NASM Certification Review

What's up, guys? Jeff from Sorta Healthy here. Today, I'll be reviewing the newest seventh edition of the NASM personal training certification.


Anyways, I reviewed the sixth edition of the NASM certification just over a year ago. Overall, I thought the certification was decent, but I also thought there were some pretty glaring weaknesses within the program as well. At the time of that video, I gave the sixth edition course an A-.


Since then, I have also reviewed the ISSA certification and the ACE personal training certification. Both of these courses are direct competitors to NASM. After reviewing these certifications, I came to two conclusions. One, none of these certifications are as good as they probably should be and their scores should be here instead of here. I was overrating everything early on. Two, the newest version of the ACE CPT certification is slightly better than the sixth edition NASM certification.


So overall, I've been somewhat negative when it comes to discussing certifications. That being said, this is not going to go the way you think. Yes, I did just put a Luke Skywalker quote into a personal training certification review. That's probably a first for the internet. Anyways, can NASM reclaim their throne and title as the best training certification? Or will ACE still hold that honor at the end?


So guys, the folks over at NASM, they did something that I fully didn't expect them to do. They changed this certification a decent amount from the previous one. And to be honest, they really didn't need to do that. They were already the most popular certification in the US, possibly the world, but they didn't let that go to their heads.


Full disclosure. The people over at NASM, they sent me the seventh edition course for free. And having gone through it now, I see why they did. You see, I came into this video ready to tear (beep) up. I always try to be as fair and unbiased as possible when I'm reviewing things, but I've always found the NASM certifications to be a tad bit overrated.


I've been in the field for 10+ years now. I have a degree in exercise science. I have pretty much all the top certifications at this point, and nothing, I mean, literally nothing has ever seemed impressive to me when it comes to NASM, except for maybe their ability to market themselves. In my mind, NASM has always been equivalent to ACE, ISSA, ACSM, et cetera. They all give you some baseline knowledge, but none of them do that good of a job at prepping you to be a trainer.


Well, that still might be somewhat true, but for better or worse, I can't tear stuff up in this video like I wanted to. NASM actually did a pretty damn good job at improving some key things. So, because I won't be doing as much bashing in this video, undoubtedly, some of you will click off here early. You know, because internet. That's just how things work around here.


That being said, my integrity and the integrity of this channel matters more to me than just about anything. So yeah, there will be less negativity in this review video because this is a new and improved certification. Be aware that there are still some things that I don't like about this course, which we will certainly be discussing as well.


When I reviewed the sixth edition NASM certification, there were three things that I said needed to be improved. One, the first phase of the OPT model. Two, the lack of focus on actual resistance training technique. And three, the weirdly long warm ups and cool downs that NASM was recommending that wouldn't work well in the real world.


In the previous edition of the NASM course, the first phase of the OPT model was stupid. There was a huge emphasis on balance-oriented moves. An example would be me squatting on an unstable surface, like a bosu ball. The first phase in their OPT model mostly consisted of moves like that. My argument was that balance exercises have some value, but they shouldn't overshadow compound movements like pulling, pushing, hip hinging, et cetera.


In that last certification, NASM would've had you believe that the goofy balance moves should be the foundation of your plan, but they have essentially pulled a 180 from this standpoint. Now the main thing that their first phase is about is developing proper movement patterns, such as squatting, pushing, pulling, pressing, hip hinging, and doing some multiplanar movements as well. They recommend one to four balance exercises in this first phase now, which makes them a lower priority, too. Essentially, they changed this first phase exactly how I said they should.


Now, I can't take credit for any of this because they obviously made these changes before my last review video came out. What this tells me, though, is that other trainers went to NASM, gave them the same feedback that I said in that first review video, and NASM fixed things from there. Before moving any further in this video, do you currently use the OPT model? If so, or even if you don't, let me know your thoughts on it down below in the comments.


The second thing that I thought was bad in the older NASM certification was the lack of focus on actual resistance training. Before, there were no chapters that focused primarily on resistance training technique, which is completely ridiculous because teaching that stuff is most of your job. It's making me mad just thinking about it.


Luckily, again, someone talked some sense into the NASM folks, and they listened. There were a whole bunch of chapters and videos that focused on proper lifting technique. I've watched a good handful of their queuing videos, and I think they'd certainly be useful to new trainers. They did a pretty solid job fixing this critique, so credit to NASM.


My last big critique in my initial NASM review video was their weirdly long warm ups and cool downs. Some of their recommendations before just wouldn't work that well in the real world. If you did everything they were recommending before, your warm ups and cool downs could have reached 20-ish minutes each, making them as long, maybe even longer, than the actual workout. I don't 100% agree with their new recommendations, but they are a lot better than before.


Now in phase one, they want you to perform SMR on one to three body parts, SMR being self-myofascial release, which foam rolling would count here. They want you to do static stretching for one to three body parts, and dynamic stretching and cardio are optional. Basically, they've condensed and shortened things enough here so that it could actually work well in a typical session.


One thing that I don't like is that they're still recommending five to 10 minutes of cardio. That being said, it's now optional, which isn't entirely offensive, I suppose. I'm just going to tell you guys straight up. If you're in a session with a client, don't have them do cardio on a machine for an extended period of time. Sure, walking on the treadmill might be an okay way to warm up or cool down, but make sure your client is doing that before or after their session, not during their session. Having a client walk on a treadmill for five to 10 minutes, warming up in a session while you're just standing off to the side or something, well, that's a surefire way to make sure that that client doesn't train with you long term. It's a horrible value, or that's how it will be perceived by your client, at the very least. Don't do it.


The rest of this warm-up stuff is not only good, though. It's pretty much exactly what I'd do with my own clients. So, of course I'm going to like and recommend that stuff as well. I'll be releasing a video on how I warm up clients soon, so stay tuned for that.


So yeah, the three things that I had an issue with last time were either greatly improved or fixed pretty much exactly how I hoped they would be, which again, I give NASM a lot of credit for that. They were already killing it. They didn't need to change as much as they did. But in my opinion, they absolutely did the right thing here.


Something that I still don't love about this certification is the way that workouts are structured. Like I just said, things are way better than before. I 100% believe that you could now implement what NASM is telling you to do and thrive as a trainer in most environments. I wouldn't have made that same statement last time around. That being said, I still think some of their recommendations are suboptimal. Haha. Get it? Because the OPT model?


Anyways, I see why they set things up the way they did. But ultimately, I think NASM has traded some substance for style with their recommendations. What do I mean by traded some substance for style? Well, let me explain. When you're a trainer working in the real world, you're always trying to achieve a balance between style and substance. The most effective exercises are the compound foundational moves that we talked about before, like the squat, deadlift, press, yada, yada, yada. When you're training clients, your workouts should revolve around these types of exercises. They're the most effective, and they have the greatest carryover to activities of daily living. With this, seventh edition NASM and myself are both in agreement when it comes to this.


This being said, the average personal training client doesn't like to work out. Realistically, if they did like to work out, why would they pay large amounts of money for you to make them exercise? They wouldn't. Obviously, there's a little bit more to all of this, but we're keeping things simple for the upcoming example.


Anyways, the average client doesn't like to work out, and because of that, you can't just make them squat, lunge, press, et cetera. Because if that's all you had them do, they would get bored. This being said, usually the most effective programs are repetitive, not flashy, and a little bit boring at times, if we're being honest. So, you kind of have to sprinkle in some different things from time to time within your workouts to keep things interesting.


I would make the argument that NASM is sprinkling in some things a little bit too much, though. They've sprinkled in a lot of SAQ, balance, and functional exercises because they're different, flashy, and cool, not because they're more effective. I would even say that some of the SAQ and balance moves they recommend are just kind of bad. They're certainly more style or variety than they are substance or effective. To NASM's credit, these types of moves are more optional than they were in previous editions, but they're still there and often recommended.


The upcoming chart should give you a visual of what I'm talking about. In my opinion, the average fitness influencer on Instagram favors style over substance. They often choose exercises that look cool but aren't as effective. These flashy exercises can be challenging, sure, but they're usually not great for longer term programs because you can't progress them easily over time.


If I want to squat more, I can progressively make that more challenging by adding weight week by week. How do you progress this move? Well, I'll leave that up to the Instagram crowd to figure out. I'll just keep focusing on what works in the meantime. In my opinion, if you followed NASM's advice to a T, you'd end up somewhere around here. Your sessions would still be more substance than style, but you'd be doing more goofy balance moves than necessary. You'd also be doing a handful of SAQ moves or speed, agility, quickness drills that most people don't need and won't receive any extra benefit from doing. Of course, I'm biased. I'm the one making this video, but I'd put myself somewhere right about here. I believe in fundamentals first, but I think that some exercise variety is good for keeping things interesting.


Then you have the hardcore strength and conditioning crowd. Many of those guys would go right here where I am, but some of them are even stricter than that. Some of these guys only want to work on very select things such as the compound lifts. Anyways, I think it's better to be closer to substance than to style when you're working as a trainer. But I also think that being unwilling to add in some variety for people who don't like to work out, AKA the general population, well, that can be an issue, too. So, keep this diagram in mind as you're starting to train real clients.


Another thing that I don't like is that NASM has you do core exercises before bigger compound moves. I think this is a fairly suboptimal way to set things up since you want to do those bigger, more complicated compound moves early into the workout while your client is fresh. In the strength endurance phase, NASM's order of operations looks a little something like this.


First up, we start with a warm up which consists of SMR, self-myofascial release, and then NASM recommends different types of stretching, and cardio is optional. Next up, we have activation which consists of two to four sets of core exercise and two to four sets of balance exercise. Next up, we have skill development which consists of plyometrics and speed, agility, and quickness drills. And both of these two things are optional, meaning this skill development portion is optional.


After that, we have the actual resistance training portion of the workout. That's right. The standard resistance training exercises would go here within the workout. After that, NASM recommends that you allow your client to choose a few different exercises. I don't really know if I agree with that, but that being said, I don't really have a big problem with it, either. And lastly, NASM recommends that you cool your client down.


Now, most of this stuff seems okay to me. That being said, I don't like the fact that the core work comes this early within the session before the main part of the workout, the resistance training. Don't get me wrong. I like an activation move or two to prime my client for some big lifts or even skill development if they're an athlete or something. But extra core work is accessory work, and it should be treated as such. Your client should be using their core quite a bit through the entire session. When they're doing those bigger compound moves we keep mentioning, their core should be tight and braced. NASM is putting this core work in early because they think it could help with core activation later in the workout.


In my opinion, this could be true, but fatiguing your client leading into those bigger compound moves outweighs the pros of this idea, and I think it's pretty meh advice. Not to mention doing a little bit of core work at the end of your session is a good way to start to cool your client down. Core work is of course still exercise, but your client shouldn't be working as hard there as they were for other parts of the session.


After the core stuff, you should continue to cool your client down. And what I recommend is very similar to what NASM recommends. So yeah, I do think some of these NASM recommendations are a little bit weird even though I wouldn't consider them deal breakers. Hey, maybe they'll change some of this stuff around for the eighth edition. Who knows?


Anyways, when it comes to everything else, NASM did a pretty good job. All of their online resources were already pretty solid, and now I think they're even better. I think I preferred a lot of the videos that ACE put out there, but NASM did a pretty good job as well. The textbook, general information, and presentation are all top-notch, so kudos to NASM for that.


Also, it probably goes without saying at this point, but let's be honest, you're getting this certification so that you can get a training job, right? Well, the NASM certification will get you a job and possibly easier than any of the others, so they get bonus points for that.


Now that we've broken down some of the biggest pros and cons with the NASM certification, it's time to give this thing an updated grade on our trainer education tier list. In my review of the newest ACE CPT certification, I said that the newest version of ACE was better than the sixth edition of NASM. Where everything stands now, I think this newest version of the NASM certification is significantly better than ACE's program. There's still some things in here that I don't love, but this certification is significantly better than it was before. I think NASM's recommendations are now far more usable in the real world. And because of that, I'm going to put this certification at the top of A-minus. And to be honest, if not for a few small kind of weird things, this could have easily been an A.


There we have it, everyone. In my opinion, NASM is no longer overrated. They stepped things up in a significant way, and I've got to be honest. I think this is great for the profession. What are your thoughts, though? Do you agree or disagree with my review? Either way, make sure to let me know down below in the comments. I'm pretty curious to hear all of your thoughts on this.