Hey everyone, and welcome to our Trainer Academy ISSA vs ACE comparison article.

The aim is to take two of the best certifications out there and weigh them up against each other to provide some insight.

Through this, we want to help you decide which one would be best for you, your circumstances, and your aspirations as a certified personal trainer.

This article isn’t aimed at determining which certification is better than the other, just which one is better for you.

And the certifications from each institution we will be dealing with are the personal trainer certifications, so each time we mention ACE or ISSA, just be aware that we’re referring to the CPT certs each of these agencies offers.

And with that said, let’s jump right in!

About the Certifications

ACE

ACE stands for American Council on Exercise. It is one of the most popular certifying institutes in America and is often considered one of the “twin titans” along with NASM in terms of popularity and recognition.

ACE was founded in 1985, making it over three and a half decades old from the time of writing.

Through this time, ACE has established itself as a leader in professional fitness training and public health initiatives.

The approach to fitness ACE has taken, is aimed towards the general population and addressing the fundamental health concerns facing it.

Because of this, ACE trainers are equipped with the skills and knowledge to inspire a change of habit and to encourage people to simply move.

This complete ACE review is packaged to give you the full info.

ISSA

ISSA is the International Sports Sciences Association. It is one of the leading institutions in the world and probably the most widespread globally.

That’s because ISSA is the first and most prominent distance-based institution of the major North American certifying agencies.

This has made it accessible to many trainers around the world with its online-only programs.

Their personal training certification is one of the most recognized qualifications in fitness, and with great accessibility and a unique take on running certification programs, ISSA has become a dominant force in its three decades of existence.

Check out the full ISSA review here.

Accreditation

Before we go any further, we need to get one thing clear, and that’s accreditation.

Accreditation is an assurance that the certification you’re getting, and the certifying agency you’re getting it from, fulfill all the requirements in terms of content and administration.

In other words, is the certification meeting standards as far as the curriculum of its programs and how they are delivered is concerned?

In the world of health and fitness certifications, accreditation is handled by two main organizations.

The first and most prominent is the NCCA or National Commission of Certifying Agencies.

Most of the major “gold standard” certifications in the US are authenticated by this commission.

The other, which is just as legitimate, but less common, is the DEAC, or Distance Education Accrediting Commission.

This one is responsible for authenticating the content and operations of distance-based learning institutions.

As far as ISSA or ACE are concerned, let’s take a look at which one is accredited by which Commission.

Use the links below to get a comprehensive understanding of both highly recommended certifications – as well as current deals.

Read also: How To Become A Personal Trainer

NCCA quote

CertificationAccreditation
ACE Certified Personal Trainer (CPT)NCCA
ISSA Certified Personal Trainer (CFT)DEAC

As you can see, ACE has its accreditation provided by the NCCA, while ISSA is a DEAC accredited institute.

ISSA is a distance-based learning certification, the first of its kind amongst the fitness certifications we feature and consider the best.

Other major certifications have since followed suit in offering online delivery and administration of their programs and exams, but ISSA did it first.

Besides the prestige and assurance of quality accreditation brings, it’s also an important factor in helping you avoid potential scams.

Many courses and certifications exist in the digital fitness space, some of them may provide some useful, albeit unverified, and unrecognized academic resources, but others are just a flat-out scam.

Whatever the case, it’s important to remain vigilant, and only purchase certifications from reputable accredited certifying agencies.

A valuable piece: The Best Nutrition Certifications

Cost of Study Packages

Cost is king, and when deciding on which PT cert to purchase, this is the first factor you must contend with.

The cost will, of course, be influenced by your budget, and in the case of these two certifications, it could easily just come down to which is the cheaper option.

That’s because not much separates ACE vs. ISSA when it comes to the overall quality and repeatability of the programs.

It’s often the case that certifications will present more than one option in terms of the study packages you can purchase.

These options are usually separated based on how much study material is included in each package, with the cheapest containing the least and the priciest containing the most.

Check out: The Best Personal Trainer Certifications

Worthwhile quote

So let’s take a look at the costs:

Package TierCost (ACE)Cost (ISSA)
1Basic ($849)$1447
2Plus ($999)
3Advantage ($1499)

From this, we can see that ACE comes out with the most expensive option, but at the same time, it also provides the cheapest.

The variety allows flexibility when deciding if ACE is great for you or not.

Get updated about the latest deals and discounts from ACE by clicking here.

ISSA, however, only has one option available, which costs almost the same as the ACE Advantage package.

This is actually a significant mark-up from what ISSA previously used to cost, but since they acquired NCCPT, an NCCA accredited agency, ISSA has bolstered their CPT package to include a traditionally accredited exam.

One thing to note when it comes to the cost of certification is that the price often fluctuates based on discounts, specials, and promos.

These happen very often, so you have a good chance of scoring a big discount if you sign up at the right time.

Another way of enjoying a massive discount with ISSA is going for the buy one get one offer(BOGO) which allows you to get a personal training certification with their nutritionist certification for free.

Also, you can decide to opt for the elite trainer package which consists of the personal training certification, the nutritionist certification, and one other certification of your choosing at $999.

Click here for the buy-one-get-one offer or the ISSA elite package.

Pricing is one thing, but the value of what you get with what you buy is what truly justifies the cost, so let’s take a look at the quality of study materials.

Learn more: Exercise Science Careers

Quality of Study Materials

To learn the necessary principles and skills, you will need to have the right suite of resources and materials.

Great study resources are essential for exam success, but they are also useful to have as an information archive as you work in the business.

So the quality of the study materials should also be based on their reusability and their effectiveness in optimizing your exam as well as your overall career outcomes.

We will rate each certs study package out of 10 based on the quality and quantity of material. We will also consider a variety of packages and costs.

ACE
BasicPlusAdvantage
ACE University ACE University ACE University 
ACE Certification ExamACE Certification ExamACE Certification Exam
ACE Practice Test (1)ACE Practice Test (2)ACE Practice Test (4)
ACE Personal Trainer Textbook ACE Personal Trainer Textbook ACE Personal Trainer Textbook 
ACE Personal Trainer Study Companion ACE Personal Trainer Study Companion ACE Personal Trainer Study Companion 
ACE Answers (Basic) ACE Answers (Plus) ACE Answers (Advantage) 
Exercise Science 101 Exercise Science 101 
Dedicated Advantage Team

Check also: The Best Group Fitness Certifications

Great resources

ISSA
Current Edition Textbook
Online Practice Exams and Quizzes
Audio and Video Lecture Options
Online Study Guide and Workbook
Online Student Forum
Online Exam
NCCA Accredited Exam (NCCPT)

As you can already tell, ACE wins purely based on variety, with three packages, each offering a robust suite of study materials, the options certainly add value.

ISSA isn’t without merit, though.

In it, you will receive some amazing materials. You also receive an attempt at an NCCA accredited CPT exam administered by NCCPT.

You may have heard of NCCPT as one of the certifying agencies popular amongst trainers in the US. as of 2020, they were acquired by ISSA and now operate as a subsidiary of the institution.

This allows ISSA to follow a hybrid program system with both NCCA and DEAC accredited courses.

ISSA still just has one package option and fewer materials included in it overall, making ACE the clear winner in this category.

We’ll give ACE 8/10 and ISSA 7/10.

When it comes to studying materials, we still believe in increasing your odds by investing in some premium third-party materials, designed and put together by professionals who’ve actually earned the certification. That’s what we offer here at Trainer Academy.

These premium MVP study packages are intended to not only help you learn the information but to retain them for future use.

You will find the study techniques useful in reducing your study time drastically, give you a 99% pass guarantee, and much more.

Check out the ACE MVP study package or the ISSA MVP study package; the choice is yours.

Exam Layout and Passing Grade

Once you’ve assessed your options and made your decisions, it’s time to knuckle down and get the exam prep rolling.

In this category, we will look at how the exam is designed, as well as how it is graded and administered.

It’s important to understand the layout of an exam since most of them are divided into uneven segments.

These segments have a different distribution of the total exam grade, meaning some will require more focus than others.

First, let’s look at the exam structure:

CertificationNumber of QuestionsPassing Grade
ACE15062.5%
ISSA16075%

Both ACE and ISSA have pretty similar question counts, ISSA coming in with 160 multiple choice questions, while ACE brings in 150.

We mentioned how each exam section has its own weighting, which will help you gain an idea of where your focus should be during exam prep.

segment quote

Let’s take a look at how the breakdown of the sections:

ACE Exam Breakdown
Weight in examSection
20Professional Conduct, Safety and Risk Management
23Interviews and Assessments
26Program Modification and Progression
31Program Design and Implementation
ISSA Exam Breakdown
Weight in ExamSection
9%Special Populations
10% Professional Practice, Drawing-in Phase, Fiscal Fitness
17%   Assessment
19% Nutrition
22%Basic and Applied Science
23% Program Design

The sections have been listed in rank order from least featured to most featured.ACE comes in with four sections, while ISSA has 6, but one glaring similarity is how the course content is distributed in terms of exam relevance.

As you can see, the least significant sections deal with the professional and administrative side of personal training, while the most emphasis is placed on the programming and instructional side of things.

This makes sense since your role as a PT will largely be concerned with planning and executing workouts.

That means incentivizing students to master these areas of the curriculum by making them a more prominent focus in the exam is a smart way of producing quality trainers.

As for administration, ISSA is completely online. It is, after all, the king of the distance-based certs.

The exam itself is self-paced and an open book, meaning you have no time limit and can page through any study resources to gain the correct information.

ACE is run more traditionally, with a pencil and pad exam written in a physical testing location with a proctor invigilating the process. 

There is, however, the option to take the exam online via a live remote proctor. This is basically a hybrid of a real-world and online exam, where your computer’s webcam is used as a means by which you are monitored.

The ACE CPT exam is 3 hours long.

Check out the ACE study guide and ACE practice exam to have a first-hand experience and also get familiar with the exam layout and passing grade through constant studying and practice.

Read more: The Best Fitness Certifications

Exam Difficulty and Pass Rate

Understanding the structure of the exam can certainly help in gaining the upper hand when it comes time to write the test.

But understanding how difficult the exam is a strategic advantage when considering how much effort and attention you’ll need to exert in your studies.

As far as difficulty is concerned, ACE and ISSA couldn’t be more different. To compare this statistic, let’s take a look at the pass rate percentages for each:

CertificationPass rateRetake Fee
ACE Certified Personal Trainer (CPT)65%199
ISSA Certified Personal Trainer (CFT)90%FREE

As you can tell, the ACE exam isn’t incredibly difficult, but it still poses a worthy challenge and requires some care and preparation.

The ISSA exam, on the other hand, has a near-perfect record when it comes to successful candidates. You only have a 10% chance of failing this test.

This can be seen as both a good thing or a bad thing, depending on how you look at things.

Good in the obvious sense of it posing less of a barrier to success, allowing more people to achieve their dreams of becoming certified trainers.

But bad for the fact that there no longer exists a stringent barrier to success, which acts as a quality control mechanism.

We would say the exam layout and how it contributes to the difficulty of the exam is actually a benefit.

That’s because ISSA is a guided process, and not one that simply requires you to spew memorized facts.

Searching through the study resources requires a firm grasp of the concepts, to begin with, so in any event, you are actually learning as you write the exam.

Having said that, we still think ACE is the best option. It does what ISSA does, while also making it more of a challenge, which we find necessary.

Acing the exams in flying colors will not be a difficult task if you click on the links below:

An educative read: The Best Health Coach Certifications

Retake Fee

In the unfortunate event that you fail, you will be able to retake either exam soon after your unsuccessful attempt.

To be eligible for that, you will have to pay a retake fee in most cases. Let’s have a look, shall we:

CertificationRetake Fee
ACE Certified Personal Trainer (CPT)199
ISSA Certified Personal Trainer (CFT)FREE

To retake the ISSA Certified Personal Trainer exam after your first failed attempt, you simply need to request a retake.

This is one of the few cases where a retake is totally free, that is for the first time. After that, any failed attempts will incur a cost.

As for ACE, the retake policy is pretty standard in that you will need to submit a retake application along with a fee of $199.

It’s obviously in your best interests to pass the second time around; continuous retakes do get expensive, as you can imagine.

Certification Popularity and Recognition

Knowing how popular a cert is might seem unnecessary at face value, but this statistic tells us two vital things.

It tells us how good the certification is by the number of people who enjoy signing up for it, and it tells us how likely it is to lead to employment or business opportunities.

For this, we’re going to look at two statistics—search data on google and enrollment figures by certification.

Let’s take a look at enrollment first.

CertificationEnrollment Number
ACE Certified Personal Trainer (CPT)13,103
ISSA Certified Personal Trainer (CFT)10,696

When it comes to enrolment, ACE tops the charts. ISSA stats aren’t too bad either, but it’s clear that ACE has the most interest from trainers looking to sink their teeth in the industry.

This is a great indication that ACE has a better legacy and history of delivering great certifications. It also shows the industry itself is very responsive and has a higher preference for ACE over ISSA.

The next statistic we will look at is search data. This metric displays how many people actually search for each cert as they browse the web for options.

CertificationSearch Data
ACE Certified Personal Trainer (CPT)1600
ISSA Certified Personal Trainer (CFT)590

This statistic is where we see a huge contrast in the ISSA vs. ACE popularity debate.

ACE has many more search results than ISSA, proving it to be the most popular certification overall.

Ironic that this is the metric that sets them apart since ISSA is more popular as an exclusively online cert.

Read next: The Best Strength and Conditioning Certifications

Expected Study Time

The amount of time it takes for you to go through each CPT program and take the exam is an important factor in your decision.

How much time you have on your hands will influence how much you can give towards your exam prep.

For most people, writing a PT cert exam is not the only priority on their plate. Professional, academic, social, and family commitments all factor in.

That’s why many certifications, including ACE and ISSA, come with an enrollment period that’s long enough for the average person to go through the course material and have a realistic shot at success.

The enrollment period is the amount of time from when you purchase and sign-up for your cert to the deadline for your exam.

Let’s have a look at how long you’re allowed for each:

CertificationEnrollment Period
ACE Certified Personal Trainer (CPT)9 months
ISSA Certified Personal Trainer (CFT)6 months

ACE comes out on top with the most flexible enrollment period of 9 months, while ISSA grants you just six months, which is still fairly adequate, but significantly less leeway in terms of time management.

Where ISSA does come good is their built-in ten weeks guided study system.

This does all the time management for you, allowing you to study appropriately at a reasonable pace, making your test ready in just under half the allotted enrollment period.

This guided study system isn’t rocket science, however, and can be easily replicated with ACE, which has the advantage of having three whole months more to work with.

Average Income

Here’s the one you’ve been waiting for, the average income each certification could potentially earn you.

Income stats are vital when selecting which credentials to gain for your PT career. Knowing how much you stand to make is important for any career choice.

These statistics aren’t easy to come by, but fortunately, we managed to rustle up some fairly accurate average annual income estimates for both certs.

CertificationEnrollment Period
ACE Certified Personal Trainer (CPT)$41,546
ISSA Certified Personal Trainer (CFT)$36,235

ACE wins out again by having the most lucrative income statistics. This means as an ACE trainer, and you’re likely to earn more than an ISSA coach.

ISSA, however, doesn’t lag too far behind and is a worthy option if all other standards besides income potential, meet your preferences.

Similar read: Personal Trainer Salary

Primary Focus of Certification

Another interesting and important factor that could very well sway your decision despite other categories meeting your standards is the scope of focus each cert has.

This is an indication of the trajectory your career could take once you qualify.

Each certifying agency has its areas of focus, and that’s the direction or niche they aim to point to successful candidates.

ACE is focused on general habit optimization. That means through ACE’s curriculum, and you’re learning how to improve your clients’ routines and attitudes in the long term towards a healthier lifestyle.

This is why ACE is so popular in many respects. It allows trainers to tackle the fundamental issues concerning public health and fitness, creating a wide-open market for lucrative ventures.

ISSA sees itself, focusing on the practical aspects of programming and program implementation.

Since most of the work you’ll be doing as a qualified trainer involves programming and program modifying, this is a worthy focus and grants trainers the highest degree of practical skills possible.

If you are interested in working in a specialized area of personal training, you should check out the following niches offered by ISSA and ACE.

CEU Requirements

All good things must come to an end, and the same is true for your new, shiny ACE or ISSA certification.

That’s because once you’ve certified, the clock begins ticking for the expiry of your certification.

This means that you’ll need to renew your certification when the time comes, and to do that, you will need to fulfill certain requirements.

Requirements such as paying a nominal recertification fee, but chief among them is the CEU requirement.

CEUs or continuing education units are time-based credits that prove that you’ve maintained active learning and development as a trainer.

CEUs are gained by completing other certification programs, courses, workshops, and other approved academic activities.

So let’s take a look at the requirements for both ACE and ISSA.

CertificationCEU Requirements (hours)Recertification Fee
ACE Certified Personal Trainer (CPT)20$129
ISSA Certified Personal Trainer (CFT)20$99

Both ACE and ISSA have the same CEU requirements; however, ISSA wins out by being the cheaper one to recertify.

Certification Takeaway

Both ISSA and ACE are top-tier certifying agencies with the best CPT certs out there.

Both have a tremendous amount of value to offer fledgling trainers and seasoned veterans alike.

However, through taking an objective, fact-based look at both, we can see that ACE is the better one overall, albeit by a slight margin.

That doesn’t mean ACE is definitely the one for you. You’ll need to weigh up all the factors against your own preferences and circumstances, and we hope this article made that task a little easier.

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