ISSA Certification Review

Today, we'll be talking all about the International Sports Science Association, or ISSA for short. I'm guilty of calling this organization ISSA in previous videos, just as some people refer to NASM as NASM. I guess that's kind of a no-no though, so for the rest of this video, it will be the ISSA and NASM. The reason NASM will be talked about in this video, too, is because I reviewed it recently on and they're a direct competitor to the ISSA. Anyways, over the past month or so, I have fully jumped into the ISSA world. I've read their Fitness: the Complete Guide Edition 9.0 textbook. I went through their guided 10-week study program. You can do it faster than 10 weeks if you choose to, by the way. I also watched their videos online and I went through pretty much all of their other available online resources, many of which I'll be talking about today.


Is this course worth it? Well, of course, that's something we'll be discussing. Sometimes I thought the course was great, and at other times I'd be sitting in my chair wondering what were they thinking here? I think many of you are curious to see where this will end up in our trainer education tier list. And that of course is something that we will handle today, as well.



If you'd prefer to watch instead of read, you can check out the video version of this review by clicking the link above.


I've come up with a list of three things that I like about the ISSA Certification, and I've also come up with three things that I don't like about it. All these things are in no particular order and they're all my personal opinion, so just keep that in mind.


The first thing that I like about the ISSA certification is that the overall information presented is good. I think they break down anatomy, physiology and basic exercise science pretty effectively. I wouldn't say any of this stuff is terribly exciting, and I would say that there are some other courses that have broken this down in easier to follow ways. But yeah, again, when it comes to this basic background information, everything is where it should be.


Even when we go beyond the super basic stuff and start talking about things like programming and periodization, ISSA still does a pretty good job. I've had to learn all this stuff so many damn times now. I learned it in college when I was getting my undergrad in exercise science and I've relearned it at least four or five times since then. Again, ISSA presents the information better than most.


I actually bought the ISSA course for one of the trainers who works for me. We'll be circling back to why I bought this certification for her later, but she has told me personally that she has been finding the course more intuitive than NASM. Her opinion as someone who hasn't been in the field that long, I think does say a fair amount here.


I would say ISSA's information is at its best when they're talking about nutrition and nutrition coaching. They appear to be more hands-on with how you should be doing nutrition coaching compared to other certifications I've seen. In most cases, it's perfectly legal for personal trainers to do nutritional coaching with their clients.

Anyways, other organizations have made it seem like trainers shouldn't be doing nutrition coaching at all. At least ISSA seems to strongly encourage trainers to help their clients out with nutrition. As long as we stay in our scope while doing this, we have nothing to worry about and our clients will benefit far more than if we left their food alone. ISSA is fairly against calorie counting, which I think is a little bit of a silly stance to take. They instead recommend the same way of portioning your foods that precision nutrition advises. I think this method does work better for some people, so I won't hold this against them too much.


This brings me to the first thing that I don't like about ISSA certification, and that is they're missing some important things and there is some weird stuff in its place. When I say they're missing some important things, really what I think they're missing is practical information on structuring workouts for average clients. I've trashed NASM's OPT model on this channel a few times. I don't really know any trainers that use it, but I know a lot of trainers that have looked over the OPT model and changed it around to suit their needs.


The OPT model definitely influenced the systems that I use in my studio and that I recommend here on YouTube. My phasing system is different, but it does have some similarities to NASM's approach. So what is ISSA's answer to all of this? I'll give you a handful of the closest things that I could find. On page 478 of their text, they give you a way to calculate your clients' estimated one rep max. You're supposed to use that information to determine starting weights for your clients' lifts. I don't think things like this work too well in actual practice because of average clients' physical limitations and lack of lifting experience. This could be okay with certain demographics, but it's no phasing system.


On page 481, they show you something very similar to this. This chart shows me good rep and set ranges for my clients with different goals, but they're still not telling me how to phase my clients. If I have a client focused on power, should I only train them in this phase all the time? No, I shouldn't. I think we all know that. I should probably do this once in a while, and I should probably mix these in a bit here and there, too. Again, to NASM's credit, they give you a very clear formula on how to phase your clients, regardless of what their goals are. If you don't phase your clients to some degree, they'll likely get bored, burned out, or they'll just plateau. If we keep looking for a phasing system or progression model, we'll see them recommend the two-for-two rule and we'll see their integrated approach to sports training.


Let's talk about that integrated approach to sports training. In their own words, ISSA has outlined eight critical components or technologies that comprise an effective process of integrating fitness into clients' training and lives. Okay. Cool. Sounds important. Let's take a look. Most of them are okay, but one of their eight most important things is psychological techniques, consisting of self-hypnosis, transcendental meditation and other mind games. Really? I mean, sure. Some of that stuff can be helpful, I guess, but you're going to have that as one of your eight big things?


Two of the other eight things are also questionable. They recommend therapeutic modalities consisting of things like whirlpools, electrical muscle stimulation, ultrasound, intense light, and a few other things, too. Again, there's a bit of value to some of this stuff, sure, but to have these things in your big eight integrated approaches to sports training is weird.


They also have nutritional supplementation in their eight approaches to sports training. I'm literally just going to read you what they say about this on page 484. "Most often, eating is not sufficient to give you all the nutrients you need in order to achieve your sports/training objectives. This point is widely disputed among sports scientists and nutritionist alike, who would have us believe that eating three square meals per day is ample fare for clients in heavy training. They overlook at least three important points. One, many state-of-the-art supplements are designed to take your body beyond normal biochemical functioning. Two, no one on earth consistently eats square meals, and three, a myriad of research reports clearly show that deficiencies most often exist in clients' diets due to many well-documented reasons."


What the actual? I don't even know where to begin with this. I legitimately disagree with most of that previous ISSA statement. Also, what state-of-the-art supplements are going to take me beyond normal biochemical functioning? I want some of that. Anyways, like I said, ISSA is missing a few important things and they have some strange stuff in its place. Am I missing something here, guys? It looks like ISSA gives you the knowledge to create your own phasing system, most of it anyways, but they don't actually give you one.


On a more positive note, another thing that I like about ISSA is all the options that they give you when it comes to studying their material. In some ways, they went above and beyond, here. They give you the full basic textbook, again, which is Fitness: The Complete Guide Edition 9.0. They actually give you a supplemental textbook called Fiscal Fitness, and there were some useful things in that supplemental book, such as differences between working as an employee and an independent contractor, and they also give you a 10-week plan on how best to complete your studies. This comes with reading assignments, videos, and audio lectures that correspond with practice quizzes. The practice quizzes do seem to be very helpful in preparing for that final exam, as well. By going through this 10-week course and completing all the quizzes, you actually unlock your final exam, by the way. I think it's cool that they included audio for each chapter, so that way you can list instead of read, if you learn better that way.


One thing that I think many people will miss when they're going through this course is the webinars. If you click on the webinar tab in your account, you'll find ISSA's CPT educational bootcamp. They give you study advice and break down many of the course concepts in a different way. Admittedly, I haven't gone through some of this stuff. There are 10 videos in there and they're all about an hour long. I would think people who are newer to learning about these concepts would benefit from spending some time here. They also have the fast track option. According to ISSA, they made this program so you can accelerate your studies. Basically, this section seems to be a summary of certain portions of the textbook. I think looking this over thoroughly before taking the final exam could be helpful.


All in all, ISSA has more options for studying than I've seen from any other basic certification, and they deserve some credit for that.

Unfortunately, it's not all positive when it comes to all of this content. A lot of things feel, well, a little bit outdated. The ISSA presentation on some things feels a little bit lacking or unpolished. This isn't a huge deal, so I won't be spending a large amount of time talking about this. That being said, the textbook that's online looks and kind of feels like a Windows 95 program. I expect more from a top trainer certification in 2021, almost 2022. Maybe the physical textbook is better. I don't know. I can't report on that. But yeah, the virtual textbook is outdated-looking and feeling.


With all of us having short attention spans these days, I found it tougher to pay attention to this virtual text than I did with NASM's. The same can be said for their audio and video content. The material being presented for the most part is pretty good, like we already said. However, this dude's voice is pretty monotone and boring. I found it tough to sit through lectures or videos without instantly losing interest or partially falling asleep.

It's not the worst thing ever, but it's not nearly as engaging as it probably could be. Moving back to another positive thing about the ISSA program, their reputation is pretty good overall, and it seems to be improving with time. When I got into training a little over a decade ago, from my perspective, well, ISSA was kind of a joke. You wouldn't hear about the certification all that often, and on the rare occasion when you'd meet a trainer certified through is ISSA, you'd think to yourself, "Why didn't you choose one of the more legit certifications?" That really isn't the case anymore. The ISSA certification seems like it's either the second or third most popular trainer certification right now. NASM seems like it's the number one in the US by a lot. After that, it's either ACE or ISSA. It's close, but I think ISSA has the advantage, here. At least it does in terms of popularity. I'll be reviewing ACE in the next few months so I can compare all three on the quality of their content.


So anyways, ISSA has improved their reputation and popularity over the years. How exactly did they do that? I think it's a few things. First off, they've improved their look and increased their marketing. This is their old logo and this is their new one. Looks a lot more sleek, right? I can't confirm this because I'm not that familiar earlier with their old material, but it seems like they've done a good job at improving their information over the years, too. Their nutrition coaching stuff, a lot of which is a little bit newer, kind of confirms this. I think the main reason that ISSA has gained popularity over the years is because the final exam for the course is open book. We'll talk about how I feel about that soon, but it's definitely made this certification more popular over the years and allowed the company to improve their reputation.


In North America, NASM is still held in a bit of a higher regard, but probably only by a little bit. An ISSA certification will certainly be good enough to get you a training job in most places, and at the end of the day, that's probably what matters most. My last gripe with ISSA is that they feel scammy at times. Unfortunately, this has become the norm for businesses in the personal training space. Most of them try to get you to buy things you don't need. Most of them offer sales that only exist for the next 48 hours or something like that. If you do miss one of those exclusive sales, guys, go back and check their website next week, they'll probably have some other promotion going on by then.


When I went to buy the ISSA certification, they clearly advertised $59 a month, but on the next page, when I went to buy it, all of a sudden it's $3 more per month. I mean, it's just $3, but what the? I clicked one button. Also, I'm sure this nutrition course that you're giving me for free is really worth $799. Well, again, I'm not going to rag on these guys too much because this is just how the industry is. It's a little embarrassing that it has to be like this, though. So now that we've talked about some of the things that I like and don't like about ISSA cert, let's get into why I bought this certification for one of my trainers.


The trainer that I bought this certification for has some test taking anxiety. She's someone that could know all of the material, but still might not do as well on the big test due to those nerves. Your ability to train clients has nothing to do with your ability to take a test. This trainer has been doing great work with many of my clients, and she's doing as good of a job, maybe better, than trainers I've seen with other certifications. This is where I think this certification makes the most sense. If you're not a good test taker or you're someone who gets lots of test-taking anxiety, then the open book nature of ISSA's final exam will likely be a relief to you. Unfortunately, this open book test is somewhat abused by others. I'm sure it's possible to barely look at any of the ISSA content, take your online quizzes super fast, which you need to do to unlock the test, and then take that final exam with the textbook open in a different tab and pass that final exam with little to no knowledge or preparation.


Although all main trainer certifications are less useful than they should be, this would still be a mistake. Yes, you won't be using most of the information featured in this cert or any other of the main ones on a day-to-day basis. Yes, most of your knowledge and skills as a trainer will come from doing the actual job, not a certification. There is still valuable background information in here, though, and if you want to be a well-rounded health and fitness professional and make a career out of training, then you really should be well-versed in a lot of what ISSA is presenting here. So I don't think it's a great idea for you to rush in and take that final exam as soon as you possibly can. Do their 10-week plan and chip away at the material a little bit week by week. Take this course seriously and you will be a better trainer once you're in the field.


Tiny bit more information on the final exam, here. It's 200 questions and you need to get at least 75% of those questions right to pass. The questions are medium difficulty, but remember how I said it's open book? Yeah, if you don't pass this exam, it's really just due to laziness. Do the 10-week plan thoroughly, take studying seriously, have your book ready for when you're taking the final exam and profit. All in all, I don't think this open book way of administering the test is any better or worse than not having an open book. Like we said before, being a good test taker and being a good trainer are two totally different things.


Due to everything we've talked about today, I'm going to place the ISAA certification in a B+ position on this list. Overall, the information is probably about as good as what you'd get with an organization like NASM. It's certainly worse in a few ways, but it's also better in others. ISSA still doesn't have quite as good of a reputation as NASM, and this may partially be due to things like not being accredited by the NCCA, but ISSA's reputation is consistently improving. Who knows? They might end up higher on this list in the future.


Overall, I think the ISSA certification is pretty good. If you take the course seriously and ignore a few of their weird stances, you're in pretty good hands. For many of you, I do think the ISSA certification is worth your hard-earned cash. If you're considering this certification and you have a specific place in mind that you want to work at, you may want to ask them if they accept ISSA-certified trainers before you get the cert. Most fitness facilities don't seem to care much anymore, as long as you're certified, but it is best to ask before making a roughly $800 commitment.


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