Fitness Certifications: How I became ACSM Certified

So if your interested in working in the fitness industry, getting a professional certification is a must-do. Whether you want to be a personal trainer, health coach, group exercise instructor or work in a clinical setting, there is a certification that fits all of these positions. Professional certifications will help you secure a job in the field and give you credentials to prescribe exercise.

There are many different organizations and programs out there that offer certifications. So its important to do some research before choosing which certification to go for. The following organizations are recognized in the fitness field as gold standards:

  • American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM)
  • American Council on Exercise (ACE)
  • National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM)
  • National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA)

Going though any of these organizations will provide you with a legitimate and recognized fitness certification. NASM and ACSM are great for personal training. ACSM is the gold standard for clinical certifications. NSCA is best for strength and conditioning (CSCS- certified strength and conditioning specialist). So again, research to find out which  certification is best for you and your career goals.

Once you have picked a certification, make sure you have all the necessary prerequisites to sit for the exam. Most require a CPR certification and a HS diploma. Some of the more advanced certifications require a bachelors degree, clinical experience and sometimes even a masters degree. I can’t stress this enough- research!!

I passed the ACSM certified personal trainer exam right after I graduated with my bachelors degree in Exercise Science. Although this certification does not require a degree, it certainly helped me pass the exam. I used to prepare and it was a great resource!! The main topics to know for the ACSM certified personal trainer exam are:

  1. Muscles and muscle movements
    • prime movers in a bicep curl, leg extension, hip flexion, shoulder rotation, etc.
    • Identify prime movers from video footage
    • agonist, antagonist and synergist muscles
  2. The rotator cuff- know the muscles and movements
  3. Planes of movement
  4. Heart Disease Risk Factors
  5. Risk Stratification (Low, moderate or high risk)- when you need a doctor clearance for exercise
  6. Obesity classifications
  7. Transtheoretical model associated with exercise (pre contemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, maintenance)
  8. Common sub maximal tests and protocols
  9. Training special populations (elderly, children, pregnant women)
  10. Basic Nutrition

I just graduated with my Masters of Science in Exercise Physiology (Whoo!). During my final semester of school, I studied for and passed the ACSM Certified Exercise Physiologist exam.This certification is a more advanced personal training certification and you must have a bachelors degree to sit for the exam. With that said, the questions were much more in-debth than the CPT exam. Although the topics were similar, the questions challenge you to think critically and apply your overall knowledge. There are a lot of case studies with questions about risk stratification. Make sure to know the cardiovascular disease risk factor stratification like the back of your hand. I immediately wrote out the risk factors at the beginning of the test, which was really helpful. Other topics and tips for passing the ACSM CEP include:

  1. KNOW risk stratification. You should be dreaming about it by the time exam day rolls around….no joke
  2. Metabolic calculations (TM walk and jog, Cycle)
  3. How to calculate calories burned and weight lost from metabolic calculations
  4. Diabetes classifications (pre-diabetes, diabetes, class 1 and class 2)
  5. Obesity classifications
  6. The rotator cuff again…but in more detail
  7. Submaximal exercise tests (YMCA bike, VO2 max)
  8. Psychological and behavioral models- there was a TON of this on my exam. Much more than I had anticipated. Definitely review that chapter in the certification review.
  9. Management and safety protocols. Again, a TON of questions on this topic. If you read the review chapter, these questions are straight forward. Otherwise, they can seen vague and hard to make a guess on. Make sure to read the management chapter in the certification review.
  10. Things that were NOT covered in great detail were:
    • Coronary anatomy
    • EKG questions
    • Clinical populations (Respiratory, MS, etc)
    • Hormone specific questions
    • Bones

I hope this outline helps. I downloaded the ACSM certification review online. If your interested in the link OR the outline I made prior to the exam, comment below and I we can get in touch!

Passing these exams is challenging, but very possible. Just put in the work, focus on the subjects above and practice with questions. If you do all of these things, you will be fine. Obtaining a certification is the first step to becoming a fitness professional. It definitely sets you above a lot of other trainers and people who just work on a gym floor. Get out there and get after what you want!



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