The National Personal Training Institute (NPTI) is arguably the most expensive fitness education program in the US today with the exception of getting a college degree in exercise science. In this review, I interview Wendy Harmening who went through the program in 2015 in the Chicago area. The goal of this interview is to help you understand the NPTI program, prepare for it and decide if it's right for you. Also, see the other NPTI interview for more information. The questions I ask Wendy are basically the same as I did in my other NPTI interview. I did this to help readers compare answers. If you have any questions, ask them below.
JC. When did you take the NPTI program?
WH. I started in October 2014 and finished in October 2015.
JC. Why did you pick NPTI over other certs?
WH. NPTI is not a “certification” like ASCM, NASM or ACE. Think of it more like a “technical school” for personal trainers. You still need to obtain a certification through a certifying agency to be a “certified personal trainer”. To my knowledge, the only similar programs may be through various community colleges, and I did not explore those types of programs.
JC. How did you hear about the NPTI program?
WH. I found their program online while researching options for becoming a personal trainer.
JC. Does NPTI require a college degree?
WH. No, it only requires a high-school diploma or GED.
JC. How much did NPTI personal trainer program cost?
WH. Costs vary based on location but attending NPTI at their Chicago facility was $5,599.00 for me. But costs have gone up since I attended last year due to their accreditation and curriculum changes.
JC. Did you have to pay the full price upfront or could you do installments?
WH. The application fee was $75 and an initial payment of $1,500.00 was required. The rest was paid in monthly installments.
JC. Was financial aid available for NPTI?
WH. At the time I attended they were working on getting accreditation, it appears now that they have received it so I believe financial aid is now available. They also have a special military program & pricing.
JC. Did you need CPR/AED before starting the NPTI program?
WH. CPR/AED was offered as part of the curriculum, the Chicago facility offers this as an additional session twice a year.
JC. How long did the program last? How many days per week?
WH. NPTI Chicago offered daytime, evening and weekend classes, and Saturday only classes lasting either 6 months or 12 months. I took the Saturday only program, which was 12 months of Saturdays and a few Sundays.
The hours were 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM, but we rarely went that late. When I started, the program was a 500-hour program, with their accreditation they have expanded to 600 hours, so the daily program hours have expanded accordingly.
At the Chicago location’s Saturday only program, they start a new group of students every quarter. Their syllabus runs in a rotating format, so it doesn’t matter which quarter you start, you will go through the entire program in 12 months. Those taking the evening and weekends would take one series of classes in the evening and a parallel series on the weekends to cover all materials in 6 months.
JC. How many people were in your NPTI class?
WH. The class size varied since we had people starting or finishing every quarter. Class size for me was from 3 to 8 people, some of which were Saturday only, some of which were their Evening & Weekend 6-month program, students.
JC. What were the ages of the other students in your class?
WH. Ages ranged from early 20’s to early 50’s in my sessions.
JC. Did your class only have 1 teacher or were there several?
WH. I had 3 primary teachers and one substitute from the Lisle facility during my year there. The lead instructor had been teaching for more than 10 years, but before that worked as a personal trainer.
The other instructors and the substitute were all active personal trainers in various types of facilities, two of which were previous NPTI students. Their experience ranged from big-box gyms, private studios, cross-fit, group exercise, and in-home private training. Their names are Tracy Stone, Jeff Stone and Cristina Panagopoulos.
JC. Did you take your class at NPTI or a remote facility like a college?
WH. The facility that I attended was in downtown Chicago in the lower level of a business high-rise. They had full fitness center equipment as well as a private classroom. The fitness center was not reserved for NPTI, but was open to building tenants.
The facility included an open studio space, cardio/machine room, and a large free-weight and cable equipment room, full locker rooms, etc. Administrative space included offices and a library space.
JC. What books did NPTI personal trainer program?
WH. These were the books we used:
Additional information and resources were also mentioned in the presentations, including information from NSCA, ASCM and additional Nutrition resources.
At the time I started, NPTI still had students attending who had registered under their NASM program (where their tuition included the cost of taking the NASM certification). They had discontinued their NASM association when I registered, but still used a large amount of NASM information in their classes.
JC. I’ve heard NPTI and NASM are no longer associated. Can you confirm this and say anything about why that might have happened?
WH. My understanding is that in order to become an accredited school they could no longer include the NASM certification or association as they had previously.
They are accredited by ACCSC (Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges). There was still quite a bit of NASM specific information used in class (such as the OPT model). Certain topics were covered in greater detail than the NASM book, while other topics were not part of the course.
JC. Were there quizzes along the way or one big test at the end?
WH. For the 12 months Saturday only course, we had a test every month (50 questions), with four of them as quarter tests. Students that were doing the evening & weekend course typically had 2 tests each month, one for the evening course and another for the weekend course.
JC. Can you discuss what topics you needed to know for the quizzes?
WH. We tested on muscles for every test (origin, insertion, joint action, synergists, etc.). The syllabus followed a lot of the NASM book topics with additional information on nutrition, special populations, and other expanded information on some topics.
JC. Were the quizzes open book?
WH. None of the tests were open book.
JC. What was a passing score?
WH. Passing score was 70%
JC. What was the nature of the quizzes/tests – multiple choices, T/F, etc?
WH. The majority were multiple choice with a few T/F. Nothing like labeling anatomy type questions or anything with illustrations were tested. There were a few multiple-choice questions requiring calculations, so we were allowed calculators for these tests.
JC. Did the quizzes involve any practical/hands-on stuff?
WH. At the time I attended, the practicals were not tested as such, but practicals such as designing a workout for another student were evaluated, but not necessarily “graded”.
JC. Did you know when quizzes would be given in advance?
WH. For the Saturday only class, the tests were typically held on Sunday after a Saturday review day, so we knew a month ahead when the tests would occur. There were never any “pop quizzes”.
JC. Did the teacher teach to the test or did the quizzes make you think?
WH. The majority of the test was straight forward out of the class material, study guides and review materials. Some of the test questions were more applied problem-solving types of questions, but those types of questions were a few on each test.
JC. What was the NPTI final exam like?
WH. We did not have a final test, but each quarter we had a test that encompassed the full quarter’s materials. I believe this was 85 questions instead of the 50 on the monthly test.
JC. What was a passing score on the final exam?
WH. The passing score was 70% on all tests.
JC. Was the final exam timed?
WH. No exams were timed. We were given sufficient time to complete the exam and once the test was graded, had the ability to review the test.
JC. Was the final open book?
WH. No tests were open book, a calculator was the only assistance allowed.
JC. Was there a practical part to the NPTI final exam? How much did it count to the final grade?
WH. There was no practical test or grade, but attendance for all practicals was part of the overall grade.
JC. Was an internship at a gym etc. part of the NPTI program?
WH. There was no real “internship” program.
The facility was used by business tenants of the building, so once you were half-way through the program (and considered a “senior student”) you had the option to train any tenant seeking a personal training student.
Unfortunately, this was really only an option for the weekday/weeknight students, the Saturday only students never interacted with the building tenants and so never really made the connections necessary to approach them and offer training. It was also my understanding that due to the facility insurance, we were not allowed to bring anyone not a building tenant or student in for training.
This was probably the biggest disappointment that I had in the school in that there were very limited opportunities to get experience in training someone other than another student.
As part of the practicals we did do practice programming and workouts with fellow students, but this didn’t amount to a great number of hours. One month we did do three workouts with three different students, but there was no real “critique” of our workout programs and recommendations of ways to improve on them, we just ran them through the workout with supervision and some coaching from the instructors, then handed them in.
The coaching did involve practical advice such as how to regress or progress a specific exercise we had selected, but there was never any real comments of our workout program design as a whole.
JC. How long after taking the course did you have until you had to take the NPTI final exam?
WH. There was no time between the classes and the tests. The final test for me was the 4th quarter exam, there was no “final exam”. What was my 4th quarter test may have been a second or third quarter test for other students, depending on when their course began.
JC. What happens if someone fails the NPTI test?
WH. I don’t believe that anyone failed any of the exams while I was there, but I’m sure that the school has something in place for retesting. One instructor had indicated that the biggest issue students had was the ability to make up sessions if a significant number were missed, and making up sessions are important because attendance is required.
JC. What was the hardest part of the NPTI test for you?
WH. I am much more of a visual learner, so I would have preferred to have things like muscles, joint actions and exercises as part of an illustration or image rather than just memorizing terminology and identifying through text questions.
It seems odd to me that NPTI, NASM, and other certifying agencies don’t test in a more visual way when the personal training field is so reliant on visual evaluation of movement.
JC. What was the easiest part of the test?
WH. In general, the rest of the test questions were challenging but not too difficult.
JC. After passing, did you get an NPTI diploma and NPTI certification or just a diploma?
WH. The NPTI program only provides a diploma. Completion does not include certification as a personal trainer. Any certification desired needs to be pursued separately after completion of the course.
It is up to any employer to determine if NPTI completion is sufficient or if certification through an agency is required.
JC. Does NPTI issue certifications?
JC. Does NPTI have ongoing education after graduation?
WH. The Chicago NPTI facility does offer additional certification in Kettlebell and TRX (for an additional fee), but does not offer other ongoing education.
JC. Did NPTI help you find a job?
WH. NPTI does have resources for job seekers and maintains information from agencies seeking employees. They also included presentations and tours of local fitness facilities, some of which have hired previous NPTI graduates.
I am currently not seeking a job at this time, so cannot comment to specific assistance.
JC. Did any gyms not accept or were not familiar with NPTI?
WH. N/A for my experience. Other graduates that I have kept in contact with are employed by various large fitness facilities, many of which are familiar with NPTI and often already have students working there. The graduates I know are typically seeking certification through a major certifying agency such as NASM. I do not know if this is specific to the facility they are employed at or just a step in their career.
JC. What did you like most about the NPTI program?
WH. I liked the opportunity to meet a variety of people coming from different backgrounds and experiences and seeing how personal training careers can encompass a variety of activities and services. Some were in the program because they worked in fitness equipment sales, some were seeking a career change later in life, others were just starting out their professional lives and wanted a health & fitness career. The personal training profession can be whatever you make of it, but we were all interested in getting a good base education to start with.
JC. What –if anything – did you like least about the NPTI program?
WH. My personal reasons for wanting to attend NPTI were to get practical experience in working with a variety of equipment, learning how to properly program a workout, and learning how to coach someone through that workout correctly and safely. Unfortunately, I feel that this was lacking in this specific program. I can certainly study out of the book like anyone else, but the reason I decided to attend the school was for the practical experience I believed that I was going to get.
My previous experience with working out was never in a traditional gym, but rather private studios or non-traditional facilities where my experience didn’t include all of the traditional free weight equipment, cable machines, or other similar things.
After discussing my lack of “traditional” experience, and having them echoed by other students, NPTI instructors did make an attempt to include more practical experience covering these items, but it was not really part of the standard program format.
We did cover all of the types of training, assessments, programming, and a number of other things as outlined in the NASM format, but through the 12 months, I attended we never covered all of the equipment available at the facility.
The instructors were also very open to providing guidance during the practicals, but not all the practicals meshed with the classroom topics. I think that at times the students were asking questions and driving what they wanted to learn more than what the syllabus indicated was to be covered.
I did appreciate the time the instructors took after the organized practical to cover additional things with us, I just wish it would have been more organized overall.
My other big complaint was the repeated incidences of disorganization at the Chicago facility. The typical classroom format was to get a new syllabus and handout package at the beginning of each month, additional materials including the study guide answers were to be uploaded to a Dropbox site.
On multiple occasions, we waited for that material to be uploaded, often not receiving it until a few days prior to the test. Other instances of disorganization included incomplete or incorrect package information, lack of direction from the lead instructor to the weekend instructors, and even one occasion where no one showed up to administer the test.
JC. Do you have any other certs since completing NPTI?
WH. I am currently working on my first certification.
JC. Did NPTI cover anything about personal trainer sales/marketing or how to get clients?
WH. We briefly covered the standard material in NASM pertaining to sales & marketing. I was hoping to get different points of view since the 3 instructors had a variety of experience, but we really only covered the basics. I was especially interested in aspects to doing private personal training, but most of the information was centered around the typical gym situation.
Tip. Here's my book on personal training marketing.
JC. Did NPTI instructors any give you guidance on certifications after completing the program?
WH. Additional certifications were mentioned as we discussed topics such as nutrition, special populations, pre/post-natal, etc. Part of this also covered scope of practice aspects with the CPT scope versus any specialty certifications. The two instructors that were active personal trainers shared their specialty certification information and experience with us as part of the discussion.
JC. Did the NPTI course cover anything on psychology?
WH. Only as pertained to the typical personal training scope of practice, so basically portions of the Lifestyle Modification & Behavior coaching as found in the NASM book.
JC. What are 3 areas you feel people should study the most while in the program?
WH. I’m not sure that I can really recommend topics to “study,” In general, I think people interested in NPTI should make sure that they work with the instructors to try and get as much of the “non-book” information out of the course as they can; such as any of the instructor’s experience with clients and working in different aspects the industry.
I think they should also try to take advantage of the fitness facility and equipment and push to get as much practical experience as possible. If this means partnering with another student for workouts outside of the class time, pursue it. Actively request what you need from the instructors if they aren’t providing it.
Also, attendance is important. Unfortunately, a number of the students are working full time in addition to other commitments, so many found it challenging to attend classes and practicals as well as devote sufficient study time.
Many students dropped out, dropped back, or switched from the 6 months to the 12-month course, so anyone considering attending NPTI should make sure to crunch the numbers on their ability to commit the time necessary. You do get time to make up missed class time, but you may not necessarily be able to attend sessions covering missed topics.
One other thing is that even if the curriculum is NASM heavy, you won’t learn everything in the NASM materials, and so will need to spend additional time studying before taking your certification. Previous students have accomplished that in as little as a month. I’m taking about 8 weeks due to my schedule.
JC. What do you feel are 3 mistakes you see other personal trainers making?
WH. Not having worked directly in the personal training industry yet, it’s difficult for me to comment on identifying mistakes.
My personal concern with the atmosphere of fitness centers in general. What I see is more of a mindset and impression that personal training services and fitness facilities are marketing primarily to the young or athletic, but not to the older or inactive client.
Through my current activities I meet many people who want to participate in fitness activities, but don’t see themselves reflected in the typical gym member or personal training client marketing image.
JC. Who do you feel NPTI program is best suited for?
WH. I think if someone learns better in a classroom format and doesn’t have a lot of gym experience, then NPTI can be a good program for them. If someone is seeking to jump directly into training clients at a gym, then they should take care to ensure they are getting all the experience they can, even if it means spending a significant amount of their own time outside the classroom to get that experience if they aren’t getting it in class.
JC. Overall would you say NPTI was a good program?
WH. I feel that it was generally a good program, but very expensive for what I got out of it. Some of the benefits was a good breakdown that covered all topics tested on a certification exam, so if you do better with classroom instruction and a disciplined study schedule, it might be worth the costs.
If a fitness center has its own training system for new trainers, that may be a cheaper route to go, I think it depends on the individual and the time they have available to learn their preferred method of learning and the specific NPTI facility they are attending.
JC. Are you working as a personal trainer now? If yes tell what you are doing.
WH. I am currently a certified Nordic Walking instructor in the north suburbs of Chicago. Originally I wanted to get my personal training certification as a first step to expanding my classes into other fitness services, and now I hope to take it even further over the next few years. I am currently studying for the NASM exam while working on my own level of activity and learning how to design programs for friends and family.
My ultimate goal is to work with seniors and special populations in functional fitness activities and develop a new career that will keep me challenged. I’m 48, never really been athletic or even all that active, and have been in a sedentary job field for most of my life. I figure that if I can be successful at getting fit, than anyone can! I think that NPTI was a good start, but I realize that I have a long way to go, and a lot to learn yet.
JC. Do you feel NPTI prepared you well to be a personal trainer?
WH. I feel that NPTI prepared me to take the NASM test and gave me a head-start to learning things on my own, but I would not feel ready to start programming and training clients at a traditional fitness center without some additional mentoring. Since what I am pursuing is somewhat different than the traditional role, I need to find my own way to prepare in addition to what I learned at NPTI.
Great interview. I am thinking about going to NPTI in Lisle, IL. starting in April 2016. I will be going to the Sat only class. Thanks for the info.
Joe Cannon says
Kelly, you are very welcome. Happy it helped you. If you do NPTI, let me know your thoughts.
I sure will Joe. I have been studying for the NASM test for about 9 months on and off and just now set up my test date for Feb. 3rd 2016. I really want to attend NPTI in April for the hands on experience and classroom teaching they offer. I am also looking to open my own fitness studio for older clients around my age to train one day. Thanks for all the info you have out there. It really helps a bunch.
Joe Cannon says
Kelly, thanks for saying that. It means a lot 🙂