The ISSA Bodybuilding Certification is a high-level program aimed at personal trainers coaching clients who want to maximize muscle growth and improve their overall aesthetics. The course can also be used for anyone looking to compete on a bodybuilding stage for the first time.

ISSA Bodybuilding Specialist Certification - bodybuilding coach pressing overhead under coach supervision

I’ve been a personal trainer and coach for over 12 years and I’ve had the opportunity to help many people achieve their own physique goals using what I learned from the ISSA Bodybuilding Specialist. I’ve also taken many of the personal training certifications on the market and both myself and our PTPioneer team have an idea which certifications gyms and clients like to see on a personal trainer resume.

In this review I cover:

  • Who is the ISSA Bodybuilding Certification meant for?
  • ISSA Bodybuilding content coverage
  • ISSA Certification vs Other Bodybuilding Specializations
  • Costs of the ISSA Bodybuilding Program

After reading this article you should know if the ISSA Bodybuilding Specialist is right for you.

For anyone who is not not yet a personal trainer, make sure to take my quiz to find out which personal training certification makes the most sense for you.

What type of Certification are you looking to get?

What is the ISSA Bodybuilding Certification?

The ISSA Bodybuilding Specialist teaches you how to work with bodybuilding clients and people who want to enhance their physique using exercise techniques. You learn weight lifting programming, how to motivate clients, and recovery and nutrition information.

The entire ISSA course should take you between six and eight weeks before you take your online final test and become a certified bodybuilding coach. When I did the course I did it over 6 weeks, taking notes on the content as I went. 

ISSA Bodybuilding General Information

ISSA Bodybuilding General Information

  • Exam cost: $639 (only purchased with study materials)
  • Study material cost: $53/month for 12 months
  • Prerequisites: None
  • Exam passing score: N/A
  • Exam pass rate: Not known
  • Average completion time: 2 to 3 months

ISSA credibility and reputation

ISSA is known as one of the top fitness certifying agencies, globally. They’ve certified almost 500,000 fitness professionals around the world and they have partnerships with over 8,000 gyms.

The ISSA Personal Training Certification program was one of the first fully online trainer courses, and since then ISSA has perfected their online platform. They’re known for incredible customer service, and it’s super easy to navigate between your certification textbooks and the study materials. 

ISSA also offers a job guarantee program with their personal training certification, which means that after passing the certification exam, you have the ability to be hired immediately by one of their partners. In this current job economy, this is an excellent option.  

Is the ISSA Bodybuilding Specialist worth it?

Yes, the ISSA Bodybuilding Certification is worth it for those trainers who want to start working with bodybuilding clients. This program should also appeal to anyone who wants to coach general population clients who want to focus on hypertrophy, which is basically most of the population. 

As a personal trainer, I’ve found that most of my clients exercise in-part to look better in the mirror or on the beach in the summer. Yes, they love the mental health benefits, and the increased energy that exercise gives you throughout the day. However, deep down inside, most people are interested in how they appear visually.

Unless you are an athlete prepping for a sport that demands a certain body type, most people want to lose body fat and gain muscle from their workouts. 

This makes the ISSA Bodybuilding program a perfect adjunct to your personal training certification. I still think this shouldn’t be the only fitness certification you get, because it doesn’t cover some of the essential content you need to know as a trainer, like working with special populations or screening for disease, but if you add this to your CPT, I think it’ll be the perfect combination. 

9out of 10

Credibility and Reputation9
Study Materials8
Exam Process10

ISSA Bodybuilding vs Other Bodybuilding Certifications

There are not too many legitimate bodybuilding certifications on the market. ISSA’s main rival is the NASM Physique and Bodybuilding Coach Specialist program. The NASM PBC offers an equally good specialization to ISSA from a content standpoint.

ISSA goes into more lifting technique styles than NASM, but NASM gives you more detail when prepping for a competition.

Overall, I think it’s a toss up and I would just go with whichever organization you have your CPT from. 

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Who is the ISSA Bodybuilding Specialization meant for?

The ISSA Bodybuilding Specialization is meant for coaches who want to work with bodybuilders or people who want to improve their overall body aesthetics. 

This is not a personal training certification aimed at general population clients who just want to be healthier, nor is it a strength and conditioning certification for working with collegiate athletes. 

Great for
  • Personal trainers who want to work with bodybuilders
  • CPTs who want to focus on hypertrophy with their clients
Not great for
  • Individuals who want to learn about strength and conditioning
  • Trainers working with special populations with unique needs 

ISSA Bodybuilding Coach Specialist Cost

The ISSA Bodybuilding Certification costs $639, which you can pay for in 12 installments of $53.27.

ISSA also offers a Fitness Coach Bundle which gives you their Certified Personal Trainer and this program for free, which I’d recommend buying if you’re not already a CPT.

Finally, there’s an Elite Trainer Bundle for 4 certifications, which is the best value but more expensive.

I’ve found that knowing having a few certifications helps separate you from the other trainers who just have a CPT. If you can learn a bit about corrective exercise or nutrition you can find your niche and work with highly specialized clients. 

ISSA Bodybuilding Certification Content Coverage

1. Hypertrophy and Adaptations to Strength Training

Chapter 1 of the ISSA Bodybuilding Certification goes over the roles that muscle plays in movement. You learn about the other connective tissues that provide the ability for physical activity, and the nervous system. ISSA also covers the mind-muscle connection. 

2. Basic Kinesiology and Biomechanics

In order to coach exercise you need to have a strong grasp of the planes of motion the body moves in. ISSA discusses the three classes of levers, and basic biomechanics. 

3. Back to Basics

Chapter 3 goes into the importance of using the squat, press, and deadlift to build muscle. ISSA goes into the hormone response to heavy lifting and the imperative that you use the big 3 in training.

While this isn’t always possible if you have clients with movement restrictions, basing your training off of big compound lifts will give you the best bang for your buck exercise-wise.

4. Top Ten Exercises

ISSA details the importance of correct exercise selection and picks out the top ten exercises to train each muscle. 

There are so many exercises out there and it’s nice that ISSA condenses the best muscle hypertrophy exercises into a list. 

5. Bands and Chains Break into Bodybuilding

In Chapter 5 ISSA details more advanced techniques like how to use bands and chains in a bodybuilding context. When you add in either of these implements, you change the strength curve in one way or another. For instance, adding chains onto a bench press makes the movement harder at the top of the press as the chains come off the ground.

If you use bands in a pull-up the bottom portion of the pull-up receives a lot of assistance versus the top. In a strength context, this means you can use bands or chains to work on a specific weak area in your personal range of motion. In a bodybuilding context, you can use bands and chains to overload certain muscles more than others. 

ISSA also discusses stretch and contraction techniques here. 

6. Aerobic Training

Chapter 6 talks about how to use interval training to lose fat quickly and preserve muscle tissue. 

7. Stretching

Flexibility is actually an incredibly important part of bodybuilding. As you start to increase the size of muscle tissue, you need to make sure you still maintain pliability in that muscle, or you risk range of motion issues. Also, flexibility allows you to build more muscle as well.

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You notice this even in the top echelons of bodybuilding. Oftentimes, even the top IFBB pros can still do the splits as part of their routine despite weighing over 240 pounds. 

ISSA goes into how to assess flexibility and use it as part of a warm-up routine. You learn ways to correct delayed onset of muscle soreness (DOMS), how to periodize your stretching and ways to correct inflexibility to prevent injuries. 

8. Testing and Evaluation

This section of the ISSA textbook describes the various ways to test strength and body fat. As a personal trainer, you need to know how to assess clients. You also need to know how to keep track of their body composition through cutting and bulking phases of training.

As competition gets closer and closer, you’ll need to adjust training and macronutrients to prevent muscle loss and improve fat burning, so you need accurate ways to measure where you are at.

9. Periodization

Chapter 9 details the different types of periodization you’ll use as a bodybuilding coach. ISSA discusses the ABC Bodybuilding Periodization Model, Granddady Laws, the Fitness Fatigue Model and more.

You learn how to avoid over training, how to use targeted periods of overreaching to your benefit and how to structure bulking and cutting phases.

ISSA briefly goes into contest preparation and how to get someone ready for a bodybuilding show. 

10. Bringing Up Symmetry and Attacking Weaknesses

Here, ISSA discusses how to build a complete physique using techniques to shape the muscles and bring up lagging body parts. You learn strategies like manipulating training frequency and setting priorities regarding what you train.

ISSA also details a bit about BOSU Ball training. I’m not really sure why stability ball training is part of the ISSA Bodybuilding curriculum. This is one area of the curriculum I felt really didn’t need to be here. 

11. Bodybuilding Methods and Traditions

Chapter 11 of the ISSA Bodybuilding textbook is a virtual goldmine of training tips. You learn how to use methods like split training, supersets, giant sets, rest-pause, partial reps, German Volume Training, forced reps and more than 20 other program design techniques. 

This was my favorite Chapter in the textbook and it lists by far the most different types of training tools of any bodybuilding certification I’ve come across. I’d never even heard of certain training systems before, like EuroBlast Training. You really will be well-informed after reading this chapter when it comes to bodybuilding techniques. 

12. Nutrition

Nutrition is an essential part of building a stage-ready physique. ISSA goes over the basics of macronutrients and essential nutrients you need to know, but this is not full nutrition certification. For that reason, you may need to look into the ISSA Nutrition Certification or pick from one of the other best nutrition certifications out there. 

13. Supplements and Drugs

As a bodybuilding coach, athletes are going to ask you about supplements for gaining muscle and losing fat. ISSA distills the top supplements that actually aid in this process. Then the certification discusses performance-enhancing drugs in bodybuilding. Things like steroids and fat burners are a huge part of bodybuilding, especially the open and non-tested divisions, so you do need to know a bit about them.

14. Recovery

Muscle mass is built when the human body recovers fully from intense training. If you don’t know how to recover properly, you’ll never reach your physique goals.

ISSA talks about proper sleep to recover from training, how to use deloads in a bodybuilding context. 

You also learn the differences in fatigue between individuals, how to expedite recovery and the two types of fatigue: Electromechanical Fatigue and Mechanico-Metabolic Fatigue.

15. Injuries in Bodybuilding

One of the worst aspects of bodybuilding is dealing with an injury. As a bodybuilding coach, you need to learn how to work around injuries and prevent them. These topics are covered in the ISSA textbook. 

16. Bodybuilding Sports Psychology

Finally, ISSA discusses sports psychology for bodybuilding specifically. Bodybuilding is a sport unlike any other because as a bodybuilder get closer and closer to their peak, they’re generally feeling weaker and weaker. In other athletics, you peak to feel stronger. This means mental toughness is key to your success both from a training and diet perspective. 

ISSA Bodybuilding Coach Specialization Exam Prep and Study Materials

The ISSA Bodybuilding Specialization comes with an online study guide and workbook, which takes you through the program, chapter-by-chapter. 

You also get practice exams and quizzes after each chapter and there’s an online student forum alongside the normal tech support you’d get from a program like this. 

ISSA also gives you a free professional website, which is a nice addition. 

ISSA Bodybuilding Certification Requirements

There are no major requirements needed to join the ISSA Bodybuilding Specialist, however, I would recommend that you take the ISSA CPT first. For that, you’ll need to be 18 or older, with a valid CPR/AED certification and a high school diploma/GED or higher. 

ISSA Bodybuilding Salary

There are no average statistics for bodybuilding coach salary, however you can imagine it being comparable to personal trainer income. The average CPT in the US makes $67,141 currently. 

ISSA Bodybuilding Final Exam 

The final open book exam can be taken online right at home. You get one free test retake should you fail the first time. 

I found the test pretty easy, especially because you can use your notes. 

ISSA Bodybuilding Certification Continuing Education & Recertification

The ISSA Bodybuilding Specialist gives you 20 ISSA CEUs, which is enough to renew your CPT. You do not need to renew your Bodybuilding credential.

Other ISSA Offerings

ISSA Bodybuilding Certification Overall Rating

The ISSA Bodybuilding Specialist scores a 9 out of 10 for me. ISSA does a fine job covering everything you need to know to build hypertrophy programs for your clients. The negative of the program for me at the moment is that the NASM Physique and Bodybuilding Coach Specialist is just as good and it’s slightly less expensive, although if you go for the bundle, then I’d stick with ISSA. 

ISSA Bodybuilding Specialist
ISSA Bodybuilding Specialist Review ([year]) Update 2

Kickstart your bodybuilding coach career with the ISSA bodybuilding specialist certification. Get the rundown on this certification in my complete 2024 review.

Product Currency: USD

Product Price: 639

Product In-Stock: InStock

Editor's Rating:


  • Best hypertrophy techniques
  • Great overall value
  • Easy exam


  • Slightly more expensive than NASM

ISSA Bodybuilding Certification FAQs

Who is ISSA?

ISSA, also known as the International Sports Sciences Association, is a renowned organization in the field of fitness and bodybuilding. Founded in 1988, ISSA has become a global authority in providing education and certification for fitness professionals. With a mission to empower individuals to achieve their fitness goals, ISSA offers comprehensive courses and programs that cover various aspects of exercise science, nutrition, and personal training. Their certifications are highly respected within the industry and are recognized worldwide. Through their commitment to excellence and continuous research, ISSA has played a significant role in shaping the bodybuilding community and promoting optimal health and wellness practices.

Who can benefit from hiring an ISSA bodybuilding specialist?

Hiring an ISSA bodybuilding specialist can be beneficial for a wide range of individuals looking to achieve their fitness goals. Whether you are a beginner or an experienced athlete, this specialized professional can provide personalized guidance and support tailored to your specific needs. From those aiming to build muscle mass and increase strength, to individuals seeking to improve their overall physique and body composition, an ISSA bodybuilding specialist possesses the knowledge and expertise to design effective training programs, offer nutritional advice, and ensure proper form and technique. Additionally, they can assist with injury prevention and rehabilitation, making them an invaluable resource for anyone looking to optimize their fitness journey.


  1., Personal trainer salary.
Tyler Read - Certified Personal Trainer with PTPioneer

Tyler Read

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