Have you seen the NASM TV commercial? If not, it's actually a 30 minute infomercial ―complete with a studio audience ―that extols the benefits of the NASM personal trainer certification. This is actually pretty special because it marks the very first time that a personal training organization has taken to TV to advertise its certification. I've watched the infomercial and I wanted to address some things that were mentioned – and also say some stuff that was not mentioned. My goal is not to bash the NASM but rather to make clear some of the things that were said and not said. My hope is that by giving you more knowledge, you will have a better idea of whether the NASM is right for you.
For those who are interested in the NASM cert, here is a post on how to study and pass the NASM test.
Is NASM The Best?
If you watched the infomercial, you heard an NASM trainer says “NASM is the most readily accepted and has the most credibility of all personal training certifications.”
All of them?
I'm know the NASM has their share of credibility, but are they really saying they have more credibility than the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM)? Are they saying they have more credibility than the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA)?
I hope not because, if they are, its just not true.
When I took the NSCA CSCS certification, in the 1990s the stipulation at the time was that only those who had -at the least – a BS degree in a health-related field were allowed to take the exam. While the NSCA has since relaxed that stipulation (unfortunately), they still won't let anyone without at least a BS degree take the CSCS exam.
In contrast, people don’t need a college degree to take the NASM cert. You can take it with a HS diploma.
As I've said previously in my NSCA vs NASM post, if the NASM was truly best, why do so many NASM trainers fail the AAAI/ISMA exam? I'm serious. I've met several NASM trainers over the years who attend AAAI/ISMA classes I teach. They fail the AAAI/ISMA test badly! I know this for a fact because I've graded their tests!
Some might say AAAI/ISMA is a lower level cert than NASM. But if that is true, why do so many NASM trainers fail their test?
Let me be clear. I'm not at all saying this to boost AAAI/ISMA over NASM or any other organization, but rather to point out the fact that nobody knows everything. This is why I value education over certification. It's also why the motto of this site is “Be qualified, not just certified.”
Certification does not mean education.
Everybody wants to be certified by the best. I get this, and its actually why I wrote a review titled What's The Best Certification? See that for more information.
How Much Do NASM Trainers Make?
At one point in the infomercial there is a statement that:
“Top personal trainer can earn over $100,000 per year.”
This statistic does not mean all NASM CPTs earn that much. There will be some who do make this much ―and more than this―and there will be others who earn much less also.
A better question to ask is how much does the average NASM trainer make? I was curious so I did some digging. I found the Resources Page of the NASM website which noted that the average NASM personal trainer makes $44,000 per year. This statistic comes from the job website, SimplyHired.com.
As it says on SimplyHired.com: “This salary was calculated using the average salary for all jobs with the term “NASM certified personal trainer” anywhere in the job listing.
A problem with this statement however is that it doesn’t tell us how many job listings were included. Was it 10 or 100 or 500 job listings? The more job listings that were included would give us a better idea of how accurate the average salary was.
Another problem with the way they determined the average salary is that they don’t tell us how many of these job listings were for full time vs. part time trainers. I'm going to assume that the $44,000 per year average salary is based on full time personal trainers, working 40 hours per week.
I could be wrong because personal trainers often work more than 40 hours per week. In fact, self employed trainers ―those who make more than 100,000 per year ―often work much than 40 hours per week – a LOT more!
While 44K sounds good, according to a 2013 survey by the American Council on Exercise (ACE) another fitness organization, which surveyed 3,000 of their certified professionals, the average yearly income for a full time ACE personal trainer was $52,537 per year. That's more than the 44K quoted by SimplyHired.com for NASM trainers.
You can download the entire survey for a more complete breakdown that includes group fitness instructors salary, part time vs. full time, hourly rate of pay and even breakdown by region of the country.
Now, to put a damper on things, according to to the US Department of Labor and Statistics in May 2012, the average annual salary for full time personal trainers as a whole (without regard to certification) was $34,750.00.
The Resources Page of the NASM website also notes that:
1. NASM certified personal trainers earn approximately 20% more than trainers without credentials.
2. NASM trainers earn more than “other NCCA-accredited certifications.”
Take a look at point #1. They say that NASM trainers earn ONLY make 20% more money than people who have NO credentials (certification)? Huh? If we look at this statement from another angle, it also appears to mean that people with no certification make almost as much as NASM personal trainers!
I mention this not as a slant at NASM but rather to point out that, this may be evidence to an unfortunate aspect of the fitness industry, namely, that a personal trainer's salary is, often tied to how well the person can sell personal training, rather than how good of a personal trainer they are.
As an aside I can tell you that I've had gym salespeople in personal trainer classes I teach and it reinforces an old saying I once heard in school: “it's easier to make a salesman into a personal trainer than a personal trainer into a salesman.”
Gym managers understand a salesperson who also knows personal training could probably generate more money than a personal trainer, with no sales experience.
It's because of this that I often recommend trainers read:
That's because sales is a crucial – but often overlooked – aspect of making money as a personal trainer.
The OPT Model
At the heart of the NASM philosophy is the OPT Model of training, where OPT stands for Optimum Performance Training. Basically this training method breaks exercise down into the following phases:
- Phase 1: Stabilization and endurance
- Phase 2: Strength endurance
- Phase 3: hypertrophy
- Phase 4: Max strength
- Phase 5: Power
While the OPC model is only found within the world of NASM, I must say that these phases look very similar to those seen in the well established training method called Periodization. In Periodization, there are also phases devoted to endurance, hypertrophy, strength and power. As such, I'm going to assume that the OPT model is based on periodization.
Periodization has been around for decades and is widely regarded as a superior way to train. But, given the similarly between these two training protocols, I wonder if there is any peer reviewed research that directly compares the OPT model to perodization to see which might be better?
Unfortunately I'm not aware of any research like this, which is too bad because I personally like addition of stability. I say this because it may, in theory, make the OPT model superior especially when dealing with some special populations. If anyone is aware of peer reviewed research comparing periodization to the OPT model please let me know and I will gladly update this review.
See my Resources Page for more on periodization -and a bunch of other stuff.
NASM OPT Research
If you watched the infomercial you heard it stated that the:
“OPT model was validated by researchers by one of the leading intuitions of sports medicine.”
The word “validated” sounds important, but for the scientist in me, it’s really a vague term. That said, I'm going to assume that they are saying that it was proven that the OPT model was the best way to train. And by proven, I mean in a published, peer-reviewed study.
Published, peer reviewed research basically means that you do a study and submit it to a scientific journal to be published. But, before it's published, the research is submitted to other competent scientists (the “peers”) who go over it with a fine tooth comb, looking for any mistakes or issues. The people who did the study must address/fix any issues found by the peers before the study can be published. Published, peer reviewed research is the gold standard of research.
While the NASM infomercial did not tell us who did the research or where it was published, I started searching and located it.
As can be seen on this page of the NASM website, the research appears to be have been conducted at the University of North Carolina. The study is titled “Comparison of Isolated (Traditional) and Integrated (OPT) Training on Functional Performance Measures.” As I looked over the study a few things occurred to me:
1. The study appears to be a collaboration between the Univ of North Carolina and the “National Academy of Spots Medicine Research Institute” (NASM-RI). What is the NASM-RI? By that I mean, is there a actual building that says “NASM-RI” where they do research?
As far as I can tell it appears that the NASM-RI is located at the University of North Carolina. I take this to mean that the NASM pays researchers at the University of North Carolina to do their research. That is fine because universities are well equipped to do scientific research. I just dont understand what the NASM-RI does.
2. The NASM OPT study does not appear to be a published peer reviewed study. I say this because when I searched the National Library of Medicine ―a database of millions of research papers from around the world ―for the title of this study, nothing showed up.
I also goggled the title of the study as well and likewise, saw no reference to the study in any peer reviewed journal.
Why didn’t the NASM Research Institute -or the University of North Carolina – submit this study to any peer reviewed publication? The study appears to have been finished in 2012. If it was submitted it should have been published somewhere by now. But it's not. Why?
The 14 Day Free Trial
During the infomercial, it's stated that people could try the NASM free for 14 days. It's important to remember that this 2 week trial is for the online NASM program only.
Also, the free trial does not include the NASM textbook – NASM Essentials of Fitness Training ―or the certification exam. This makes sense as I'm sure the NASM doesn’t want anyone to take the test and get certified during the free trial period.
How Much Does It Cost?
The program being offered in the infomercial is called the Self Study package (the online course) and is $699.00 . I believe the other name for this is the “eTeach” program.
The NASM also has an Associate Personal Trainer Experience for $1999.00. This package also includes an externship (which is like an internship).
Note. The Associate Personal Trainer Experience is not a an Associate's degree program such as would be obtained from a college. I believe they call it Associate Personal Trainer because people will be associating with other fitness professionals during their externship.
Also see my review of online certifications for more info as well.
NASM.org or USATrainer.com?
If you saw the infomercial, you may have noticed that the website mentioned is not the NASM site but rather USATrainer.com. According to Whois.com (a site that lists information about websites) the USATrainer.com website was registered by SpinSix Strategic Marketing Design, LLC. This makes sense. NASM knows fitness while SpinSix knows marketing.
I believe the USATrainer.com site was created so they could track how many people signed up for the free trial from the TV commercial. It’s a way to see how well their marketing is working. Again, this makes perfect sense. I wanted to mention this in case anyone was confused by the USATrainer.com site.
NASM Job Guarantee
In the infomercial, you may have seen a reference where if you pass the test, NASM would guaranteed you a job. To be eligible for a refund, you must have applied to at last 5 personal trainer positions within 60 days and have met all hiring criteria of those positions (including background checks).
NASM is accepted at most gyms so I dont feel most people will have a problem finding a job.
For those who can't find a job, The NASM may request proof of job applications and rejections before issuing a refund. Refunds must be submitted to the NASM within 12 months of purchasing the NASM personal trainer program. You can read more about this on their Terms and Conditions Page.
NASM: Is It The Best?
My main goal in writing this review was cut through the glitz of the NASM TV commercial and give you some useful information to help you make a better decision. For some, that may mean getting NASM certified. For others it may mean going with another certification organization. The NASM is a fine organization, but contrary to the TV commercial or what others may say, the NASM is not “the best.” The simple truth is, there is no best.
I believe this statement – that the NASM is not the best – needs to be said because it’s a message I don’t think people hear enough. While it is true, that NASM trainers learn a lot, it's also true that the NASM is very good at marketing themselves ―the TV infomercial being an example of this. While marketing is good, I think that by only hearing “NASM,” that it limits the opportunity of people to explore other options.
Tip. See my post on Craigslist Marketing for more insights.
Another thing that I feel should be mentioned is that the NASM is a “for profit” company, while ACE, ACSM and NSCA are all not-for-profit. They exist primarily to educate. As such, they might not put as much into marketing as NASM, but it does make them inferior. Far from it.
As proof of this, ACSM and NSCA both publish well respected peer reviewed exercise journals –Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise and the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, respectively. The NASM has no such publication.
There are well over 100 organizations that certify personal trainers. The certifications of some of these organizations are just as good and cost a lot less than the $699 – $1999 people might pay for an NASM cert. I feel this is a factor to consider if money is tight. I admit, I don’t like people going into credit card debt to be certified because the odds are they won't be making a lot of money right away. Many big box gyms pay only $6 per half hour training session!
For those who are interested in fitness as a career, read my review on how to be a personal trainer. It might save you some time – and money.
What do you think?