintained an up to date knowledge and are still capable of performing their job to a high standard. 

In order to recertify, you will have to fill out a renewal application, have completed enough continuing education units (CEUs), complete a CEU report form (form 2.0 is currently required), submit CEU documentation and a copy of your current CPR certification, and pay your renewal fees.

This should all be completed 6 weeks prior to your renewal date, with 4 weeks being the absolute minimum.

Missing the deadline could lead to a delay in your recertification, additional fees being incurred, or even the need to sit your exams again.

How Often Do You Need To Recertify With ISSA?

You need to recertify with the ISSA every 2 years, just as you would with all other recognised CPT organisations.

Recertification Fees

ISSA has a unique recertification fee scheme, in that your recertification is free if all 20 CEU credits are obtained through ISSA.

If any of your CEU credits were earned outside of the ISSA, then you will be charged $99 for recertification.

In the event that you miss the date to submit the required documents for your recertification, you will also incur late fees.

These will be $40 if you are 3 to 6 months late or $50 if you are 6 to 12 months late. It is also likely this will result in a delay in your recertification.

If you are any more than 12 months late submitting your renewal documents, you may be required to resit your exams before you gain recertification.

Continuing Education (CEU’s) And Specializations

In order to recertify every 2 years as an ISSA CPT, you will be required to obtain at least 2 continuing education units (CEUs), which equates to 20 hours of training.

These CEUs can be obtained by taking workshops or passing courses and specialisations.

The ISSA will accept CEUs from other organisations as well, provided they are accredited.

Continuing Education

At present, the ISSA runs almost 200 different courses you can choose from that will add to your CEU credits.

These include things such as specialised learning on different parts of the body, instruction on different styles of training, greater understanding of dietary requirements like macro and micronutrients, ways to treat injuries, and even techniques to help you grow your business.


While the list of specializations isn’t nearly as long as that of the regular courses, there are still plenty of options to choose from. All specializations count towards your CEUs.

Bodybuilding, corrective exercise, CPR/AED, DNA based fitness coaching, exercise recovery, exercise therapy, gluteal development, group exercise, health coaching, indoor cycling, kickboxing, lifespan coaching, nutrition, performance enhancement, powerlifting, precision nutrition, online coaching, senior fitness, strength and conditioning, transformation, weight management, yoga, youth fitness, and 5 in 5 training are all offered as specialised courses by the ISSA.

ISSA Personal Trainer Salary And Career Support

People with ISSA CPT certifications are highly employable and shouldn’t have any issues securing a job.

However, the exact salary and income you receive can range substantially, depending on factors including where you are based, the amount of time you have spent working in the industry, and the type and number of clients you have trained during that time.

Income will also vary greatly depending on the career path you choose. For example, working for a gym will earn you less than conducting sessions independently or training clients online, as your overheads will be higher.

It will even come town to the number of courses and specialisations you have, as this will determine the overall range of potential clients you are able to sell your skills to.

Average Income For People Who Are ISSA Certified

While the exact amount you earn will vary, the average income for a certified personal trainer is around $35,000-$40,000 per year.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, determined the median pay for a certified personal trainer in the United States in 2019 was $40,349 per year.

ISSA Career Support

The ISSA are popular not just for the quality of their courses, but also for the support they offer students moving forwards in their career.

Their official website guarantees any US resident a job upon completion of their course, or they will receive a full refund.

ISSA Pros And Cons

Before we conclude our review of ISSA certification, let’s quickly round up the pros and cons first, to make it a little easier to come to a conclusion.


  • High quality training, support, and resources
  • High pass rate
  • Reasonable amount of time allowed to complete the courses
  • Untimed, open book exam, which allows the use of study materials
  • Priced competitively when compared to similar courses
  • Courses are completed fully online and in your own time
  • DEAC accredited
  • Internationally recognised
  • Wide variety of CEUs and specialisations to extend your learning
  • Great support throughout your career


  • The core exams are not NCCA accredited and this requires an additional exam to gain
  • Some feel the exams are too easy and don’t prepare you for the real world of personal training
  • Not as popular or recognized as NASM and ACE programs

Final Verdict

ISSA certification is a great option for anyone looking to take their first steps in becoming a personal trainer.

They offer a great deal of support, allow you to work in your own time, help you to gain employment, and have an extensive range of different areas you can specialise in.

While there are some complaints that they are not quite as well recognised as some rival certifications or that the exams are too easy, they more than make up for this with the value and variety they offer.

So, while it won’t be for everybody, if you have your heart set on becoming a personal trainer, getting your ISSA certification is a great way to go about getting started.

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