I recently completed the International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA) personal training certification program. I’m not doing much in-person training at this point, but thought I would give it a try and see if there was valuable program content that I could work into my coaching and even personal training practices.
(there was also a pretty good deal going where you could get your ISSA Certified Personal Trainer (CPT) and Precision Nutrition PN1-NC certifications bundled for a decent price. If, after reading this review, you decide to give it a shot, I think this deal may be even better for you).
The ISSA CPT certification is accredited and many gyms accept it as a credential for their personal trainers.
I know that the ISSA CPT program is pretty popular and many people consider getting their personal training “starts” via its certification process. If this is you, read up on my observations and experiences with the program.
Table of Contents
Upon enrolling in the ISSA CPT certification program, you’re immediately given access to your account and to the main course dashboard. Here, there are 10 different menu options, but “Guided Study” and “Final Exam” are the only ones that really matter.
(To be honest, before writing this review, I had never even clicked on any of these tabs…goes to show how important they are for getting certified!)
The “Guided Study” tab leads to a page with a couple of menu tabs, one for each course “Week” and another with each week’s accompanying audio lectures.
(Again, I never clicked on any of these audio portions; I assume they are simply audiobook portions of the course text readings each week).
Clicking on each “Week” (there are 10 of them) brings up the “Reading Assignment” for each week, a number of “Lectures”, and the week’s “Quiz(es)”.
The “Lectures” are actually short videos with ISSA staff members briefly discussing some of the week’s material. As you might expect, these are pretty much pointless (I watched, like, two of them…that’s all it took to write them off).
So, in each “Week”, all you’re really focusing on is the “Reading Assignment” (but not really) and the “Quiz” (sorta…we’ll discuss this more in the next section).
The only other section to pay attention to is the “Final Exam” tab. Believe it or not, opening this open leads you to the…final course exam!
We’ll discuss the particulars of this exam later on. In the meantime, don’t get too worked up about this…it’s no big deal.
Finally, everything in the course itself seems to function well. There aren’t any broken links, missing images, or even misspelled words. Good quality control in a course that is easy to navigate.
So, we’re only going to focus on the readings and quizzes in this section. As I mentioned before, I didn’t really bother with anything else and turned out just fine so I don’t really have much to say about any of the other sections.
The “Reading Assignment” generally contains 1 to 3 chapters of the main course text. The book is pretty long (about 690 pages, not counting the terms index portion at the end of the book) so this comes out to about 33 pages per chapter.
The content can be dense in places, but you only really need to skim the content. So even if you have, like, 60 pages to read in a lesson, you can knock it out in less than 30 minutes.
To be honest, the information in the course text is actually pretty good. If you walked into a gym for the first time and only had the course text’s descriptions (with accompanying pictures) available to explain how to do different exercises, you’d probably do pretty well.
The book’s lessons on the relevant “hard science” topics still come across as being rather dry (especially for a non-science guy like me!), but are written in an easier-to-read manner than a biology textbook.
(I know this isn’t saying that much, but whatever).
The content about “safety” and “business development” is pretty fluffy and if you’re familiar with the most common gym exercises, these sections will drag, but all in all, the book could be far worse. I won’t be surprised if I end up referencing it, especially on nutrition and exercise science-related topics, moving forward.
The weekly quiz(zes) are directly related to the course readings for each “Week”. Each one of these has to be completed in order to receive your certification so don’t sleep on these.
That being said, outside of the more scientific content quizzes, you could probably guess on these and score at least 60 percent each time.
That being said, I don’t think there is a minimum score requirement on the quizzes. The only requirement is that…you complete them.
Let’s say you take great pride in your quiz scores and don’t want to settle for a “pass” on each one. Well, you’re in luck because you get to re-take each quiz as many times as you want!
Believe it or not, it gets “better”
The quizzes always have the same questions…in the same order…with the same answer options…also in the same order.
This all-but guarantees you score a 100 on every quiz on at most 2 attempts. You’ll likely have a few pieces of paper floating around that look something like this:
So, as you can probably conclude…neither the readings nor the quizzes actually matter. Want to get through all of the course content in ~20 minutes? It is definitely possible.
To follow up on the last sentence, I’m not exaggerating when I say that the course readings and quizzes (okay, mainly just the mandatory quizzes) can be completed in 20 minutes or so.
This isn’t 20 minutes of blindly guessing (well, part of it can be) and moving on to the next portion.
This is 20 minutes spent to get a 100 percent score on each quiz.
Does that sound “difficult” to you?
Now let’s talk about the ISSA CPT final exam. There actually are some standards for this bad boy (you need to score at least 75 percent in order to pass) and at 200 questions, it can feel somewhat overwhelming at times.
However, like the quizzes, there are quite a few “loopholes” to help you with this beast.
First, you don’t have to complete it all in one go; you can come and go as you please.
Second, the test is “open book”, meaning you can access any of the course materials to assist you with the exam. All of the questions on the ISSA final exam come directly from the course text so if you put in a little time, you can find the answer to every question.
I actually don’t recommend this approach since most of the questions, especially the science-related questions (which seem to make up a disproportionately high portion of the test) are related to a single topic or concept. Because of this, it is much easier to simply Google “benefits of fiber” than to scour the course text to find it. The Wikipedia result you’re sure to come across in the first 2 seconds of your search is all you need to answer, like, 70 percent of the questions.
All of that being said, the final exam is the most “difficult” part of the course, but only because you have to slog through 200 questions. Nothing about the content of the ISSA CPT course or the quiz/test standards course are challenging. Anyone can pass this.
I’ve seen videos where people claim you can knock the ISSA CPT certification course out in a week.
Honestly, that is about 6 days longer than necessary; a “determined” individual can run through the course in a day.
As mentioned before, you can get through all of the quizzes in 20 minutes (if you want to score a 100 percent on each of these; for those who simply want to “tick the box”, you could be done with these in, like, 5 minutes).
For a determined individual who doesn’t have a few consecutive hours to devote to the final, you could easily set aside an hour in the morning before work, 30-45 minutes over lunch, and an hour in the evening (maybe you skip your workout that day) to tackle the final exam. 200 questions is a lot, but if you have any amount of gym knowledge, you probably wouldn’t even need to look up somewhere between 30 and 50 answers.
So, yeah; you can definitely become an ISSA trainer in a day.
(NOTE: in order to actually receive your ISSA trainer certification, you need to have completed a CPR/AED safety course. Conveniently enough, ISSA offers these for $50. If you go with this course, your time to certification will increase by roughly another 10-15 minutes).
Who Would Benefit
Do you actually want to be a personal trainer, already know a good bit about training and fitness, and live near a gym that accepts the ISSA trainer certification for its staff?
If this is the case, you could definitely benefit from the ISSA CPT certification.
Is ISSA accredited?
Yes, if accreditation is important to you, rest assured that ISSA courses are accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA).
Is ISSA certification worth it, though?
Truth be told, this is one of only two health and fitness-related certifications that I have so I can’t speak to other personal trainer certifications. However, considering how “vanilla” the course content is, I can’t imagine that anyone already holding a different type of PT certification would benefit.
The ISSA CPT certification is likely best for those looking to get their “foot in the door” with personal training, but wouldn’t really be useful for anyone else.
Since obtaining my certification, my life…hasn’t changed. I don’t really do too many globo gym types of exercises or workouts so the information provided hasn’t helped me in my own lifting endeavors.
As previously mentioned. I think I definitely will refer back to the course text when researching certain science and nutrition-related content, but other than that, I doubt I’ll really utilize the course materials.
I guess I can now say that I’m an “ISSA certified personal trainer”…so…there’s that!
The ISSA CPT certification is a “safe” certification option for a very specific group of people. If you happen to be in this group, you should consider it.
I would go so far as to recommend the heavily discounted ISSA-CPT/Precision Nutrition Level 1 Nutrition Coach bundle to really set yourself apart in the hiring process.
The information isn’t earth-shattering and the presentation is pretty bland. The quizzes aren’t challenging and there is really no feeling of actual “accomplishment” due to the near-impossible task of actually failing the course.
The course simply is what it is.