NASM: Certified Personal Trainer (CPT) Deep Dive
6 minute read

NASM: Certified Personal Trainer (CPT) Deep Dive


  • NASM offers a variety of certifications, but NASM-CPT is one of the most well-known and applied within the personal training industry.
  • Over the last 10 years, NASM has expanded its reach within the sports medicine field through extensive functional and corrective exercise research aimed to identify muscular imbalances that can contribute to and cause discomfort, pain, and injury.
  • The NASM-CPT certification is built upon the OPT model which includes five phases: stabilization endurance, strength endurance, hypertrophy, maximal strength, and power.
  • Tailored to fit a variety of learning styles and lifestyles, NASM provides numerous study programs that will help you ace your exam and jumpstart your personal training career.

NASM Overview

The National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) offers a variety of certifications including the PES (Performance Enhancement Specialist), CES (Corrective Exercise Specialist), FNS (Fitness Nutrition Specialist), WLS (Weight Loss Specialist) and YES (Youth Exercise Specialist). However, the most well-known and respected certification in the industry is the NASM-CPT (Certified Personal Trainer) certification. According to NASM, the NASM-CPT certification is built on a proven, evidence-based training model that prepares trainers for real-world situations. Throughout its existence, NASM has established itself as being the leader in high quality, evidence-based teaching. The organization puts great emphasis on proficiency, advancement, and outcomes.

Organization Background

NASM was founded in 1987 and has become one of the most respected fitness organizations in the world. The organization exists to provide research-based credentials to industry professionals specializing in the exercise and sports training industry. In 1989, NASM launched the personal trainer (NASM CPT) program. After just a few years, this certification became standard practice in many fitness centers. This can be largely attributed to World Gym designating the NASM-CPT qualification as a required certification for all of its personal trainers. In the late 1990s, this certification was mandatory for all trainers at 24-Hour Fitness locations.

Throughout the last decade, NASM has expanded its reach within the sports medicine field through extensive functional and corrective exercise research aimed to identify muscular imbalances that can contribute to and cause discomfort, pain, and injury. The introduction of NASM’s OPT model, a complete training model, was an industry first and designed to provide a complete balance of muscular strength, power, and size, and cardiorespiratory endurance.

Optimum Performance Training (OPT) Model

NASM OPT Model Visualized | Photo Credit:

According to NASM, the OPT model is a systematic and integrated training, reconditioning, and rehabilitation program. It was founded by Michael Clark, DPT, founder of NASM. Clark has experience with training and treating numerous elite and amateur Olympic and pro athletes in many different sports such as football, basketball, baseball, boxing, and ice skating. Clark’s organization has had a significant impact on the professional sports world, with over 90% of athletic trainers in the NBA becoming NASM-certified Corrective Exercise or Performance Enhancement Specialists.

The OPT model combines flexibility, cardiorespiratory, core, balance, power, and strength. This model focuses on integrated solutions for every fitness level. While it’s helpful for athletes, the OPT model can also be beneficial for people with special needs, the elderly, or those with clinical obesity. Elite, college and recreational athletes have benefited from the OPT model and it has also been helpful in helping individuals decrease body fat, increase lean muscle mass, and improve overall health. The model takes into consideration not only an individual and their unique needs but also the environment in which they are working. Simply put: everyone can benefit from the OPT model and its impact is not limited to athletes.

When we look closely at the OPT model, we see that its five phases are split into three levels: stabilization, strength, and power. Let’s break down each of the five phases and how they impact a trainee.

  • Stabilization Endurance: In this first phase, the trainer will design an exercise training or activity targeted towards supporting a trainee’s breathing and heart rate function properly. Examples of these activities include swimming, walking, jogging, and biking. The goal in this phase is to build a solid foundation while emphasizing the act of correcting muscular imbalances.
  • Strength Endurance: The second phase involves weight lifting exercises that can be tailored to your comfort level. The focus here is on correcting a client’s issues rather than maximizing power.
  • Hypertrophy: An exercise training system that helps trainees build muscle. This involves exercises that utilize low to intermediate repetition ranges with progressive overload.
  • Maximal Strength Endurance: The goal of the fourth phase is to test the strength of the trainee and mainly includes overhead squats, back squats, and front squats. All of these exercises are used to help reduce any unhealthy body fat. In this phase, a trainer might conduct an overhead squat assessment and coach the client through their feedback.
  • Power: The fifth phase, power, is a combination of bodybuilding and powerlifting exercises.

To access a sample workout built using the OPT model, click here.

NASM-CPT Certification Details

While some employers prefer their trainers to be NASM certified, others will want their trainers to pursue the certification through a different organization. Be sure to keep this in mind when seeking out various potential gyms or facilities for employment. It’s important to note that before you take the NASM exam, you must be CPR and AED certified from a course with a hands-on assessment. Additionally, you will also need a high school diploma or equivalent. If you decide that NASM-CPT is the way to go, here’s a breakdown of the study options provided by the NASM CPT program. With a broad range of options, you’ll be sure to find one that best fits your lifestyle.

  • CPT Self-Study – $599: You’ll receive access to the exam and online study resources that include practice questions. Additionally, you will also receive a digital copy of the textbook. This option is mostly recommended for those who do not have any study materials and are good self-learners. If you already have an employment opportunity lined up, this might be your best option.
  • CPT Premium Self-Study – $824: This option includes everything attached to the Self-Study package but also states a job guarantee (the conditions of this are provided on NASM’s website). Additionally, this package contains access to NASM Edge Trainer Plus, which is an app designed to help trainers in client exercise and nutrition programming. If you don’t have a job lined up and you’re looking for a convenient programming option when you start training clients, check out this option.
  • CPT Guided Study – $1124: This the most popular certification package which includes the Premium Self Study option and a 10-week education course, an exam retest (if applicable), personal tutoring, a hard copy of the NASM-CPT manual and, finally, an online business development program. If you’re a hands-on learner, this is a great option for you to test the waters and get involved in your NASM education. If you’re interested in starting your own business, this option also offers a lot of practical takeaways for starting your own business as a personal trainer. Even if you don’t plan on starting your own business, this option will give you important insights into how an organization in the industry runs.
  • CPT All Inclusive – $1649: Last, but certainly not least, is the CPT All-Inclusive certification package. This option includes all of the features in the Guided Study package, but the biggest difference is that it offers you an 80-hour internship program where you can train actual clients and have access to NASM Edge CPT Exam prep which will include extra practice questions and exams. This option offers you hands-on training experience in a NASM-approved fitness facility. If you’re ready to start work immediately and want the confidence that you’ll become certified, this option is for you.


The NASM-CPT certification equips trainers with the tools to effectively train a wide variety of clients and help them live healthier stronger lives. NASM has based its training materials on scientific study and the OPT model which serves as a clear guide as trainers lead their clients through the five-phase model. Depending on your current lifestyle and learning style, NASM offers a wide variety of study programs to help you ace your NASM-CPT exam and begin your career as a personal trainer. Interested in learning about other top personal training certifications? Check out our easy-to-read guide that breaks down each certification’s overview, cost, and time investment.

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