My Experience with the NASM Personal Trainer Certification Program

NASM CPTI typically try to keep my posts here short ‘n sweet, but I wanted to cover all the details of my experience with the NASM CPT program. This is a long post, but hopefully all you interested in getting your PT cert will gain some useful insight from it.

Why I Chose NASM

In deciding which personal training certification to get, it seemed there were three options: ACE, NASM and ACSM. I quickly ruled out ACE because I read a ton of dissatisfied reviews from people saying the gym they wanted to work at wouldn’t accept the ACE certification. Because the ACE exam has the highest pass rate, the assumption is that it’s the easiest of the three certifications to get, and therefore not as highly regarded as the other two.

So it was down to NASM and ACSM. Honestly, had I spent a little more time talking to trainers I know instead of solely relying on online research, I would have gone with ACSM. In the future, I might actually get an additional cert from them. ACSM has the lowest pass rate (=hardest test) and is the only program to require candidates have a college degree. A couple trainers I spoke with after already signing up for NASM were adamant that ACSM was the way to go, but that ship had sailed.

That’s not to say NASM isn’t highly regarded. In most of the reviews I read, people agreed that any gym would be happy to hire a personal trainer with either a NASM or ACSM certification—it didn’t matter. NASM even cites ACSM research in their textbook, so I think at the end of the day, you’re getting a lot of the same information from either program. The main difference between the two I gathered from researching reviews online was that NASM emphasized training the vast majority of the American population, while ACSM was a better choice if your goal was to train high-level/professional athletes.

Choosing a NASM CPT Package

There are five different packages you can chose from when signing up for the CPT cert through NASM. They range in price from $699 for the most basic self-study package, to $1,999 for the most inclusive package that comes with job guarantee, free re-test and an associate personal trainer experience. I went with the cheapest, self-study package because 1. holy f*cking shit I’m not spending two month’s rent on anything and 2. I’m a huge nerd—I love studying, I’ve always been “good at school,” and I was confident I could teach myself the material and pass the exam without the added access to online classes, live workshops, etc.

So basically I spent $699 on a textbook, access to some online study materials and a test. Makes me angry every time I think about it, but sadly, that’s just life when it comes to pretty much any sort of degree or certification.

What I Liked about the NASM CPT Program

NASM lays down an excellent foundation of knowledge and will prepare you to train the majority of clients you’d encounter. I guess what was kinda sad for me during studying was the realization that the majority of clients you’d encounter (aka the majority of Americans) are sedentary, completely deconditioned, and afflicted by one or more chronic diseases like diabetes, cardiorespiratory diseases or hypertension. The program focuses a lot on dealing with these issues and either training around them or how to improve them.

While it is sad that our country is so afflicted by obesity and other chronic diseases, I’m really happy I have the knowledge base to work with and help this majority population. I found it so interesting to learn about today’s common postural imbalances (hunched shoulders from sitting at a desk, for example) and how to improve them by strengthening certain muscles and stretching others. While NASM doesn’t introduce you to any creative exercises or workout routines, it definitely will help you create more informed and effectively targeted workouts.

I actually already have been using what I learned on myself! My feet pronate slightly when I run (rotate inward). Whereas before I thought of it simply as a permanent trait of mine, now I’m conscious of trying to strengthen certain muscles and improve the flexibility of others in order to improve this pronated posture. Thanks to NASM, I am definitely better able to create workouts that address specific issues or goals, which is awesome. I feel much better educated in this respect. 

What I Disliked about the NASM CPT Program

While it gave me a great foundation of knowledge and I feel confident I could create a training program for the majority of people out there (elite athletes excluded), I was left feeling like That’s it? Ok…what’s next?

You won’t learn any new exercises through this certification; it won’t help you make creative, innovative workout routines and training programs; you won’t be an expert in any specific mode of fitness; and it pretty much focuses on working out in gyms. This NASM cert will 100% prepare someone for getting a personal trainer position at a gym; but since that’s not really my goal, I was a little disappointed.

The bottom line is that now that I have this awesome foundation of information (because NASM really does do an excellent job of teaching you the basics), it’s time to get the necessary certs and training experience in the specific areas I love: kettlebell training, Lagree method Pilates, spinning, etc.

Exam Advice

I can’t talk too much about the test—pretty sure that’d be cheating. But I would say definitely know your vocab, and also be familiar with muscle locations and functions so that you have an understanding of which would be affected during different exercises or postural imbalances. Also, definitely take the practice test NASM offers on their website. It gives you a great idea of the types of questions you’ll see.

You have six months to take the exam from the time you sign up. Before taking the exam you need to get your CPR/AED cert, if you don’t already have a current one. I signed up in July, but didn’t start studying until November. I spent the last month studying and then took the exam. You have two hours for the test, which is made up of 120 multiple choice questions. Only 100 count towards your score, but you don’t know which ones. It took me just under an hour to finish. You won’t get a numerical score, just a PASS or FAIL. One final piece of advice—try not to look like a total disaster when you go in for the test; they take your picture. Wish. I’d. Known.

Let me know if I didn’t cover anything or you have other questions!

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Comments

  1. Congrats! I have mine personal training cert through NASM too.

  2. CONGRATS!!! :)

  3. Congratulations! I went through the same thing you did last year figuring out which organization to get certified through. ACE is bullshit. I decided on my CPT through NSCA because like ACSM it requires a college degree to actually pass the test. You don’t actually need a degree for the CPT, but for the CSCS you do. NSCA has one of the lowest test pass rates (I just squeaked by on my first time!). I did the Corrective Exercise Specialist cert. through NASM and loved it. I definitely think that if you don’t have a science background (i.e. anatomy, nutrition, etc.) then NASM is the way to go over NSCA. Pilates is something I would love to get certified in too someday, but super expensive!

    • I’ve heard that about traditional mat Pilates certs–super intense training. I’m actually about to start training to teach Pilates on the Megaformer machines (so excited!), but I think the process is a little different.

  4. Congrats again! And this was really helpful, thanks for sharing

  5. Congrats, Nicole! And thanks for the tips. My NASM box came in the mail last week and I am excited to get started.

  6. This post is so great! I’ve been thinking of getting certified lately and this really helped me.

  7. Great Job Smarty Pants! I’m in a Health and Fitness college degree program now to become a CPT. I chose this path to use my Post 9-11 GI Bill to earn another degree. I just took an Exercise Science course last quarter where I learned about the difference between ACE, NASM, ACSM, NSCA etc. ACSM focuses a great deal of their efforts on scientific R&D as opposed to the others that seem to focus strictly on certs and CEUs. ACSM has a terrific reputation and is well known for research. That being said, they aren’t too well known for their CPT. Like you mentioned Nicole, it’s an additional CPT cert., not typically a first for new CPTs. NASM is competitive since most CPTs have it. NSCA focuses a great deal on Olympic lifting. I just joined their organization as a student because they are based out of CO Springs, CO-thought I could hit up some of their conferences in CO while we live here. And ACE well, it’s good for quick reads and tips but it’s not that impressive like everyone said. I mentioned that to my instructor and she quickly told me I was wrong. What does she know right?- LOL! The letters after her name were like alphabet soup! My plan is to earn NASM, find a job and specialize in women’s fitness and nutrition. I think it’s a good path for future independent work with aging baby boomers. Anywhoo-Thanks for sharing! And please keep us updated on your plans with your new CPT certification!

  8. Thanks for sharing, and again congrats!

    Hilary x thehealthycollective.com

  9. Congrats!! I was wondering if you hold any other certifications (spin, Pilates, etc) and if so how that certification process compares (cost and studying) to the NASM? I’m considering getting certified in SOMETHING fitness-focused; but want to pursue the one with the best return on investment! Let me know and thanks again!!

    • Specific certifications run the gamut (most are less expensive than NASM, but some are much more). I’m not certified in spin, but that certification is roughly $300 (less than half that of NASM). And I’m actually about to start training to teach Pilates Plus (so excited!) and that certification is $250. Traditional mat Pilates is probably different though. I’ve looked into kettlebell certifications and some are upwards of $1,500–yikes!

  10. Great job, congrats and thanks for sharing! I got my NASM-CPT a few years ago and keep it active which (as a reminder) means getting an additional 2 CEU’s every two years and keeping my CPR-AED up to date. This costs money and is a bit of work especially since I’m not really using my certification, but I worked so hard to get it that I don’t want to give it up. I was a trainer briefly in LA, but being in my 40′s and needing to support my family, I decided to go in another direction. I am still, however passionate about fitness and nutrition and would love to create another path where this knowledge will come in handy (other than blogging-which I already do and enjoy). Having said that, I see you wrote that you’re not planning on using your certification to become a gym trainer, so I’m curious…what is your goal?

    • I could see myself doing in-home personal training (although I’d have to figure out the logistics of lugging the equipment to a client’s home haha). For now though, I really just wanted that base of knowledge to make the content I blog about that much more informed. And I definitely plan to teach group fitness classes at a few studios in Boston (pilates and spinning).

    • Ted have you seen NASM’s new Certify for Life option?? You should look into it. You still submit CEUs every 2 years but you pay one flat price for the recert fee and never pay it again!! Nicole this will be a great option for you in 2 yrs.

  11. Thanks for the recap on your experience. Very helpful!

  12. congrats!

  13. Hi Nicole! That’s great you got a certification. It’s a first step. I did ACSM back in the day and I don’t think it gets you that much closer to knowing what you are doing. ACSM is more fitness testing and management skills. You need to take seminars or find a mentor for the real hands on stuff. Also, real sport/athletic trainers move on to USA weightlifting certifications. Not sure what the prerequisite is for that. Also check out Mike Boyle, who is a well known strength and conditioning coach in your area.

  14. Congrats, again! I am still having a difficult time choosing a certification. It should not be that hard. :) My ultimate goal is to obtain the NSCA CSCS. With that said, I thought about the NSCA CPT b/c it would be similar study material (thus less money spent), or the ACSM CPT as it is held as the “gold-standard”, I have some study material from undergrad as we used both ACSM test and prescription manual and NSCA strength and conditioning book.

  15. Nicole I have had my CPT with NASM since 2005 and I have to say the LIVE workshop was where I had access to new exercises and implementing the programs. NASM.org also has exercises I believe. I always use my books to reference when working with a new style fitness client. If you want in person mentorship check out Todd Durkin’s 3.5 day mentorship. I did this after I completed my PES with NASM and it was a game changer for my life and fitness career. The people you meet and get access to and the variety of training over one weekend is unreal and able to be applied immediately. I’m sending you a message on FB as well. Let’s connect!

  16. Thanks for the great review. I have my group Ex cert through ACE and already bought the study stuff from ACE for PT. I trained in gyms before (got certified thru the gym and it has lapsed) But I hated it, all they cared about were sales!

  17. What about ISSA? Does anyone know how that stacks up to these?

    • Does anyone have any input regarding ISSA vs. NASM? I am ready to register for the PT program through ISSA, but wanted to make sure I was making the right decision.
      Nicole’s post is very informative, but haven’t seen much input about ISSA.
      Any comments are appreciated!

  18. What an informative post! You’ve given me a lot to think about!

    I’ve been passionate about athletics and fitness my whole life, especially since I’ve been a runner since high school and I did competitive dance for 14 years. I finally decided to go ahead and get my CPT and am currently in the research mode. I’d basically all but decided on NASM until I read your post! =)

    The impression I was under, was that ACSM focused a lot more on scientific calculations like metabolism and what not, stuff that a lot of people said they never used in their jobs, and that NASM focused more on muscle mechanics and joint angles and whatnot. I am a huge fan of stuff like you mentioned with your pronating while running, how you are able to correct that through strengthening!

    To start out, I’m sure I’ll be at a gym, but what I really want to do with it is help dancers specifically, because there is such a lack of correct athletic knowledge in the dance world, so when you mentioned that ACSM would be better for working with high level athletes, that’s what put me back on the fence.

    Any advice on all of that? I’m finding out that personal input from people who have gone through this is turning out to be my most valuable resource in making my decision!

    For what it’s worth, I’m also looking into doing th CSCS from NSCA, but there’s just less info out there on it.

    Thanks so much!

    • I don’t know much about NSCA, but as far as NASM goes, I’d say you’d definitely feel you needed additional training after the CPT course to be able to knowledgeably work with advanced dancers. It would set a good foundation for working in a gym with your average client working an office job and looking to lose a few pounds or get into better general shape, but doesn’t go into sport specialties. You might want to look into NASM’s other specific certifications though–I’ve hear their Corrective Exercise Specialist cert is an excellent addition to the basic CPT. Hope that helps, and good luck with whatever course you choose! :)

  19. Congrats Nicole! My question to you is from your experience, do you feel that getting your NASM was necessary to making yourself stand out or have a foundation even though you’re wanting to specialize in other things? The reason I ask is I want to certify in specific things I enjoy (like you), but worry about clients not taking me seriously or wanting to do business with me when I don’t have a Personal Training certificate, just certificates in something else. I’m just debating if it’s worth the time and money to get the NASM CPT to ‘attract’ clients and mix the other things I’m certified in and love or if it really won’t make a difference if I market myself well if that makes sense…

    • Hi Trevon! For what I’m doing right now (teaching at a pilates studio), I honestly don’t think getting the NASM cert was necessary. But that’s also because people are coming there for one specific type of workout and then leaving. I could see teaching specialized classes at a gym with lots of different gymgoers and having the CPT cert come in handy (both in the eyes of your employer and for the general knowledge base).

  20. Thank you for the information. The detail about what you liked, disliked, and test prep was really helpful and gave me an idea on what to look forward to. I would like to contact you and ask you a few more questions if you don’t mind. My email is delcastillo.m@icloud.com. I am looking forward to hearing from you.

  21. Thanks!!!

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