When just starting out to become a personal trainer, it’s easy to get lost deciding which personal training certification to get.
In this review, we’re going to look at one of the more popular names in the fitness certification industry, ISSA, which offers a wide range of certifications including the ISSA Certified Personal Trainer (CPT) program.
The goal of this review is to help you figure out whether the ISSA personal training certification is the right personal training certification for you. So, let’s dive in and take a look!
Be sure to check out the official ISSA website for more information on all of the certification and pricing options available.
ISSA CPT Certification Review
Founded in 1988, The International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA) is a for-profit organization that offers educational courses and certifications for personal trainers, nutrition coaches and other fitness professionals.
Like many other big industry players, ISSA offers the foundational CPT certification as well as a host of other certifications, including corrective exercise, fitness nutrition, group fitness, and youth fitness.
A fully online program, there is no single ISSA personal training school. ISSA courses are accessible to all parts of the world, giving it a truly international presence. ISSA claims over 300,000 students in over 140 countries!
What’s In The ISSA CPT Certification Program?
The ISSA Certified Personal Trainer (ISSA-CPT) certification course is designed to assess the basic proficiency needed for an entry level personal trainer to begin training with clients in a safe and effective manner.
The ISSA personal trainer exam covers the following key areas:
- Basic and applied sciences
- Special populations
- Program design
- Professional practice, client management, and basic business activities
ISSA does a great job of presenting and organizing the material so that students can fully grasp each concept. The information touches on some technical topics while staying within the reach of those just new to the field.
When you log in to the ISSA student portal, the dashboard will show all your courses and online study materials, as well as access to the personal website and exercise gallery, and most importantly, is the ISSA CPT exam.
The ISSA CPT exam is completely online, untimed and open-book.
Yes, you read that right.
This means that your chances of successfully completing the material should be quite high after putting in a solid studying effort.
This brings us to the first and most important downside to the ISSA CPT, which is that it is not accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA).
The NCCA sets the credentialing industry standards for these types of certification programs, so this creates quite a hurdle for the ISSA brand.
You will find that some gyms and employers may not accept the ISSA CPT certification, preferring a NCCA-accredited provider.
While we believe that NCCA accreditation is important, in most real-world scenarios, you’re more likely to find that most gyms will accept the ISSA CPT rather than not.
And, besides, most hiring managers will be familiar with the industry enough to make a proper hiring decision. It’s about what you know not who taught it to you.
ISSA overcomes the fact that it is not NCCA accredited through a partnership with the The National Council for Certified Personal Trainers (NCCPT).
ISSA includes a separate, accredited NCCPT-CPT exam (a $599 value!) with each ISSA-CPT package. The NCCPT-CPT certification program is accredited by the NCCA.
Including a free exam is nice, but it still means having to take two exams and having to pay separate $79 proctoring fee and renewal fees to the NCPPT. If you’re willing to overlook this, then the ISSA CPT offers a ton of value and quality education.
Packages and Pricing of the ISSA CPT
Getting certified is an important and costly investment into your career. Any professional certification is going to run you at least a few hundred dollars – which is the case with the ISSA-CPT.
ISSA offers two CPT packages to choose from based on your study style and budget, with features summarized in the table below.
Online Course & Content
ISSA CPT Exam
ISSA CPT Exam Retest
Up to 2 retests; $149/ea thereafter
NCCA Accredited Exam
Pay shipping cost
Pay shipping cost
Fast-Track Exam Prep
Fitness Genius Live Help
New Trainer Guide
When you purchase your CPT study package, you can access all of the course materials, study guides, video lectures and quizzes within the online trainer members section.
You have the option to order a hardcopy ISSA personal training book for the cost of shipping ($40 in the US). This is perfect for those that prefer to have a physical book in hand for jotting down notes.
Your CPT package also includes a professional looking ISSA personal trainer website so you can start marketing yourself as a trainer immediately. The downside to this feature is that this website is hosted on an ISSA server and you are limited to 5 pages containing display ads unless you pay to upgrade.
Fortunately, we’ve got a whole guide on how to build your very own personal training website the right way. Click here to check it out.
The Job Guarantee is a program in which they’ve partnered with gyms such as 24 Hour Fitness, Lifetime Fitness and Equinox, to help their students secure jobs upon passing the exam.
ISSA customer support is excellent and provided quick responses to all of our inquiries. They have live chat operators and phone lines you can call into for any questions.
The basic Self-Guided study package has all you need to pass the ISSA CPT exam, but students may also opt to obtain the following ISSA designations:
- ISSA Fitness Coach – CPT and any one specialization – $799
- ISSA Elite Trainer – CPT, nutrition specialization and one other specialization – $999
- ISSA Master Trainer – CPT, nutrition specialization and four other specializations – $1,918
Check back frequently as ISSA periodically offers discounts and bundles with the purchase of certain packages. Talk about massive savings!
ISSA offers a payment plan of 12 equal monthly installments with 0% interest, no credit check or approval necessary. This way, it’s a bit more affordable as there’s no need to pay the fee in full right away.
You can even pay off your balance early without penalty and refunds are available within 7 days of purchase.
As mentioned in the section above, the ISSA CPT program also includes a separate, optional NCCA accredited exam through the NCCPT (a $599 value!).
Deciding whether to take both exams depends on the goal of the student and their desired employer. Some employers may require you to have a NCCA accredited exam, while others will not have this same, strict requirement.
ISSA CPT Exam Eligibility Requirements
To be eligible to sit for the ISSA personal trainer certification exam, you must:
- Be at least 18 years old
- Hold a current CPR/AED certification from either a hands-on CPR/AED course through an approved provider or the official ISSA CPR/AED online course
Note that no high school diploma, GED or college degree is required for the ISSA CPT exam or NCCPT exam.
ISSA accepts CPR/AED from the usual organizations such as the American Red Cross and American Heart Association. Be sure to check with ISSA on any other providers in advance before signing up.
Keep in mind that you have six months from the purchase date to successfully pass the ISSA-CPT exam and obtain your CPR/AED certification.
ISSA CPT Exam Passing Score
The ISSA CPT exam consists of 200 multiple-choice questions. In order to pass, you’ll need a score of 75% or above (150 of 200 questions correct).
The ISSA CPT exam (and all ISSA exams) are fully online, open notes, and have no time limit. So, the odds should really be in your favor.
You’ll find out your pass/fail exam results upon completion of your test.
The most recent data (2019) shows that the ISSA CPT pass rate is approximately 79.3% (i.e. 4/5 of candidates taking the test will pass).
Students are also required to submit all ISSA course quizzes although quiz scores do not affect your final exam score and are primarily for learning comprehension throughout the course.
Your CPT certificate will be mailed to you once you complete all certification requirements, and you’ll officially be a designated ISSA-CPT!
The ISSA-CPT program can be completed in as little as four weeks with the Fast Track program while most students take 12-15 weeks to complete the self-guided study track.
It all depends on your schedule and study habits.
NCCA NCCPT (Optional) Testing Requirements:
The content and requirements for the optional NCCPT exam are very similar to that of ISSA. With the overlap in material, you won’t have to study twice.
The NCCPT exam is a two hour pass/fail exam with a total of 140 multiple choice questions. This test costs an additional $79 Prometric testing center fee.
Unlike the ISSA exam, the NCCPT exam is not open book, has a 2 hour time limit and requires going into a Prometric testing center. A valid CPR/AED certification is required at the time of testing.
Keep in mind that you’ll still need to renew every 2 years (including renewal fees) and complete continuing education requirements.
Be sure to check out our full write-up on the NCCPT certification exam and requirements here.
Recertification and Continuing Education Requirements
ISSA trainers are required to renew their certification every 2 years. This process consists of paying a $99 renewal fee, submitting an updated CPR/AED certification, and the completion of 20 Continuing Education Units (CEUs) through the ISSA or other ISSA-approved CEU course.
The $99 ISSA renewal fee is waived if all 20 CEUs are earned directly through ISSA. This is another way they encourage you to stay within their ecosystem by saving a bit of money.
If in doubt whether a CEU course is approved, contact ISSA directly or visit their list of providers here.
Unfortunately, if you earn more than the required CEU amount (20 CEUs), the overage will not carry over since information is evolving and should be current.
ISSA CPT Pros and Cons
We’ve compiled a list of ISSA CPT pros and cons, listed below.
- Great for beginners as well as experienced trainers
- Useful study guides and practice materials
- Final examination is open notes and untimed
- Courses can be accessed on most desktop and mobile devices
- Customer support is very responsive
- ISSA CPT exam is not NCCA accredited (a separate exam is required for NCCA accreditation)
- Can be expensive so keep an eye out for discounts and bundles
- Recertification fees apply every 2 years
ISSA has a strong presence within the personal training industry despite not being NCCA accredited. They’ve been around for a long time and most of the ISSA personal trainer reviews are rated quite high.
While the ISSA CPT is accepted by most gyms, be sure to check with the gym you’d like to work with before signing up. This way, you’re not left completely out of luck.
Industry data shows that the ISSA Certification is frequently accepted at most franchise gyms in the United States, a number of which they even partner with for their job guarantee program as mentioned above.
If you’re looking for the ISSA contact info, they can be reached at (800)892-4772 or 1 (805)745-8111 (international) or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
So, what’s the verdict – is ISSA legit?
Although not NCCA accredited, the ISSA CPT course material is informative and does a good job of preparing beginning trainers for their careers. The material is robust enough to provide a basic level of understanding for any personal trainer while also approaching advanced topics.
The ISSA trainer certification is well regarded within the fitness industry and accepted by many gyms and fitness studios for trainers just starting out. You shouldn’t have much difficulty finding a gym or fitness studio to hire you on once you’ve passed.
This is even more so if you’ve also completed the optional NCCA accredited exam through NCCPT.
The question really then becomes, do you want to invest your time into taking a second exam just to gain the ISSA name? The choice is up to you.
With the comprehensive program materials and information, you could be an ISSA Certified Personal Trainer in as little as four weeks. Don’t delay and get your certification today!
Interested learning about other top personal training certifications? We go into much more detail in our writeup here.