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ISSA Certified Personal Trainer Course: Full Review (2024)

This middle-aged mom of two is now a certified personal trainer. When I started this website in 2016, I had just embarked on the beginning of my fitness journey. Although I had been a member of gyms since I was 15 years old it wasn’t until finding the Peloton App that fitness became a priority in my life. I started writing about my workouts and sharing them here and in my newsletter. 

I knew the next step for me was to become certified in personal training. After researching several of the certification companies out there, I went ahead with the ISSA CPT certification. I’m sharing everything you need to know about the ISSA courses. 

This post contains affiliate links. See my disclosure policy for more information.

ISSA provided me with a free course. As always all opinions are my own.


  • ISSA’s CPT online course allows you to go at your own pace
  • You have two options for taking the test: online or a proctored accredited test
  • The course takes a significant amount of time to complete however, there is a Fast Track option for fitness professionals
  • A pass rate of 90% and a free retest if you don’t pass on the first try

Overview of the ISSA Certified Personal Trainer Course

In 1988, the International Sports Science Association was the only place to get certified as a personal trainer. Today, ISSA has certified over 500,000 personal trainers employed in over 10,000 gyms worldwide.

ISSA Certification
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ISSA CPT Training Includes:

  • Online Coursework: Provides flexibility and the convenience of self-paced learning.
  • Study Materials: Includes an online textbook, practice quizzes, videos, and a workbook.
  • Support System: A dedicated support coach and access to an active Facebook group to answer. your questions and share your concerns and accomplishments throughout the process.
  • Final Exam: You choose either an online open-book test or a proctored in-person exam.
  • Website: A free website to launch your personal training career.

Course Structure & Curriculum

The course is broken down into 10 weeks, although I often completed two weeks of material in one sitting. Each week has a different topic and has several sections within it, followed by some short lectures and 10-question online quizzes.

Note, ISSA doesn’t call the sections chapters but I created a checklist for each week to keep track of each “chapter” and quiz:

  • Week 1: Health, Fitness, & Personal Training; Psychology of Behavior Change
  • Week 2: Movement Systems; Supporting Systems
  • Week 3: Concepts of Biomechanics
  • Week 4: Energy & Metabolism
  • Week 5: Client Assessments; Elements of Fitness; Principles of Program Design
  • Week 6: Concepts of Flexibility Training; Concepts of Cardiovascular Exercise
  • Week 7: Concepts of Resistance Training; Exercise Selection & Technique
  • Week 8: Nutrition Foundations; Supplementation
  • Week 9: Chronic Conditions; Lifespan Populations
  • Week 10: Business & Marketing; Safety & Emergency Situations

Course & Study Materials

You can find everything you need for the course within the student dashboard under Guided Study. In early 2024, ISSA made some changes to this and now calls it a Learning Hub. The course is available in English and Spanish. 

Online Textbook, Online Video Lectures, & Audio Lectures

The online textbook is broken down into weeks. First, you do the reading assignment, watch the short video lectures, and finally take the quizzes. It’s a lot of reading material, packed with text, and illustrations, and the book totals about 700 pages. There are also audio lectures you can download but I didn’t listen to them.

Online Quizzes

You must submit all quizzes before taking the final exam but you can take them as often as you want.

Digital Workbook

This is a place to take notes and fill in diagrams and charts.

CPT Bootcamp

Live and on-demand 1-hour study sessions with their ISSA Fitness Geniuses to help you pass your final exam. 

ISSA Podcast

This is not a necessity and honestly, I didn’t have a chance to listen to them.

ISSA textbook example of anatomy

How Long Does It Take to Get Your ISSA CPT Certification? 

You have six months from signing up to complete the course and up to 12 months to take the exam. Some people fly through the material in a matter of weeks, but most people complete it within a few months. 

Personal Training Certification Evaluation

Not sure if personal training is for you? You can take an online quiz and see if you match up

My Experience with the Coursework


Upon signing up for the ISSA course, I didn’t realize how much was involved or how heavy the material would be, especially those focused on exercise science. I have new respect for all the personal trainers out there.

After a couple of weeks, I realized I needed to ramp up my study time. I spent two full days per week going through the course, watching the videos, and taking the quizzes. In the end, it took me about 3 months to complete, although I probably did half the course in the last month. 

If you plan to take the proctored test, I would devote as much time to studying as possible.

ISSA course on macbook laptop

Text Book Comprehension

I was an English major and even taught middle school English. I’m good at comprehension and taking notes. I also went to law school, took the New York State Bar exam, and practiced law. In addition, I’ve been working out regularly and writing about it for years. I was unprepared for how difficult it would be for me to master the material. 

There was a lot of anatomy which I expected but didn’t realize it would go so into so much depth. Weeks 2 and 3 were the toughest to get through. It explained in detail the cardio and respiratory systems, all the muscles, the skeleton, down to the cells. Most of these terms were unfamiliar to me. Although it was fascinating to learn about them, I had a hard time retaining much of it. 

ISSA anatomy workbook question heart diagram
Sample workbook question

Favorite Sections

My favorite chapters were about client assessments, nutrition (a passion of mine), and those dealing with resistance training. I also really enjoyed how the book started, focusing on motivation, or lack thereof, and what brings people to a personal trainer in the first place.

The chapter on program design, along with the exercise library which shows how to do each exercise, is valuable for anyone wanting to train clients. 

I performed the squat test on myself and it was spot on, calling out my weaknesses. 

ISSA nutrition chapter from CPT workbook pink background ipad

The Workbook

As for the workbook I used my iPad to read the course material and take the quizzes and my laptop to type notes into the digital workbook. It’s a good idea to print out the digital copy or purchase a workbook. I’m a visual learner and my way was kind of clunky and I didn’t have room for many notes.

ISSA CPT Workbook (Hardcopy)
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CPT Bootcamp

Unfortunately, even though I got an email announcing each live bootcamp, I never attended any of them. However, before my exam, I watched several of them on-demand. Looking back, I should have gone to some of them as it’s a great place to ask questions to a team of fitness experts.

Facebook Group

The ISSA Facebook group answered many of my questions. It was also interesting to read others’ experiences with the course, exam, and finding a job. I never posted there but I am a lurker, for sure.

The ISSA Exam

You have two options after finishing the personal training certification course. You can take the online exam as I did or the proctored in-person exam.

The online exam is an open-book test, while the other is not. I’ll explain more in a minute about my decision not to take the written exam. You have two attempts to pass the exam. After that, you’ll have to pay a fee to retake it. 

The Online Exam

The online open-book test is 200 multiple-choice questions. There is no essay or case study, and you don’t have to finish it in one sitting. You find out immediately whether you’ve passed the exam, and so long as you have proof of a CPR/AED certification, you can download your certification that day. You will receive your official certificate in about 3 weeks. 

This exam is not NCAA-accredited which may influence whether you take it or not.

The Proctored Exam

This test is NCAA-accredited and is not open book. It is proctored by a third party and you will go to a physical exam location near you. You must bring proof of your CPR/AED certification. The exam has 140 multiple-choice questions, of which only 125 questions are graded. 

Passing Grade

A passing grade is 70% for the CPT exam. You’re told if you pass but you don’t receive an actual score but you can email student services to find out. 

ISSA Certification
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My Experience with the Online Exam

How I Decided Which Exam to Take

In my particular situation, I wanted the ISSA training to give me a better understanding of fitness, especially for my writing. In the future, I may look into virtual personal training. But I don’t plan to work in a gym setting. If I did, I probably would have taken the proctored exam. 

Although it’s not necessary to secure a job as a personal trainer, in my opinion, the proctored exam forces you to study and memorize the material better, and since it’s nationally recognized, it’s the one I would choose if working in a gym or with clients was my career path. However, plenty of people have taken the same exam as me and secured a great job. 

If you are pursuing a job in personal training, I think it’s best to be a part of a gym first and find an established trainer to mentor you. In almost every job I ever had, I learned on the job. Additionally, you need to practice what you preach. Make fitness a priority in your life, not just at work. 

Taking the Actual Exam

I decided to take the online exam in one day. I sat there for hours, only taking a break to get a snack or go to the bathroom. I appreciated that the test was open-book. Often, I had the answer narrowed down to two choices. 

The test was hard for me, even with my background in test-taking and years of fitness classes. I’m also an over-thinker, always have been, so that could have been part of my problem. But I took it slow and by the end, I was pretty sure I had passed it, and I did. 

CPR/AED Training

I was a lifeguard in my teens, a teacher, and a Girl Scout leader. I’ve been certified in CPR many times. I opted for the online CPR/AED course offered through ISSA. However, had I not had all that experience practicing breathing on dummies and sitting for hours in a classroom, I would have felt more comfortable taking an in-person training class through the Red Cross or somewhere else.


The regular price for the ISSA CPT course is $1598 but they often run specials. There’s also a payment plan option over 12 months. You can see all their daily deals here

ISSA Certification
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ISSA also offers a military discount.

Job Placement 

When you pass the online exam, you can opt into their database of people looking for work. The best way to get a job is to make connections in the fitness industry. 

However, if you opt for the NCAA proctored exam, they guarantee that you land a job within 6 months or your money back (read here for the details). In fact, 95 percent of their students find a job within that time. 

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Specializations and Advanced Training 

There are many certifications you can get through ISSA including becoming a yoga instructor, glute specialist, bodybuilding specialist, or corrective exercise trainer. You can also get certified as a nutrition coach, which I hope to do next. 

Other popular options include the master trainer program bundle and an elite trainer certification.

How Long is the ISSA CPT Certification Valid?

Your license is good for 2 years from passing the exam. You’ll then have to renew it by earning 20 continuing education credits. I plan to take my CEU credits through ISSA as they waive the renewal fee. One credit is one hour. 


You’ll also want to sign up for professional liability insurance. I got mine through Next Insurance. To qualify for most personal training discounts, you’ll have to show your insurance policy along with your certification. 

ISSA also offers partner discounts for personal trainers.


The other personal training certification companies I researched were NASM (National Academy of Sports Medicine) and ACE (American Council of Exercise). As this is a time-consuming endeavor, I only got certified by ISSA so only have first-hand knowledge of it. 

Different gyms have different requirements. My advice is to approach the gym where you’d like to work and ask them if they have a preference. 

Although NASM seems to be the most widely accepted, ISSA is also highly regarded and accepted in tons of gyms. 

Most Peloton instructors, many of whom used to work for Soul Cycle have NASM certification. I associate ACE more with group training certification but they do have a CPT course too.

Another thing to consider, ISSA has the highest pass rate at 90% compared to NASM and ISSA, both at about 70%. 

No matter where you get certified, I’d recommend shadowing a personal trainer for a while. Good personal trainers know how to work with clients and can use their skills to motivate, assess, and achieve results. That honestly, can’t be learned without experience. 


Is personal training certification necessary to become a personal trainer?

While not mandatory, certification can enhance your knowledge and credibility in the field. Plus, most gyms will not hire you without certification, and it’s unlikely that you will be able to get insurance to cover you.

Read my review of Orange Theory vs. Peloton

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