issa strength and conditioning certification review. Tyler Read shows the ISSA strength and conditioning certification textbook.

This article sums up my experience studying for, taking, and passing the ISSA Strength and Conditioning Certification exam, including my knowledge as a fitness professional and strength and conditioning coach for over a decade.

I answer the following questions in this ISSA review:

  • Is ISSA worth it?
  • What are the costs of the ISSA exam and study materials?
  • What information is covered in the ISSA Strength and Conditioning Certification?
  • How does the ISSA certification compare to the other certs out there
  • How hard is the ISSA Strength and Conditioning final exam?
  • What are the pros and cons of the ISSA Strength and Conditioning Certification?

I’ve been a certified personal trainer and strength and conditioning coach for many years and my team of coaches at PT Pioneer has many strength and conditioning certifications, so we have a broad view of how these certs compare to each other and which certifications organizations like to see on a resume. 

I also highly recommend that you take the quiz and find out which ISSA certification is best for your career goals.

What type of Certification are you looking to get?

Let’s get into it.

What is the ISSA Strength and Conditioning Certification?

What is the ISSA Strength and Conditioning Certification? ISSA SCC textbook

The ISSA Strength & Conditioning Certification aims to teach you how to help athletes build endurance, strength, power, and speed. 

Key points covered in the ISSA Strength and Conditioning Certification include:

  1. How to apply the principles of metabolism, body mechanics, and anatomy to help athletes of any level reach their optimal performance
  2. Understand the athlete’s anatomy and how body mechanics and structure influence energy and performance levels
  3. Learn how to communicate exercise instruction and benefits to your clients
  4. Get the tools to develop personalized fitness programs intended to increase endurance, strength, power, and speed
  5. How to apply the principles of nutrition and supplementation as they relate to each individual athlete
  6. Learn to identify the strains of over-training and how to prevent injuries
  7. How to properly perform fitness assessments and monitor an athlete’s progress and growth
  8. Learn the fundamentals of sports psychology and how to mentally prepare athletes to overcome hurdles and perform to their highest ability

ISSA Strength and Conditioning Certification General Information

  • Exam cost: $639.24
  • Study material cost: $53.27/month for 12 months
  • Prerequisites: High School Diploma, CPR/AED
  • Exam passing score: 75% on each section
  • Exam pass rate: 90%
  • Average completion time: 3-4 months

ISSA credibility and reputation

The International Sports Science Association (ISSA) has set a high standard for their certifications since the organization was formed in 1988 with the goal of fighting back against physical decline across the world.

The International Sports Sciences Association has also certified over 200,000 fitness professionals since its inception.

ISSA was the first organization to offer the top online certifications (through the Distance Education Accrediting Commission) and they now have the greatest number of NCCA accredited certifications of any organization.

The National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) is the highest standard that sets the bar in terms of quality when it comes to fitness certifications. While not all gyms and facilities require an NCCA-accredited certification, they always prefer one over a cert without the NCCA’s gold stamp of approval.

In my experience, ISSA is well respected among employers in the fitness industry. Aside from the ISSA SSC, the ISSA personal trainer certification is among the personal trainer certifications sought-after by gyms.

Is the ISSA Strength & Conditioning Certification worth it?

is the issa strength and conditioning certification worth it - Tyler Read considers whether the ISSA strength and conditioning coach is worth it for his training career

The ISSA Strength and Conditioning certification is worth it, especially for those who are looking for multiple certifications because they provide a lot of value for the price you pay and their certs are top notch.

Using their BOGO deal, you can get two certifications for the price of one. I always recommend coaches and trainers look at both nutrition and training certifications together as it allows you to be one stop shop for athletes and have the authority to be able to discuss nutrition as well as training. Normally that would cost twice as much, but not with ISSA.

Make sure to double check their website because no good deal lasts forever.

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Pros
  • Can re-take the test for free 
  • Comprehensive easy-to-understand textbook
  • Elite Trainer package offers the best value in the fitness industry
Cons
  • Not as well known as NSCA CSCS
  • Assessments and weightlifting coverage could be better
  • More expensive by itself than other certs

Another aspect I like about ISSA is how easy it is to go through their certification process at home. Everything from the textbook to the study program, to the test and CPR/AED certification is all available online, unlike other organizations that make you pay extra for each of these things.

ISSA vs other top Strength & Conditioning certifications

There are many other certifications aimed at increasing athlete performance.

ISSA’s main strength and conditioning rival is the National Strength and Conditioning Association’s (NSCA) Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS)

The NSCA is the hardest certification test, but it’s also the most highly regarded and is exclusively recommended for those who want to be strength and conditioning coaches at collegiate and pro levels.

NASM also has a good option with their Performance Enhancement Specialist (NASM PES), but this isn’t a full certification so I won’t be comparing it to ISSA as much in this review. I mostly look at NSCA vs ISSA.

Who is the certification meant for?

The ISSA Strength and Conditioning Certification is meant for athletic coaches, and personal trainers who want to know the science of how to achieve optimal results with their clients. 

It’s also a slightly less dense certification than the NSCA CSCS, which makes it more of an ideal candidate for coaches without a college degree in exercise science.

Great for:
  • Athletic coaches
  • Personal Trainers (wanting to increase performance in clients)
  • Athletes 
Not Recommended for:
  • Trainers (who work with special populations)

ISSA Strength & Conditioning Certification cost and packages

issa strength and conditioning certification cost and packages

The ISSA Strength and Conditioning Certification costs $639.24.

You can also pay in installments of $53.27 for 12 months.

ISSA simplifies the order process with all of its certifications by offering one package that includes everything.

I also recommend getting an ISSA personal trainer certification alongside your ISSA strength and conditioning coach. Furthermore, nutritional knowledge gives you another leg up for delivering results and making more money.

If you do go with the ISSA certification, you can take a look at the ISSA Elite Trainer Program, which gives you the certified personal trainer, ISSA nutrition, and ISSA strength and conditioning for just slightly more than each certification costs on its own.

You can check out the ISSA Elite Trainer directly on the ISSA website. If they are currently running the Elite Trainer Program, it is a tough deal to pass up.

ISSA Strength & Conditioning Coach Certification Review ([year]) 3
ISSA Strength & Conditioning Coach Certification Review ([year]) 4

ISSA Strength and Conditioning Certification content coverage

issa strength and conditioning certification table of contents

The ISSA textbook is divided into 24 chapters:

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  1. Introduction to Strength and Conditioning
  1. Nervous System
  1. Muscular System
  1. Skeletal System and Joint Actions
  1. Cardio Respiratory and Support Systems
  1. Bioenergetics
  1. Biomechanics
  1. General Assessments
  1. Performance Assessments
  1. Principles of Program Design
  1. Flexibility
  1. Plyometric Exercises
  1. Core Exercises
  1. Lower-Body Exercises
  1. Upper-Body Exercises
  1. Power and Olympic-Style Weight Lifting
  1. Resistance Training Systems
  1. Applying Periodization
  1. Cardiorespiratory Programming
  1. Recovery and Injury Prevention
  1. Nutrition
  1. Supplementation
  1. Performance Psychology
  1. Professional Practice

Body Systems

This first section of the ISSA Strength and Conditioning Certification covers nervous, muscular, bone and joint structures along with areas on the support systems of the respiratory, endocrine, and digestive systems.

I really enjoy the chapter layout. ISSA always does a good job of explaining complicated scientific information in a way that’s visually pleasing and easy to understand in their textbooks.

The right hand side of each page includes keywords from the text highlighted in red, which makes it easy to thumb through the pages and refer to specific portions of the book. 

The information in these chapters goes far more in depth than the ISSA personal training certification, and yet I’d say it’s just as easy to comprehend.

Certainly, the ISSA Strength and Conditioning book is much easier to go through than the NSCA CSCS textbook, which reads like a scientific journal. 

When I was studying to take the NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Exam I remember having to pour through each chapter multiple times to fully synthesize the information. 

That isn’t the case with the ISSA Strength & Conditioning certificate, although I would highly recommend taking detailed notes as you read.

Some of the information you learn in these first sections you may never use again as an athletic trainer: 

For example, knowing which spheres of the brain process which body functions will only really be applicable if you are dealing with an athlete who had suffered a stroke, in which case they would have to go through medical intervention before even jumping on the athletic field.

However, it’s worth knowing all of this detail and every quality strength and conditioning certification teaches this level of scientific depth, including the ISSA Strength & Conditioning Certification. 

One of the aspects of the Nervous System chapter I find useful is the innervation charts which are good to refer to if you suspect nerve damage in an athlete.

The Muscular System chapter contains a helpful insertion/origin/action chart I often refer back to when diagnosing muscle actions during movement. Surprisingly, I couldn’t find a similar chart or resource in the NSCA CSCS course, so ISSA definitely comes out on top here.

I also really appreciate the clean design of the ISSA visual graphics. For instance, in the Cardio Respiratory System chapter there’s an image showing the heart blood flow during systolic and diastolic events that illustrates the concept very clearly.

On the negative side, there isn’t too much depth to the Endocrine System content, so if you want more details on the hormones in the body, you may need to supplement this information with another course.

Bioenergetics and Biomechanics

The Bioenergetics chapter doesn’t go into as much detail in the ISSA Strength and Conditioning Certification as in the NSCA CSCS, but I’d say it’s plenty for most coaching applications.

NSCA certainly gives you more insight on bioenergetics as related to cardiovascular systems.

Assessments

The Assessments section of the ISSA Strength & Conditioning Certification is probably the weakest compared to other Strength and Conditioning programs.

While ISSA stresses the importance of assessments, there are only a few mentioned here: a basic postural assessment, gait assessment, squat and lunge, and only 2 cardiorespiratory assessments.

ISSA mentions the PAR-Q and pre-participation assessment but does not provide a copy so you can view them.

Also, ISSA includes performance tests in each domain, but in most cases just one, while the NSCA includes a minimum of 3 possible tests for power, agility, strength, endurance, etc. This gives you more data on your athletes.

ISSA does provide a competent level of information in the SCC. Of course, this can be easily supplemented with information available online.

For those interested, I’d recommend the Functional Movement Screen (FMS) as a good comprehensive movement screening tool to set standards with your athletes.

Program Design

The Program Design chapter of the ISSA Strength and Conditioning Certification does an excellent job of covering the essentials of program design. It describes the details of goal setting and exercise training principles. 

Flexibility

The ISSA flexibility chapter is one of my favorites. It covers both stretching and recovery techniques like myofascial rolling. 

I’ve found in working with athletes that foam rolling is an excellent way to improve performance and reduce injuries. This topic is not discussed at length in the NSCA CSCS, another glaring omission–although I believe this topic is included in the NSCA Tactical Strength Certification. 

Anyway, here again the ISSA Strength and Conditioning Certification shines.

Both the lat/triceps foam rolling position and the IT band position I’ve used to great effect in my own practice as illustrated in this course.

Plyometrics

The Plyometric chapter competently described the essential of plyometric training. It gives some progressions, but I wish it had a little more detail regarding specific programming guidelines or options for exercises.

NSCA CSCS also has more examples of exercises than ISSA, but ISSA certainly provides enough exercises and detail to get the job done.

Resistance Training and Core Exercises

The Core Exercises chapter is a highlight of the ISSA Strength & Conditioning Certification.

This chapter includes a healthy dose of useful exercises not found in other strength and conditioning courses like single-leg planks, bird dogs, and hip bridges. 

I especially like how the exercises are organized by planes of motion. All the sagittal exercises are in one location, and the transverse exercises in another, which makes it easy for coaches and trainers seeking to create balanced programming that includes motion in all planes. 

The chapters including Lower and Upper Body Exercises include a wide variety of strength training tools: barbell, dumbbell weights and some bodyweight calisthenic movements. ISSA does not mention too much about using plate-loaded or pin-loaded machines.

While learning how to use these machines is not challenging and resistance machines are not the biggest element of an athlete’s exercise programming,

Tyler Read - Certified Personal Trainer with PTPioneer

Tyler Read


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