By Pete Williams
As of this afternoon, I’m certified to train athletes, interview them about their performance, and write stories about them. That makes me something of a hybrid professional freak: the journalist/trainer.
Actually, I have no intention of training athletes, though it’s nice to know I could. I’m now a certified personal trainer by the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), one of the most prestigious certifying bodies in the world of fitness. By passing a 120-question, multiple-choice test that seemed to be written in Greek, I’ve added a distinguished credential to my fitness journalist resume, which includes Paddle Fit certification, the premier stand-up paddleboarding credential I earned last year.
The NASM CPT wasn’t easy. After nearly six months of off-and-on study and obtaining a CPR/AED certification, I tested for the CPT at the Clearwater Air Park, of all places. The small FBO airport has a 3,500-foot runway and a side business of certification testing, offering more than 100 exams for would-be teachers, real estate agents, personal trainers, and other professionals. At the check-in desk was a sign listing the airport’s rates. I could rent a Cessna for $98 an hour – were I qualified to fly.
First, the CPT exam. I’ve long been envious of people in the fitness world with a lot of acronyms after their names. I write fitness-related books and articles and when I interview people with certain credentials, I know I’m going to get a wealth of insight and wisdom.
But I’ve always wanted to earn a respected fitness credential to further my knowledge and bring more credibility to my work as a journalist. Not a physical therapy degree or masters in exercise science. Those are rigorous degree programs that take years. Certifications, however, can take as little as six months.
For those who have graduated with degrees in exercise science, kinesiology, or athletic training, passing a test to become a NASM CPT probably is no more difficult than a law school graduate tackling the bar exam.
For the rest of us, it’s more challenging to get up to speed on exercise science, anatomy, and human movement, to say nothing of learning all of the key concepts behind every aspect of training: balance, speed, core, plyometrics, agility, quickness, resistance, and cardiorespiratory. The study guide for the NASM CPT program is a whopping 623-page book called NASM Essentials of Personal Fitness Training. It comes with a handy, interactive chapter-by-chapter online study guide.
I was relieved to find a lot of the material familiar, having had the honor of writing five Core Performance books with Mark Verstegen and his staff at Athletes’ Performance. Mark, perhaps more than anyone, popularized the idea of core training.
Since starting work on that book nearly 10 years ago, I’ve learned a second language, the same tongue used in the NASM training guide. I know terms like proprioception and reciprocal inhibition. I already could identify the three planes of movement (sagittal, frontal, transverse) the importance of active isolated stretching, and how to define three heartrate zones. I know the difference between abductors and adductors, why the transverse abdominis is so important, and why I have to work so hard on eliminating muscle imbalances throughout my kinetic chain because of an ankle I jacked in high school basketball.
Still, I might have been hard pressed three months ago to explain the difference between the gastrocnemius and the soleus or how upper crossed syndrome is different than lower crossed syndrome. I knew my gluteus medius from my gluteus maximus, but might not have been able to point out my biceps femoris and psoas, even though I must work tight hamstrings and hip flexors constantly.
So I felt pretty confident heading into my exam cubicle, which included a pair of earplugs in case the sound of Cessnas became annoying. I knew the 120-exam question would include 20 sample questions that didn’t count. They probably would seem off the wall, not necessarily pertaining to anything in the 623-page book, and would be spread out throughout the exam. I’d have no idea which ones they were.
Unfortunately, most of the exam seemed like sample questions. There were few gimmes, and it seemed like I was taking educated guesses at most, typically eliminating two of the four choices and agonizing over the last two. I had to get 70 of the actual 100 questions correct, though I’d only be told if I passed or failed.
It’s been some time since I took a lengthy standardized test, though I took many online practice NASM CPT exams, which were far easier. As I exited the cubicle, I didn’t feel too confident. If I failed, I’d have to pay $199 for a retest. I glanced at the Air Park menu. Maybe I could just rent a Cessna for two hours.
The proctor/Air Park receptionist printed out my results and emerged from behind her desk stone faced. She’s probably been trained to show no emotion, I figured, not wanting people to feel any worse.
“Congratulations,” she said, handing over the paper.
I left pumped, not ready for the Cessna but certainly ready to fly.