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A Complete Study Guide for Personal Training Certification

ISSA, International Sports Sciences Association, Certified Personal Trainer, Personal Trainer Exam, Online Study, How to Study for a Personal Trainer Test

Reading Time: 7minutes 37 seconds

There are many tips and tricks for studying for your personal trainer certification exam. Here, we’ll share some of the topics included in these exams. We’ll also cover tips for remembering information and common strategies ISSA students use for studying.

What is the Personal Trainer Certification Exam?

To become a certified personal trainer, your knowledge of anatomy, physiology, exercise science, sports medicine, and fitness nutrition must be tested. That is where the personal trainer certification exam comes in. It assesses your level of knowledge in different areas to make sure you’ve got what it takes to safely work with clients.

Unfortunately, the fitness industry is not currently regulated. That means anyone can call themselves a personal trainer—even without cracking a textbook—and sell personal fitness programs to clients.

Taking the personal trainer certification exam and earning your certification is what sets apart fitness professionals from other gym-goers. Until the fitness industry becomes regulated, educational organizations such as the ISSA work to provide professional training to protect clients and promote healthy living.

What’s Included on the Personal Trainer Certification Exam?

The ISSA personal training exam includes multiple-choice questions in the following domains:

  • Basic and Applied Sciences
  • Assessments
  • Program Design
  • Special Populations
  • Nutrition
  • Professional Practice

Each of these topics is covered in the ISSA personal training course textbook. 

Some certification exams have true/false questions. Others have math problems, such as figuring out the resting heart rate of a fictional client. 

How to Study for the Personal Trainer Certification Exam

There are many ways to study for the personal trainer exam. You should choose the method that has worked best for you in the past. For example, maybe you aced your political science exam after memorizing the School House Rock song about how bills get passed. If so, listen to music while you study and maybe even put some ideas to music.

Some of our ISSA students make note cards of the key terms. They then tape them to the bathroom mirror, put them on the refrigerator, or study them on the treadmill during a warm-up. You can also record these in a voice memo and listen to it on your way to work.

Other students take the section quizzes and review questions they answered wrong. This is a very good strategy. Simply write down the answers to the questions and create your own study guide.

If you’re a tactile learner, it may help to write summaries of each unit in your own words. The act of writing helps the brain hold on to the information. You can also highlight interesting facts in your text, write in the margins of the book, or draw pictures to help you remember key information.

If you ever have questions or don’t quite understand a concept, our fitness industry experts are available. They can answer your questions in the ISSA Question Board. This is found under the Study Aids tab in your certification program account dashboard.

What are Some Tips for Studying for the Personal Trainer Certification Exam?

People, for the most part, are visual learners. We dream, think, and learn with pictures. According to Jim Kwik, founder of Kwik Learning, pictures are the key to unlocking our brain power and retaining information.

Here are three top tips for studying for the personal trainer certification exam.

Visualize Concepts

Create a picture in your mind that describes or explains something. 

Example: To remember what “lordosis” is, imagine an 18th century Lord, in all his finery, attempting to climb out of his velvet-lined carriage. He cruelly orders his poor footman to get on the ground on all fours so he can step on his low back. This would cause the footman’s back to sway—resulting in a postural deviation also known as swayback.

Link Ideas Together

To remember groups of information, create pictures for each idea and link those pictures together. The more exaggerated and absurd, the more likely your brain will remember the information.

Example: Here is an idea to help you remember the five main categories of bones.

  • Flat bones. Imagine pancakes. Pancakes are flat, right? Now imagine that you have a vest made of pancakes that covers your ribs, sternum, clavicle, and scapula. These are all flat bones.
  • Short bones. Now imagine that a Viking is attacking you with his long sword. But you have a giant foam finger that absorbs the blow. Short bones include the carpals (fingers) and tarsals (toes). These bones offer shock absorption.
  • Long bones. After the Viking realized how impenetrable your armor was, he dropped his long sword and ran away. You pick it up and laugh out loud over your easy victory. The humerus is a long bone. (Get it, something that is humorous is funny…)
  • Sesamoid bones. When you return home from battle, you turn on the television and start clicking through the channels until you find Sesame Street. You hear a catchy song and start tapping your knee. The thumb joint has a sesamoid bone which helped you click through channels. The patella of the knee is the body’s largest sesamoid bone.
  • Irregular bones. After your show ends, you run out to the mailbox and find a catalog for sumo belts. You’re very excited since you grew out of yours and need a new one. There is one on sale in your favorite color, it is discounted for being “irregular”. You buy it anyway to protect yourself for your next match. Irregular bones include the ischium and pubis – the area your new sumo belt will cover.

Involve Multiple Senses

We’ve shared various ways ISSA students prepare for the personal training certification exam. Each of these methods involves different senses. When you engage multiple senses in your learning, your brain processes them in multiple areas of the brain.

Let’s look at some of the senses and how they can be used in learning:

  • Auditory: Read aloud. Listen to the audio lectures. Teach the concept to another person.
  • Visual: Reading the textbook. Watching the lecture presentations. Drawing pictures of concepts in a notebook.
  • Kinesthetic: Demonstrating an exercise. Touching a muscle you’re reading about. Reading a physical—rather than digital—textbook.

How can you combine some of these senses to lock this information into multiple areas of your brain? Here are three suggestions:

  1. Ask a friend if you can teach them a concept you’ve learned. Grab a whiteboard or blank sheet of paper and draw it out as you explain it. This engages sight and sounds.
  2. Show someone how to perform a certain exercise. Touch each muscle as you describe it. This engages your senses of touch, sight, and hearing.
  3. Start the video lecture and follow along in your textbook. Write notes in the margins or highlight the information covered in the lecture. Audio, visual, and tactile senses are used in this process.

What Are the Main Topics to Brush Up on for the Personal Trainer Certification Exam?

It is always a good idea to review basic anatomy and physiology. You should be able to identify common bones, muscles, and joints and describe the planes of motion.

A fitness professional should know the different types of muscle fibers and how each works. Since metabolism is such a key part of fitness, you should know it well.

The ISSA personal trainer program discusses methods of assessing clients. The fitness professional should know the categories of assessments—objective or subjective. The fitness professional should also know the purpose for each assessment. This may be to measure cardiovascular endurance, muscular strength, flexibility, etc.

Exercise science covers concepts such as kinesiology, metabolism, body composition, and special conditions. Fitness professionals should be able to apply each of these concepts to personal training. Can you tell someone how a specific muscle generates force during movement and how that exercise affects physical performance? If so, you’re probably ready to take the personal fitness trainer certification exam.

If there are any topics you don’t fully understand, take the time to review those.

How Long Does It Take to Become A Personal Trainer?

The length of time it takes to become a personal trainer depends on several factors. Mostly, it depends on how quickly you want to start working with clients.

Some certification programs offer a 3-day test prep workshop. These workshops are designed to get you ready for the personal training certification exam. (This exam is also sometimes referred to as the CPT exam for short.) 

With ISSA, many students complete the Guided Study program and are ready for the certification exam in just ten weeks.

What Materials Are Included in ISSA’s Study Guide for Personal Training Certification Course?

When you buy an ISSA personal fitness trainer course or other specialized certification program, the certification exam is included in the price. Other certification programs sometimes charge separate fees for the study materials and exam.

The ISSA personal trainer certification program also includes the following:

  • Study guide and workbook
  • Practice quizzes and tests
  • Large online exercise video library
  • Audio lectures available on-the-go
  • Access to a web-based interactive exercise technique analysis lab
  • Online support
  • Business and marketing guide

The study guide and workbook are essential study materials. These materials will help you prepare for the certification exam. The practice quizzes are also valuable. They give you insights into which topics will likely be covered on the final exam.

Where Can You Find Extra Study Materials Online for Taking the Personal Trainer Exam?

The ISSA online blog provides a variety of articles that shed a bit more light on complicated topics. Two examples include mitochondrial adaptations to aerobic exercise and music licensing for group fitness classes.

There are some websites which offer unofficial study guides. However, the best place to find information for studying is in your account.

  • The Question Board is a valuable resource. Have questions about medical terminology or sports medicine? This is a great place to ask. 
  • Listen to the audio lectures while you commute. This enables you to better prepare for your career as a fitness instructor.
  • Take chapter quizzes, which consist of multiple-choice questions. These quizzes highlight areas that may need more study.
  • Review chapter headings and key terms. Review tables and charts. Look at pictures and graphics. Go over this information until you feel you know it.

What About Hands-on Experience?

In addition to studying medical terminology, exercise physiology, and other topics contained in a CPT exam, it’s helpful to gain hands-on experience. Stop by your local gym or fitness center and ask to shadow some of the personal trainers working there. This provides a real-world look at what being a fitness instructor involves.

Does a Certified Personal Trainer Have Continuing Education Requirements? 

Once you pass your CPT exam and begin working as a certified personal trainer, you will need to earn continuing education credits to keep that certification current. The ISSA requires 20 continuing education credits every two years for your personal training certification to remain active.

If you’ve been considering a career as a certified personal fitness trainer, check out the ISSA Certified Personal Trainer certification program. This course teaches the knowledge and skills necessary to work as a personal trainer. Knowledge and skills required to pass the certification test.

The ISSA also offers a CPT Bootcamp that provides you with the ultimate LIVE guide to studying, understanding, and passing your course. You'll take part in live study tutorials that deep-dive into specific concepts of the course, and you will find out exactly what you need to pass your final exam. Sign up now!


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