My experience with the NASM CPT Guided Study Program and passing the NASM exam

All about going through the NASM CPT Guided Study Program and passing the NASM exam. Thank you to NASM for providing complimentary enrollment to me in exchange for sharing about my experience.

I passed my National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) certified personal trainer (CPT) exam, and I’m pretty happy about it. I spent many weeks preparing and was so pleased to see the “pass” notification print-out immediately after finishing my test. Woohoo!

My experience with the NASM CPT Guided Study Program and passing the NASM exam

My experience with the NASM CPT Guided Study Program and passing the NASM exam

Before we chat about my experience with the NASM CPT Guided Study Program and the NASM certified personal trainer exam, let’s do some background. First of all, this is not my first personal trainer certification (I’ve been a certified personal trainer for four years and even worked as a trainer in a gym at Equinox), however, I’ve had my eye on going after the NASM certification for a couple of years to add to my arsenal on top of the CPT I had from another agency. You see, NASM is definitely considered the most well-respected and widely accepted credential in the fitness industry, and of course, is NCAA accredited. I don’t plan to train clients in a one-on-one setting again (well, never say never), yet, I wanted to be NASM certified because I’m still very much in the fitness world, and it’s the best of the best.

Now why get a NASM certified personal trainer credential?

To be knowledgable! You do not have to want to work as a personal trainer in a gym training clients one-on-one to benefit from the process of obtaining and maintaining a personal trainer certification.

  • For instance, if you have a group fitness instructor credential, you will get way more in-depth knowledge on the body, muscle imbalances, basic science and program design that will help you to be better in front of your classes and with your members before and after class.
  • In addition, if you’re an avid exerciser, perhaps you to want to truly understand how to best treat and program your own workout routine based on getting a PT certification. That way, you will get even more out of the hours and hours you’re already spending at the gym.
  • Of course, if you’re a social media influencer and sharing your fitness tips with an audience, you most definitely need to have a CPT to back up your stuff too.

And it’s not just about workout moves, it’s so much more than that. You learn about nutrition (although as a trainer, you are not allowed to create meal plans, you need to refer your clients to a registered dietitian for that), you also learn about the blood, coaching practices and special populations too, just to name a few things.

I happen to love to learn, and I also love to challenge myself by going after new certifications. And because I teach group classes regularly, write about fitness and am a resource to class attendees and blog readers about all things fitness, it just made sense for me to get this certification.

Once I decided I was going after it, I knew I wanted to get the most out of the experience as I could and didn’t just want to read the text book and cram for the exam all by myself. I wanted more interaction and education, which is why I chose to go through the online NASM CPT Guided Study Program.

NASM CPT Guided Study Program

I enrolled in the NASM CPT Guided Study Program, which is a 10-week online program with weekly modules, quizzes, tutorial videos, webinars, vocabulary flashcards, interactive learning activities and forum discussions with a mentor to keep you on track.

There’s no penalty for falling behind, but the content is broken up mostly evenly per week, so that you are learning just the right amount, in an order that makes the most sense. You also get the hardcopy textbook, which is a super helpful resource to have on hand, and you end up reading all 20 chapters of the book throughout the 10-week course. There’s even a mid-term and a final to make sure you’re retaining knowledge along the way.

My review of the NASM CPT Guided Study Program and NASM CPT exam by A Lady Goes West

What it was like to go through the NASM CPT Guided Study Program

There were 120 people enrolled in my session of the NASM CPT Guided Study Program, and all of our interactions and updates took place in a NASM online forum. I signed in a couple times a week to check the announcements section, find out what was assigned for the week, read the chapters, complete the quizzes and then answer the discussion question posed by the moderator, due on Monday evenings.

I found the weekly discussion question to be the most challenging part every week, but also the part that made me truly understand and internalize what I learned that week, because the questions were long and in-depth and required us to apply what we read. For instance, when we read about muscle imbalances and physical readiness assessments, we were asked to do movement assessments on two people in our lives and report back on what we found and what muscles we thought were over- or under-active on that person. Tough stuff!

Although I used to do this working as a trainer four years ago, I felt like a lot of the information was not top of mind for me any more. I was reminded how hard it is to memorize and understand the actions of the muscles in the body and why they do what they do. Believe it or not, a bicep curl is not just a bicep curl — many things are at play, including synergistic muscles, postural imbalances, neuromuscular control, core musculature, etc..

There were also webinars on each of the major topics in the NASM CPT textbook expected to be on the exam, which were great to watch toward the end of the 10-week session and use as review. I also loved the practice exams, study guides and tutorial videos broken down by subject.

The six domains

We covered everything in each of the six domains of the NASM CPT exam:

  1. Basic and applied sciences and nutritional concepts
  2. Assessments 
  3. Program design
  4. Exercise technique and training instruction
  5. Client relations and behavior coaching
  6. Professional development and responsibility 

You could print out and save any of the content in the forum (like the very helpful study guide PDF which I used quite a bit to prepare for the test), although I chose to keep it as green as possible and do almost all of my studying online within the forum, outside of reading my hardbound textbook.

While I didn’t ever need to reach out to the mentor, that person was available for questions throughout the course too.

As far as price, the course is not cheap, as it runs around $1,300 currently, but that includes your textbook and the cost of taking the exam as well. It’s truly a lot of material offered, so if you combine that with the mentor’s available help, I’d say it’s definitely worth it.

A review of the NASM CPT Guided Study Program and NASM CPT exam by A Lady Goes West

NASM CPT exam

What was covered on the NASM CPT exam?

The NASM CPT exam was actually a little harder than I expected and more challenging than the last CPT exam I took from another credentialing agency four years ago. It’s not just a regurgitation of vocab words, you actually needed to apply the principles. 

There were 120 multiple choice questions, and we had 120 minutes to complete the computer-based exam. From what I understand, every person gets a different exam as there is a huge pool of questions to pull from, and 20 of the questions are research only and do not count against your score, which is funny, because I felt like there were maybe 15 questions that I was NOT expecting and did not feel prepared to answer, so those may have been from the research. Who knows. (By the way, you schedule the exam through a third-party agency, PSI, and you get your immediate PASS/FAIL results on the spot.)

There were questions from each of the six domains mentioned above with the heaviest weighted portions on assessments, exercise technique and instruction and program design. Because the exam is fresh in my head, here are many of the topics that were actually covered in my specific test:

  • Suggested macronutrient (fat, carbs, protein) daily percentages for the average person and what each macronutrient is used for in the body
  • What dehydration does to the body
  • Joint motions, like flexion, extension, horizontal abduction, etc.
  • The purpose of the PAR-Q physical readiness questionnaire
  • How to conduct an initial session with a client
  • How certain diseases or medications affect how you train a client
  • How to conduct subjective and objective assessments of potential clients
  • How to take the radial pulse of a client on the wrist 
  • How to track progress and take circumference measurements of an obese client 
  • Healthy BMI ranges and unhealthy BMI ranges, as well as healthy waist-to-hip ratios
  • Performance assessments like Davies, Sharks Skills, upper-extremity strength test, etc.
  • How to conduct, view and decipher the overhead squat, pushing and pulling assessments
  • The difference between horizontal loading, vertical loading, drop-sets, split training, circuit training and other resistance training terminology 
  • The three zones of cardiorespiratory training and what heart-rate intensities match up to each
  • What muscles are shortened or lengthened based on popular postural distortions (upper-crossed syndrome and lower-crossed syndrome) and what exercises to do to fix those distortions 
  • How long to hold self-myofascial release (SMR) points and the purpose of doing SMR
  • The difference between static, active and dynamic stretching
  • Repetition ranges, rest times and tempo for different levels of the NASM Optimum Performance Training (OPT) Model
  • How to classify certain exercises within the NASM OPT Model based on their purpose
  • How to execute certain exercises with proper form
  • How to structure a flexibility program, using corrective, active and dynamic stretching
  • How to structure a balance program
  • How to make an exercise more proprioceptively challenging, like moving to a balance beam, etc.
  • The principle of progressive overload
  • The definition of periodization of a workout program and mesocycles and microcycles
  • How to structure speed, agility and quickness programs for youth and the elderly
  • How to structure a reactive or plyometric program
  • The difference between type I and type II muscle fibers
  • How the heart works, the name and purpose of the atriums and the cardiorespiratory system
  • Anatomic location positions, like inferior, distal, contralateral, etc.
  • The difference between the three planes of motion and how to classify moves within them
  • Signs of overtraining
  • The six stages of behavior change and how to work with clients through each
  • Appropriate client communication and active listening skills
  • How to create SMART goals with your clients
  • How to build a successful personal training business via the four Ps of marketing
  • The code of conduct for a NASM CPT

The big things to know are the NASM OPT Model, which consists of three levels and five phases, and the postural distortion and assessment solutions tables/charts from the textbook.

You really need to study those tables/charts and commit them to memory, but also be able to apply them to real-life client case studies. Not to mention, you want to know all of that stuff after the exam is complete anyhow, so take the time to truly learn it and get it.

I took a few practice exams and did see some overlap of questions (isn’t that the best?), but overall felt like I’m glad I studied so much, because it wasn’t easy, and I had to stop and really think about a lot of it.

Review of the NASM CPT Guided Study Program by A Lady Goes West

What’s different about the NASM CPT?

The NASM OPT or Optimum Performance Training Model

The last CPT exam I took four years ago (NESTA, read more about it here) didn’t have a trademarked training program along with it that you could apply once you are actually working as a trainer.

The NASM OPT Model is not just for the exam, it’s a training principle you can take with you and use when you begin creating programs for real clients, and I like that. It’s such a smart system too, designed for a newbie to exercise all the way up to performance athletes or bodybuilders. It was developed to concurrently improve all functionalities like flexibility, core stabilization, balance, strength, power and cardio endurance too. The model can be used to help clients reduce body fat, increase lean muscle mass and improve performance.

There are specific rep ranges, moves, rest periods, stretching techniques and even speed, agility and quickness drill recommendations for every phase of the model, which you can apply moving through the following — with the idea that you have to get stable before you get strong, and you have to be strong before you can be powerful. Here are the phases, which you have to know inside and out …

  • Level 1 – Stabilization
    • Phase 1 – Stabilization endurance
  • Level 2 – Strength
    • Phase 2 – Strength endurance
    • Phase 3 – Hypertrophy
    • Phase 4 – Maximal Strength
  • Level 3 – Power
    • Phase 5 – Power

Clients can progress through all phases or just do the phases that are most appropriate based on their goals and physical abilities. It’s a pretty cool system and one that I definitely plan to institute with my own solo workouts in the future.

CPR/AED required before the exam

Another point of difference when taking the NASM CPT exam is that you have to have an active adult CPR/AED certification just to sit to take it. (Most personal trainers will end up getting the CPR/AED to work in a gym, but NASM wants it done even before you take your test.)

My CPR/AED had lapsed several months ago, so I had to get a new one right before the text, and I scheduled and did that on my own through my local Red Cross. NASM requires an in-person course, but that can also be done with an online/in-person combo class, which is what I did. It was pretty painless and was a good refresher on how to handle an emergency safely.

Re-certify with 2.0 continuing credits every two years

To stay active with NASM,  you need to obtain 2.0 or 20 hours of continuing education credits every two years. Those credits come from attending conferences or workshops that are pre-approved by NASM. 

That’s a lot of continuing education every two years, and that’s because NASM doesn’t want to make it too easy for people. I like that. Good thing I’ll be getting a jump start on my continuing education credits this week at IDEA World Fitness Convention in San Diego. Woohoo!

Tips for studying for the NASM CPT exam

I spent about 2.5 hours a week reading the textbook and completing the activities and discussion question for the first 10 weeks of the course. Then, I took a week off of studying (to go to Florida and hang with my parents, yay!) and then I studied about 2.5 hours a day for the entire work-week before my exam. Yes, that’s a lot, and I feel like it was just the right amount.

If you plan to take the NASM CPT exam, I would suggest that you read the entire textbook and give yourself no less than say six weeks or so to get ready for it, trying to do a little at a time, with plenty of days before the test for a full review.

I would focus on standing up and practicing some of the muscle moves on your own body, figuring out the planes of motion of your body and completely memorizing the assessment solutions table, and of course, the NASM OPT Model.

Self study is totally doable and the cheapest option, but getting involved in in-person workshops or online workshops certainly makes the process more entertaining and engaging. 

My experience with the NASM CPT Guided Study Program and NASM CPT exam by A Lady Goes West

Where to get additional study help

Even though I went through the NASM CPT Guided Study Program, there are other companies that offer study materials to help you pass the test. Because boy, it would be tough to have nothing but the NASM textbook to prepare. For instance, Fitness Mentors has a range of programs with audio lectures, practice tests and more materials, and they offer a guarantee to help you pass the exam. I haven’t actually tried Fitness Mentors, so I can’t speak from experience, but here’s the company’s NASM CPT Online Course Pro Package (affiliate link), and it sounds like a comprehensive program. 

Overall thoughts on my NASM experience

Truth be told, my NASM experience is really just beginning as I’m now a certified personal trainer with the organization and will be using what I learned in my writing, own workouts and classes, continuing to study and referencing my textbook when I need it. (I’m actually super excited to have the textbook as a resource, because it’s full of an exercise library and so much more.)

I loved that I was able to spread out the studying process to really absorb and internalize all of the material throughout the 10-week course. I thoroughly enjoyed the studying and learning process and would recommend the NASM CPT to anyone interested in getting more into fitness one day.

Thank you for reading about my experience with the NASM CPT Guided Study Program, my friends! I hope you have a most wonderful day, and I’ll see you over on Instagram until we meet back here again.

*Thanks so much to NASM for providing me a complimentary entry into the CPT Guided Self Study and NASM exam in exchange for sharing my thoughts with the A Lady Goes West readers.

Here are a few more posts you may like …

Questions of the day

When was the last time you studied and took a test?

Have you ever worked with a personal trainer?

Do you have any fitness certifications?

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45 Comments

  1. Wow! You really had a lot on your plate. Besides studying, teaching, wife, writing a blog, and Brady. I really enjoyed reading about your experience. This month I completed a Driver Defense Course on the computer. I did it to lower my car insurance, $120 off. It was about an 8 hour course. Did it at my place. Took me longer cause made notes as I went. When I took the test I didn’t know it was open book test. I could look back in the course. Same as your test, let you know if you pass. Over the past 15 years I have worked with 3 different trainers. Mainly to jump start my workouts.

    1. Hi Richard! Well hey, you certainly took the driver’s course seriously if you were even writing down notes. Good for you, because it’s always better to absorb the things you are supposed to learn hehhee and if you did open book, you wouldn’t remember much. I’m so glad you’ve worked with trainers, Richard. I hope it’s always been a good experience and that you’ve taken away some good tips. Have a great day! 🙂

  2. Sounds like the course was a great experience. I have done a couple yoga teacher trainings, though not teaching at the moment and thinking about doing NASM for my PT in the future just to learn more for my weight workouts in the gym.

    Also hope to meet you at Blogfest!! I’m going and it’s my second year. Can’t wait for my first trip to California.

    1. Hi Alicia! So cool! I look forward to meeting you at BlogFest, lady! And YES to getting a PT cert. I highly recommend it for helping you to be super knowledgable in the gym! 🙂

  3. You are such a freaking rockstar! Congrats on yet another certification under your belt. That is definitely something I have pondered doing and would love to achieve someday.

    Speaking of loving to achieve someday, I want to be at IDEA Blogfest with you next year so that is a GOAL. I really need to get my act together with my blog, work harder to build my blog and Insta following and start moving towards the goals I have on those platforms.

    Thanks for always being such an inspiration. Xo

    1. Hi Courtney! I wish you were coming too! You would love it! I know it’s a big undertaking to pack up and head to a conference like it, but it’s SO worth it — so yes, hopefully next year you will pull the trigger. Follow along in spirit! I’ll try to overshare hahaha! And as far as blogging, you are doing awesome! Keep it up!!! 🙂

  4. Yay Congrats on passing Ashley! I really liked reading about your experience because this summer I want to take some time to do some independent studying. I just can’t decide what I want to do. I’ve thought about getting my spin certification, starting an online nutrition course, or working on a personal training certification. Sometimes I just wish someone would make decisions for me, lol.

    Have so much fun in San Diego, I’m bummed I’m missing out this year 🙁

    1. Hi Patricia! I guess it depends on how you would use your certification. Are you dying to teach SPIN? Then getting that cert would be helpful to get first, although it wouldn’t do much for adding to your overall fitness knowledge as it applies to blogging, writing and your own workouts outside of spin, if that makes any sense. But practically, you could apply it immediately by teaching classes. With nutrition, the online programs would be fun and helpful, but usually those certificates are not enough to give you the credentials for providing food plans, although it could help with your own knowledge, diet and recipe creation. I would say the PT would give you the most overall knowledge — although less hands-on practicality, if you don’t plan to train clients. Does that make sense? hhahah I’d also like to take an online nutrition course just for fun! Let me know if you go that route and what you think! 🙂

      1. Thanks so much Ashley, you’re so right, this makes a lot of sense. I was only really thinking of Spin because my gym was needing instructors. And I am an AFAA certified group fitness instructor so I would love to be more knowledgable with workouts by going the PT route. And I just love reading and learning about nutrition and really wish I would have majored in that in college.

  5. Congrats on passing!! That’s exciting. I definitely want to add another certification at some point. Probably in a year when both kids will be in preschool 2-3 days a week. I have my CSCS, but got that awhile back and like learning new things!

    Have some much fun at IDEA! It’s my goal to make it next year, so so fun!!!

  6. Great review Ashley! I took the NASM CPT cert test about 4 years ago and it definitely was tough. Lots of studying and I did the online study guide course as well which I was so grateful for because I felt like it really prepared me! Congrats on passing!
    My next test will be for an ACE Fitness Nutrition Specialization. Love everything I’m learning about how nutrition affects our bodies!

    1. Hi lady! Congrats — so cool! You will have to let me know how you like the Fitness Nutrition Specialization — I would also love to get some sort of nutrition credential. 🙂

  7. I loved your blog! But feeling super overwhelmed! You being already super knowledgeable and already certified and still found it tough makes me feel like I would really struggle. Any advice for a typical beginner?

    1. Hi Cassandra! It’s definitely going to be a challenge to study, but it’s doable. I would suggest TRYING the moves and principles on your body as you stand and try things on, if that makes sense — that’s how you can learn muscle actions and directions. Then, read the text book, make flash cards and try some of the workouts as well so you can see the difference between strength and hypertrophy and power — that may help you commit to memory. I think you can do it!!

  8. I have just over 2 weeks before my online course starts. I have been reading the textbook and I’m overwhelmed by the amount of information that I am absorbing.. I am trying to take notes. But I am lost with certain aspects of the program.. ie.. the biochemistry and all of the terms/definitions being presented. I know that I haven’t started the course and am hoping that the course will bring it all together. I have no medical background, but a lot of practical experience
    Will I be okay? I’m a little overwhelmed by the textbook. Will I be able to learn all of this?
    Thank you, Sue Sexton

    1. Hi Sue! Yesss you will be fine! The course breaks up the content by chunks and gives you several ways to learn it — most people are totally new to fitness in the course, so don’t be scared by that at all. Just follow along, use the discussion questions, take the quizzes multiple times and try not to fall behind on the schedule. Good luck! 🙂

  9. Hi, I am a few days out from taking the exam and have been doing all self study but only have gone to one workshop. I wanted to know your opinion on the domain study guide quizzes and practice exam that’s on the online portal… When I went to the workshop the NASM rep was saying as long as you are passing the domain quizzes and Nasm practice test they provide on the portal with an 80% or above, you will be fine for the test. Is this something you would agree with? I guess I am worried that the questions will be completely different than the practice quizzes I have been seeing and ill be thrown off. Thanks in advance !

    1. Hi Dani! From my experience, some questions were the same as practice tests and some were totally different — I think you’d be fine if you are passing all the quizzes and practice tests — it means you know the principles and terms. Hope this helps and GOOD luck!!

  10. Hi Ashley,
    I was wondering if you feel like the Guided study program is worth the extra investment versus self study?

    1. Hi Paula! I feel like it forced me to chunk up the information, rather than cramming all at once. So if you are someone who needs extra guidance to stay on task, and you like the extra quizzes and chance to chat with a mentor, then YES. They made it very easy to get all the info I needed to pass. Good luck! 🙂

  11. Hello, thank you for this article! It helped me decide to purchase the Guided Study Program as well as gave me many useful tips on how to navigate the whole process, right up to the last week of preparation. I just passed my credentialing exam today. 🙂

      1. Thank you! I have a potential job lined up with a PT at a private gym training rehabbed athletes. I’m interested in the CES certification next after a break… I was a journalist/freelancer before I went to work for a chiropractor teaching therapeutic exercise under her license, so I’m really starting over in this field. Thanks again for the blog post. I followed all your tips but with more study time throughout because I lacked your previous education. Now it feels weird not having to review the Acute Variables tables over and over!

        1. Hi Charles! That’s so cool you’re changing fields — some of the best trainers come from the corporate world hehe. I bet you won’t miss studying, but now the fun part is putting what you learn to practice. Thanks again for letting me know this helped!

  12. Hi. Did you have to actually take your HS diploma with you when you tested at the PSI exam center?

  13. Hi from Nashville! I am considering getting my certification. About how much time per week did you spend studying for the exam? Thanks! Going right now to follow you on Instagram! 🙂

    1. Hi Katherine, great to hear from you! You should totally get certified — and NASM is the best in the business. I spent about 3-5 hours throughout my course studying (about 10 weeks total I think) and a bit more leading up to the test. Hope this helps! Good luck.

  14. Hi! I’m currently taking all 3 courses; the VPT, weight loss specialist and certified nutritionist. It says I have to read the chapters prior to doing the online modules. Is that true? I feel like this is taking me so much longer than everyone else I’ve seen take this course.

    Thanks!
    Shannon

    1. Hi Shannon! You are doing a LOT at once! I can’t speak for the additional programs, but I can say that I felt like reading the chapters before the modules made the most sense for me. I read it to get the lay of the land, then the modules helped me truly understand and apply the concepts. However, you can do it how you think it will work for you. If it’s taking you a long time to get through, then maybe you are just being extra thorough, which will help you on the exam and moving forward with your knowledge.

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