Well, I did it…I passed! 10 weeks of grueling studying, week after week learning something even more confusing than the week before…but it came down to 120 questions, 45 minutes and that “Submit” button that will quite possible change my life. It wasn’t hard, it wasn’t easy…it was a true testament though of inner strength and perseverance in the worst moments. Through this whole process though, one of my greatest and worst resources were other fitness blogs that talked about their study process, how they felt about the material, the exam itself and of course…their results. Some really screwed with my head and others calmed my nerves a bit. I decided this blog was for future CPT’ers and I hope I can provide some valuable information, tips and maybe some comfort…so here we go.
Jan. 3, 2017
Day 1 of my guided study class…yes, I paid the 1300 bucks for the whole enchilada. I didn’t care what it cost, but I sure wasn’t going to be left with my own devices and a book. There was no way that was going to end well. I truly suggest you understand how you learn things and what your study habits are, because it truly makes the biggest difference in how this process turns out for you. There are no shortcuts that make this any easier, I promise you that. The guided study is set up in “modules” that cover each chapter one by one. Each module has the reading (if you are an online reader, I’m an old-school book person), demos for cueing, case studies, interactive activities, discussion questions and a final quiz for that section. You also get a syllabus and your NASM mentor will send out reminders each week when the chapters are due. You don’t have to adhere to the schedule verbatim, God knows I didn’t…life happens. I have a company to run and other obligations that needed to be balanced with this. You have to make your own schedule, don’t put it off and have a mental date set for when you want to take the actual certification exam. I knew that my class was done on March 13th, I wanted to take the exam on March 20th. I didn’t schedule it though until later…just give yourself a completion date, it really helps when you are getting close to the end!
Ok, to be honest…the first week, I nailed it…just like when I was in school. Took notes, made flashcards, got it all done before the “due date” which is normally a week. I was excited and had a new notebook and new pens…and new post-its and highlighters in fluorescent colors! I even got a red backpack to hold all my stuff including my laptop so I could study on the fly! It doesn’t get any nerdier than that. But, whatever it takes to keep motivated…DO IT!
So, that worked well for about 2 weeks and then things started to get harder and harder and that pink highlighter was not doing it for me anymore. Chapter 3 was brand new…know this like the back of your hand, not because they will ask you what the sagittal plane is, but because it will be the easiest part to know of a more complicated question. I can’t stress enough that knowing all the motions in the planes, around what axis and where and to what relation it is on the body is CRUCIAL. Again, this is an easy thing to master so that you can work through some of the more difficult things later. I found myself coming back to this chapter many times to help clarify something even more complicated.
Chapters 4,5,6…were huge, take 2 weeks to learn it if you are on the weekly schedule. Take as long as you need to learn it…bottom line. Remember the term Golgi Tendon Organ (GTO) like it’s the password to your email address. Also, pay attention to the reciprocal inhibition, altered reciprocal inhibition and synergistic dominance…basically all movements around joints and muscles. Also, know the heart…know what it does, how it works, how to check pulse, where to check pulse…I can’t tell you how many questions on the heart I have had to answer in later practice exams. The kinetic chain is a huge thing as well, it will come back to haunt you in so many ways you will scream. Again, you won’t get a straight up question about this stuff, but it will be referenced in more of the scenario questions about program design.
Metabolic functions, I kid you not, were the worst concepts for me to remember. We’ve all learned them before in a biology class somewhere, well it’s baaaaaaack! And this time, it’s even more important than before. The direct correlations between metabolic functions and exercise is astounding. I was floored at how integrated the two are, even though I know that metabolism is a huge part of weight loss and fitness. I wish I had spent more time then learning this, because I ended up looking at this for hours just weeks before the exam. Nail this, and you nail a good portion of this domain on the exam, which they couple together as Basic & Applied Sciences & Nutritional Concepts…about 17% of the exam.
Other areas of focus: Flexibility Continuum, Heart Rate Measurements, Training Sciences
Assessments were my best chapters…know then back and forth. There are ton of questions on overactive/underactive muscles. Get up and go through the motions, find out what it feels like to you when you rotate your knees in during a squat or how your back feels when you raise your shoulders during a pulling assessment. Static assessments, same thing…know it like the back of your hand…because later you will need to know how to apply a certain stretch to those muscles. Also, know the difference between shortened/lengthened and active/underactive…they aren’t the same. Table 9.13…compensations…act them all out, it’ll save room in your brain, let your body remember it. I got up quite a few times during my exam to go through a squat so I could recall the muscle movements. It’s called kinetic learning. I don’t learn well just by memorizing a table. I had to get up and move around and let me body learn and transmit the answer to my brain. All the tables in Chapter 9 are VALID and need to be learned. I won’t sugar coat this, you will not pass if you do not somehow learn this. Learn the what subjective and objective information is when you start to gather information from a client…also…TWO WORDS: Iliac Crest…never forget it. Find ways to remember things like READ and examples of each level of READ. Rockport and YMCA-3 Minute test…know the differences, which one comes first and what each is used for…but don’t get caught up in the tables with the numbers…just know how this affect zone training. Special populations training is actually a lot of common sense, trust what you already know.
Conquer Assessments, it’s not hard, it’s easy if you put your body into it and free up your mind for how much more there is still yet to come…it’s another 18% on the exam you can nail.
Other areas of focus: Effects of medication on Heart Rate/Blood Pressure, Pregnant clients, PAR-Q
Program Design…one of the heaviest weighted domains at 21% Understand what a typical training session is made up of. You will know these terms if you have any experience with personal training. Again, don’t get caught up in the tables that have sample schedules on them…it’s a lot of info that you don’t need to memorize. TEMPO…know that for each phase in the OPT….rest periods and intensity are also recurring in exam questions. Acute variables, look for that term in every chapter after this one. This is something that I struggled with at some points, because it kept biting me on the butt…learn what they are, how they apply and how they differ from phase to phase. This domain isn’t about one chapter, it’s more of a crossover section. You will need to know what tempo means in order to answer a question about how many reps a strength training client in the Hypertrophy Phase must do and the appropriate rest period range.
Exercise Technique and Training Instruction...the most complicated and the meat of this whole exam. Honestly though, it’s the reason why you probably are taking this certification. LEARN IT, PRACTICE IT. OWN IT. Learn what FITTE is and why it’s used. It’s not a question straight up, but you need to know it. I totally forgot about it until a later practice exam and ended up screwing it up. Learn each phase and why you would take a client through exercises in those phases. Again, know the sets, reps, rest and frequency of exercises in each phase. Force Velocity curve…Concentric, Eccentric and Isometric functions…practice exercises that represent those terms. Chapter 15, I ignored at first and then I couldn’t grasp one of the interactivities in my module about progression and regressions of exercises. I went back to Chapter 15, spent 2 hours in the gym for 4 days going through the regressions and progression of each exercise. Again, don’t try and memorize them, LEARN THEM. Let your body teach them to you. You will notice patterns…I used an acronym to remember a certain progression…TAO…Two arms, to alternating to one arm. Make that something you NEVER forget. Learn proprioception…what it is, why it’s used and how in each phase. At this point, you will notice that there are less flashcards and more mental notes. Trust what your body is telling you, and let kinetic learning do its job so you don’t freak out about all the words and memorization. I created scenarios for myself and acted them out, I asked others for scenarios to challenge my knowledge even more. I re-read these chapters a few times and only understood half, it wasn’t until I started to get my body involved that I was able to grasp more. Find patterns in the information that keep coming back to certain phases…stability ball, Stabilization…dumbbells, Strength Endurance-Hypertrophy-Maximal Strength…medicine ball, Power. You will see consistent terms, equipment and directives that apply to each level respectively and the answers will be more obvious if you only focus on the key words…don’t get caught up in the “stories” in the questions on the exam…they are there to distract you!!!!
Other areas of focus: Kinetic checkpoints, triple extension, proper running form, look at the cueing techniques for each exercise in Chapter 15. Note…the interactivity on the module has pictures of exercises that ask you to determine progression or regression…THERE ARE NO PICS ON THE EXAM! Know the terms.
Flexibility..SMR…foam rolling…CRUCIAL INFO…understand why.
Muscle Action Spectrum…know why the muscles move the way they do during an exercise and how they move. What exercises involve what muscles and in what capacity…agonist, antagonist or synergist…..KNOW SPECIFICS!
Don’t fret if you don’t master this right away, keep going back. Think about it every time you work out. The more you can apply to your own life and your own experiences in the gym, the more the information will be easier to adapt and understand. This isn’t meant to be hard, it’s mean to be a practical application of fitness science.
The last 2 domains are about how to relate to clients, behavior of clients, your own behavior and approaches as well as your responsibilities and development as a NASM-CPT. This stuff is straight up common sense. I own my own business, so most of the marketing stuff was second nature to me. Understand SMART goals and focus on Chapter 16, not just because of the exam, but it was really good to understand that stuff as it’s actually about real life and dealing with clients.
THE QUIZZES/EXAMS/PRACTICE EXAMS
Not going to beat this to death…but…if you are using the guided study…do all of it. The quizzes you can take as many times as you want. I did them when I read those chapters without looking up answers first and then again after I reviewed what I missed. I went back in the week before the exam and did each quiz again, after I did the practice final exam to hone in on those areas that I wasn’t strong in. Take all exams without the temptation to look up the answers…be true to yourself and really find out what you don’t know. Now, here’s on issue I kept having as I was going through the practice exams before I took the final…I knew the right answers not because I knew the material, but because I was starting to memorize the answers as written. There was no other explanation as to how I went from a 70% and then a 99%…well, duh. I knew what the wrong answer was, and memorized the right answer…not because I knew why the right answer was accurate. I found a few third-party sites that had practice exams that shocked me and made me realize how much I hadn’t retained and how much was memorization. Dynamic-Path.com offers 473 exam questions ($6.99), that are worded differently than NASM that drastically helped me improve on what I thought I knew versus what I did. I failed miserably…and I couldn’t be more grateful that I had failed that practice exam. This was my pinnacle point where I knew I may actually fail this exam. It made me dissect every domain question by question.
THE CPT EXAM
Remember when I told you to create that mental date? Well make it official 3-4 weeks out! It’s totally a mental thing, but it gives you a timeline to work with. It truly curbs any procrastination and makes you focus. I can’t tell you what’s on the exam, that would be considered cheating. Ian Montel, Managing Editor for NASM had a test taking webinar that walked through the domains, test tips and was a good resource when I was studying. Now that I have taken this exam and passed it…here are my tips:
- TRUST YOURSELF
- TRUST WHAT YOU KNOW
- TRUST YOUR GUT, INITIAL INSTINCT
- DON’T OVER-THINK
- FLAG QUESTIONS THAT MADE YOU THINK MORE THAN A FEW SECONDS
- USE OTHER QUESTIONS TO HELP YOU ANSWER ONES THAT YOU MAY HAVE FLAGGED
- GET UP AND ACT OUT WHATEVER YOU NEED TO IN THE TESTING CENTER
- YOU WILL BE NERVOUS, USE IT.
- ONCE YOU ANSWER THE FIRST QUESTION, BREATHE…YOU GOT THIS.
This exam isn’t set up for failure, it’s not. As a matter of fact, it’s there to do the opposite. You have all the answers…NASM hides nothing. There is nothing on the exam you haven’t at some point read. The test really is a measure of application more than memorization. When you work as a trainer, how many times are you going to explain the definition of a bicep versus explaining to a client the reasoning for the exercise to strengthen the bicep? Think about it. Anyone can tell someone what something is, but the approach of NASM is to apply science to fitness for trainers to truly understand the functionality of training and how it applies to a client’s everyday life. I had my struggles and triumphs, trust me…but fight through it because the end results far exceeded how I thought I would feel. My elation, empowerment, and confidence is beyond something I have ever felt…but more so, I learned something even more valuable…I learned to TRUST MYSELF, it was always there to begin with.