I passed the NASM certified personal trainer test back in August so this post is a long time coming. When I began to think about which certifying agency I wanted to go with, what to study, how to study, etc., I consulted a ton of blogs and message boards for information. They were all extremely helpful and now it’s my turn to share my experience in the hopes that others will find this information useful.
The 3 most respected certifying agencies are NASM, ACSM, and NSCA. In the future I may get my CSCS certification (Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist) which is only available through NSCA, so that eliminated NSCA right away. I want to try and keep my certifications diversified so that I get exposure to different training philosophies.
That left NASM and ACSM. NASM was more attractive for 2 reasons: (1) their focus is on movement deficiencies and muscle imbalances which, as a running coach, would be incredibly valuable and (2) there was guidance on how to study and what to study. I only had a finite amount of time to study and take the test (2 months - I had a nursery to think about!) and I didn’t want to mess around with guessing what I needed to know.
Which package did you choose?
I went with the CPT Self-Study package – the *cheapest* one. Note: none of the packages are cheap. This package did not include a live workshop. Not attending a workshop didn’t matter in the end (I don’t believe it would have given me an advantage). And from what I read online, many people found them unhelpful. So save some money and time and don’t bother with them.
You have 180 days to study and take the test once you purchase a package (or pay a fee for an extension). Don’t procrastinate! I committed and purchased the package only when I knew I could dedicate a few months to study and take the test.
I do have a background in science (BS in Chemistry and MS in Pharmacology) so much of what I studied wasn’t new information. Do I think a science degree is necessary to pass the test? Absolutely not. You may need more time to digest the information but it is certainly doable.
There are 20 chapters in the textbook. I reviewed 3 chapters per week, sometimes more if the chapters were short. That left me with about 2 weeks to review everything and take practice tests before the exam.
read it, know it
For each chapter I did the following:
(1) Read the chapter thoroughly. Understand what you are reading and highlight anything important. I kept the study guide close by as I read the chapter so I didn’t miss anything important.
(2) Make notes. This is the most time-consuming process. Definitions were placed on flash cards and more intricate notes were written in my notebook. This gets old quickly but once you take good notes, you don’t have to go back and look stuff up. Believe me, it’s worth the added time!
(3) Review the online tools. With your package, you’ll get access to an online review of each chapter with a few quiz questions at the end. After reading and note-taking, the online review really solidifies everything you just learned. Review the online material after each chapter and don’t save it for the end – you will not pay as close attention!
so many notes…
(4) Review constantly! Don’t just fly through chapters and forget what you learned previously. I constantly reviewed my flash cards and notes from previous chapters. This is critical!
You MUST know…
The overhead squat assessment table (Table 7.6 of the 4th Edition). Know it by heart. Review it every day until you can rattle it off without hesitation. Also know the muscles and their isolated function. Be familiar with everything listed on the study guide.
I gave myself 2 weeks to review and take practice tests, once I read and studied all the chapters. This was probably too much time, since I was constantly reviewing everything all along.
The exam is 120 questions (multiple choice) and you have 2 hours to take it. The test is pass/fail, so you’ll never know your exact score. You take the exam at a testing center (you cannot bring anything into the testing center – I walked in with just my license and keys - leave everything in your car).
I felt the exam was a bit harder than the practice tests. The practice tests, in my opinion, were more straightforward where you needed to know basic concepts. The actual exam did include concepts but much of it was application based (i.e., real life scenarios).
I definitely plan on “officially” using my CPT in some capacity in the future. But, right now, I’m using it with my running clients.
Many running injuries are the result of muscle imbalances (mostly caused by training errors – it’s a vicious circle). When you think about it, running is a series of single-leg balances moving forward. You have a split second to make contact with the ground, absorb impact, and push-off. If you are deficient in any one of those areas (for whatever reason), it’s compounded with each step and with each mile. Over time an injury can develop. I find this incredibly fascinating (don’t you?!) and I’m so happy I went with NASM because it was very much focused on this.
I’m happy to answer any questions you may have about the NASM-CPT test. If you have any advice to share, I would love to hear it!