Hey everyone and welcome to my ISSA vs ACE article! After finishing my article, I am sure you will have a much better idea of which one of these two top certifications is the better choice for you!
I recommend that you take the quiz to find out which personal trainer certification is the best fit for you.
Let’s jump right in.
ACE vs ISSA Quick Information
Both ACE and ISSA are considered general certifications. ACE is accredited by the NCCA while ISSA is accredited by the DEAC. ACE will currently cost you approximately $599 whereas ISSA usually varies between $599 and $699. ISSA only offers one study package for their certification whereas ACE offers three different study packages that all costs different amounts and include different study materials. ISSA has a first-time pass rate of approximately 90% while first-time test-takers with ACE pass at a rate of approximately 65%.
The overall focus and recognition of ISSA and ACE
ISSA covers a wide variety of topics within the realm of personal training. This makes the certification a good one for beginners. The body of knowledge has a pretty general focus on all aspects of personal training. I put the ISSA certification in the general category as it covers a wide variety of topics.
Compared to the ACE certification, ISSA digs a little deeper into is powerlifting, including the concept of the “strength curve” which is focused on athletic performance.
They also have an excellent overview of how to train people with special needs, as well as individuals who are focused on weight loss (the most common goal for clients).
Like ISSA, ACE is also an excellent certification for people who are starting out with very little – or zero – knowledge about personal training or exercise science. This is why I put in the general category for personal training certifications.
It covers all the basics and general principles of personal training and provides an extensive collection of different exercises that will allow you to design personalized routines for your clients with ease.
ACE uses a model called the IFT model which stands for integrated fitness training. This model is highly recognized and used throughout the fitness industry as a way to progress clients through a program safely and effectively. Has a strong emphasis on endurance training (cardiorespiratory) and functional training which allows you to reach a huge market of people looking to lose weight.
Overall, both of these certifications are great for beginners, especially those who intend to work with clients seeking to lose weight or get active again after a long stretch of minimal physical activity.
Check out the official video from ACE:
I have to give the slight edge to ACE certification thought due to the IFT model which I think is slightly better for programs design for a wide variety of clients.
Popularity and Industry Recognition
To me, the ISSA certification is recognized as the international certification. It has certified over 200,000 people in approximately 91 countries in the world.
You can take this certification test online so no matter where you are in the world you will be able to get certified with ISSA.
Almost every single gymnasium will accept the ISSA certification. Although there are some exceptions where employers do not accept certifications that are not accredited by the NCCA. You should ask your potential employer what certifications they accept before choosing one.
The ISSA certification is accredited by the DEAC (formerly the DETC) which is recognized as a very credible accreditation agency. In my eyes, both of the DEAC and NCCA are equal in terms of how legitimate they are as accreditation agencies.
The ACE certification is definitely one of the most highly recognized certifications in the industry. I have personally never talked to an employer that does not accept the ACE CPT.
From the ACE website, they state that they have certified approximately 75,000 individuals in the health and fitness industry. Some of the top employers for ACE-certified individuals are 24-hour fitness, Crunch fitness, anytime fitness and many more.
Here is a snapshot for the last 12 months of Google trends popularity between the ISSA certification and the ACE certification.
Both certifications have similar trends in terms of which months they are popular. Overall the ACE certification is much more searched compared to ISSA.
Info on the study materials and price
ISSA offers only one certification package costing between $599 and $799, which includes textbooks, additional materials online for studying, and the actual test. Occasionally they do have sales when the cost of the certification package is only $499 but this is only on rare occasions. Check here for the current price on ISSA.
The package comes with a hard copy of the textbook, a study guide for the textbook, practice quizzes and exams, and exercise reference guide, access to an online student forum, access to their online exercise lab and unlimited support from ISSA fitness professionals.
The textbook they provide is over 800 pages long and contains an extensive collection of exercises and examples. Regarding the strategy for taking this test, you should know that the test is an open book.
I think that the online exercise lab is cool because it shows you 250 animated exercises so that you can see how to perform the exercises perfectly in a three-dimensional view. Also, having access to fitness professionals whenever you have a question is very helpful.
It’s also cool to note that ISSA is one of the only certifications that offers a hard copy of their textbook with their cheapest package. Lots of other certifying agencies only offer a PDF version unless you pay additional.
It’s essential to highlight and mark important information as you study, so you can easily reference it later when you’re taking the test.
ACE provides multiple certification packages to select from. It can also be cheaper if you choose the least expensive option which is only $599 (prices change, see the current price). This option is called the ACE Pro essential package.
This option includes the textbook in e-book format, practice exams, access to ACE study coaches, the study manual in e-book format, the ACE Academy elite, access to personal training resources and of course access to take the test. The other two options, which are more expensive, include additional study materials.
The mid-tier option is called the ACE Pro plus package includes a hardcopy of the primary textbook, a hard copy of the study manual as well as access to the essentials of exercise science for fitness professionals. This option costs $100 more making it $699 total. If you are the type of person that likes to highlight stuff or have a hard copy of the textbook, this is the package for you.
The top tier option which is called the Pro advantage package costs $799 has everything that the Pro plus package does with the addition of the fitness math online course. This basically goes over the difficult to understand concepts such as your VO2 maximum, energy expenditure concepts or body composition. If math is not your strong suit, this is the package for you.
Overall the prices between ACE and ISSA are almost identical. The biggest difference for me is that ISSA gives you a hard copy of their textbook with their package which makes all the difference to me. Both have access to fitness professionals if you ever get stuck on the concept. Both provide fantastic supplementary study materials as well but ISSA takes the slight edge.
Info on the tests and recertification
Don’t get me wrong, even though it is an open book, this test is still very challenging.
The test has four sections, and you must score 75% or above in all of them to pass. The four sections include multiple-choice, true/false, case studies, and essay questions. The consensus is that the case studies section is the hardest part of the test.
The case studies focus on developing a progressive 12-week routine for two individuals with specific needs or goals. This is why it is critical that you spend a lot of time studying routine development, particularly in special populations, if you plan to pass this section of the test.
The overall pass rate for the ISSA exam is approximately 90% due to the fact that it is open book.
Even if you end up failing on your first time around with ISSA, to retake the test on your second try is absolutely free. If you end up failing your second time as well, a minimum fee of $50 will be charged for your third attempt.
In order to recertify with ISSA, you need 20 units of continuing education every two years. This is approximately 20 hours of continuing education. A cost $75 to recertify with ISSA.
If this certification interests you, I highly encourage you to check out my complete article that provides more detail. Check out my full review of ISSA here or check out the ISSA website for more info.
The ACE test is not easy, and you should prepare and study very seriously; the pass rate for first-time test takers is only 65%.
Overall there are 150 multiple-choice questions. In order to take the test, you need to go to the ACE website and sign up with one of their approved test-taking facilities. Most of the test (approximately 70 to 85%) come from the application and analysis section. So make sure to study the section extra hard if preparing for it.
In order to pass you will need to answer approximately 90 of the 150 questions correctly. This equals right around 500 points on their grading scale.
After you purchase the package of your choice, you will have six months to sign up for a test date and take the test. During the test, you will have three hours to finish all 150 multiple-choice questions.
If you happen to fail on your very first time, the retest fee costs approximately $199. So make sure you study hard for your first time around!
Ace requires you to get recertified every two years and requires approximately 20 hours of continuing education. The cost for recertification is $139.
In addition to checking out their website, I recommend you read my complete article on the ACE certification here.
Overall I like the test-taking process with ISSA due to the fact that they do multiple-choice, short essays as well as real program design Incorporated in their exam. They also have a completely free retest fee as well as a cheaper recertification fee after two years.
Conclusion on ISSA vs ACE
Regarding actual body of knowledge, I really would recommend either of these certifications for people just starting out in personal training with a minimal understanding of exercise science.
Overall the winner of this comparison (by a hair) is the ACE certification!
The only reason I’d recommend ACE over ISSA is that ACE has greater recognition within the personal training industry. Some employers only accept NCCA accredited certifications which include ACE but do not include ISSA (it is DETC accredited).
Either way, both are fantastic and you should have no problem getting a job with either. Make sure to check out both sides below so you can get to know these organizations a little bit better before you make your final decision.
For those of you who would like to see this comparison in video format, here is the video I made a few years ago. Overall, my article is more up-to-date than the video.
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You should check with your potential employer to see which certification they prefer between ISSA and ACE. You should never get a certification that won’t be accepted at the place that you are looking to train, so it is best to ask.
I strongly suggest that you take the quiz to find out which certification is best for you if you’re still on the fence about which one to choose.
As mentioned before, ISSA does have a slight emphasis on power training and athletic performance relative to ACE, so if you are planning on having athletes as the majority of your clients, I would recommend considering the ISSA certification.
Another proper certification that is great for training athletes is the NASM PES. You should also keep in mind that you don’t need to pick just one certification. I highly recommend getting multiple certifications, including advanced certifications.
This will make you a much more dynamic personal trainer with an array of knowledge across many facets of personal training.
After considering everything, I have to give the edge to the ACE personal training certification because more gyms accept it, they have better study material, and the test is not an open book.
I hope my look at ISSA vs ACE helps clear things up for you so that you can choose the certification that is appropriate for you. Here are some additional ACE comparison articles that you might enjoy reading: ACE compared with NASM, ACE vs NSCA and ACE vs ACSM.
I hope you found this article helpful, and if you have any comments or questions, please submit them in the comment box below.
Tyler Read has a Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology. Tyler is also a certified personal trainer with NASM, ACE and CSCS. Tyler’s main goal is to help people get started in the personal training industry and to become successful personal trainers. Tyler is the owner of Personal Training Pioneer which helps people get started in the personal training industry and become successful.