ISSA vs. ACE: Which Certification is Better For You?

As an aspiring personal trainer, you must first choose which certification is right for you. 

With this guide, you will learn the difference between two popular options, ISSA and ACE. We will help you to determine what path you should take for your education and answer some frequently asked questions along the way.

Here, we will discuss what each certification is, the pricing, pass rates, number of questions, CE requirements, incomes you can expect, and offer some final thoughts from a certified trainer. 

Once you’ve read the guide, you will be able to make an informed decision on your certification preference. Let’s start with the basics.

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What's ISSA?

ISSA (The International Sports Sciences Association) is an organization that offers education and certification for fitness trainers, coaches, nutritionists, and medical professionals.

Founded in 1988, ISSA formed their organization to solve the lack of standardization in the personal fitness training industry. ISSA is accredited by the Distance Education and Training Council (DETC).

The ISSA exam covers a wide range of fitness categories. These include Kinesiology, Biomechanics, Nutrition, Anatomy, and more. Once you pass the exam, you are then qualified to offer your fitness training services.

What is ACE?

Founded in 1985, ACE (The American Council on Exercise) is a leading nonprofit certification organization built on the foundational belief that activity prevents disease. 

With a mission to “get people moving,” ACE collaborates with other organizations to help create a healthier world. They coined the ACE Mover Method as their core philosophy in educating fitness professionals. 

In 2003, the American Council on Exercise was accredited by the NCCA (National Commission for Certifying Agencies) for its four primary certifications.

Pricing of ISSA vs ACE

The basic ACE certification starts at $552*. The cost includes:

  • ACE University Course
  • ACE Certification Exam
  • ACE Practice Test
  • ACE Personal Trainer Digital Textbook
  • ACE Personal Trainer Digital Study Companion
  • ACE Answers: Answers to Common Study Questions

For the Plus option, which starts at $649*, they add on hard copies of your textbook and study companion, another practice test, ACE Answers with Live Q&A Webinars, and Exercise Science 101, a supplemental course to help you better understand anatomy and physiology.

With the Advantage option, the pricing is around $974*. This option includes four practice tests, the addition of an audio version of the textbook, facilitated study groups, and a dedicated support team.

ISSA has a higher starting cost but includes plenty of bang for your buck, so you’re able to get off to a good start with your personal training career. This certification course starts at $1,598* for a self-study option, but you can find a great promotion here

This option includes:

  • A full online textbook and course materials
  • Complete 10-week guided study program
  • Audio Lectures and Written Notes
  • Online Exercise Lab
  • Practice Exams and Section Quizzes
  • Online Student Forum
  • Online certification exam
  • Job guarantee within six months or a full refund
  • Free Professional Website for your fitness training career
  • Unlimited Educational Support with on-staff professors

*Note: prices are subject to change, and terms and conditions may apply.

Pass Rate of ISSA vs ACE

Whether you choose the ISSA or the ACE certification, both will require a great deal of studying to obtain the necessary knowledge, but both are also perfect for beginners. ISSA’s pass rate is much higher because it is an open book exam. However, this doesn’t mean you won’t need to understand the material any less.

ISSA Pass Rate: 89.9%
ACE Pass Rate: 65%

The focus of education:

ISSA: Focuses on general fitness. ISSA also emphasizes athletic training, including program design, powerlifting, and athlete performance. 

ACE: Focuses on general fitness. ACE also emphasizes endurance training and behavioral modification, which will make this an excellent certification choice for those wishing to focus on client weight loss.

Number of Test Questions: ISSA vs ACE

While ACE has slightly fewer questions and a lower required score to pass, ISSA is an open book exam, so you may find that if you’re not a great test-taker, ISSA may be better for you.

ACE: 150 questions with an allotted 180 minutes (62.5% or higher is passing. They have an 800 point system where you need 500 points to pass)

ISSA: 160 questions with unlimited time allotment (75% or better is passing)

For extra help and a better chance of passing, students often turn to third-party educators that provide in-depth study guides like Fitness Mentors.

Continued Education Requirements for ISSA vs ACE

Maintaining your certification with continued education is a requirement of both ISSA and ACE. Continuing Education Units (CEUs) will add additional costs throughout your career. 

It’s important to recognize these costs and the timing for which you’ll regularly incur them.

ISSA and ACE CEU requirements are nearly identical, with ACE costing slightly more to recertify.

ACE: 20 hours of CEUs and $129 to recertify every two years

ISSA: 20 hours of CEUs and $99 to recertify every two years

Average Income of ISSA and ACE Personal Trainers

It is common to wonder, “how much money will I make as a personal trainer?” It is a career, after all! Incomes can indeed vary because of the certification you chose, so it’s crucial to know these differences when choosing which one is right for you.

ACE certified trainers average $52,537 (this information is from the ACE Salary Report for Health and Fitness Professionals, which may mean its a bit skewed, as mostly ACE certified trainers would have been among those surveyed)

ISSA certified trainers average $36,235.

How much money you make as a personal trainer will ultimately be determined by what you do with your certification. Will you market yourself and network in the right places? Will you join a popular gym as a trainer? We’ve seen trainers make $200,000 per year if they have the drive and knowledge needed to build their careers and be successful. 

Taking this Guide to Success as a Personal Trainer course can help you get a full load of clients and be as successful as possible.

ISSA vs ACE FAQs

How Long Does ISSA Certification Last?

ISSA personal trainers must renew every two years. This renewal will include a fee to update the certification. 

Can I Get a Job With ISSA Certification?

ISSA certified trainers are nationally recognized in the fitness industry. ISSA even has a job placement team to help you find opportunities. 

Is ISSA Accredited?

Yes. ISSA has five accredited exams, including that of Certified Personal Trainer. ISSA is accredited by the Distance Education and Training Council (DETC), which the Department of Education recognizes. 

Is ACE Accredited?

Yes, it is one of the most highly recognized certifications in the fitness industry. It is accredited by the NCCA, making it very respectable.

Final Thoughts from a Certified Trainer: Which Certification Is Better, ISSA, or ACE?

Both certifications are highly respected and nationally accredited. A major determining factor in which you choose should be the path you plan to take. 

From a personal trainer’s standpoint, neither is overall better to have than the other, just better to have for what you’d like to do. In other words, while both certifications are perfect for those that want to be certified personal trainers, the education focus may be the ultimate decider. 

If you’d prefer to train athletes, ISSA may be the better choice for you. If you would like to work with clients on weight loss and cardio, ACE may be the better choice for you.

While the ACE course is less expensive, it should be noted how much the ISSA course includes. The guarantee for job placement is highly valuable, and getting a job quicker could make up that cost and then some.

If you know what you’d like to do in your career, we suggest checking with potential employers you’d like to work for to see what certification they’d prefer.

There are other certifications to compare as well, such as ACE vs NASM and ISSA vs NASM.

For more information on becoming a personal trainer, read through our post on the topic or feel free to give us a call. We would be happy to help you decide what’s best for you! (424) 675-0476.

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