ISSA Trainer Certification Review!

The ISSA Personal Trainer Certification is very different than most! You can do everything entirely online. This is a very handy feature for people who may not have the time to participate in workshops or the means to transport them to testing facilities. And if you fail the final exam the first time you can retake it a second time for free! After that there is a $50 fee to take the exam again. Some other certifications charge up to $185 to retake their test. Another is that they give you a whole two years to complete the program. Some other agencies offer only 90 days, making the exam a lot tougher to pass with such a short studying time frame.

ISSA Personal Trainer Certification

The information that this certification provides is talked about in multiple colleges and universities. The information they teach is very broad. This is a good choice for a person who is just starting Training. I would put it right in my top 5. It teaches you the essential basics.

Some quick facts about the ISSA personal trainer certification:

The certifying agency was established in 1988. The overall program cost  is $595. This includes all the materials. You get a textbook, eligibility to take the exam, access to free training resources on their website and free phone technical support. ISSA is accredited by DETC. The prerequisites are: having a high school diploma, being 18 years old and having an adult CPR/AED certificate. On top of the $595 cost you can also attend a two day workshop for an additional $149. You cannot take the workshop by itself without enrollment in the full program. The test consists of multiple-choice, a true false section, six short essay’s and two case studies to review and prescribe an exercise routine.

The Test and Recertification:

You must score 75% overall to pass the certification exam. You will be required to make a 12 week program for the fictitious case study individuals that were assigned in the exam. The material in the textbook will help you in developing workout plans for clients with different needs. Study that section extensively because this is the most difficult part of the test.

Recertification happens every two years. You have to show proof to ISSA that you have completed some form of continuing education in the health and fitness field. Most certifying agencies have their own workshops for continuing education credits. In my experience workshops can be quite expensive and time-consuming. Most workshops are only held in major US cities and can be difficult to get to for people living in urban areas. There are plenty of less expensive, online options that allow you to study from home and do everything online. That would be my recommendation.

Likes and Dislikes:

One of the things I like about the ISSA trainer cert is how in depth they go into on the business aspect of personal training. Although working for a large gym is a great way to start your personal training career, a lot more money can be made working for yourself. As long as you can get a strong client base you can make up to four times as much working for yourself then working for a gym. Some gyms take up to 75% of what clients actually pay! A gym might be the best option to start off because it gives you a good environment with built-in equipment. In most gyms the clients will get handed off to you. ISSA does a great job of going over the business aspect of personal training and the options you have once you get certified.

The first thing to watch out for is that they are not accredited by the NCCA. And because of this some gyms my not accept this certification! Some things that ISSA is lacking is a more in-depth section on corrective exercise. It seems they do  not have much information on how to design a program for sedentary individuals returning to exercise. This population may have taken many years off and developed multiple muscular imbalances. ISAA or ACE are the best options, especially if you are getting certified for the first time! But if you are looking for a more corrective exercise cert I would check out NASM.  Check out my comparison of ISSA vs NASM! I hope this in-depth review of ISSA has helped you out! For a complete personal trainer certification comparison click here. Also if you are just starting out(i’m assuming) you might want to check out my articles on how to become a personal trainer as well as my article on personal trainer salary! Now go out there and get studying so you can start your personal training career today!!

photo credit: Presidio of Monterey: DLIFLC & USAG via photopin cc


  1. Rash says

    Hey Tyler,

    I am certified in Orthotics, I fit patients for custom and non-custom braces for their week or deformed body parts. Recently, in physical therapy industry they start hiring a personal trainer in their team. I know because I work with many therapists and my wife is also one.
    And I love working out and I do stands out physically.
    So I want to expand my knowledge and work related options.
    I want to be able to train clients in most of the commercial gym plus I might want to work at physical therapy settings as well. there, they treat mostly elder population and sports injury related patients.
    Please let me know which certification is the best for me.
    Also, I will take CPR/AED certification ASAP from red cross as you mentioned.

    You can also email me if you like.

    Your feedback will be very helpful.
    Thank you;

    • Tyler Read says

      if you are looking to work in a physical therapy setting you want some sort of corrective exercise specialization. NASM Does a great job enforcing corrective exercise movements through their normal certification as well as through their CES certification. I’m glad I could be of some help to you :)

  2. Alex Bowser says

    Hey please help i failed to complete my personal training work with the ISSA in time. Do i have to pay again to get my citification? What do i do?

    • Tyler Read says

      Hey Alex,
      I don’t know the answer for your particular question. The best thing to do would be to contact ISSA directly. I hope they are lenient

  3. [email protected] says


    What do you know about The Cooper Institute. That was recommended to me.


    • Tyler Read says

      Hey Rebecca,
      I’m currently in the process of researching the Cooper Institute. I will do a write up review is soon as I can. It looks like they are a legitimate agency. And because of this they should not be left off of my website. I need to get on it lol

  4. yoel says

    Hey, I have some questions, first, I’m from Ecuador, will that be a problem? Second, how do I continue my Education from here, and third, I don’t have the CPR /aed trAINING, considering I’m from Ecuador, how should I do it in order to be accepted at issa?

    • Tyler Read says

      I’m not sure how you can’t get CPR/AED training in Ecuador. You’ll have to search for local workshops that certify. In regards to continuing education, you should be able to do some sort of online test. They could send you the study materials and you will have a deadline to take the test. Most certifying agencies will not let you take the test outside of the United States. ISSA is one of the only exceptions to this because you take the test and then mail it in to have it graded. One of my friends took her test from Costa Rica last year and everything went perfectly fine. I hope this helped!

  5. Stacie says

    My biggest concern about the certification process is the renewal, you had mentioned in this article that there are plenty of online cheaper options to earn CEU’s I was wondering if you could post some that are accepted by ISSA! Thanks for all your help!

  6. Yanai says

    Hi Tyler I’m an ER nurse and been wanting to gear more into preventive care in fitness and nutrition coach was wondering what your take on nutritionist/fitness specialist cert from the ISSA would fit in for me? I have been looking into that and institute of integrative nutrition, but the cost is a barrier for me.

    • Tyler Read says

      Hey Yanai,
      I am not too sure about that specific certification but I am going to start doing research on advanced certifications really soon so I can make some great posts in regards to them. As a whole, I think NASM’s general certification is geared more towards the preventative side of things. You might want to take a look at their certification purely from your preventative fitness point of view but not so much the nutritional side.

    • Martine says

      Hey Yanai,

      I am a certified iin graduate and followed through with my issa certification a few weeks ago. IIN is the biggest school for nutrition and no fitness or other nutritional program will go as in depth and empowering as it does. Teachers/social activists/doctors/yoga instructors and fitness gurus speak at the school from celebrity health coaches like Deepak Chopra to David Wolf, it is number 1 and a very big movement you giving professional credibility if apart of. Doctors and nurses have choosen it to continue their career for health in private counseling making more than you would in one pt session, but imagine doubling it with both certifications. I got a 91% on my issa case studies and all my nutritional knowledge was based from iin integrated with the issa fitness aspect….basically the more certifications the better. The difference with iin is halfway before you graduate you are certified to work and make money so once you do graduate you have experience working as a professional AND the iin course is simply life changing, you have to just stay open minded to the fact that your life will change through support and positive inspiration. Goodluck! :)



      • Tyler Read says

        Hey Martin,
        great advice they will definitely check it out. It sounds like you changed your life for the better. I totally agree, the more certifications the better. There is just nothing better than having multiple angles of knowledge on one topic.

  7. says

    I’ve been an ISSA certified trainer since 2000. I have to say at the time I took my exam, the workshop was MANDATORY. Also, NASM was just getting underway and ACE at the time was considered the McDonald’s certification of the fitness industry. They’ve worked hard to change that perception over the years. However, NASM is still into that core training/corrective exercise nonsense that doesn’t help people who are healthy to gain muscle and lose weight.

    ISSA offers a separate in depth certification for those seeking post-rehabilitation knowledge called Fitness Therapist. If you want to work with the post-therapy crowd, I strongly suggest that one.

    What I hate about NASM trainers is THEY ALL TRAIN THE SAME! There is little deviation from the prescribed program, no creativity. ISSA’s program was developed by professional bodybuilders with Master’s degrees and PhDs in kinesiology and exercise science. They get you the info you need from both ends. To me there is no better certification available. The tests, instead of being all multiple choice, require you to come up with answers yourself which really tests your knowledge. Essay questions, fill in the blank, and matching answers in addition to multiple choice make for a seriously challenging certification exam.

    In other words, ISSA is no joke.

    All in all, for the most solid and complete, broad in scope knowledge base for new trainers, I unreservedly recommend ISSA. You can expand on that basic PT cert with additional certifications like NASM, ACE Lifestyle & Weight Management, or ISSA Fitness Therapist or Strength & Conditioning certification.

    Good luck all!

    • Tyler Read says

      Thanks for your input Deborrah,
      I agree with some of your points but disagree with others. I do not agree that all NASM trainers train the exact same way. I think that NASM’s corrective exercise focus has a ton of value. This is the 1st part of their program to make sure you get people moving correctly before you jump into hypertrophy. Their section on hypertrophy is just as in-depth as they are corrective exercise section. I have helped hundreds of clients gain muscle and lose weight because I know exactly how to do it. And NASM helped me learn how to do it. I agree that ISSA is no joke! I think it is a great certification. I also know multiple trainers that have both ISSA and NASM. Some of them value ISSA more and some of them value NASM more. Overall I think they are both great certifications.

  8. Ed says

    I found this ISSA to be perfect for me since I have only a HS diploma. I was wondering if I take this online and pass my exam. Do I have to retake it? if I go to different country and get a job there do I have to come back and retake it?
    Another question, Will this certification give me credits for college if I plan to go to college for Physical Therapy?

    • Tyler Read says

      I had a friend that took the ISSA exam from Costa Rica before she moved to the United States. You will not have to retake it. That is my understanding. In regards to your question about college credits I don’t have a clear answer for you. But my guess would be no.

    • says

      ISSA is a worldwide certifying agency. No, you will not have to retake the exam. However, they do not provide you with college credits. What you may be able to do though is use the knowledge you have to “challenge” a course to get credit for it by taking an examination of some sort if allowed. THEN you could get college credit. But ISSA to my knowledge has not yet been certified as an educational course under US Federal laws, so the credits issued would not be transferable to an educational institution.

      • Tyler Read says

        I was not saying that it was used as a educational course. I’ve taking classes where professors referenced information from ISSA. But it was not a primary source for the the course. I like your idea of challenging a course to get college credit!

  9. graham says

    hi, which is the best one to do online? Since i stay in the Philippines, that will help get a job abroad?

    thank you

    • Tyler Read says

      The only legitimate online certification in my opinion is ISSA. but I am also hearing that you can take the NCCPT test online if you have access to a WebCam.

      • says

        I have taken the NCCPT exam and it was pretty easy. I did not study very hard for it. It was a proctored exam for three hours and a couple of hundred questions. ISSA was SOOOO hard. It was very indepth and there was so much written and in depth analysis. I think it was great, but hard. I passed three of their certifications, on my way to master trainer. Highly recommend ISSA- If you want to test your knowledge and work hard for a certification, not just “pass the exam”

        • Tyler Read says

          I agree Rod! The ISSA exam is no joke by any means. It is not just a multiple-choice test and they of multiple sections that you need to prepare for. I think one of the reasons they make it so difficult is because they allow it to be an open book test. I agree that you should have to work hard to cement the knowledge into your head. It will make you a much better trainer!

  10. BJones says

    I’mm a former ISSA certified trainer, and thinking about getting back into the industry. Does it make sense to come back through ISSA?

    • Tyler Read says

      ISSA is a good certification. But since you already have the knowledge from ISSA it would be worth your while to study for another certification. The more certifications the better in my opinion. it would expand your range as a personal trainer! Unless it would cost you a significant amount of money less to go through ISSA re-certification.

  11. says

    Wow great article!!!! I agree with you 100%. I passed my exam back in July and I am not ISSA certified. I had such a positive experience and I highly recommend ISSA. I will be getting another certified through them soon.

    • Tyler Read says

      Hey Jeanine,
      I’m glad my article was informative for you. Good to hear from another ISSA certified instructor.

  12. Carlos M says

    Hi Tyler, I was just wondering if you can do the courses through via mail as well? And I’m talking about like post office mail. Thing is I have a brother who is in prison and he wants to be a personal trainer but he wants to do the courses while he is in there before he comes out, that way he can being doing personal training and have something to do when he gets out. He gets out in 2015.

    • Tyler Read says

      Hey Carlos,
      most of the certifications I talk about on this website require monitored test taking. The ISSA exam can be taken online without the need to go to a testing facility. You might want to contact them to see if they have a male in tests option as well. Does your brother have times that he could access a computer and the Internet?

  13. Jeff says

    The certifying agency that you choose for your personal trainer certification isn’t as crucial as some would leave you to believe. ISSA, NASM, NPTI, ACSM, ACE, NSCA etc. are all good places to certify. Outside of a BS in kinesiology, exercise science etc. the most important thing is to continue your education. Another very good idea is to perform the fitness methods that you teach. Incorporate them into your own routine so that you can effectively relate and teach the myriad different movements and disciplines. There is absolutely NO BETTER way to become knowledgeable about the stuff you teach than to do it yourself. The books will only take you so far. The basics are simply that. Basics. If you are looking for other information such as corrective exercise, strength and conditioning, performance enhancement, etc. then point yourself at courses that focus on those things. Don’t try to learn/apply too many things at once. I notice people from time to time trying to perform resistance training with a weight in one hand, their opposite leg in the air, bent over, rowing, chewing gum, on a stability ball, etc. My point is this: don’t try to do too much at one time or you will end up doing nothing well. All of the available information regarding fitness can be a bit overwhelming. Just remember that people have been moving the same body parts with the same bones, muscles, etc. for many, many years. The human body hasn’t changed. Nor have the basics that are required for fitness. Don’t make it harder than it has to be.

    • Tyler Read says

      Thanks for the insight Jeff! I like what you had to say it seems like you are very passionate about fitness. I agree that advanced certifications are the best way to go if you want to specialize! But you need a basic certification 1st. This website is just a guideline for the general focuses of each certification and which ones are the best for certain situations. But yes, specializing with and advanced certification is the best way to go if you want in-depth knowledge in one particular section of fitness.

  14. Avi Margolius says

    Hey Tyler,

    I have a quick question. It states you are required to be 18 years old+ and high school diploma required. I have both. But it also states having an adult CPR/AED certificate, which I do not have. Is this a problem to be certified with ISSA? If so, what is the process since I am leaning on ISSA to be certified so I can start becoming personal trainer ASAP. It was either ISSA or ACE and since ISSA is more comfortable by completing the test online and little cheaper. Any help will be appreciative. Thanks!

    • Tyler Read says

      Hey Avi. You should do a search for red cross cpr/aed training. You should be able to find a class in your area. It is pretty cheap. Like $70 and it lasts two years. It should only last a few hours.

    • Tyler Read says

      Yes most chain gyms accept ISSA. Just to make sure though you should call the local gyms in the area to see what certs they accept.

  15. Hayden Schmittauer says

    My issue is what about the issue of not being accredited by the NCCA?? How big of an issue is this?


    • Tyler Read says

      The main thing is that you want the certification to be accepted and recognized by the IHRSA. There are 12 NCCA accredited certs that are recognized by the IHRSA and three DETC accredited certs that are recognized by the IHRSA. ISSA is one of them.

    • says

      A gym I formerly worked with made that NCCA thing a mandatory part of working there so we had to go out and get an ACE certification because the management was too dumb to realize the snow job that is the NCCA.

      It is a private company. Like the Better Business Bureau. They have no power. They have no ability to issue certifications at all. All they do is certify TESTS, not the programs. Being NCCA certified means that a company has submitted their test to this privately held company, that reviews it and makes sure that it meets their “standards” for testing. That’s all. It doesn’t mean that an NCCA certified test or that company is better. It doesn’t mean that an NCCA certified test will get you a job faster. It doesn’t mean you know more.

      DETC (Distance Education & Training Council) is more relevant. The DETC has been approved by the U.S. Department of Education as the sole certifying agency for online (distance) post-secondary education programs. Therefore, if you take an online course that is NOT DETC certified, you may run into problems with legitimacy later on.

      • Tyler Read says

        Hey Deborrah,
        great insight on the difference between the NCCA and DETC! I learned something new. The only reason I recommend NCCA certifications is for the exact same reason that you mentioned above. It is the fault that some gems do not accept non-NCCA accredited certifications. ISSA is a perfect example of this because I think it is a good certification. I will still recommend NCCA certifications for this exact same reason though. I want my readers to have the highest chance of getting hired anywhere. Some gyms are making the mistake by not accepting certifications like ISSA but there’s nothing I can do about this. but yes, I agree with you and thank you for the valuable information.

  16. alaa abbas says

    when i went to the issa site i found many courses so i wanna be sure which one i choose
    i wanna be a personal trainer to make workout and meal routines for every and each one with different needs
    so personal trainer course is the one ?!!

    • Tyler Read says

      The cert that I talk about on this site is the standard personal trainer cert. It is the first link from the drop down menu ‘fitness education’ on their website. That is where you should start. After that you can become more knowledgeable by taking their youth, senior, elite trainer or another one. They also offer a fitness nutrition cert. I do not know to much about this. The general cert should have a chapter on nutrition but it won’t go as in depth as the nutrition cert will. You might want to think about doubling up on those two. Hope this helped. Happy 4th!

  17. Cat Yoo says

    Thank you for taking the time to create a website for future personal trainers such as myself. I’m not as overwhelmed by which certification to choose because of this site. I’m taking my time and throughly reading all the invaluable information on here so that I can make an informed decision. At this point, I’m thinking of certifying with ISSA to learn the basics then shortly after NASM. I will keep you posted. Thank you so much for your help and time.

    • Tyler Read says

      Hey Cat! Yes ISSA is a good cert to start with there is no question about that. The knowledge of both certifications would make you a very versatile trainer! Hit my up if you have any questions and I will do my best to help you out!

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