How I became a Certified Personal Trainer

I woke up to some good news today.

I’m a certified personal trainer.

I received an email after I went to sleep last night that I passed my official exam this weekend. And what was my score? 92 percent!

But this is just the beginning of my personal training journey …

I received my certification through NESTA, the National Exercise & Sports Trainers Association.

Why did you choose NESTA?

I chose NESTA because it is accredited by the NCCA, the National Commission for Certifying Agencies, as well as accredited by the NBFE, the National Board of Fitness Examiners and most major gym chains accept it.

There are tons of different certifications to pursue as a personal trainer. While NASM, the National Academy of Sports Medicine, is perhaps the most well-known, each certification has its benefits. NESTA is known to focus on the business-side of training, as well as the science behind movement.

In fact, one of the first things you learn from the NESTA training materials is: movement is king, not muscles.

I also chose NESTA because I was encouraged to attend an intensive workshop weekend in addition to my self study, by some fitness professionals I met with while exploring the opportunity. These folks explained that spending time with an actual training professional learning the material, rather than just studying by myself at home online would be much more powerful for my growth, even if I could pass the exam both ways. I agree. NESTA just so happened to have some training weekends in the Bay Area upcoming, so it was an easy decision to make.

When I say this is just the beginning for me, I mean it.

Many personal trainers end up getting multiple certifications throughout their career, continuing to specialize in their chosen “niche training.” More on that to come.

What is the NESTA exam entail?

The NESTA exam is 125 multiple-choice questions, and you have two hours to complete it. You fill in a scantron with pencil, and each question offers four choices A-D.

Here is the exam content breakdown:

  • Science 23%
  • Assessment, Safety and Prevention 15%
  • Business 15%
  • Program Design 23%
  • Exercise Applications 23%

To pass the exam, you need to get a 70 percent.

My training and exam took place at a gym I spend a lot of time: 24 Hour Fitness California Street. When I first moved to San Francisco, I auditioned to teach at 24 Hour Fitness at this gym, then I attended Les Mills CXWORX Initial Training, went through Les Mills BODYPUMP Advanced Instructor Module 1, and currently teach BODYPUMP there every Tuesday. It’s a place I am comfortable, and now I can add “certified trainer” to the list of what has happened for me there.

What is the workshop like?

NESTA’s intensive two-day workshop is conducted by a company called Training Made Fun, which teaches the NESTA materials, provides hands-on coaching and offers attendees tons of insider tips from an industry professional in a live-group setting. It’s not an exam prep course, although you do cover much of the material that you will be tested on. Rather, my trainer, Geof, who has seemingly every certification in the fitness world known to man (or more like seven or eight of them), tried to help us understand the principles, rather than memorize terminology.

  • Day 1: We did introductions, then spent much of the time first day going through lectures on PowerPoint, following along in a workbook and asking questions section-by-section. At the end of the day, we spent about an hour going through exercises and movement with our bodies, which was very valuable. My trainer had some unique and interesting exercises to share with us that he uses to train athletes. However, we started our day a few minutes late and got off topic a bit with questions, which meant our day went through 6:15 p.m. when it was supposed to end at 5:30 p.m. I was a little miffed at that, since I wanted to study further when I got home.
  • Day 2: We continued to go through the materials, asked questions and then had the option to take the official NESTA exam at the end of the day, if we felt we were ready. We certainly stayed on topic much of the second day, because people were more focused on the upcoming exam rather than big picture questions on training as a practice. Some people in my workshop were attending merely for continuing education credits, therefore, they chose not to take the exam.

My fellow attendees included 18 people from all walks of life, mostly from around the Bay Area. We had a few football coaches, some teachers, some avid gym-goers and some current trainers, all seeking to continue their education in the field.

Here we are during day two …

NESTA training workshopNESTA training workshop

I’d apologize for my outfit (yep, that’s me on the right with the pink sneakers), but it was only 60 degrees in the room and I had on three layers on both the top and bottom. Shivering would be an understatement.

What did you learn in the NESTA workshop?

I learned so much about what it actually means to be a personal trainer. It’s not only a business, it’s a relationship-based service, which provides the everyday person with a means to get healthy and move, smartly and efficiently. A trainer’s purpose is to take their clients from their current fitness level to their goal fitness level, using science-backed methods. It’s called bridging the gap.

I would highly recommend attending a workshop weekend, if you are considering seeking a personal training certification. While you still need to spend a lot of time studying ahead of time, it’s a great way to ask questions, attempt to understand the basics of movement and science more fully by talking with an expert and digging deep.

During the workshop there were trainers in my class who asked advanced questions that showed me there’s always going to be more to learn. It’s one of those fields in which you never stop learning.

We covered some of the following topics, all of which made an appearance on the exam:

  • Exercise Physiology Overview
  • The NESTA System
  • Marketing and Sales
  • Functional Anatomy and Kinesiology
  • Planes of Movement
  • Muscular System Overview
  • Assessments and First Client Meetings
  • Science Review of Blood and Heart
  • Biomechanics
  • Forces on the Body, Torque
  • Lever Classes
  • Functional Training
  • Flexibility
  • Program Design
  • Cardiovascular Exercise Training and Energy Systems
  • Muscles and Joints
  • And more.

How did you study for the NESTA exam?

I studied the 60-page training material provided by Training Made Fun for more than an hour a day for about three weeks leading up to the exam. I made flashcards. I stood up and made my body do the movements. And I wrote notes. I also did additional research online when I couldn’t understand the text in the training materials. Because I haven’t studied for a written test since college, I really enjoyed the process. Much of the science, biomechanics and energy system information was entirely new to me, and I soaked it up like a sponge.

I didn’t memorize every muscle name, but I tried to understand which muscles were responsible for which movements.

NESTA exam studying

I think the exam was fair. It wasn’t easy at all, but it wasn’t overly difficult. If you understood the things in the training material, you would be able to pass. There were only a couple of questions that seemed tricky and I wasn’t prepared for.

What’s next?

This is the beginning. I’ve been passionate about health and fitness for a long time, and while I’ve been teaching group fitness for years, I’ve never dug into the science behind it until now. With my credentials as a certified personal trainer, my options are endless so my Fitness journey will continue. Stay tuned for more on my plans …

But for now. I’m off to to launch the latest BODYATTACK 84 in my favorite lunch-time class, then Dave and I are going to a concert tonight. Woohoo!

Questions of the day

Have you ever worked with a personal trainer? What was your experience like?

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    1. Hi Polly!
      Thanks for stopping by. I’ve really enjoyed learning the science that backs personal training, and you’ll get that with many of the certifications. NESTA has been a great choice for me so far.

  1. Congratulations! It’s great to have that cert. The best trainers are passionate about what they do so I know you will be excellent. Make the workouts half way enjoyable for the clients or they won’t do it. That’s my best advice.

    1. Hi Dan,
      That’s great advice. Since I come from a LM group fitness background, I definitely understand the need to make it fun. Hope you’re doing well!

  2. Hi Ashley,

    Congrats! I’m taking my exam on Saturday. I did not attend a weekend session though, I have been studying completely online. Any words of advice or tips for studying over this next week? 🙂

    1. Hi Shawna,

      Thanks for stopping by my blog. The test is fair. But yes, make sure you read all of the material and have a good understanding of the business stuff. Study the workout progression set lists for weight training. There were a few questions in which we were given scenarios and had to decide how many sets or how much rest the client should get. Don’t worry about memorizing muscle names, but memorize the groups and what they do. I’d also spend time learning about stretching, the NESTA system and all of the main topics I listed above. There aren’t any trick questions, so as long as you comprehend the ideas, you are golden.

      Just use your common sense. If you have been studying the content online for a while, I’m sure you will be fine. Best of luck!


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