Choosing the right personal trainer certification can be a tough decision because there is no shortage of available certifications. The International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA) offers a Certified Fitness Trainer credential for personal trainers. They have a variety of study options available for this certification, plus other bundled specialization certifications.
To help you choose the right personal training certification, read this review to determine if the ISSA Certified Fitness Trainer is the right fit for you and your career goals. Are you ready to see how Exercise.com can help you grow and manage your personal training business? Request a demo of our All-In-One Fitness Business Management Software now.
The International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA) was founded in 1988, is headquartered in Phoenix, Arizona, and offers 12 fitness certifications. Their mission is to “bring healthy living to everybody in the world through education and community.”
ISSA also refers to its personal training credential as a Certified Fitness Trainer. There is a note on their website that the Certified Personal Trainer (CPT) exam will be available soon for $599 but for now, the Certified Fitness Trainer is their standard personal training credential.
There are four personal training certification options offered by ISSA. They all include the Certified Fitness Trainer, but three add additional specialization certifications bundled with the Certified Fitness Trainer.
These four options are described in greater detail in the next section of the article. The table below has a list of the ISSA Certified Fitness Trainer certification options.
|Name of Certification||Cost||Objectives|
|ISSA Certified Fitness Trainer||$799||Entry-level personal trainer certification|
|ISSA Fitness Coach||$998||Certified Fitness Trainer plus one additional specialization|
|ISSA Elite Trainer||$999||Certified Fitness Trainer, Sports Nutrition certification, plus one additional specialization|
|ISSA Master Trainer||$2997||Certified Fitness Trainer, Sports Nutrition certification, plus four additional specializations|
ISSA also has ten advanced specializations. They can be bundled with the Certified Fitness Trainer as noted in the table above or can be done stand alone for CEUs. The advanced specializations alone each cost $799 each and count for 20 CEUs.
The advanced specializations are:
- Bodybuilding Specialist certification
- Corrective Exercise Specialist certification
- Exercise Therapist certification
- Group Fitness certification
- Nutrition certification
- Senior Fitness certification
- Specialist Sports Nutrition certification
- Strength and Conditioning certification
- Transformation Specialist certification
- Youth Fitness certification
The ISSA website also has a blog with numerous informative articles on strength training, performance, nutrition, weight loss, and more. They also have support members of the military and veterans. The website also has some exercise videos that anyone can access.
Fitness Coach, Elite Trainer, and Master Trainer Certifications
The Fitness Coach, Elite Trainer, and Master Trainer certifications include the Certified Fitness Trainer credential but also add additional specializations. These are options for those who are looking to deepen their knowledge and increase their expertise with one or more of the specializations. These certifications are offered for a bundled and discounted price.
The Fitness Coach certification is $998 and includes the Certified Fitness Trainer plus one additional advanced specialization. The Elite Trainer certification costs $999 and includes the Certified Fitness Trainer, plus the Sports Nutrition specialization and one other advanced specialization. The Elite Trainer would be a better deal than the Fitness Coach because they are the same price, but the Elite Trainer has the Sports Nutrition specialization included.
The Master Trainer is $2997 and includes the Certified Fitness Trainer, the Sports Nutrition specialization, plus four additional advanced specializations. For the additional advanced specialization(s), the individual can choose the one(s) they are most interested in from the options available.
About the ISSA Certified Fitness Trainer Exam
The ISSA Certified Fitness Trainer exam requires candidates to be at least 18 years old and have a high school diploma or equivalent before taking the exam. The CPT exam also requires CPR/AED certification prior to taking the exam. The ISSA provides an online CPR/AED program for $49.
The ISSA Certified Fitness Trainer exam is not accredited by the NCCA (National Commission for Certifying Agencies) like other CPT certifications from professional organizations like ACSM, ACE, NSCA, and NASM. However, it is accredited by the DEAC (Distance Education Accrediting Commission), which is a federally-recognized program accreditation agency.
ISSA offers three different certification program study plans to meet the needs of candidates with different learning styles and experiences. All study plans include the online textbook, a study guide and workbook, and an informational packet. The table below summarizes the three different study plan options.
|Self-Guided Study||Assisted Fast Track||Full Training Experience|
|Price||$799 (can be broken into 6 or 12 monthly payments)||$1,188 (can be broken into 6 or 12 monthly payments)||$1,788 (can be broken into 6 or 12 monthly payments)|
|Online book, course materials, and study plan||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Online Exercise Lab||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Practice exams and section quizzes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Online student forum||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Accelerated exam prep program||No||Yes||Yes|
|Fitness Genius live scheduled help line||No||Yes||Yes|
|Trainer guide to success||No||Yes||Yes|
|Job placement assistance program||No||No||Yes|
|Trainer support hotline (one-year)||No||No||Yes|
|Trainer experience of four weeks in the gym||No||No||Yes|
|Practice skills video-simulated training||No||No||Yes|
The Self-Guided program is assumed to take around ten weeks and might be appropriate for someone who has experience in personal training or an associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree in fitness or exercise science.
The Assisted Track program is assumed to take four weeks or less of intensive preparation. It might also be appropriate for an individual with experience or education, but it does contain extra study and preparation materials.
The Full Training experience is four weeks or less to get the certification plus another four weeks of experience in a gym or fitness facility. This is considered an externship and gives you insight into the world of personal training.
You have six months to complete the Certified Fitness Trainer course and exam from the date you purchased the materials. If you do not complete it within six months, you can request a two-month extension at no charge. If you still do not complete the course in the two-month extension, you can request one more extension for $99. After that, you must re-enroll in the course.
The ISSA Certified Fitness Trainer exam is taken online, untimed, and is open-book. You can complete a paper and pencil exam and mail it back to ISSA, but they recommend taking it online.
Exam results are shared via email after completion of the exam and certificates are mailed within three weeks of completing the Certified Fitness Trainer exam. If you do not pass the exam, you are allowed one re-take of that portion of the exam free of charge. Each re-test after the first re-test costs $50 per re-take unless you purchased one of the study plans with unlimited re-tests.
The ISSA Certified Fitness Trainer exam covers the following areas:
- Basic and Applied Sciences (22% of exam content) which covers anatomy, exercise physiology, kinesiology, biomechanics, and the components of fitness.
- Assessment (17% of exam content) which covers verbal assessment, exercise contraindications, health history, goals, referrals, legal and medical forms, physician clearance, identifying proper assessment tools, and administering assessments.
- Special Populations (9% of exam content) which covers the determination of limitations and/or modifications, referrals, recognizing injuries or issues, and designing safe and effective exercise programs for special populations.
- Program Design (23% of exam content) which covers designing, implementing, and evaluating fitness programs for all clients.
- Nutrition (19% of exam content) which includes macronutrients, micronutrients, supplements, and assessment of dietary features.
- Professional Practice, Drawing-In Phase, and Fiscal Fitness (10% of exam content) which includes professionalism, ethics, legal matters, and business activities.
You must submit all course section quizzes (there are around 30 of the quizzes) to access and complete the Certified Fitness Trainer certification exam. You must have a 75% to pass the exam. The passing rate for first-time candidates was 79.3% as of August 2019.
The ISSA CPT requires you to recertify every two years and costs $99 to do so. You must have maintained a current CPR/AED certification when you recertify. To recertify you must obtain 20 CEUs (continuing education units) in the two-year period. One hour of instruction equals 1.0 CEU.
ISSA has a number of CEUs available online. They have a nutrition professional development option that includes 10 courses for a total of 20 CEUs. The price for that bundle is $399.
ISSA also accepts continuing education from other professional organizations. Before taking a course from another organization, be sure that it is accepted by ISSA.
The advanced specialized certifications also count for CEUs. Most of those are 20 CEUs and cost $799 per specialization.
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The ISSA Certified Fitness Trainer certification and exam has some positives and benefits. Here is a summary of the positives of the ISSA exam:
- The ISSA Certified Fitness Trainer exam is taken online, so no need to travel to a testing center or pay an extra testing center fee.
- The ISSA certification exam is an open book exam, so less stress of having to memorize all the concepts.
- No other certifications offer one free re-take as the ISSA offers to its candidates.
- The ISSA certification is recognized outside of the United States. It is recognized in numerous countries across the world.
- There are three different study plans to choose from, which helps meet the needs of many different individuals.
- The price of the ISSA Certified Fitness Trainer exam is comparable to other personal trainer certifications.
- There are numerous advanced specializations available to add to your expertise or for CEUs, including a nutrition and sports nutrition specialization which would pair nicely with the Certified Fitness Trainer credential.
- There are bundled options with the Certified Fitness Trainer exam to add advanced specializations and save on the costs of these certifications.
- The Full Training experience study plan offers the option to gain four-weeks of real-world experience in a gym or fitness facility to gain experience in the world of personal training.
The ISSA Certified Fitness Trainer exam is not accredited by the NCCA, which is known as the accrediting body for CPT exams. Some may consider the lack of an NCCA accreditation as a negative, but the ISSA CPT is accredited by a different organization called the DEAC, which is a federal agency that accredits programs.
The ISSA Certified Fitness Trainer is not called a Certified Personal Trainer (CPT) credential, which is not consistent like many of the other certifications. The website mentions that they are adding a CPT exam, but it is not yet available. This can lead to confusion with a credential like Certified Fitness Trainer that is essentially a CPT but is not called a CPT.
The ISSA Certified Fitness Trainer credential is not as well-known or as reputable as some of the other CPT certifications available that are accredited by the NCCA. The ISSA credential is sometimes considered one of the top five certifications but is not in the top three.
See the table below for a comparison of those certifications with the ISSA certification.
|Accredited by NCCA||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||No|
|For-profit or Nonprofit||Nonprofit||Nonprofit||Nonprofit||For-profit||For-profit|
|CECs or CEUs (contact hours) Required||45 (every three years)||20 (every two years)||60 (every three years)||20 (every two years)||20 (every two years)|
|Exam Retake Cost||$175||$199||$435||$199||First retake free then $50|
|Recertification Cost||$45 (every three years)||$129 (every two years)||$75 (every three years)||$99 (every two years)||$99 (every two years)|
The Bottom Line
The ISSA Certified Fitness Trainer has numerous positive aspects, as well as a few negative aspects. This certification might be a great fit for some individuals, especially if the study plans, open-book exam, or flexibility of not having to travel to a testing center are appealing.
It’s important to check to see what employers will accept the ISSA Certified Fitness Trainer certification. If you have a specific organization you are interested in working for, review some of their job postings to see if ISSA Certified Fitness Trainer is listed as one certification they recognize.
The video below is an ISSA certification review testimonial from one certified professional.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What is the best personal trainer certification?
It depends on your experience, prior knowledge, budget, time commitment to study, and career goals. There are a number of different personal training certifications to meet a variety of needs. It’s important to take some time to review the personal trainer certifications available to find the best fit for you.
What are the requirements to take the ISSA Certified Fitness Trainer exam?
You must be 18 years of age, have a current adult CPR/AED certification or obtain one before the exam, and have a high school diploma (or equivalent).
Why do personal trainers have to re-certify and earn continuing education units (CEUs)?
It’s important to always stay updated in the field you are working in. Would you want a personal trainer who passed their exam twenty years ago but had not learned anything new about personal training in the last 20 years? Of course not. CEUs and recertification help ensure the integrity of the certification.
Do all fitness professionals need personal training certification?
A personal training certification is not required to be a personal trainer, but most gyms and fitness facilities require their personal trainers to be certified before hiring them. A personal training certification gives an individual the credential needed to be respected in the field.
Where do personal trainers work and train their clients?
Personal trainers can work for a gym, health club, fitness facility, or on their own training clients. Read this article to see the many options available for personal trainers to train their clients.
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