Why an ISSA certification may be a good first step for up-and-coming trainers

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Aspiring personal trainers hoping to flex their muscles to potential clients or employers may look at earning a training certification from a select few reputable organizations, such as NASM, ACE, or ISSA. The International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA) is one of the largest and most popular of those organizations and has been offering a variety of fitness certifications—including the Personal Trainer Certificate (CPT)—for decades.

That certificate allows personal trainers to flex their muscles—literally, or in a more figurative sense—to potential clients and employers. While ISSA offers dozens of certifications in various facets of the fitness world (including nutrition, health, and even DNA-based fitness coaching), the CPT is typically a prospective trainer’s first step into the broader fitness ecosystem.


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The ISSA has a long-standing reputation in the industry, as it dates back to the late 1980s, and has certified hundreds of thousands of trainers in the years since. For trainers interested in enrolling in the ISSA CPT course, here’s what you should know.

What is the ISSA certification? 

Generally, when discussing an “ISSA certification,” it is in reference to the Certified Personal Trainer Certification, or often simplified as “CPT.” The CPT certification is a broad, baseline personal training credential that works much like a diploma or degree in showcasing that a trainer successfully completed ISSA’s program.

Holding the CPT certificate “says you’ve passed the barrier to entry into the field,” says John Bauer, a Content Developer at ISSA. “For those seeking work in a health club, it means that not only have you passed the barrier but also, that you have the prerequisite knowledge to get in there and do the job,” he says.

Bauer says that ISSA’s CPT certificate also focuses on an aspect that may make it particularly useful to some trainers: Practicality. The ISSA program “is more practical and relevant” than competing certifications,” he says, and “a lot of what we built into it are tried-and-true pieces that a bunch of us [trainers] have learned over the years.”

In that sense, earning the ISSA CPT certification is a first step for many trainers although there are numerous other areas in which they can specialize and earn more certifications as well. That’s a path many trainers recommend.

“You can get more specific certifications, but start with the basics” says Peter Marino, CEO and founder of Posh Fitness, an online and in-home personal training company operating in New York and Connecticut. Marino earned a DNA-Based Fitness Coach certificate from ISSA, which taught him to use genetic tests when creating fitness plans for clients. But again, Marino recommends that trainers get their start with a basic certificate, like the ISSA CPT. “If you’re in it to be a trainer, go with the simplest certificate to get started,” he adds.


To earn the certificate, students will need to pass a final exam, of which there are a couple of versions. 

First, there’s “the accredited one, with a proctor at the test, a time limit, and no notes,” says Bauer. The exam comprises 140 multiple-choice questions, and has a two-hour time limit—it must also be taken through a third-party proctoring company, called Prometric. This version is certified by the National Council for Certified Personal Trainers Certified Personal Trainer (NCCPT-CPT), and accredited by the National Commission of Certifying Agencies (NCCA). 

The other version is an online test offered directly through ISSA. While this will earn you a certificate—which will be helpful for trainers who plan to strike out on their own—it may not be a good choice for trainers hoping to land a job at a gym. 

“Most employers, like the big-box gyms, are looking for the accredited certification,” says Bauer.

How much does ISSA certification cost? 

The costs for an ISSA CPT certificate vary, but for most students, the cost of the course will likely be somewhere around $1,000. Prospective students may be able to take advantage of certain promotions, or they can sign up for payment plans. 

If you choose to pay through a payment plan, the costs are higher. ISSA offers 12 or six-month payment plans, with payments of around $94 per month for the 12-month plan. But again, these prices are subject to change, so it may be best to keep a ballpark figure in mind.

The cost of the course also includes the online textbook, access to practice quizzes, and other tools. Students who need more time to take their certification exam can also pay for extensions, which cost around $10 per month.

How long does it take to get ISSA certification? 

Aside from financial costs, it’s important to keep time commitments in mind, too. And the time it takes to get an ISSA certification can, again, vary wildly.

Bauer says that facets of the course are designed to have students complete the course within a few months, assuming they’re studying at least some of the time five days per week. “I would argue that you could do it much faster than that,” he says, “but three months is a reasonable amount of time to get through 18 chapters and a 700-page book.” 

However, perhaps the biggest factor that will affect the time required to earn the certification is how much background knowledge a student already has. For example, someone with a college degree in exercise science or kinesiology might be able to get through the whole course in a matter of weeks—those coming to the material without such a background might take much longer.

Is it worth getting ISSA certification? 

Whether earning an ISSA certification is ultimately worth it will depend on an individual’s circumstances. 

If you’re a new trainer, looking to break into the industry and get a job at a gym, then yes, earning an ISSA certification may be worth the time and effort. But if you’re an experienced trainer—one who might have other certifications or a college degree related to exercise science—it may not. Further, if you’re unsure of how serious you are about a career in personal training, that may also be a signal that you should perhaps wait until your goals crystalize.

“A lot of people are just trying to be fitness influencers now,” says Marino. For those people, certifications may not be worth it. But at the end of the day, “it depends on what your goals are” when trying to gauge if the ISSA certification is worth the expense.

The takeaway 

The ISSA CPT certification is potentially a good entry-level certification for personal trainers, especially those looking to land a training job at a gym. It can be pricey and requires some time and energy to complete, but it’ll showcase to employers, and clients, that you know the basics. For more experienced trainers, however, it may not be worth it.

Those who are interested in taking the course, then the exam, and earning the certification should take it seriously, and think about their next steps, too. Again, the CPT cert is likely only the first step in a longer journey—a signal that you know the basics.

“I think we’ve done a good job of giving them a course they need to be prepared to start doing the job,” says Bauer.

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