The National Strength and Conditioning Association Certified Personal Trainer Program (NSCA-CPT), a non-profit organization founded in 1978, is an NCCA accredited top rated personal trainer certification.
As of 1996, the NSCA had become the first certified personal trainer certification program to be accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA).
All of the NSCA certification programs exceed the NCCA standards.
It is one of the most respected personal training certification programs.
There are over 60,000 NSCA members and certified professionals in the fitness and sports medicine industry.
Its mission is the global enhancement of strength and conditioning, and the empowerment of dedicated sports medicine professionals to provide top-notch, scientific knowledge.
In this NSCA certification review, we examine the NSCA certified personal trainer content, NSCA study materials, and NSCA fitness certification exam based on the following:
By the time you finish reading, you will be ready to decide if the NSCA-CPT is the right certification for you.
Before then, I’d like you to take a quick look at our personal trainer certification reviews of the following top CPT certifications.
Kindly click on the links below!
Let’s get into it!
Read this: The Best Personal Trainer Certifications
NSCA Personal Trainer Certification Curriculum
The following is an overview of the content covered in the NSCA-CPT curriculum.
If you do the NSCA-CPT test prep, your CPT study material will come from the NSCA textbook.
Additional materials are designed to help you learn the material in the textbook to pass your NSCA-certified personal trainer test.
No exercise science background or college degree?
There are no secondary educational prerequisites, but you need to be at least 18 years of age, have a high school diploma, and hold a current, up-to-date, CPR/AED certification.
Here’s What You’ll Learn
Want to learn more about the NSCA-CPT curriculum?
You will learn the ins and outs of the NSCA cert.!
The first section of the NSCA-CPT curriculum covers basic anatomy and exercise science.
You learn the structure and function of the muscular, nervous, and skeletal systems. This includes an understanding of muscle fibre types and how each one applies to exercise and sport performance.
The curriculum briefly reviews the structure and the function of the nervous system, and how it relates to and applies to the control of skeletal muscle.
Why is this important?
It helps to know the structures and functions of each system when designing exercise programs.
Also, this chapter covers the importance of exercise in maintaining bone health.
You can explain some other wellness benefits of strength training to your clients, too!
Second, you will review the anatomical and physiological characteristics of the cardiovascular system. Despite the depth of the information, the content is well-described and easy-to-understand.
You will also cover the electrical conduction system of the heart and basic electrocardiogram. As a personal trainer, it is beneficial to have a basic understanding of this.
Additional knowledge includes:
- Circulation and its control mechanisms in the body
- Process of gas exchange between the lungs and blood
- Inhalation and exhalations
- Overall mechanisms of the respiratory system
Third, the bioenergetics section covers the different energy systems used throughout the human body.
Why does this matter?
While this information gets a bit technical, it is helpful for designing metabolically specific programs for your clients’ goals.
You can scientifically explain to your clients why you chose each exercise, interval, resistance level, and rest period.
The next topic in the exercise science section covers biomechanics.
In sports medicine, this refers to the proper human movements and the corresponding anatomical and mechanical terminology.
You will learn common human movement problems and apply mechanical concepts to make corrections when appropriate for injury prevention.
Check also: The Best Exercise Science Careers
You will learn the various factors which contribute to human strength and power, and also, movement tasks and the muscle actions involved in them.
Then, the resistance training adaptations section does a great job covering both acute and chronic adaptations to resistance exercise.
The NSCA-CPT curriculum thoroughly covers factors, such as muscle fibre adaptations, strength adaptations, and even heart rate adaptations, which impact the rate of adaptations to resistance training.
Now, you will learn about overtraining.
Overtraining can be dangerous and lead to injury.
Therefore, you will learn ways to design strength training programs for client injury prevention.
On a side note, overtraining is covered in similar depth in the other industry-leading fitness certifications, such as NASM, ISSA, and ACE.
But what about detraining?
Detraining is another topic covered in this section. Detraining occurs from any significant reduction in stress from a reduction in training volume.
Your client’s body may regress back to its pre-trained state. But the fitter the individual, the less time it will take to get back all his or her lost gains.
Given that clients worry about regression when on vacation or otherwise missing workouts, educating them on detraining is a great way to manage their fears while emphasizing the importance of consistent exercise.
The aerobic training section covers both acute and chronic physiological responses to aerobic exercise, which are helpful for trainers to be aware of and talk about with their clients.
Acute physiological responses include things like cardiac output, stroke volume, and blood pressure.
Chronic physiological responses include things like performance, muscle fibres, and metabolic energy stores.
Also, there are various factors which influence adaptations to aerobic endurance training, such as Vo2 max, smoking, age, and sex.
Discussing the effects of these factors on aerobic endurance is important for properly educating your clients on aerobic training.
The nutrition section covers the topic in similar depth to the comparable top fitness certifications in the industry.
- General nutrition factors for health and performance
- Breakdown of macro and micro nutrients
- Recommended intakes for different nutrients
- Nutrition for hypertrophy and weight loss
Personal trainers must stay in their scope of practice, and should know when to refer clients to qualified professionals for more specific nutrition advice.
The nutrition covered follows the standard guidelines from the government health organizations.
An educative piece: The Best Nutrition Certifications
Although this is the mainstream approach, some of your clients will undoubtedly ask about ketogenic diets or other alternative nutrition approaches.
It would be useful to include a section on this type of diet, including relevant research, so you can better discuss this topic when your clients bring it up.
You will definitely encounter clients who follow opposite approaches to mainstream advice or have curiosities about the different approaches.
So what should you do?
Remain neutral and be able to explain the pros and cons, as well as relevant research, regarding approaches such as keto, carnivore, and vegetarian or vegan approaches as well.
Now that was food for thought!
Like similar industry-leading fitness certifications, exercise psychology for the personal trainer is heavily emphasized.
The curriculum will teach you the proven psychological benefits of exercise, such as confidence and better overall mood.
In our experience, a client’s long-term success with reaching their fitness goals depends heavily on the psychological aspects of exercise adherence in addition to the physical exercise itself.
This chapter does an excellent job of covering these key skills.
Although NSCA covers motivation very well, it does not cover discipline at all.
In other words, motivation is a great tool for personal trainers to use to help clients the first time, but discipline to continue is even more so important for client long-term success!
A missed opportunity would definitely be the inclusion of ways that trainers can help clients develop discipline to adhere to their desired, healthier lifestyles and exercise programs.
Read this: The Best Health Coach Certifications
The Initial Consultation
The best personal training programs always cover client consultation.
Why is this so important?
Initial client consultations allow you to safely and effectively assess compatibility, and to work with clients to develop goals.
Before clients begin an exercise program, they should have a pre-participation health appraisal screening in case there are positive coronary risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease (CVD).
The curriculum heavily emphasizes assessing the health status of your clients and knowing when to refer them to a qualified healthcare professional.
You will cover the purpose of performing physical assessments on clients, as well as ways to be sure that the instruments used when conducting physical assessments are valid and reliable.
NSCA does a great job covering the importance of validity and reliability of tests.
Also, not every test is for every client. Therefore, it is imperative that you learn and understand each test in order to determine the best, most appropriate one for a given client.
Clients struggling with obesity may want to avoid certain assessments at first, while other clients refrain from certain fitness assessments if they do not relate to their goals.
Choosing the proper fitness assessments is a key skill excellently flushed out in this section.
Next, NSCA covers the protocols for selected fitness tests, and how to properly conduct and read them.
Conveniently included in the population-wide normative data from test results.
Your clients can gain a perspective on where they stand relative to the overall population, and where they are in relation to their goals.
Learn more about: The Best Fitness Certifications
Technique is Key!
First, you will cover the benefits of participating in flexibility training programs, such as improved circulation and less stress.
There are also numerous factors, such as age, joint structure, and muscle mass that affect flexibility.
You can educate your clients on the importance of flexibility and the factors that affect joint range of motion.
The NSCA covers the importance of a warm up before exercising very well. This is standard in most fitness certifications.
Also, you will learn to devise a flexibility training program emphasizing a combination of both dynamic and static stretching.
Dynamic stretching is best before exercise, whereas static stretching is advised at the end as a cooldown.
Overall the flexibility chapter leaves you adequately prepared to design great programs for your clients.
The next section thoroughly covers resistance training and emphasizes maintaining proper form and technique during resistance training.
This is crucial for injury prevention.
One key aspect the NSCA highlights is spotting resistance training. This is an important skill for trainers, particularly if you include heavy weight training in your fitness programs.
For example, a trainer spotting a client performing a barbell bench press may assist with moving the bar off the racks at the client’s signal.
Spotting demonstrates taking safe precautions when exercising, especially with heavy weight.
Many people fail to spot correctly, so highlighting the proper technique for this key skill is essential.
Finally, there is an excellent exercise library with a whole bunch of exercises and modifications, allowing you to progress or regress each exercise as needed for your clients.
The cardiovascular training section gives you plenty of tools to assess clients’ cardiovascular fitness level. This allows safe participation in appropriate cardiovascular training programs.
You will also go over the typical cardiovascular training machines, such as treadmills, ellipticals, and bikes, to determine which fits your client’s needs and goals.
Also, there are many different cardiovascular exercises which do not require machines, such as walking, running, swimming, and group exercise classes.
These exercises are great, especially for clients who do not prefer traditional aerobic equipment.
A valuable read: The Best Strength and Conditioning Certifications
Learn to Design Custom Exercise Programs
You will cover the general training principles, initial client consultation, and evaluation. NSCA also covers frequency and volume of training in thorough detail in this section as well.
Now you can decide which exercises are the most ideal for your client, based on their goals and background.
The order of the exercises impacts results. For instance, it may make sense to do one exercise before another, perform supersets or compound sets, and otherwise customize the programming variables for your client.
This section does an excellent job of providing a practical framework for implementing proper program design.
By the time you finish this section, you will have comprehensive understanding of the following variables:
- Exercise selection
- Exercise order
- Amount of resistance
- Sets, repetitions, and rest periods
- Weekly training volume
- Micro, meso, and macrocycle programming
Next, you will learn the components and specificity of aerobic endurance training, how to design aerobic training programs, and the types of aerobic training exercises.
The NSCA coverage of aerobics training rivals coverage from other, best cpt programs, such as ACE, ACSM, and NASM.
In the Plyometric and Speed Training section, proper plyometric mechanics are enforced, along with physiology.
You will learn when to use plyometrics and how to design plyometric training programs.
Many different plyometric exercises are explored, as well as speed training exercises, and how to design a speed training program.
This is excellent if you have any intention of training athletes, or pursuing the Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) certification!
Should you get the NSCA-CSCS certification?
If you want to help athletes improve their sports performance, and design predominantly sport-specific training programs, then the CSCS is best for you.
However, if you want to work amongst the general population, then the CPT is sufficient!
Evidently, you would be required to take the CSCS exam.
You also learn safety considerations for both plyometric training and speed training, proper form, various techniques, and ways to combine plyometrics and speed training with other types of exercise!
This is also helpful for clients with sport-specific goals and tactical strength training.
If you want to specialize in tactical strength, NSCA even has a Tactical Strength and Conditioning Facilitator (TSAC-F) certificate!
What Are Unique Needs?
Not every client you work with in your career will be athletic, strong, or coordinated.
Many clients are unable to perform certain exercises.
In these chapters, you will learn ways to work with clients with unique needs.
You can even learn how to become a certified special population specialist.
Also, it is key for trainers to understand the considerations for preadolescent, older, and pregnant populations before devising an exercise program.
Check also: The Best Group Certifications
Furthermore, NSCA provides a Position Statement scientific article to read for more information on resistance training for older adults.
AS a CPT trainer, you can explain to older clients why you recommend strength training with weights.
For pregnant women clients, NSCA emphasizes the importance for personal trainers to have a full understanding and awareness of the physiological changes that occur in women during pregnancy.
Most CPT certs provide appropriate exercise modifications for their prenatal clients that match each trimester.
Also, negative symptoms related to pregnancy, such as preeclampsia, and depressive symptoms, may impede a woman’s functionality and participation in fitness.
The NSCA does a great job of explaining how to mitigate these risks when training pregnant women.
Additionally, NSCA covers clients with nutritional and metabolic concerns.
You will understand clients who are overweight and obese, have eating disorders, hyperlipidemia, Metabolic Syndrome such as thyroid disorders, and have diabetes type I or II.
NSCA covers clients with orthopedic, injury, and rehabilitation concerns in great detail, but fails to address some of the more complicated issues which may impact exercise and/or sport performance.
NSCA describes each common issue with sufficient detail, including the following:
- Low back pain
- Shoulder pain/strain
- Ankle pain
- Knee pain
- Hip pain
Unlike similar industry-leading fitness certifications, the NSCA-CPT covers content about clients with spinal cord injury, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, and cerebral palsy.
You may encounter clients with these disorders throughout your career.
NSCA does not cover other, more complex injuries one may come across as a personal trainer, such as spina bifida, but covers spondylosis and herniated discs fairly well.
The section on arthritis thoroughly differentiates between osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. This difference is very important to consider when trainers design exercise programs.
The section which covers resistance training specifically for athletes includes factors in program design, periodization, and also, linear and nonlinear models of periodized training.
As clients reach higher levels of performance, the programming must become increasingly fine-tuned.
While full depth on this topic is beyond the scope of a general fitness certification, it is great that the NSCA makes you aware of these advanced considerations.
All About Safety and Legality
The last section covers some safety and legal aspects of personal training, such as facility maintenance, facility equipment, planning, claims, and ethical codes.
You will even cover NSCA liability insurance.
You can view the NSCA insurance policy on the NSCA website.
NSCA covers maintenance of credentials and personal training recertification to avoid credentials from expiring as well.
NSCA fails to cover getting a job in the fitness industry and working as a personal trainer.
NSCA also fails to cover preparation for a job in the fitness industry, different career paths to pursue, or the places that personal trainers can work.
NSCA fails to provide marketing strategies necessary for personal trainers to grow their business too.
Overall, NSCA is missing crucial information on careers in the fitness industry and preparing for one.
Study For NSCA-CPT
To ensure you will most likely pass the NSCA certified personal trainer exam, it is suggested to do the following:
- Obtain and read through the Essentials of Personal Training: 2nd Edition Textbook
- Read through the Exercise Technique Manual, 3rd. Edition
- Review the Exam Content Description Booklet
- Practice with NSCA’s online practice question bundle
Note that NSCA provides plenty of study materials and exam preparations, as well as third party resources.
You can read the textbook, review articles, and even take the online practice exam, which consists of 200 CPT review questions.
All test prep material is contained in the NSCA textbook. All additional materials cover the same material just in different formats or with more specific details.
The textbook is fairly dense, with most pages being primarily text in columns.
Some helpful diagrams are included, as well as an NSCA study guide, although these are sparse compared to some of the textbooks for comparable certifications.
The textbook contains useful boxes highlighting key information and concepts, which helps break up the long blocks of text and hammers in the important details.
Nevertheless, if you struggle to learn from reading long blocks of text, you should consider investing in additional study materials.
You will learn about safety, and you must get certified in CPR and learn how to use an AED, in the case of an emergency.
The Exercise Technique Manual is very useful for learning how to coach exercises in detail.
You can also check out third party study packages, which often include more resources at lower price points, and even exam pass guarantees that will refund your cost of study materials test if you fail your first attempt.
Note that the NSCA-CPT does allow 90 days to retake the exam without an additional exam fee if you fail.
You can take NSCA-CPT practice questions, which are helpful
But the 200 NSCA-CPT practice exam questions are insufficient for comprehensive studying.
Given the cost of the packages that include questions, this is a bit overpriced for the value.
Kindly note that Trainer Academy has done the groundwork to ensure you have a 99% pass rate, reduce your study time by half, and enjoy a money-back guarantee offer if you make use of their MVP study packages.
The MVP study package is a product of intensive research that has being tested and trusted by thousands of students that have passed through the Academy while preparing for their certification exams.
Click on the link below to partake of the excellent resources available through the package.
You won’t regret using this premium study package.
What is the NSCA-CPT cost?
Let’s cover certification costs first.
Then, we will solely discuss the CPT and study materials.
According to the NSCA website, both the NSCA-CPT and the TSAC-F (Tactical Strength and Conditioning Facilitators) cost $300.00 for members and $435.00 for nonmembers.
Both the CSCS and the CSPS (Certified Special Population Specialists) cost $340.00 for members and $475.00 for nonmembers.
The following price breakdown is directly from the NSCA website.
Note that NSCA members who pay the annual member fee receive discounts. The member fees start at $70.00 per year for college students and $130.00 per year for non-students:
- NSCA-CPT exam cost – $300.00 (member), $435 (non-member)
- NSCA-CPT essentials – includes textbook, general study guide, and 200 practice questions – $240 (member), $290 (non-member), exam fee not included
- NSCA-CPT Plus – includes essentials package and exercise technique manual – $455 (member), $511 (non-member)
- Digital package – includes NSCA-CPT general study guide and practice questions only – $152 (member), $202 (non-member)
Did you know that you have three membership options?
Well, now you do!
The student membership applies to full-time college students, and costs $70.00 per year.
The professional membership includes access to five NSCA journals, free online content, CEUs, and discounts, and costs $130.00 per year.
The CPI membership includes full NSCA benefits and insurance, and costs $359.00 per year.
Overall, it’s worth purchasing the membership even if you are just registering for the exam only.
You can also buy the textbook separately for about $70 USD.
Overall, the cost of the NSCA-CPT certification, NSCA membership costs, NSCA-CPT review, NSCA courses, and NSCA books is fair.
Additionally, you may use following materials:
- Dynamic Human Anatomy 2nd Ed. By William Whiting – ~$35.00
- Physiology of Sport and Exercise 7th Ed. By W. Larry Kenney, Jack Wilmore, David Costill – ~$25.00
Overall, the NSCA test pass rate is 60%.
However, like with any other top rated personal training certification exam, your success depends mostly on your background, and how much you are willing to learn!
The exam assesses your overall fitness knowledge, all materials covered in the text, NSCA guidelines, the NSCA certification handbook, NSCA articles, the CPT review questions, and CPT review test.
However, questions from some sections may appear on the exam more than others, so it is suggested to study all of the material to the best of your ability.
You can get an NSCA-CPT practice exam free!
The free NSCA CPT study guide and practice test is your sure ticket to scale this exam without stressing yourself.
Use it judiciously to familiarize yourself with the exam format and questions.
A useful piece: How To Become A Personal Trainer
Pros and Cons
What we liked:
- If you fail your exam you are allowed to retake it within 90 days at no additional cost
- NSCA-CPT contains sufficient resources to begin training clients
- Coverage of strength training and special populations is thorough
- Coverage of exercise psychology and the mental benefits of exercise is thorough
- Great CEU opportunities
- Great NSCA membership costs
- Great membership discounts and benefits for NSCA members
- Access to the NSCA Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research
What we didn’t like:
- Large sections dedicated to anatomy are useful but are not emphasized on the exam, making the sections somewhat superfluous for receiving a passing score
- Lacks sufficient content about working and getting a job in the fitness industry
- No section is dedicated to marketing oneself as a personal trainer, and strategies to grow your business
- The nutrition section neglects any discussion of popular alternative diets, both good or bad
- Fails to cover how personal trainers can work with clients who are in special populations and who also have another co-occurring disorder, or co-occurring disorders
- The exercise psychology section fails to cover how trainers can help clients develop and maintain the discipline to continue
- Some CPT exam prep material, such as the 200 CPT review questions, is inadequate
We used the following methodology when reviewing the NSCA fitness certification:
- Certified personal trainer’s critical review of content and depth of coverage
- Assessment of whether the content prepares trainers for the job
- Observation of missing or inadequately covered material
- Discussion of exam difficulty
- Review framed relative to other comparable certifications
An insightful piece: Personal Trainer Salary
Overall, the NSCA fitness certification provides a good overview of the skills necessary for being a personal trainer.
The topics covered were very similar to most top rated personal trainer certifications, such as NASM, ACE, and ISSA.
So what personal training certification should I get?
The NSCA-CPT is an excellent launch point for your career in the fitness industry, and you will learn many valuable skills that will prepare you for your first day on the job!
If you focus on resistance training for general fitness populations, the NSCA personal training book covers much on this.
Also, the NSCA personal trainer certification cost is fairly affordable.
However, NSCA fails to cover anything about careers as a personal trainer and preparing for one.
There are many personal trainer licenses, but regardless of which you choose, your success depends on your commitment to continuing education and maximizing client value.
Congratulations on taking your first step towards becoming a successful fitness professional!
This NASM vs NSCA personal trainer certificate comparison contains useful information to guide your career choices.
Overall, the best personal training certification is the one YOU choose!
Get updated and detailed information about the personal training industry by clicking on the links below: