NASM Certification- NASM Personal Training Review

NASM Certification:

A Review of Costs, Programs, Salary, How to Get Your CPT & More

As an aspiring personal trainer, there is a good chance you’ve considered a NASM certification to add to your list of professional accolades. There’s good reason too, NASM is considered to be a global leader in credentialing fitness professionals, and their wealth of certifications will prepare you for a promising career in personal training or one of their other areas of specializations.

Below is a NASM certification review from an actual certified NASM CPT (me), and an overview of the NASM company, the NASM CPT and other certifications, some notes on the ever popular NASM OPT model, and lots of other important information on costs, reviews, salaries, and your next steps should you choose to pursue a career with NASM.

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What is NASM?

NASM stands for the National Academy of Sports Medicine, a 30-year old company best-known for their Certified Personal Trainer (CPT) program. Within the last 10 years, NASM has certified and recertified more personal trainers than any other personal training company, helping nearly 200,000 obtain, or maintain, their CPTs all across the globe. 

NASM is also NCCA-certified, meaning they have the National Commission for Certifying Agencies credentials, the first standards ever developed to ensure a fitness certification body has the essential elements of a high-quality program.

As a personal trainer, the global recognition and the NCCA-certification are important factors in choosing NASM as a potential candidate for your fitness education.

NASM Programs

Like other fitness certification bodies, NASM is best-known for its Certified Personal Trainer program. However, they also provide a number of other specializations that are worth mentioning.

The NASM CPT is based on an evidence-based training model preparing students for real-life situations. In addition to learning and understanding complex scientific principles, students will use NASM’s proprietary Optimum Performance Training™ (OPT™) model, a systematic system that helps you train in various areas including: Flexibility, Cardiorespiratory, Core, Balance, Power, and Strength.

Cost: $699 (for the cheapest coursework)

The NASM CES is a specialization that can be applied to reduce muscular dysfunction and help you correct common movement issues. The corrective exercise continuum includes four areas, including: Inhibit, Lengthen, Activate, and Integrate. 

Exam Cost: $699 (includes course materials)

The NASM PES is designed to make athletes stronger, faster, and tougher. It uses approaches that are common in professional sports as well as exercise techniques and programs that are designed to maximize performance and minimize sports-related injury. 

Exam Cost: $599

The Behavior Change Specialization goes beyond the training elements and takes a deeper dive into motivational strategies. After completing this program, you’ll have the skill sets needed to determine your clients’ barriers to change, and design programs around their specific personalities.

Course Cost: $499 (Includes course materials and exam)

The Fitness Nutrition Specialization helps trainers explain to clients the true nutritional content of what they are eating and help them understand why they should, or shouldn’t, be eating it. This course will allow your clients to understand how to interpret food labels, select appropriate portion sizes, and eat healthy.

Course Cost: $499

The Group Personal Training Specialization is a course that helps trainers design, develop, and deliver successful group fitness training programs. In addition to the physical fitness elements of this course, trainers will also learn how to develop strategic business plans around group fitness.

Course Cost: $499

The Weight Loss Specialization uses NASM’s OPT Model to help you design weight loss programs and develop strategies to assist clients in implementing a healthier lifestyle.

Course Cost: $499

The Women’s Fitness Specialization helps trainers become more effective at training women of all body types and ages. In addition to specific nutrition recommendations, it also involves exercise and small group training coursework.

Course Cost: $299

For trainers who want to capitalize on the growing exercise demand for people aged 6 to 19, the Youth Exercise Specialization helps kids focus on sports, increase their physical fitness levels, and lose weight.

The Senior Fitness Specialization is designed to help trainers focus their exercise programs on the specific needs of seniors. This coursework includes helping seniors reduce risk, preserve independence, helps you to understand the aging process, and helps you understand the limitations of an older group of clients.

Course Cost: $199

The Golf Fitness Specialization is designed for the trainer who wants to help golfers be fit with corrective exercise strategies. While much of the focus is on injury-prevention, it also involves helping clients improve driving distance, how to increase head speed, and how to lower scores from a fitness perspective.

Course Cost: $199

The MMA Conditioning Specialization caters to the growing group of mixed martial artists who want to better condition their bodies to the rigors of MMA. It involves system design around individuals as well as group courses, and also includes nutritional and supplement guidance.

Course Cost: $299

If you want to learn more about the various specializations and my personal thoughts on them, refer to this guide on  NASM Personal Trainer Certifications.

NASM OPT Model

NASM has pioneered what is called the Optimum Performance Training (OPT™) model, a comprehensive training system that is heavily versed in scientific, evidence-based research. According to NASM, the emphasis on science makes OPT ideal for program design and delivering consistent results.

Through the improvement of functional abilities including strength, balance, power, flexibility, core stabilization, and cardio endurance, this program helps clients from a wide variety of body types and ages increase muscle mass, reduce body fat, and improve overall health.

OPT takes into account the individual and their needs, but also the environment in which they are performing. The program is not just for athletes, but also for seniors, the clinically obese, or those populations with special needs.

It starts with an assessment of goals, needs and abilities, and takes a look at a client from the front, back, and side to evaluate the kinetic chain to make sure they are moving how they should be moving. With this information, trainers can then determine what exercises they should be doing to help clients’ reach their goals.

The program is made of five phases split into three levels — stabilization, strength, and power:

  • 1

    Phase 1: Stabilization Endurance

  • 2

    Phase 2: Strength Endurance

  • 3

    Phase 3: Hypertrophy

  • 4

    Phase 4: Maximal Strength

  • 5

    Phase 5: Power

Trainers should know that they don’t need a background in kinesiology or exercise science; they will learn all of this in their CPT and touch on it in additional certifications.

NASM Certification Cost

NASM has multiple study options for aspiring trainers and they really boil down to choosing the one that is right for you. The main NASM certification that people want to know about is the NASM Certified Personal Trainer (CPT) certification. For the others, you can see the costs above.

NASM, at the time of this writing, has four study options to choose from:

  • 1

    Self-Study $699

  • 2

    Premium Self-Study $999

  • 3

    Guided-Study $1,299

  • 4

    All-Inclusive $1,999

Each option offers progressively more study assistance and assets that will help you pass the test. If you want the best NASM study materials, created by college level NASM instructors who take the exam every year, check out our Free Study Guide for NASM and our Audio Lectures, Practice Tests and Study Guide for the NASM CPT Exam.

These guides are the best on the internet and will help you save a considerable amount of money and time compared to NASM’s study packages. Our students boast a 99% pass rate, making the choice to utilize Fitness Mentors’ study materials a no-brainer!

Wondering how the NASM CPT stacks up against other CPTs in terms of cost? We put together an in-depth look at the best personal trainer certifications and did cost comparisons. Here’s how it compares to the other major personal trainer certification bodies:

 
Price Graph

As you can see, the NASM CPT is the most expensive (considering exam and study materials) of all the major certification bodies. NASM is also considered to be the most popular of these brands, and there is a certain amount of prestige that goes along with their certification.

At the same time, there are other options you should be weighing in addition to cost. For example, you should also take into consideration CEU requirements, the primary focus of education, and perhaps most importantly, if the place you want to work accepts the certification you are leaning towards.

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NASM Certification Reviews

The NASM Facebook page shows that NASM has an average review rating of 8.2 out of 10. While this is a generally favorable average, I’d encourage you to speak with some NASM trainers to gauge their experience with the test, their studies, and how a NASM CPT played into their careers.

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NASM CPT Salary

In the aforementioned blog post we did on the Best Personal Trainer Certification, we evaluated the average income of NASM, ACE, ACSM, NSCA, AFAA, and NCSF personal trainers. This data was pulled from reputable websites where registered users self-report their income.

The top tier of these incomes was with NASM, at $41,598 annually. It was followed closely by ACE at $41,546. The others were below the $40k a year annual salary. The important thing to note is that these are just averages; your ability to be successful greatly depends on your business acumen and less about the words after your name. Regardless, it is interesting to note that on average, NASM trainers make the most.

CPT Average Income

How to Get a NASM Certification

The NASM website claims that you can get your NASM CPT in as little as 10 to 12 weeks. To be eligible, you need to meet the following criteria:

  • Be at least 18 years of age 
  • Hold a current cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and an automated external defibrillator (AED) certification

From there, you simply sign up for one the aforementioned study programs on the NASM website and begin studying, then schedule a time to take the exam once you feel prepared. How do you know if you’ll be prepared? The Fitness Mentors Online Course for the NASM CPT Exam comes with a pass guarantee, so that is a good place to start.

If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments below and I will get to them as soon as possible.

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ACE vs NASM: What’s the Best CPT for You?

ACE vs NASM: What’s the Best CPT for You?

You’ve made the wise decision to pursue a career in personal training. Fantastic!

Now, on to the next major decision. Which certification should I pursue, ACE or NASM?

I’ll detail some very important factors regarding ACE vs NASM, and by the end of this post you’ll be able to determine which CPT is right for you. It should also preface that I have a certification in both, so I can provide realistic views of which cert may be better for who.

NASM vs ACE Video Review

ACE VS NASM CPT Overview

Before you make a decision on your CPT, it pays to know a little bit about what makes each organization unique.

The American Council on Exercise (ACE) was founded in 1985 under the name IDEA Foundation, with the goal of becoming one of the first major fitness education bodies with national credibility. ACE places a strong commitment to create global impact and “facilitate partnerships with policymakers, fitness industry leaders, community organizations and the Healthcare Industry.”

The National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), the younger of the two at its 30th year, is a global leader in fitness certifications with recognition all over the world. They focus their health and fitness solutions on evidence and research that they use to craft their training and knowledge programs. NASM boasts that their certifications “require the most comprehensive knowledge of human movement science, functional anatomy, physiology and kinesiology, as well as functional assessment and program design.”

Both organizations are NCCA-certified, the gold standard for fitness certifications.

ACE vs NASM fitness

ACE vs NASM: An Objective Look into Other CPT Considerations

Price of ACE & NASM Study Packages and Exam

We did some research into the cost of the cheapest study package and test. Here’s what we found:

ACE is the cheaper of the two CPTs, coming in at $599*. Their most basic package includes:

  • ACE Personal Trainer Manual
  • ACE Personal Trainer Manual Study Companion
  • ACE’s Essentials of Exercise Science for Fitness Professionals
  • ACE Academy Elite 2018 (Interactive Study Platform)
  • Access to Personal Trainer Resources
  • ACE certification exam
  • ACE Personal Trainer Manual eBook

NASM comes in at $799 and is the most expensive of all CPTs that we evaluated in our initial best personal trainer certification analysis. This cost includes:

  • NCCA Accredited Exam
  • Textbook (hard copy and PDF)
  • Lectures Videos
  • Exercise Library
  • Cueing Library
  • Practice Exams
  • Quizzes
  • Study Guide

*Note: these prices are subject to change and sale prices may reflect different numbers.

Winner: ACE

Pass Rate of ACE & NASM Exam

Both ACE and NASM are known for having somewhat difficult exams that require extensive study, as well as knowledge, on challenging topics such as anatomy, physiology and biomechanics. While there are tests with significantly higher pass rates in the industry (ISSA’s pass rate is 89.9%), these certification bodies ensure you obtain the knowledge necessary to become a stellar trainer.

The focus of education:

  • ACE: Program Design, Implementation, and Modification
  • NASM: Exercise technique and training instruction

NASM Exam Pass Rate: 64.3%

ACE Exam Pass Rate: 65%

Winner: Tie

Number of Test Questions on the ACE & NASM Exam

NASM has the fewest test questions in the industry as a whole, whereas ACE has amongst the most. If you are the type of test taker who’s mind goes blank due to testing anxiety, you may want to consider a shorter test.

BelowNumber of test questions / total test time / minimum passing score

NASM: 120 questions / 120 minutes/ 70% or higher is passing

ACE: 150 questions / 180 minutes / 62.5% or higher is passing. 800 points available based on scaled questions 500 points needed to pass

Winner: NASM

CEU Requirements for ACE & NASM

Maintaining your certification via continuing education is required by both ACE and NASM as well as all other personal trainer certification bodies. The more CEU hours you need to get within a certification period, the more time and money you have to spend.

Fortunately, both ACE and NASM have similar recertification requirements as well as similar costs.

NASM: 20 hours of CEUs and $99 to recertify every 2 years

ACE: 20 hours of CEUs and $129 to recertify every 2 years

Winner: Tie

Certification Popularity for ACE & NASM

This factor is based on the number of trainers with a given certification, something to consider if you are looking for evidence as to what other trainers are doing in the industry.

Unfortunately, when we called NASM they said they don’t publish numbers on how many trainers have earned their CPT. They did, however, mention that they have twice as many as their competitors combined. We do have data on ACE that showcases they have about 45,000 trainers certified.

Without throwing out some unverifiable number, let’s just say NASM has 50,000 trainers with their CPT.

Winner: NASM

Average Income of ACE or NASM Personal Trainers

How much will I make as an ACE trainer? How much will I make as a NASM trainer?

These are common answers that I get that I have an answer for! While ACE and NASM don’t publish this information I was able to extrapolate it from self-reported data on reputable websites such as payscale.com. These incomes are averages of 30+ different people holding the same certification currently working as fitness professionals.

To me, this consideration may outweigh some of the others — study materials cost, pass rate, CEUs, etc. — because an upfront investment can pay dividends down the road.

Unsurprisingly, NASM and ACE are at the top tiers of average incomes for personal trainers.

NASM average income: $41,598

ACE average income: $41,546

Winner: Tie

It should be noted that the mere acquisition of a NASM or ACE CPT doesn’t mean you’ll make $41k, nor does it mean you’ll be limited by that income amount. Your success as a personal trainer is dependent on a lot of other factors including your business acumen, how you market yourself as a trainer, and other factors like geography and approach.

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Which CPT is Better ACE or NASM?

Now you have some objective (and subjective) data for which to make a decision about moving forward with an ACE or NASM CPT. Based on the above data, NASM gets a slight nod based on the popularity of the certification. However, this factor can be considered subjective, and is unlikely to affect your ability to get a job or train.

That said, these certifications are both fairly even in the areas of exam difficulty, CEU requirements, and average income.

The bottom line is that you need to identify which factors are the most important to you and determine how the career path you want to follow necessitates one CPT over the other.

ACE vs NASM: Thoughts from a trainer with both certifications

When considering either certification it is first important that you check with the employer you’d like to work for to ensure they accept one or both of the certifications, as that can provide the direction you need.

As stated above, both certifications are nationally accredited which will get your foot in the door almost anywhere. What truly matters is what elements from above have the biggest impact on you? Cost, test-length, income, popularity/reputation? They both require abundant study time and are difficult to pass. (If it’s grasping the material is a concern we have you covered as we provide the best study tools to help you easily pass either test and become a successful personal trainer.)

My final thought would be that NASM provides an easier to use programming model (the OPT Model) that is great for new trainers, while ACE focuses their education on working to assist clients in optimizing their behaviors. If you feel you would struggle with the coaching of clients and want to improve in that area, go with ACE. If you feel you want to have more knowledge of how to design an effective workout program, go with NASM. For more information on how to become a personal trainer, check out our post on that topic.

Feel free to give us a call and we can always help point you in the right direction (424) 675-0476.

Reviews of our ACE & NASM Study Materials

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The 5 Hardest NASM CPT Test Questions (and Answers)

The 5 Hardest NASM CPT Test Questions (and Answers)

The NASM CPT exam is notorious for being one of the most difficult fitness certification exams out there. They purposely try to make it difficult in many ways, like reaching into the depths of the text book to locate the one sentence where that test question can be found [our Audio Lectures and Study Guide help to point these out]. They also have many questions that you must truly understand the concept to get right. Regardless of the reason for these questions being hard, let us help you by explaining the top 5 hardest questions from the NASM CPT Exam. (This has been updated to reflect the newest version of the exam: Version 6)

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1

Which of the following is released into the synaptic terminal to stimulate muscular contraction?

  1. Calcium
  2. Troponin
  3. Acetylcholine
  4. Actin

To immediately analyze this question, it is a science-based and from chapter two, which they do point out in their study guide. Specifically, they tell you to memorized Figure 2.38. When memorizing this chart, the answer is only 1 of the 10 steps in initiating a muscular contraction. All of the above answers are also located in this chart, making it that much more difficult. Thirdly, the actual answer is abbreviated in the text, making you second guess yourself. All of these answers participate in muscular contraction, but the key words you must look at in the question is the ‘synaptic terminal’, as this will tell you which part of the muscular contraction they are focusing on.

Answer:  C : Acetylcholine

2

Anything asking you about Altered Length Tension Relationships or Altered Force Couple Relationships.

To vent a smidge, they don’t tell you what these topics are when you are reading in the book. They discuss the Length Tension Relationship and Force Couple, but never define what an altered version of either actually is. Yes, you could say its common sense, but the way they ask the questions leaves a little room for argument as to what the correct answer is. For example, “When the feet turn out due to tightness in the calves, which of the following has occurred? A. Altered Reciprocal Inhibition B. Altered Length Tension Relationship C. Altered Force Couple Relationship D. Muscle Imbalance”. Well we definitely know that this is an example of a muscle imbalance. But by definition, which they do not have in the book, misaligned joints or poor posture is an Altered Length Tension Relationship. This is your correct answer. My guess is they are trying to get you to use the principles they discuss as opposed to just saying it is a muscle imbalance. Tough stuff, but you just got it right for reading this.

3

Which muscle can internally rotate the hip when the foot is in the planted position touching the floor?

  1. Gluteus Maximus
  2. Adductor Longus
  3. TFL
  4. Vastus Medialis

Overall just a tough question as this would require you to memorize all the concentric actions of most the muscles in Appendix D. Luckily they don’t ask many muscle action questions, so don’t waste too much time, but knowing the basics to the larger muscles can help. In the back of the book the TFL does perform internal rotation, but adding, “when the foot is in the planted position touching the floor” throws most people off. The others are going to be external rotators of the hip or perform no rotation of the hip at all. The TFL is also associated with many muscle imbalances, so be aware this is not the only place that the TFL makes an appearance on the NASM CPT Test.

4

Which exercise follows the Half Foam Roll in the lower extremity proprioceptive progression continuum?

  1. Bosu Ball
  2. Balance Beam
  3. Foam Pad
  4. Balance Disc

This question is one of the questions that point to a very specific section of the book that you would not think to memorize. Most of us have some basic training sense that would give us a good guess, but the answer can be found in table 10.1 in Balance Training Program Design section. The correct answer is the Foam Pad, but noting the asterisk at the bottom, “theses modalities come in many shapes and sizes that will dictate proper progression”. This tricks many test takers as the balance disk and foam pad are tough to choose from when thinking of the next progression logically. Studying the right material is sometimes better than relying on logic, (insert shameless plug here) and that’s why we highly encourage checking out Fitness Mentors Study Guide for the NASM CPT Exam.

5

Which of the following supplements have the greatest potential for excess dosage in adults?

  1. Selenium, Magnesium, Vitamin D and Thiamin
  2. Vitamin A, Vitamin D, Iron and Zinc
  3. Vitamin A, Iodine, Potassium, Vitamin K
  4. Vitamin E, Vitamin B12, Biotin and Manganese

Uggghhhh. Pure agony. Of course you studied this, right? Well you know a few that might be considered toxic in excess amounts, but you can’t recall all of them can you? I know the feeling and this one gets most all test takers. Looking to Chapter 18 – Nutrition and Supplementation. You’re going to find this in the first two paragraphs after Table 18.3 – Comparison of Dietary Reference Intake Values (for adult men and women) and Daily Values for Micronutrients with the Tolerable Upper Intake Levels, Safe Upper Levels, and Guidance Levels; they couldn’t have named that chart any better. Every supplement has the potential for excess dosage when taken in extreme amounts, but NASM is looking to make sure you know the ones that are most common for our society, eating the American diet. Looking at the paragraph below Table 18.3, they list 3 vitamins and 2 minerals that specifically that can cause serious adverse effects, which are Vitamins A, D, B6, Iron and Zinc.

These questions will now be a ton easier once they show up on the test. 5 questions down, 115 to go. NASM can pull questions from any sentence in the book which makes the 600+ pages daunting for the unmotivated reader (Our Audio Lectures take you page by page through the text and explain everything to make this process easier). Check out more of our tips and tricks to passing the exam by signing up to receive the “5 Secrets to Passing Your NASM CPT Exam”. Also if you need more help we have some great premium materials, like our Practice Tests for the NASM CPT Exam that make this test a breeze. Check them out here. (If you can score above a 108 out of 120 on all three of our practice final exams you are ready to test.)

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