Review of NASM and the NASM-CPT Certification

Trainer with NASM certification reviews corrective exercise kinetic chain analysis during kettlebell swing.

Founded in 1987, the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) is one of the foremost fitness organizations providing research-based credentials to professionals in the exercise and sports training industry. This review goes over the history of the organization, the details behind their certification curriculum, and a quick review of the NASM personal trainer certification study options.

Alongside offering its Certified Personal Trainer (CPT) certification, which is accredited by the NCCA, NASM presents dynamic career path opportunities with advanced credentials in corrective exercise and performance enhancement, in addition to continuing education programs covering special populations.

NASM has also formed affiliations with several top universities, including UC Berkeley and North Carolina State University, in offering certificate and degree programs that integrate coursework designed by the organization into an exercise science-related academic curriculum.

Organization Background

NASM’s emphasis on continuing and advanced education serves to assist today’s health and fitness experts in enriching their careers while better enabling their clients to lead more healthy lifestyles. The institution has established its brand as being synonymous with high quality evidence-based teaching that prioritizes proficiency, advancement, and outcomes.

Impact on the Fitness Industry

Centered predominantly on athlete performance and functional training, in 1989, NASM launched its personal trainer (NASM-CPT) program. Within a couple years, this certification emerged as a standard in various fitness centers, largely due to World Gym making the NASM-CPT qualification mandatory for every one of their personal trainers. By the late 90’s, this certification had also become a necessary criteria for trainers to work at all 24-Hour Fitness facilities.

Over the last decade, NASM has expanded within the sports medicine field through extensive functional and corrective exercise research carried out to pinpoint muscular imbalances that cause discomfort, pain and subsequent injury. The introduction of their Optimum Performance Training (OPT) system has been an industry first as a complete training model designed to provide complete balance of muscular strength, power and size and cardiorespiratory endurance.

Founder: Michael Clark, DPT

OPT was actually created by the National Academy of Sports Medicine’s founder and CEO Micheal Clark, who holds a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree from Rocky Mountain University. He has trained and treated numerous elite amateur, Olympic and pro athletes in wide range of sports such as football, basketball, baseball, boxing and ice skating.

As a distinguished member of both the fitness and sports medicine communities, Clark has been highly effective in applying his knowledge and experience towards development of the tremendously practical OPT system. This cutting-edge model now serves as the foundation for NASM’s personal trainer (CPT) and performance enhancement specialist (PES) certification programs.

Clark’s organization has made considerable ground in the professional sports market; for example, over 90% of athletic trainers in the NBA have become NASM-certified Corrective Exercise or Performance Enhancement Specialists.

Notable Accreditations

In 2008, the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR) accredited NASM’s CPT program as a way for registered dietitians and dietitian technicians to acquire continuing education credits required for recertification. The National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) and UK-based Register of Exercise Professionals (REPs) have also granted accreditation to the NASM certified personal trainer curriculum.

The Optimum Performance Training (OPT) Model

The following information on the OPT model comes directly from NASM:

“When you enroll in NASM, you can expect to learn the foundational principles that are involved with exercise science, biomechanics, and kinesiology. What you’re also going to learn is how to put that information into a program for a client – that program is the OPT model. It takes into consideration not only the individual and their needs, but also the environment in which their performing. So, whether that’s an individual working out in a gym or if it’s an elite athlete playing basketball, it doesn’t matter – it takes the entire three-dimensional approach of that human into what they want to accomplish for their goals.” – Erin McGill, NASM Director of Training & Design

“The OPT model is not just for athletes – it can be even more important for individuals who have special needs, whether its senior citizens, the clinically obese, or if they have heart disease or diabetes – because we can take those specific individual needs and apply them into their exercise program to get the results that they are looking for and improve overall quality of life. We’ll start with an assessment – we’ll start with the client’s goals, needs and abilities.” – Brian Sutton, NASM Director of Content Development

Basic example of how the model is applied

“One of the most common things we do at NASM is the overhead squat assessment (McGill analyzing male client). What I’m doing here is looking for symmetry on both sides as well as his ability to move in the primary components of the kinetic chain – so, his foot and ankle complex, I’m also going to look at his knees, what his hips are doing, and then what is going on at his shoulders. We look at that client from the front, from the side, and back to make sure they are moving exactly the way they should be moving.” – McGill

“By being able to look at how a client moves, that gives us clues of what exercises we should use, and once we gather all that information, then we can create a systematic program that will progress them up the levels.” – Mike Fantigrassi, NASM Director of Professional Services

Structure of the model

“The Optimum Performance Training model is a systematic and integrated approach aimed to get any client, any goal. It’s five phases that are split into three levels: stabilization, strength, and power.” – McGill

NASM OPT model phases and levels

“The first phases (stabilization endurance and strength endurance) are made for deconditioned individuals and it builds this very solid foundation of stability that then moves moves someone up to the next level, which is strength. Once we have good stability and we have good strength, then we can add in the power stuff that everybody likes to do. So, it’s an integrated training system – we use flexibility training, core training, balance training, plyometric or reactive training, and even speed, agility and quickness training – and combine that with resistance and cardiovascular training to create a compete program.” – Fantigrassi

“The OPT model yields superior results because it allows for greater core strength and it also improves balance. Proprietary to NASM, the OPT model was developed over several years and then it was validated by researchers at one of the leading institutes for sports medicine. You’re getting some of the best science out there combined with a model that’s been proven in a clinical setting. You don’t need to have any prior experience in kinesiology or exercise science – we’re going to teach you all of those things. It’s important for prospective personal trainers to get this type of education because everyone has unique needs and unique goals, so the OPT model allows you to assess and evaluate each client differently and then implement intervention and training strategies that make most sense for that client.” – McGill, Sutton, and Fantigrassi

NASM CPT Certification Details

Some employers prefer their trainers to be NASM-certified, while others may prefer a different organization – so make sure to keep this in mind when researching gyms or facilities you’d like to work at prior to becoming certified.

Being NASM-certified grants you access to the aforementioned OPT system – the organization’s own set of cutting edge personal training principles/methods based on the latest evidence-based, clinical research in exercise science and sports medicine. They also offer exclusive business opportunities to their certificate holders and access to their research institute’s cutting-edge sports science knowledge database.

To read up on all the in’s and out’s of this 120-question multiple choice exam, make sure to check out the official NASM Certification Candidate Handbook (PDF).

Study Options

The NASM CPT program provides a broad selection of packages to accommodate people of different backgrounds and learning styles. Here’s a review of the 4 different options you can choose from:

CPT Self-Study – $699

Gives you access to take the exam and includes online study resources and practice questions, in addition to a digital copy of their textbook. Recommended if you do not have any study materials and a good self-learner with an employment opportunity already set up.

CPT Premium Self-Study – $1099

Includes everything the regular Self-Study package includes with the big addition of a job guarantee – the conditions of which are detailed in the NASM CPT Handbook linked above. This package also provides access to NASM Edge Trainer Plus, an app designed to assist you in client exercise and nutrition programming. Recommended if you don’t already have a job lined up and want a convenient programming option for your clients.

CPT Guided Study – $1499

As the most popular certification package, this includes everything that comes with Premium Self-Study, plus a 10-week education course (that’s btw optional), an exam retest if needed, personal tutoring, a hard copy of the NASM-CPT manual (nice for those who still like having a good ‘ol paper textbook!) and an online business development program. Recommended if you would like the option of having a hands-on learning component to help assimilate and reinforce your knowledge, as well as interest in starting your own training business or at least want to become more familiar with business operations of an organization or institution that you’ll be working for.

CPT All Inclusive – $2199

Includes all the features of the Guided Study package, however, the biggest difference is you get set up with an 80-hour internship program training actual clients and access to NASM EDGE CPT Exam Prep – which includes extra practice questions and exams. This package provides the unique opportunity to gain real hands-on training, professional tutelage and multi-faceted experience in a NASM-approved fitness facility. Recommended if you have time to assimilate the extra study material and achieve the highest exam score possible on your own, and most importantly, ready to start working immediately and want the assurance that you’ll become certified with employment lined-up.

Taking The Next Step Towards Your Certification…
After taking time to review your options, going that extra step to become NASM certified means you’ll potentially set yourself up to make more money than those who aren’t credentialed. Depending on you goals, work environment and potential client base, becoming a NASM certified trainer can give you even more of an advantage due to the organization’s widely respected reputation as a leader in the fitness and human performance industry – especially when it comes to corrective exercise and injury prevention.

NASM Personal Trainer Certification

$699 - $1,299





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  • Accredited by the NCCA
  • Highly recognized in fitness/sports industries
  • Built upon evidence-based OPT model
  • Top-notch exam preparation materials


  • Premium exam packages can be cost prohibitive
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