Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Guest Post:Certification in the Fitness Industry, Part 4, NASM

It has been many months since the last installment in this series and I am thrilled that my friend Suzanne @ Workout Nirvana (a newly certified personal trainner - way to go, Suzanne!) has stopped by to talk about her experience with The National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM). Take it away, Suzanne...

I’ve always admired and respected personal trainers. I never imagined I’d be one until about a year ago, when the thought first crossed my mind. 

My blog and online fitness community has buoyed me from being passionate about weight lifting and health to actually becoming certified as a personal trainer. A change in careers was the last thing I thought I would be doing at this point in my life. But with an endless reservoir of knowledge, support, and motivation at my fingertips, I finally made started the wheels turning.

My first step would be to find a certifying organization - ACSM, NASM, ACE, and ISSA are a few reputable ones I looked into. I relied on word of mouth, mostly – which were well-respected certifications? What were the curriculums and exams like? What did employers think about them? Since I didn’t have a degree in exercise science, I knew I wanted a certification that would be challenging and reputable yet not too frustrating.

 After talking to the trainers I knew online, looking at web sites, and speaking to several organizations, I settled on the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM). Personal trainers are required to complete continuing education to stay certified and many want to simply continue to grow professionally, so I knew this could be only one of several certifications to come. In the words of one trainer, “You can never have too many certifications.” NASM would (hopefully) provide me with a good foundation.

I wasn’t too cost-conscious because I had set my mind on NASM, but I know ACE is less expensive. Is that because the ACE exam is not as difficult? I’ve heard this but I really don’t know. The NASM package I bought cost $699 and included the exam, online practice exams, a textbook and study guide, online presentations a two-day workshop, and DVDs, MP3 audios, and iPod videos. 

The study materials arrived in March and I had six months to take the certification exam. With the big heavy book in hand, I figured I could read a chapter a week and get it done in five months. I was not in a rush; I knew it would be challenging with a family and part-time job. 

I spent a lot of time just getting back into the habit of studying and finding ways to memorize information that was foreign to me. I was surprised at how much anatomy I needed to learn and decided put aside much of that memorization for “later.” 

Later came too soon and before long and I realized I was not moving fast enough. One of my online trainer friends broke it to me that at the rate I was going, I probably wouldn’t be ready for the exam by August. I needed to pick it up and allow for several weeks of review towards the end.

Pacing yourself for a big exam can be challenging – you need a plan and you need discipline. I suppose I developed both of these rather late in the game, but at least I did. 

In May I hunkered down. All free time was sacrificed – I needed to learn these movement compensations and I needed to learn the anatomy. I spent anywhere from 6-10 hours a week studying all the way up to August. The big date was August 18th.

I attended an NASM “live” personal training workshop in June and would highly recommend such a class to anyone taking the exam. Not only was it exciting and stimulating to be around other trainers and seasoned instructors, but it really crystallized many key concepts for me. Learning by book and video only is challenging, so being able to ask questions, see demonstrations, and get hands-on experience was extremely beneficial.

By the time the date rolled around I was ready to get it done. I knew I was prepared – how much, that was the question. 

I was very nervous the day of the exam and arrived at the independent testing center right on time. I wanted to do this now, ready or not.

When I walked inside, I saw an elderly lady facing a dark room. A furtive thought popped up: Is this done in a theater?? But she curtly informed me that the test had been cancelled due to computer problems. Not only that, but there’d been a mix up and I would have been disqualified due to being late! My stress level was through the roof, but after calling the testing center headquarters I got into another testing center a few minutes later.

The computerized exam was difficult – the questions weren’t exactly what I’d expected and I used every minute of the two-hour allotment. Mid-way through the exam I started to panic and wonder whether I was going to pass, because many of the questions focused on another area I’d only studied lightly. But as I went back through, checking my answers, I started to feel more confident. 

I did pass! To say I was proud is an understatement, and I was glad it was done also. 

To stay certified, I need to take a certain amount of continuing education courses every two years. In addition to that, I plan on soaking up every bit of knowledge I can. I want to be a great personal trainer, not one that does only the minimal. Helping people change their lives for the better is a fantastic opportunity!

Thank you, Suzanne for sharing your story!   Please check out her blog for more inspiration and fantastic workout tips.

Here are the other installments, in case you missed them!

Part 1
Part 2: Canada
Part 3: ACE & SCW

Stay Healthy,

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