NASM Personal Training Study Guide

I’ve been trying to plan out my career goals for our move to San Diego. Last night, I was able to pick the Pilot’s brain about a few things while we put up our Christmas lights after Livi was asleep. It was kind of a fun date night, since it was uninterrupted time to talk and hang out, and he always has great insights. One thing I’ve known for awhile: I wanted to beef up my certifications by taking the NASM personal training exam.

Me and bell decorating

(Bell was a very valuable helper)

Pilot striking a pose while hanging lights

I recently renewed my AFAA group fitness certification (which I love), and Zumba is a constant licensure if I pay the monthly fee, but when it came to personal training, I was ready for the next step. I regularly receive emails asking for certification advice, and my number one tip is to call the gyms where you would like to teach/train and see what certifications they accept. It’s important to get a certification you can use at your desired place of employment. I knew that NASM would be a good choice for me, since it was the certification accepted at the resort where I was teaching. 

I’m not entirely sure yet what I’m going to do on the job front once we’re in San Diego, but while we’re still in Tucson, I have a couple of interviews to teach Zumba. I’m fortunate that (next to being a wife and mama) this little blog has been my main “job,” but I always like to do a little something extra to stay on my “‘A” game for teaching. The blog travels well, and I’m especially fortunate that it allows me to stay home with Livi. In San Diego, I plan to teach a few fitness classes each week and potentially continue distance-based personal training. Beefing up my certifications starting with becoming a NASM certified personal trainer is in line with these goals. 




NASM Certified Personal Trainer Study Tips

To study for the NASM personal training exam, here’s what I did:

-Read the entire text, underlining and taking notes in the margins. As I finished each chapter, I took the quiz in the study guide (purchased through Amazon)

-Went through the online course reviews and took the sample quizzes for each chapter

-After noting which topics were difficult for me, I went back through the text and made notecards

NASM personal fitness training

-Downloaded two apps: NASM and NASM Prep (icons are red with a clock and blue with a barbell, respectively), and took quizzes from each app throughout the day (maybe one quiz while Livi was napping and another before bed). These were crucial to my success with the test, and even if the questions weren’t identical, they helped to thoroughly understand the concepts and definitions

-Took the practice exam on the NASM website

-Read these Bodybuilding forums

-Used my body to understand the movement assessment and compensation portions of the text. I turned my knees inward and tried to identify which muscles felt tense and which ones felt weak. I practiced saying the plane of motion as I did my own strength routines and mimicked upper crossed syndrome and lower crossed syndrome to see if I could feel which muscles felt shortened or lengthened. If you’re going through a part of the text and having trouble identifying the muscle groups (especially for force couples and compensations), get up and practice doing them. It helps a ton!

At first, the text was extremely daunting, even though it’s a topic I’m passionate about and have been working in the fitness environment. A large portion was repeats of things I’ve already studied and utilized while training clients (movement assessments, progressions, regressions) and some of it was entirely new information. It was a lot of memorization, which was tricky for me, since it had been a thousand years since my last big exam of any type (the GMAT, quite a few years ago).

Some of the things I emphasized while studying that I found to be helpful:

-The OPT model: EVERYTHING about it. Know what types of stretches, strength, cardio exercises you would use for each component of the OPT model. Be able to look at the name of the exercise and know if it’s power, stabilization, etc.

-Stages of change

-Effective communication (open-ended questions, active listening)

-Cardiovascular system (know anatomy and functions of all parts of the heart and cardiovascular system)

-Muscles that assist the breathing process

-Calories in carbohydrates, fats and proteins

-Amino acids

-Types of carbohydrates

-Carbohydrate and protein recommendations for endurance athlete

-Function of lipids

-How much water you need each day and how much to drink after exercise

-Planes of motion and exercises in each plane

-Posture and movement assessments (know which muscles assist and hinder each type of movement). 

-Motor functions

-Overactive/underactive muscles for different compensations (knees turning in, low back arches, head protrudes, etc)

-Davies’ test, Rockport walk test

-Upper body strength test

-Lower body strength test

-Heart rate zones for different stages of training (Zone 1, 2 and 3)

-Core stabilization, strength and power exercises (examples)

-Balance training exercises for stabilization, strength and power

-How to progress and regress exercises

-Progression of balance challenge (both legs stable, both legs unstable, single leg stable, single leg unstable, etc) and proprioceptive challenge progression (floor, balance beam, half foam roll, Airex pad, Dyna disk)

-SAQ drills (types and when to use each method)

-How many reps, sets and HR %  for stabilization, hypertrophy, strength endurance, and power

-How to calculate BMI and max heart rate

-Average heart rate for male and female

-Difference between osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, and osteopenia

-Rheumatoid arthritis

-Considerations for special populations (pregnancy, youth, hypertension, PAD)

-Arthrokinematics, synergistic dominance and reciprocal inhibition

Hope this helps a little for anyone who’s studying for their NASM!

Next up: NASM Weight Loss Specialist Exam!

NASM personal training study guide - the tools and tips that helped me as I studying for the NASM Certified Personal Trainer Exam. | #studyguide #NASMpersonaltrainingstudyguide #nasm

Any certified personal trainers in the house? What certification do you have?

If you could switch jobs/careers and do something entirely different, what would you do? I would love to be a nurse or midwife…if I wasn’t totally squeamish about blood. I’d also love to open a cafe one day.

As always, I can’t wait to read your comments!
Stay tuned for a new giveaway later today for #10daysofgiveaways.



New post on the Fashion page! 

If you’re interested in becoming NASM certified, here is my contact’s info: Mike Golembewski ( or call 602-383-1263). Let him know that you found him through my blog, and he will help you get set up! He will also be offering a special discount for readers.

[Head’s up: NASM reached out to me about getting certified, and I was stoked because I’d been planning on their PT certification anyway. They gave me a small discount for the course for writing about the PT experience, and are waiving my fee for my WLS certification. Of course, all opinions are my own. I was just excited to add more certifications to my belt and was not compensated to write this post.] 

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  1. Michele on December 3, 2013 at 11:54 am

    Your sweatshirt in the first pic is so cute, where is it from?

    • Fitnessista on December 3, 2013 at 11:56 am

      thank you! it’s from lululemon… i bought it the day before the CEO made a jerk out of himself and was wearing the sweatshirt when i saw the news :/

  2. Missy on December 3, 2013 at 12:02 pm

    I absolutely loved this post. I am currently working toward getting my nursing degree (working as a nurses aid at the hospital), and while I absolutely love my job and love being able to work so closely with people every day, there is definitely something missing. I love fitness, I love helping people reach their goals, I love pushing people when they don’t know how to push themselves. I would love to get certified some day for personal training but just haven’t made that leap yet.

  3. Ashley V on December 3, 2013 at 12:09 pm

    I love grammar and language in general so I’d love to go back and major in English. I also love working with children with developmental disabilities and would love to do recreational therapy. Those two topics are at opposite ends of the spectrum, but I would love to do either one!

  4. Captain Competition on December 3, 2013 at 12:13 pm

    That is a lot of studying and preparation, good for you to be so organized. Studying as an adult (after you have been away from school for a while) is not an easy thing.

  5. Lauren @ Focused To Be Fit on December 3, 2013 at 12:14 pm

    GREAT post! I will be needing this in the near future!! I think I would be an event planner – although I wouldn’t want to give up my weekends!! I’d also think it’d be cool to finish school to become an RD, which isn’t totally out of the picture. 😉

  6. Kelli on December 3, 2013 at 12:19 pm

    I just passed the NASM CPT cert. on November 15. This has been a dream of mine for 8 years and I finally found the courage to go for it. I am currently pursuing my path in health and fitness, but am in the developing stage of this and am sure the path will become clearer as I go. If I could do anything else as a career choice I would go into physical therapy. I am fascinated my how the body functions so to be in the rehabilitation phase to help people would be my other choice. Congratulations on your certification!

  7. Megan on December 3, 2013 at 12:27 pm

    I got my NASM cert in July, and am trying to get into personal training. The information was definitely dense, but I feel like I learned a lot! Congrats 🙂

  8. joelle (on a pink typewriter) on December 3, 2013 at 12:45 pm

    Oh gosh, this is my fav topic! I think about switching careers ALL the time haha (I’m not sure that’s a good thing). Top of my list are the two you said actually – nurse or opening a cafe/breakfast restaurant. I think both would be amazing, but for nursing, it’d be helpful if I liked science. 😉

    I’m not sure which base the Pilot will be stationed at here in SD, but I can tell you the Marine Corps Recruiting Depot (MCRD) could use some better/more spinning instructor (just from a gym user’s perspective).

  9. Jen on December 3, 2013 at 12:46 pm

    If I could go back and redo my education, I would become a vet. I love animals so much, and would love to be able to help them more.

    That said, I also have a tendency to want to rescue every homeless dog I see…which would be difficult as a vet to not take every animal home.

    I’d be a dog hoarder or something… 😉

  10. Emily on December 3, 2013 at 12:56 pm

    I have my cPT through ACSM, which I got shortly after graduating with my BS in Heath & Exercise Science (in part because ACSM was a part of our curriculum). Definitely considering NASM soon though.

  11. Sylvia on December 3, 2013 at 1:02 pm

    This very helpful, thank you!
    I actually started studying a couple years ago for the NASM certification, but life got in the way and I never took the test. I think I should get back in there and take the test in the very near future.

  12. Rebecca@Runningfoodbaby on December 3, 2013 at 1:08 pm

    No PT certification for me – but I am a trained ‘coach’ for sprints and hurdles in track and field. I still have one more step to do before becoming fully certified.

    I think I would like to be a midwife too!

  13. Ashley on December 3, 2013 at 1:08 pm

    Id like to be a psychologist or something… I feel like I still have time to pick up a new career but I dont know what it should be.

  14. Andrea on December 3, 2013 at 1:11 pm

    Great post! I am an ER nurse and am applying to grad school right now to become a nurse practitioner. However, there is this little part in the back of my mind that wants to get a master’s in nutrition instead and become certified as a group fitness instructor/personal trainer to back it up. Reading your blog, and Anne’s, has made me think about changing paths…who knows…I might just decide to go for it…

  15. Maggie @ Just a Couple More Pages on December 3, 2013 at 1:14 pm

    I’m actually in the process of changing careers now. I worked for a book publisher for 5.5 years after college and I quit in April to go back to school to be a registered dietitian. I’m still taking pre-reqs now (since I took pretty much 0 science in college), but I’m hoping to start grad school in the fall. It’s been a crazy/stressful/wonderful time!

    Getting group fitness certified is a big goal of mine. With all the anatomy and physiology and nutrition classes I’m taking/will take I figure it gives me a leg up, it’s just a matter of finding the time and money to do it!

  16. Laura@ Fit Running Mama on December 3, 2013 at 1:15 pm

    I got my CFT from ISSA last December and am now working on my ACE Fitness and Nutrition Certification! I’m loving the course and content!

  17. Parita @ myinnershakti on December 3, 2013 at 1:20 pm

    That question is one I think about more than I probably should! If I could go back and switch my Finance degree to something else, I would pick Psyc and Nutrition. 🙂 Too bad I had zero foresight when I was 22 years old! But I am huge believer in the fact that it’s never too late so who knows… 🙂

  18. FitBritt@MyOwnBalance on December 3, 2013 at 1:22 pm

    This is awesome! I would love to own a fitness studio but it’s too competitive where I live so I doubt that will happen unless we move! 🙂

  19. Jeanna on December 3, 2013 at 1:32 pm

    This is great! I recently certified in ACE and teach various aerobics workouts. It seems that the fitness industry gets more and more competitive, but also more credible as the years go by. I would recommend Tae Bo fitness for a certification. They grant CECs and CEUs and my classes are ALWAYS packed. It’s old school, but it works! They are always posting new certifications on their website ~

    I think San Diego would be a great place for a Tae Bo class.. 😉

  20. Molly on December 3, 2013 at 1:34 pm

    I am a reading / language arts teacher. Another career choice would probably be librarian. I have to be around books I guess! I have also thought about what my career after retirement would be (even though that is a long way in the future) and I would love to open a bakery/cafe.

  21. Sara @ LovingOnTheRun on December 3, 2013 at 1:36 pm

    Thank you so much for doing this!!

  22. Anna @ Fitness à la Anna on December 3, 2013 at 1:48 pm

    Yay for Christmas lights! I am living in an apartment with a few roomies, so I don’t have the joy of putting lights outside…but I HAVE decked out my room with them to get me into the Christmas spirit 😉

  23. Sarah on December 3, 2013 at 1:58 pm

    Once the Girls graduate, I’ll go back to work as a Psychologist, specializing in grief therapy.
    Right now, “Mommy” is my starring role 🙂

  24. Abi@AbsofSteel on December 3, 2013 at 2:35 pm

    I passed my nasm certification a couple months ago. I agree that despite being very passionate about health and exercise there still quite a lot of information to learn. with that said it’s totally doable as long as someone gives themselves enough time to study for it

  25. Marissa on December 3, 2013 at 2:44 pm

    yay for career transitions! i went from exhausted full-time teacher last year to part-time teacher & tutor this year. i am much happier all around with this schedule & i am making the same money with a lot less stress! best of luck to you with your decisions as i know they are not always easy to make.

  26. Jill on December 3, 2013 at 2:52 pm

    I love hearing that you will take on some long-distance personal training clients. Is this open to people you don’t know, like your readers? Just curious, as I think I would enjoy having you as a trainer. Either way, I’m excited to follow along on your next adventure when you guys move to San Diego.

  27. Michelle @ A Healthy Mrs on December 3, 2013 at 3:49 pm

    If I could be anything, I think I’d be a Broadway performer. Or have a bakery/coffee shop. Or write a novel. Or something else creative 🙂

  28. Dominique @ Eat, Pray, Lift on December 3, 2013 at 4:02 pm

    I’m a certified personal trainer through Smart Fitness (it’s NCCA), but right now I’m working in higher education so I’m not doing any training at the moment…hopefully I’ll take on some clients in the near future, though!

    My dream job would be either writing in a creative field or working as a journalist for a health publication. It’s in my 10 year plan to be able to fully support myself with my writing, so I’m working to make it happen!

    Also, I think it’s so neat that you can stay home with Liv and still work in a field you love. I’d always balked at the idea of kids because I thought it would mean having no time for professional goals, but you’ve proved me wrong! 😀

  29. Lauren @ The Bikini Experiment on December 3, 2013 at 4:18 pm

    This post was so helpful! Thank you for doing this.

  30. Andrea on December 3, 2013 at 4:40 pm

    I’ve definitely thought about switching career paths and would love to move into the health and fitness field. I’m looking at different PT certification programs and NASM is at the top of my list. Do you have any tips on starting the PT Cert process for someone currently working in a completely unrelated field? Aside from jumping right into NASM or a related program, I’m kind of clueless about where to start!

    Thanks for the great post!

  31. Danica @ It's Progression on December 3, 2013 at 5:12 pm

    I’m in school right now to become a Certified Holistic Health Coach and will be launching my new business this coming year. Once I get my business going (and graduate from school) I plan to get my personal training certification. NASM is always the one that I hear the most great things about, and it’s a nationally recognized and respected certification. Thanks for posting about your experience with it! I know I’ll refer back to this post in the future!

  32. Ruthie@ShesWickedHealthy on December 3, 2013 at 5:58 pm

    Thanks for the tips! As someone who is considering pursuing certification, I found this very helpful. I love your idea to perform movements to feel the response in your own body. There’s a lot of information to know, and it sounds like your approach with including different types of practice and assessment was a winner!

  33. brooke lyn on December 3, 2013 at 6:33 pm

    thanks for the list of study items! i am currently studying for the NASM myself 🙂

  34. Sara on December 3, 2013 at 6:57 pm

    I am a NASM CPT as of September 26,2013. I loved the course materials- while they were daunting, I learned a ton. Currently working on getting my WLS and WFS from them. I haven’t gotten into the scene too much, but as a military spouse I feel being a CPT travels well. Do you have independent insurance yet?

  35. Aqilah @ PrettyAwesomeFitness on December 3, 2013 at 8:09 pm

    I got my CPT in Australia through their Cert III and IV courses, but just a heads up, certifying yourself is addictive. After I got my first Group Instructor cert three years ago, I kept doing all these other certifications like TRX, Kettlebells, BOSU. Thankfully the gym I was working at sponsored the bulk of it. Imagine having to pay ’em all!

    Another certification worth looking at is the PN Nutrition cert. It’s a lot of work, and I find it challenging because you’re working at your own pace and you’ve got to have lots of discipline to stay on track but it’s worth it!

    Good luck with your NASM certification. 🙂

  36. Brittany @ Delights and Delectables on December 3, 2013 at 8:41 pm

    Thanks so much for this girl! I am going to start studying in January if all goes as planned. We are in the process of adopting so everything depends on that! 🙂 I’m so excited to get my cert under my belt though.

  37. Kerri on December 3, 2013 at 9:49 pm

    I am a veterinarian and wouldn’t change my career for anything! But, I do wish I could’ve taken more time off when my first 2 children were little. I sold my practice and stayed home with children #3 and 4 (twins) for a year…it was awesome!

  38. Kathy on December 3, 2013 at 10:38 pm

    Great rundown…I’ve been thinking of working toward the NASM and this helps. I’m certified in Canada through the Canadian Association of Fitness Professionals (for training) and the OASES (Ontario Association of Sport and Exercise Science) for fitness consultation. I find they’re pretty widely accepted in Canada but I’d love to get a little more nitty gritty on the anatomy and it sounds like NASM does that.

  39. Kathy on December 3, 2013 at 10:39 pm

    Oh, and my dream job would be “spa tester”!

  40. Cassie on December 3, 2013 at 10:39 pm

    I am currently studying for my NASM PT, so this information is extremely helpful!

    I have my B.S. in Recreation and Leisure Management and M.A. in Special Education. I am currently a Recreation Coordinator which I love, however if I can go back and do it again I would get my degree in exercise science and/or public health.

  41. Shaina on December 3, 2013 at 11:09 pm

    I’m NASM certified too! I actually only did it for my own knowledge, because after my 35 lb weight loss I started getting a lot of questions from family and friends about diet and exercise. It was something I wanted to learn more about anyway, so I figured what the heck. At the time I was still a Navy wife so I figured that would travel well, but I didn’t end up working in a gym. Now I’m home with the nugget in between acting gigs…which is pretty much the best deal ever and I wouldn’t change a thing. I’m not on a show contract so I’m not working full time, but when I need a break and want to go have some adult fun, I book a job. Win win!

  42. Laura B @ FitMamaLove on December 4, 2013 at 2:36 am

    Not a personal trainer, but I am going for my Pilates certification, which I’m very excited about! You did give me that advice about asking the places I want to work what certification I should get and that was helpful.

    It was interesting to read all that you have to learn about to become a personal trainer. I was surprised about the nutrition portion. Nutrition is something I’d like to learn more about and get some sort of certification on, but I’m not sure personal training is for me. Not sure what else there is out there for that kind of information.

  43. Kelsey @ Ramblings of Change on December 4, 2013 at 10:13 am

    Thank you so much for posting about NASM. I’m just about to finish up my undergrad and my plan? To become a health coach. This is definitely on my list of certifications that I want to have. It will definitely help when the time comes to either search for a job or start my own business.

  44. Kayla on December 4, 2013 at 1:40 pm

    I did my CPT with NASM too and anywhere I have interviewed to be a personal trainer has always been impressed.

    I had a package with an online component and always watched the video before reading the chapter. I’m terrible at reading textbooks and found it helpful to hear about the topic before reading it. I also used the study guide given and activities at the end of a chapter.

    Once I had a few chapters done I started going crazy with notecards which was super useful for me. I also learned a tiny bit of the overuse chart day by day so it didn’t overwhelm me.

    I talked a bit about my experience here too:

  45. Joanna on December 4, 2013 at 4:02 pm

    Good Luck with your upcoming exams.

    I am in the processing of changing careers and I am so nervous. Sometimes I feel like I should of just stayed in the field I was in. (I was a dental assistant) I will be moving to Tucson (yay!) next summer and begin the Information Science program at U of A. (GO CATS!!)

  46. Jen on December 4, 2013 at 5:51 pm

    I just ordered my NASM study materials yesterday! This post is perfect timing. Thanks for all the helpful information; I’ll definitely be using it as I start studying!

  47. Kate on December 4, 2013 at 6:24 pm

    You would be a great nurse! It is a great job for mamas!

  48. Amanda on December 4, 2013 at 6:49 pm

    Hi Gina – congrats on your new certification! Thank you so much for writing this post! I’m a medical student and study pretty much all day, every day…so I can totally feel your studying pain. Even though its a lot of work, I would never want to work in any field except for medicine – I just love it!

    I’ll be honest and say that even as a medical student, I am completely ignorant about what kind of preparation, training, and knowledge most fitness professionals have to master before stepping into their job. I see my own patients in a student-run clinic and would love to refer some of them to a trainer (and I think many of my classmates would say the same), but have hesitated because I have never known what to look for in a personal trainer when referring. I really believe there are many elements of personal change that fitness professionals are much better able to address with patients than clinicians are in the office or hospital, and its a shame that more health care providers don’t view the fitness sector as a place ripe for partnership. Anyway, now I know to look for NASM certified trainers; given just the sampling of information posted above, I can tell that anyone with this certification certainly has a TON of great knowledge! Thanks again!!

    • Fitnessista on December 4, 2013 at 10:55 pm

      thank you amanda- that means a lot!
      studying for the test was a BEAST, but i’m so glad i put the work into it 🙂

  49. Mallory on December 5, 2013 at 2:58 pm

    I did just completely switch careers and although it was a HUGE struggle, it has been the best decision of my life. I was an insurance underwriter (I have a math degree) and Jan 20 I will be graduating school and be a primary care paramedic.

  50. Kylie on January 12, 2014 at 4:07 pm

    Thank you for posting this! I am a about ready to start this process and will definitely refer back to this. Do you recommend the Self Study (cheapest one) or Self Study + Live Workshop? Or have you heard anything from people about which one to get?

    • Fitnessista on January 12, 2014 at 5:50 pm

      i got the self study and it helped a lot. i’ve heard great things about the workshop, too. good luck!!

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