“Biggest Loser’s” Newest Trainers: Speaking With Cara About Her Certifications

Cara Castronuova one of the new "Biggest Loser" trainers

I had the chance today to speak with Cara Castronuova, one of the new trainers for "The Biggest Loser."  I write for AOL's That's Fit which allows me access to group calls where a bunch of reporters pile on and each asks one or two questions. I usually hang back and listen to the other reporters before I jump in, but today I went second. My two questions: What are your certifications?  Do you have any prior experience working with the morbidly obese? Certifications Cara may or may not know about the post I wrote last month where I discussed how I couldn't find any certifications for her listed anywhere online.  This is unusual; if you're a personal trainer, you want people to find about you and know your training so they hire you.  Cara answered that she was formerly a licensed boxing coach with USA Boxing, is current on her New York state boxing license, and has an International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA) certification for personal training. I don't know much about the boxing world; fitness industry people tend to study watered down versions of cardio kickboxing or throw some shadow boxing into a group exercise class.  We don't usually see the nitty-gritty, actually punch a guy stuff.  I did some cardio kickboxing training with a man who was competing at the national level (I loved him!) and I have taken a couple of intro classes at a place called The Ring (very fun, but can't afford it at the moment).  So my exposure is pretty limited here. I checked with Bob Choat, a fabulous fitness expert and a retired Marine boxer.  His response to the boxing licensing was, "That means she's gone through extensive qualifications and training to be able to get licensed."  My response back to him was, "Phew." An interesting note here: Bob mentioned you have to be licensed to teach boxing in most states, meaning you have to register with the state in order to do business.  But for personal training, someone only needs to be certified and doesn't need to register with anyone.  Technically, you don't even need to be certified either (since no one has oversight); you can just "declare it so" and go find clients. As for the ISSA personal training cert, Cara picked this up on September 2nd, I'm guessing just before the show started shooting. This is an online-only certification featuring 50 multiple choice and 50 true/false questions.  This means she didn't have to prove her skills and knowledge in front of a live tester who could evaluate her ability to train clients in a gym.  The ISSA has pretty decent material, but I am always really bothered by people who don't have to take a practical exam.  The practical for my Pilates certification was two hours long and that doesn't include the two-hour written test.  This four hours exam was for my third level of training; there were also exams for both mat and reformer training. BUT ... I'm a certified Pilates instructor.  I had a low-level personal training certification a million years ago that I let expire.  The Pilates certification is 500 hours and a lot of blood, sweat, tears, and money.  It pales in comparison to a weekend personal training certification or an online certification.  Most instructors take about two years to get the full certification.  And all that being said, I'm seriously thinking about acquiring the ACSM personal training certification just so if anyone asks I can say, yes, I am a certified personal trainer. So with Cara, she has training, having proven herself worthy to the venerable NY state board (they take their boxing very, very seriously) and she picked up the ISSA to cover her bases for personal training. Her Teaching Skills I wish I could comment on her skill set, but I haven't seen enough yet on the show and I'm not as good a judge about boxing as I am other forms of fitness.  I haven't seen anything from her that made me cringe, so that's good.  I thought it was smart that she (or the show's medical team) had Moses doing shadow boxing while seated.  The few times I saw her throwing punches they were damned fast and accurate.  I wouldn't want to be in a ring with her.  (Although if she's reading this, she probably really wants me in the ring with her!  LOL) As a side note, I watched about 30 minutes of Brett Hoebel, the other new trainer on the show, cueing exercises on YouTube clips, and I was impressed.  He kept focused on form, breath, and varied his cues a lot.  He also used visual and tactile cues to help people into good form.  All good stuff there. Working with the Morbidly Obese Cara and Brett both said they had never worked with a population like this before.  I would imagine a boxing club doesn't get a lot of people at this weight.  Cara pointed out that "not one page" of what she learned from her certifications prepared her for working with this group, and that she and Brett both got help and support from the seasoned staff of "The Biggest Loser." Personally, I have worked over the years with a couple dozen people who are morbidly obese, but not as overweight as those on the show and not in a group setting.  The biggest issue is client retention; this population will start and then tend to fade out and leave the studio.  It usually happens after they start to see some good progress.  It's a big topic in the fitness industry, and is common and frustrating for trainers because we truly want to help these people live their best lives. Cara didn't have to worry about anyone leaving, at least not voluntarily, but she did have to deal with the consequences of them staying and "having" to do the work even though mentally they have not fully invested in the process.  I know just from interviewing former Olympian and current "Biggest Loser" contestant Rulon Gardner last week that there was a lot of push back and testing of boundaries. Maybe the trainers should all have psychology degrees, too? (I'm half serious here) Still Some Questions I do think Cara was more interested in pursuing an acting career than a fitness career.  The web presence she had before being revealed as a trainer is geared towards becoming an actress, not a personal trainer.  She really did land the job of a lifetime and she's going to do well here.  There will be a lot of opportunity for money and product endorsements and just by getting the gig on the show she has solidified herself in the fitness industry and in Hollywood. Do I think there were other, more qualified people they could have hired?  Yes.  Do I think Cara will do a good job?  Actually, yes. However she landed on the ranch, Cara has a lot of passion and I truly believe she cares for the contestants and wants to see them do well.  I hope she keeps learning from the medical staff and keeps seeking out good information to incorporate into her training sessions. Good luck Cara, but yes, I'll still bust you if you cue crappy form.   :-) Lisa

About Lisa Johnson

Lisa Johnson here. I've been a personal trainer since 1997, a Pilates instructor since 1998 and the owner of Modern Pilates since 1999. I'm hoping to give you some good ideas to get or stay in shape with a healthy dose of humor and reality. Thanks for joining me.

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37 Responses to “Biggest Loser’s” Newest Trainers: Speaking With Cara About Her Certifications

  1. deb roby January 19, 2011 at 10:39 pm #

    I am NASM certified both as a CPT and as a Corrective Exercise Specialist. These are the #1 preferred certs in all commercial gyms in the US. They are all online courses- with an optional 2 day in person seminar-and online tests. I’ll admit when I started working, it was a bit freaky. But I quickly realized that I did have the tools to do the jobs.

    Also, several states require personal trainers hold a certification -and the national government is moving in that direction. Any NCAA recognized cert will do: ISSA, NASM, ACSM, and ACE being the most popular. You often cannot get insurance -or be insured through a commercial gym- without the cert.

    Good luck on yours.

  2. Dean Ouellette January 20, 2011 at 3:10 am #

    Lisa, we met in Vegas at Blogworld. (I am a real estate blogger in the Phoenix area) I was pleasantly surprised to find your site the other day when I was searching for Biggest Loser mystery trainers. You have done a great job staying on top of this. Good job and keep it up. Have added you to my RSS feed.

    I remember we were talking about Jillian at an after party and discussing your thoughts on her. I am getting ready to start doing work to get my personal trainer cert.. not sure which yet, leaning towards CSCS right now.

    Look forward to learning more from you thanks!

  3. Lisa Johnson January 20, 2011 at 8:10 am #

    CSCS is a great one! I’m also a fan of ACSM. Glad you’re looking at the high end certifications. And yes, I completely remember meeting you and our convo, thanks for not spilling the details here, lol!


  4. Lisa Johnson January 20, 2011 at 8:14 am #

    Deb, you’re quite right on the insurance, when I said you could “just declare it” I was referring to people working with home based clients. I apologize for not making that clear. I’m sure you’ll agree the more hands on attention you can get from professionals teaching you while they can see exactly what you’re doing the better. Of course, a gym will have you do a “mock” session before they hire you as well, so if you’re horrible they just wouldn’t hire you. But it just seems dumb for certifying agencies to NOT have that step in their curriculum. Clearly we disagree here. It shouldn’t be up to a gym owner to police the situation.

    I can tell you this will never happen in Pilates, at least not in the upper level. God help us if it starts in the lower levels … sigh.


  5. Alex January 20, 2011 at 1:18 pm #

    Hi Lisa, I have a slightly unrelated question. How do you find out about group calls like this? Are there any websites where reporters/journalists can find out about group calls or interviews they may be interested in attending?

  6. Phil Earnhardt January 20, 2011 at 1:41 pm #

    Lisa, I’ve repeatedly noticed grousing from kettlebell enthusiasts about Jillian’s form in her videos. I read through your “Jillian Michaels responds” thread where you have noticed those complaints yourself.

    How do you weigh in on those complaints? Do you have sufficient experience on kettlebells to comment on Jillian’s form and coaching with these weights? I tend to believe the kettlebell enthusiasts on this one.

  7. Jessica January 20, 2011 at 3:20 pm #

    Hey Lisa, Great work on landing the interview. I know most of TBL’s audience wanted to hear from the new trainers and like most of the fitness professionals who watch the show I wanted to hear about Cara’s qualifications. My feelings on it are mixed: I’m glad that she has a certification, but a little disappointed that she picked one up just before shooting began, almost as an afterthought to satisfy any criticism that she or the show might have anticipated heading their way. If her boxing qualifications were so rigorous it shouldn’t have been hard for her to pursue a different credential. I believe her sincerity when she says that she’d like to help the contestants lose weight and live well and I hope it motivates her to pursue additional certifications and knowledge when the season wraps. This isn’t to say that I believe she’s the only good candidate for the job- I know that there are many, many other trainers who have the education, certification and experience working with clinical populations that are just as telegenic and dynamic as Cara who have made training their career of choice and not just a back door into the entertainment industry.

  8. Lisa Johnson January 20, 2011 at 4:34 pm #

    Hi Alex, the connection is through AOL. They get 7 Million + page views per month and have a direct link to the entertainment industry and other fitness bigwigs. So I can’t help you or give you a referral. (Plus if I did, they’d kill me!) L–

  9. Lisa Johnson January 20, 2011 at 4:41 pm #

    I believe the kettlebell enthusiasts too. I have very, very limited exposure to kettlebells so I interviewed an expert last spring and he explained to me the training process. It’s quite lengthy and a very exact movement technique. It actually dovetails quite nicely to Pilates so I’d like to explore it more. But there are a lot of crappy weekend training courses out there and only 2 or 3 longer, more extensive courses. Because you are moving a heavy object, through an arc, at a distance from the body, there’s a decent risk of injury if you do it wrong. It’s worth working with someone who has the right training. :-)


  10. Lisa Johnson January 20, 2011 at 4:45 pm #

    Jessica, while I would have preferred to see a more qualified trainer on the show and there are oodles and oodles of them. Someone, somewhere commented about, “well you have to try out for the show.” These top trainers aren’t trying out for the show (honestly would you want to be associated with that level of training?) so they are working with the pool that is put in front of them. They aren’t going out into the fitness community and recruit them. I wish they’d do more of that.


  11. Yum Yucky January 20, 2011 at 4:53 pm #

    I just picked up Brett’s Rev Abs DVD series. He’s pretty awesome at cueing, explaining, reminding you of your form, etc. No offense to Cara, but it just seems like more qualified people might be ticked off at the quickie certification she got to plop herself on the show. But like all things in life, it’s not always fair. oh well! I wish her the best. :)

  12. Lisa Johnson January 20, 2011 at 7:05 pm #

    YY, She actually got hired without the certification but picked it up after the fact. Yes, kinda disappointing …

    Dan, the beer is tough, I understand, lol :-)

  13. Tracy @ Commit To Fit January 20, 2011 at 7:32 pm #

    Great post Lisa! I can’t really comment on Cara specifically as I have not yet seen her on TBL, but it sounds like she has a pretty solid background in fitness and is positioned to do a good job. You got me thinking about certification and education in the fitness industry. I have many thoughts, I may need to post about this! :)

  14. Lisa Johnson January 20, 2011 at 8:19 pm #

    happy to inspire another blogger’s post! Let me know when it’s up. The question for me is what is the “minimum requirement” to be a trainer vs. what is the “minimum requirement” to be a good trainer. Factoring in on the job experience with book smarts … there are layers.

  15. Tracy @ Commit To Fit January 20, 2011 at 8:57 pm #

    I certainly will! I couldn’t agree more. Being a good trainer is a combination of education, drive, experience and personality. “Layers” is a great way of putting it. Having half a dozen certifications does not make you a good trainer. Having the above qualities do. Just my 2 cents :)

  16. Jenn of PersonalFitCoach.com January 23, 2011 at 2:51 pm #

    I really like that Tracy got you thinking about the “layers” required to be a good personal trainer. I don’t think it’s all about the certification, research, or practical training. It is a combination of all three combined with a true drive and passion to help others and constantly better oneself to continue to be the best teacher and trainer you can be.

    For me, I have a learning disability where sitting for a proctored exam causes a lot of anxiety and often affects my results in a negative way. So, I chose ISSA to complete the coursework and exam on my own time online.

    ISSA has changed quite a bit compared to what you report. The exam has two sections. Section I: Consists of 100 total questions of which 50 are multiple choice and 50 are true and false questions.

    Section II: Consists of 60 practical, illustrated multiple-choice and matching questions, 2 Case Studies and 6 long essays.

    Prior to taking the exam, you must also complete 66% of all quizzes related to the study materials. So it’s definitely not a “complete in a weekend” certification. It took me 3 months of studying.

    Just an FYI. I realize that other certs maybe be of higher
    “quality”, but you can certainly start with ISSA and build upon it with on-the-job training and hands-on workshops. I strive to consistently learn something new and attend workshops at least once a month.

  17. Lisa Johnson January 23, 2011 at 11:28 pm #


    The more I look into personal training certifications the more I realize that the majority of them appear to be online. I became a trainer before this was even possible so to watch people attain book smarts but not hands-on training is dismaying to me. I know that ISSA is one of the better content providers out there and that it’s not a weekend course of study. BUT, you’re still not learning a few key, key things.

    1. How to cue! You can’t learn how to cue people until you actually, erm, cue them. You have to figure out a vocabulary of sorts, different tricks that you use to get your clients to respond appropriately. These will be tactile, aural and visual and everyone absorbs information differently so you need your go to cues and you need a deeper set of cues to pull out when a person doesn’t seem to “get it.”

    2. Eye for form. In my Pilates Instructor training program we learn alignment of the leg by observing the talus, the patella and the femur and how it all relates to the pelvis. You need to see people moving for this to happen. You can’t learn this from watching one guy in a video (it’ll help, but it’s not ideal) and you can’t learn it from still pictures (does the femur wobble? does the ankle roll?)

    3. Handling personalities. People come to us upset or disgusted with themselves, they’re not happy with how they look and they want to change it immediately. There’s a lot of emotional baggage sometimes (this isn’t always true). We also get high-maintenance types, hand-holder types, the “please let me out of this rule” types. By working with real people in a true gym setting you are going to be much better prepared to work with people once you’ve achieved your certification.

    4. How to use the machines and other tools. When you’re just starting out did you know how many pounds to hand a 50 something, sedentary woman for a chest fly? Did you goof and hand them one too light or too heavy? You need experience in a gym setting working with a variety of people to get an idea for the machines and how best to use them for your clients. Maybe a sedentary person would be best served on a circuit because the path of the weights is chosen for them so they’re less likely to have an injury while they are beginning to strengthen their muscles.

    A newly minted ISSA instructor (or any other online cert) no matter how much they have for book smarts, will ultimately be using their early clients as guinea pigs. So a good, solid base in anatomy is awesome, introduction to kinesiology and physiology is awesome. Knowing safety guidelines is paramount. But it just seems to me, that cutting out the practical experience of becoming a personal trainer, is doing a disservice both to the instructor who paid good money to begin a rewarding career and to the clients who will have to adjust as their trainer “figures it out” on them.

    My apologies if I’ve angered you, you’ve been wonderful with your mentions on your blog. I am passionate about this issue and I just don’t feel like I can back down from it. There are very few people in the fitness industry who seem to agree with me. But for the reasons outlined above, I believe I need to keep saying what I’m saying.



  18. Liz N January 23, 2011 at 11:46 pm #

    Whilst it’s true that a good personal trainer has the qualities that Traci mentioned above, but the right education is pivotal. As an exercise physiologist, I don’t think half of these certifications are worth the paper they’re written on. However, for those interested in the industry they may be a platform from which to start if you know absolutely nothing about personal training.

    As for pilates, I think a true certification is worth its weight in gold! I’m still going through my 500 hours of training and learning something new every day.

    Liz N

  19. Lisa Johnson January 24, 2011 at 12:07 am #

    Thanks Liz, and I soooo wish I had an exercise physiology background. I was pre-med which helps tremendously with reading scientific journals and I’ve 14 years of “on the job training” now, but a four year degree is priceless when you’re beginning to work with people.

  20. Lisa Johnson January 24, 2011 at 12:09 am #

    For the record, I want to say that my first cert for personal training was through AFAA and it was a weekend certification. I walked out of the seminar terrified because I didn’t “learn” anything except for a few safety tips and how to check someone’s body fat. I immediately plunged into any other certification I could get my hands on (a bunch of more weekend certs) and I didn’t work with anyone other than my friends and fellow trainees for several months until I felt ready to go into a gym setting and charge for my services. You do have to start somewhere, it’s critical to keep growing no matter how much training you have.

  21. Excercise Queen January 25, 2011 at 12:47 pm #

    Lisa, I have been following your blog for sometime. I have read this interview and followed when you “leaked” the name of the mystery trainers. I myself am a fitness freak and have thought about getting certified. I am shocked you think no top level certified trainers actually tried out for the show. I always thought of you as an objective person. When asked about Jillian’s diet pills by Cher on the other story you totally dodged the question and not even commenting as to why Jillian has diet pills in the first place… my point is you are very fast to criticize and pick on any flaw on the new mystery trainer girl. I doubt she would waste her time to want you in the ring with her. Unlike you she does not strike me as the kind of person who takes cheap shots. Anyway, I look forward to tonight’s one hour episode. I will keep reading your blog. I guess we all are a little green sometimes.

  22. Lisa Johnson January 25, 2011 at 10:04 pm #

    Exercise Queen, I do think some top trainers tried out for the show! What I would like to have seen is for the show to *also* reach out to some of the top trainers that might not have been aware of the auditions (maybe they did) but after talking to Brett & Cara it seemed to go through a process of casting calls and “who do you know.” (Brett was personally referred by Jillian after she trained with him.)

    For whatever reason the show went with someone without a lot of experience as a trainer. Yes, she’s an athlete but doesn’t seem to have much track record as a trainer.

    As for Jillian’s diet pills, I don’t believe in taking supplements in general except for Vitamin D. If you read any of my Tim Ferriss stuff you’ll know I’m struggling with this hard! I’m saddened that she endorsed the pills, it doesn’t seem true to her spirit. Even if I disagree w/her training style she doesn’t seem like the type to push pills. Honestly when I saw the ads going I wondered if she had signed a contract where she didn’t have a lot of control over what they slapped her name on.

    I don’t know anything about the details of her contract or if she in fact thinks diet pills are great … if she does I’d disagree with her. Mostly because I believe in “Eat real food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” (as Michael Pollan says). I think some diet pills can be dangerous and since she’s been sued more than once over them I’m guessing other people think hers are dangerous.

    Hope that answers your questions …


  23. HeatherJ February 2, 2011 at 4:21 pm #

    OK…I left a previous comment on yet another blog of yours regarding Cara’s certification and qualifications yada yada…at first I thought you were just another jealous woman in the world trying to bring another more beautiful and successful woman down. But after reading this rant, I think that maybe you tried out for the show and Cara beat you out…hence all of your continuous ramblings on this subject: your disappointment, your awesome pilates certification, your brutal training courses…I mean, let it go!! And I say all of this in the nicest way possible. :)

  24. Lisa Johnson February 2, 2011 at 5:14 pm #

    Heather I would invite you to look at non-Biggest Loser posts of mine. Particularly the ones that discuss bringing personal training into medical facilities to combat obesity, heart disease, diabetes and the like. I think you’ll find my passion for excellence runs deep. Maybe I’m naive to think we should always be shooting to work with the highest level of professionals that we can, especially when they are marketed as such to a large network viewing audience.

    I would ask you this, would you rather have your hair colored by someone with a few months experience or a few years? Would you rather have your nails done by someone who watched a video on YouTube (the equivalent of an online cert) or by someone who had to practice on a few dozen people and pass a supervised exam before they got to you? To be extreme would you like to be operated on by a medical doctor who read an article on a particular surgery and “felt fine” performing that surgery on you?

    Our profession can have a profound effect on people. We can cure them, we can give them hope, we can transform their lives. We can also hurt them, kill their self esteem and transform their lives in a negative way. Yes, I feel that strongly about it. No, I never did and never would try out for the show. I think the feeling from the producers would be the same, lol.

    You’re not the first with this attitude towards the trainers. I wonder what your profession is and if there are levels to your profession. What does it feel like when you watch someone with far less experience toting themselves as someone who would be above you. Does that piss me off? Yeah, it does, but that’s on the producers of BL and the marketing and PR people who promote the show, not on Cara herself, she just lucked into the role of a lifetime. If I were her I’d have taken it too. But I would have gotten an ACSM cert, not an online one.


  25. HeatherJ February 2, 2011 at 10:21 pm #


    Fair enough- your point is well-taken and you certainly make yourself clear. I’m not one to respond to blogs, but upon reading the few blog posts you have regarding Cara and ABL, it seemed like you really singled this girl out and that you were on a mission to have her booted because of her qualifications or lack there-of I should say. I don’t think a show like ABL would put the contestants at risk for fear of being sued- even if Cara is not qualified (and from what you’ve said, she isn’t) I’m sure she is surrounded by many other fitness pros who are. Remember, this is television! I completely understand that you are passionate about your profession – I am also a certified personal fitness trainer and can relate to your frustration that we are lumped in the same category as those who get their certifications by taking weekend courses and a test! It should not be that easy.
    Thanks for your response. I am now a new fan. :) Heather

  26. Lisa Johnson February 2, 2011 at 10:31 pm #

    Wow, Heather thanks.

    I appreciate the reply back. Feel free to comment all you’d like :-) I don’t mind being challenged and if my message doesn’t come across clearly I’d like the chance to clarify it.


  27. [email protected] March 3, 2011 at 1:22 am #

    I like this here ‘clang clang’! I think that I would like to be the next trainer on ABL and add a teeny weener of humor to the gig. How many calories does a one minute laugh with no sound coming out burn? With sound and trembling?

    Do you think that getting the contestants to laugh during work outs on the show would score ratings as high as the episodes where Jillian rides them? Really? No. Really? I find that my clients relax, enjoy our training and become less inhibited when we are serious about safe and effective training methods and downright RIDICULOUS about everything else. : )

  28. Jessica March 12, 2011 at 8:25 pm #

    I wanted to jump in here after seeing a few episodes of the show with the new trainers. I really like Bret, but I think that we see far too little of him on the show. I don’t understand why the producers and casting agents with the show didn’t cast someone just as educated, dynamic and accomplished as Bret when they were looking for a female trainer. I had hopes that Cara wouldn’t be as bad as Jillian and she’s not- she’s worse. I’ve talked with clients who have watched the show and I’ve talked with other friends who are horrified by the way Cara screams and yells at her clients. Some people have even remarked to me that they are glad that I don’t do that to them, because they had imagined that all personal trainers did things like that. Sure, it makes for great tv. And I don’t know how much time in every session is spent with her getting red in the face, yelling at clients and making them cry. My point about Cara is that it IS possible to help people change without demoralizing, terrorizing and torturing them. Any exercise for this particular client population is going to be hard enough, why make it worse by adding the yelling, screaming and general carrying on? There are still ways that TBL can make for great tv without making overweight people pull a truck for a mile; there is a limit on what the contestants can be asked to do without putting themselves in extreme physical danger. I think the producers are toeing that line…and they are very, very close to leaping over it. I’d like to suggest to the producers that it is time to bring in a new trainer who can get the results that satisfies or even inspires their viewing audience and do it in a way that makes the fitness industry look credible. I’m so tired of constantly having to defend what all of us do because of the way Jillian and Cara train their clients- I’d like to be able to focus on what I do best: train my clients and I think the rest of us would too.

  29. Lisa Johnson March 13, 2011 at 7:58 am #


    To your point about toeing the line of safety … I have heard that a challenge designer or two got fired from the show because they put together something that was unsafe, I don’t know if that’s true, but it was relayed to me from one of the former contestants. I’m surprised at how little both of the new trainers are actually “on” the show. I thought it was weird how little air time they got considering the dragged out hoopla to introduce them in the first place. Thanks for your comments Jessica, they are always welcome.


  30. John Connolly April 17, 2011 at 8:07 pm #

    Hello, Lisa I just wanted to drop a line to you about the ISSA . I have a BA in exercise science and I’m also an ISSA Certified Fitness trainer working in Hollywood .Before getting certified by the ISSA I did a lot of research in to the certifications and credentials of the organizations that offer them I was amazed to see that Dr Sal Arria,Dr Fred Hatfield MSS,PhD(formerly Director of R and D for Weider health and Fitness),and Charles Staley BSc , MSS Three of the most respected men in the field of exercise science are the program designers and CEO’s of the ISSA. Having gone to college for Exercise science I just wanted to let you know this program is no joke .The essays involved in the exam are not basic question you have to design a 12 week periodized workout program an a comprehensive nutritional program for two people as well as 6 life experiences that are not only comprehensive but have to be backed by science, the text is almost 800 pages of Physiology and Kinesiology as well as Biomechanics this isn’t a company from the back of some muscle mag they are actually trying to work with the government to get a regulated national license for our industry to prevent hacks looking to get rich by praying on people who have self image issues , yes I got certified to be able to get liability insurance but also to give potential clients piece of mind that they can feel safe with me. Unfortunately our industry is unregulated so there are a lot of fly by night programs out ther but the ISSA is a very good choice as is ACSM ,NASM, ACE all programs offer some type of online education and to keep these certs you have to get continuing education credits every 2 years until the government gets on board this is the best we can do .You are right the only way to truly get life experience is to work with clients but none of my first clients we test projects I wouldn’t have any one do something I wouldn’t let my own family do ..Thanks Again

  31. Lisa Johnson April 17, 2011 at 10:53 pm #

    I know the ISSA is a large volume of information. The thing that really bugs me is the online only cert aspect of it. To compare, nurses don’t graduate just by passing exams, they also are studied in the field for competence. A surgeon isn’t allowed to operate on someone solely by reading some text and passing a written exam. Hair stylists need to pass practical exams to graduate from their programs, etc. I think we might be the only form of “bodyworker” where hands on engagement with clients aren’t required before we actually start working with them. I’m honestly trying to think of one and I’m not coming up with it.

    I’d like to see a combination of that level of knowledge with the practical. That’s what I’m hoping happens down the line. It just makes sense doesn’t it?

    I’m glad you have a BA in exercise science as well as an ISSA cert. But what percentage of your knowledge base did you learn from your four year degree and what percentage did you learn from the ISSA?

    Thanks for stopping by and your comments, I really appreciate the input and the perspective.


  32. Karen December 21, 2011 at 10:04 pm #

    ISSA is not a “weekend” online certification. An ACSM test will not test or even look at your Cueing, spotting, form, or your technique, either. The only fitness certification around that still has a REQUIRED, hands-on portion, of the test is AFAA. They do it at the workshops, and actually also offer it online. Believe it or not, you do some sort of live web-cam practical test with them, they also proctor your written test through live web-cam.

    ACSM,NASM,ACE,NSCA- no hands on testing required. You may attend workshops if you want to, and pay more, but you don’t have to,in order to take their tests. Thats also an option with ISSA. Its correct that these other organizations don’t have on-line at home tests. But what they do instead is have the student do a proctored, 100 or so multiple choice written test. Thats it. While it may be possible to look in the book for answers on the ISSA test, you have to demonstrate knowledge through 6 long essays, and 2 case studies. So I don’t see much of a credible difference between any of them.

    BTW, when I first was certified in 2000, by ISSA, there WAS a hands-on test and a in person workshop. All of these workshops, you need to prepare for and know your “stuff” by studying the manuals and applying the principles.

    The woman shouldn’t be knocked for her certification. The ISSA is recognized by the US Dept. of Education, and is eligible for college credits.

    But you know what? Its not rocket science.

  33. Karen December 21, 2011 at 10:25 pm #

    With Cara’s boxing background she may have chosen ISSA because of Dr. Fred Hatfield, a founding partner in it. He has a background training pro athletes, and he was Evander Holyfield’s trainer.

    Pilates and Yoga certification is much more thorough, I agree. I also don’t agree with taking away the hands-on practical exams, from Personal Trainer organizations. That had something to do with the “preffered accredidation” mistake of going through NCCA acredidation, a hands-on test would be too complicated to comply with the rules of NCCA- so all the major orgs. did away with the hands-on tests, instead of getting accredidation elsewhere- except ISSA and AFFA- who go through DETC.

    If I pay $300 and travel 50 miles to the nearest testing site for ACSM, I can take their multiple-choice exam and leave with a ACSM CPT certification, if I pass.

  34. Lisa Johnson December 21, 2011 at 10:51 pm #

    Karen, I believe the reason why she has the ISSA is because everyone else did, it’s just what the show uses to get credibility for their trainers. It’s not a horrible certification but I don’t think it’s at the level that a TV show, in the national spotlight, should be hiring at. They should be hiring from universities that are known for physical therapy (let’s face it, most contestants get at least low-level injuries during training) and/or exercise physiology or kinesiology. Or better yet how about an ACT cert?

    To put it another way would you rather take medical advice from Dr. Oz or from Montel Williams, they’re both talk show hosts aren’t they? As for your hands on exams. When I was getting mine (way back in the ’90s) everyone had practicals, it’s just what you had to do, show that you could cue someone in the health club environment and not kill them. It just blows my mind that it’s ok not to do that and I do realize it’s been adopted by almost everyone. Frankly that makes me said, it’s a disservice to clients who hire trainers in the US. Why are we the only profession to work with the human body who doesn’t have some sort of practical. Every field from doctors, nurses, massage therapists even, have to demonstrate knowledge working on the body, why are personal trainers exempt? I don’t see the Pilates community EVER accepting that.

    And no, it’s not rocket science but the difference in trainers who have a thorough understanding of anatomy, who geek out on high level certs, who continually learn and improve their craft vs. those who have a cert or two is huge and it shows in their clients.

    Nuff said.


  35. lisa gomez March 12, 2014 at 3:54 pm #

    I was recently certified as a personal trainer through ISSA and my final is way more than just 50 true\false and 50 multi choice. i had 100 of each. 50 additional regarding exercise form, primer muscles, insertion, and chosing an altermnative exercise that would work the same muscle group. Also 6 very long essays, and 2 case studies that needed to include a exercise, supplement, and nutrition program. Not easy at all..

  36. Lisa Johnson March 23, 2014 at 11:55 am #

    ISSA is one of the “tougher” tests out there, but as with virtually all the tests now, you no longer have to do a practical. Book smart and training well aren’t always the same thing … the main reason for eliminating the practical exams is money, it’s cheaper to make you study and learn off of books then to “prove” you know what you’re doing in a gym under the watchful eye of a tester. Yoga and Pilates still require practicals for their teachers and to me that’s the better way to ensure that a new trainer does truly know what they’re doing before they start working with clients. Shouldn’t safety, not convenience, be the most important concern when creating new trainers?


  1. Lisa Johnson Talks to “Biggest Loser’s” Newest Trainers | LA-Story.com - February 2, 2011

    […] Professional that she is, Lisa was able to snag an interview with both new trainers for the show and talk to them about the show and about their background. This is but an excerpt of sections of her interview and you should check out her entire post .. […]

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