NASM OPT Model - Complete [year] Breakdown for Fitness Professionals 2

The NASM OPT model is a fitness periodization system developed by the National Association for Sports Medicine (NASM). In the OPT method you take clients through five unique phases of training during the year, moving from stabilization to endurance, to hypertrophy, to strength, to power. This sequence enables you to consistently progress without stalling, overtraining or getting injured.

As a NASM-certified trainer for 12+ years, I’ve used their Optimum Performance Training Model with many clients. This is my comprehensive overview of the NASM OPT model, what it is, how it’s used for different training goals, and why you might want to implement it in your coaching sessions. 

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NASM OPT Model Overview

The acronym “NASM OPT Model” stands for the National Academy of Sports Medicine’s Optimum Performance Training Model. This model is a comprehensive and evidence-based approach to training that focuses on optimizing an individual’s performance through a systematic progression of exercises and training techniques.

Each of the best personal training certifications offers their own version of periodization, but only NASM and ACE really combine their versions of periodization into a patented system. 

The NASM Personal Training Certification emphasizes the OPT Model as the best way to help clients achieve their fitness goals efficiently and effectively while minimizing the risk of injury.

The OPT Model consists of five phases: stabilization endurance, strength endurance, hypertrophy, maximal strength, and power. Each phase is designed to address specific physiological adaptations and enhance overall athletic performance.

NASM OPT Model breakdown with steps showing OPT model phase 1 through 5

When you design appropriate programs for clients, you maximize your chances of achieving goals sooner. If I’m working with a client who has certain mobility restrictions, that will change the way I program for them. Other factors include goals, levels of experience, exercise preferences, and equipment available.

Part of that programming design includes the way you use blocks of training to work on individual goals. If you’re learning how to become a personal trainer, I’ve found that NASM’s Optimum Performance Training model gives trainers a simple periodization format to use for training programs.

Other great programs like the ISSA CPT or NCSF personal training certification give you a standard framework for programming but NASM’s OPT method is one the easiest to apply overall.

The OPT method can be adapted to various goals and individuals. NASM’s periodization also works for clients of all levels. I’ve adapted the OPT method for clients looking for weight loss, muscle gain, increasing strength, or sports performance. I’ve also used the NASM OPT model to get them to their goals and keep them continuously improving over time without stalling.

1. Stabilization Endurance Phase

The first phase is the Stabilization Endurance phase, focusing on improving muscular stability and endurance by targeting the core and smaller stabilizing muscles. This phase helps correct muscle imbalances and prepares the body for more intense training. 

This phase works well for beginners, people in a detrained state, or someone coming off of an intense strength/power block. You can use this phase to improve muscle imbalances, core stabilization, improve cardiorespiratory condition, correct movement technique, and prepare all body tissues for harder training.

Whether you’re on your way to building a strength and conditioning coach career or a personal trainer business, you need to know how to start someone off on a program. You can’t just move from no training whatsoever to 6 sets of 3 at a 90% of their one-rep max. 

In Phase 1 you use low-intensity with high repetitions. Exercises increase in intensity using proprioceptive challenges instead of adding more weight. For example, you would move from more stable surfaces to more unstable surfaces to challenge overall balance. This helps to activate and strengthen the stabilizing muscles, ultimately improving overall stability and reducing the risk of injuries. Additionally, NASM advocates for progressive overload to continually challenge the body and promote continued growth and adaptation.

The stabilization endurance training phase emphasizes mobility and flexibility, joint stabilization, body alignment, along with muscular endurance. 

The NASM CPT covers basic stretching, but the Stretching and Flexibility Coach has more detail if you’re interested in becoming a master of mobility. 

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During this first phase you work with clients to master basic movement patterns. This will provide numerous benefits once you start to add more weight to exercises. You never want to add strength to dysfunction, and this foundation is integral to the NASM OPT method.

Personally, I’ve found that some clients don’t always need this phase, however it is a starting point if you’re working with a client who needs a solid base of stability. 

2. Strength Endurance Phase

The second phase is the Strength Endurance phase, which aims to increase overall muscle strength while maintaining endurance. In this phase, exercises become more challenging with heavier weights.

NASM recommends using supersets, where you combine stable exercises with a stabilization movement directly after.

In this phase you start to increase overall volume and decrease rest periods with high reps. 

This phase can last 4 weeks.

During the NASM Strength Endurance phase, you increase the resistance load and begin to increase exercise complexity. Your client should have developed the proper coordination from these first two phases so that you can then move on to phase three: Hypertrophy.

3. Hypertrophy/Muscular Development Phase

The third phase is the Hypertrophy phase, where the primary goal is to build muscle size and volume through higher intensity and moderate repetition ranges.

Volume goes up with minimal rest periods. This phase also lasts 4 weeks before moving back to Strength Endurance, Stabilization, or on to Strength and Power. 

During the hypertrophy phase of the NASM OPT Model, the focus is on increasing muscle size and strength through higher intensity workouts. This phase typically lasts 4 weeks and involves a mix of compound exercises and isolated movements.

The NASM OPT Model aims to maximize muscular strength, power, and endurance while minimizing the risk of injury through hypertrophy training. 

Use progressive overload to increase resistance loads. A simple rule for weight progression I often use is adding 5lbs to upper body lifts and 10lbs to lower body lifts per week. 

NASM doesn’t specify percentages for weekly progression in the OPT program, but the NSCA CPT does in their textbook. You can also work off their percentage basis where you increase upper body loads on main lifts by 2.5-5% and lower body lifts by 5-10%.

4. Maximal Strength Phase

In the maximal strength phase, NASM recommends increasing the intensity in order to recruit more motor units, increase force production, and motor unit synchronization.

This phase also lasts 4 weeks. During this phase, the focus shifts towards developing maximal strength and power through a combination of strength training exercises and explosive movements. The rest periods between sets and exercises are longer to allow for adequate recovery, while the loads used in each exercise are progressively increased to challenge the muscles and promote strength and hypertrophy. The NASM OPT Model focuses on optimizing performance through this structured approach, allowing individuals to reach their fitness goals efficiently and effectively. 

Rep ranges are lower to emphasize strength and power output.

NASM gives you more info about training for strength sports in their Performance Enhancement Specialist program. 

5. Power Phase

The power phase is the final phase in NASM’s OPT model. In this block you aim to increase force production using both low intensity at high velocities, and heavy loads.  

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Lighter loads are 30-45% of 1RM while heavier loads go between 85 and 100%. Medicine ball power training should be at 10%. 

This is also a 4 week block. 

During this phase of the NASM OPT Model, the focus is on developing power for explosive movements. Exercises such as medicine ball throws and plyometric drills are incorporated into the training program, with the intensity ranging between 85 and 100% of the individual’s maximum effort. The NASM OPT Model aims to optimize athletic performance and enhance overall strength and endurance by utilizing a systematic and progressive approach to training. 

NASM recommends raising overall sets and increasing rep tempo as well.

Integrated Training Concepts

Implementing the NASM OPT Model in your training routine is a great way to optimize your fitness regimen. The NASM OPT Model, which stands for Optimum Performance Training Model, is a comprehensive system that focuses on achieving specific goals through a systematic approach. To incorporate this model into your routine, start by assessing your current fitness level and identifying your goals. Then, design a program that includes all phases of the OPT Model: stabilization endurance, strength endurance, hypertrophy, maximal strength, and power. Each phase should be tailored to your individual needs and progress gradually to ensure optimal results. Remember to prioritize proper form and technique, as well as adequate rest and recovery between workouts.

The NASM OPT model is a comprehensive training system that focuses on individualized programming, progressive overload, and functional movements to help clients achieve their specific fitness goals. With its emphasis on flexibility, cardiorespiratory fitness, core stability, and resistance training, the NASM OPT Model provides a comprehensive approach to improving overall fitness and performance. By addressing each of these components, clients can expect to see improvements in their strength, endurance, endurance, flexibility, and body composition. 

NASM OPT Method for Different Goals

The NASM OPT Model provides a systematic approach to training that can be tailored to different goals, whether you want to improve muscular strength, increase cardiovascular endurance, or enhance athletic performance. I’ve used the OPT method with clients of all types to great success. 

Make sure to improve flexibility and mobility with your clientele to prevent injuries and enhance performance in daily activities. 

Additionally, fitness professionals should emphasize the importance of proper nutrition and recovery techniques to support the body’s ability to adapt and recover from the increased training intensity. 

Nutrition is one of the key components in any fitness goal and without it, your clients won’t make the proper physique or health changes they’re looking for. For this reason, I’d recommend looking at a nutrition certification in addition to personal training. NASM has their Certified Nutrition Coach, but of course there are other options available from the likes of ISSA, Precision Nutrition, and NCSF

Fat Loss

Because fat loss is not dependent on pure strength or power production, this periodization model can just move through Phases 1-3. 

Cardio can be done on the same days as weight training or separately, but needs to be a part of the routine to maximize calorie deficit. In addition, the NASM OPT Model emphasizes the importance of flexibility and mobility exercises to enhance overall movement and prevent injuries. By including these components in a workout routine, individuals can achieve optimal results in their fitness journey. 

The NASM Weight Loss Specialist will give you the most details about how to cardio as part of a complete program for fat loss. 

Muscle Gain

Again, you can eliminate the final power phase in the OPT model and just move through Phases 1-4. 

Only need to cycle through the stabilization preparatory phase once.

If you want to really specialize in working with bodybuilders and clients who are very hypertrophy-focused, the NASM Physique and Bodybuilding Coach specialization goes into the most detail about things like contest prep and peak weeks. 

Athletes

In this version of the OPT training model, you should go through all phases of training, from stabilization all the way through power. In some rare cases where athletes don’t need to gain any muscle, you may take out the Hypertrophy block. Also, you only need to go through the stabilization phase after a long deload, so maybe once per year. After that, you may move through Phases 2-5 as needed.

NASM Workout Template

Each workout in NASM’s OPT model includes 6 aspects:

  1. Warm-up
  2. Activation/Core and Balance
  3. Skill Development/Plyometric and SAQ
  4. Resistance Training
  5. Client’s Choice
  6. Cooldown

Warm-up

NASM warm-ups should be approached in a structured manner and with a specific goal in mind. Every personal trainer should consider the content of the workout and prepare their client’s body for what you aim to achieve that day using flexibility training and cardiorespiratory exercises.

NASM recommends using static stretching exclusively to target tissues identified as overactive during the assessment process.

The cardiorespiratory portion of a warm-up lasts for 5 to 10 minutes. Its main objective is to elevate heart and respiration rates, increase tissue temperature, and mentally ready the individual for higher training intensities. 

Activation/Core and Balance

The second section of every workout includes core and balance exercises which continue what was done in the warm-up. Here you strengthen underactive muscles to prepare the body for exercise and aid in restoring optimal joint alignment, stability, stability, and control. Recruitment can be a part of this section as well. 

Skill Development/Plyometric and SAQ

The skill development portion of the workout uses plyometric and speed, agility, and quickness exercises to improve agility and athleticism. You may also use this time to work on skill drills while the client is still fresh. Plyometrics can be added here as well.

Resistance Training

This section is the main portion of the workout and includes exercises which will strengthen the joints, muscles, and improve overall power, and increase muscle mass. 

Client’s Choice

I’ve found it helpful to have sections of the workout that clients look forward to. NASM recommends including one or two exercises in the workout that the client wants to work on. 

It’s always good to consider what exercises your client likes doing to improve overall adherence to the training program. This section may include exercises that someone wants to do for aesthetic reasons, like curls, calf raises, or maybe bench press.

I’ve also used this section to add in some cardio for clients who like running or biking. 

Cooldown

The cooldown lowers the body temperature and returns the client back to a resting state. Low intensity cardiorespiratory exercise is one option or perhaps a less intense exercise.

After this, you can include static stretches and myofascial release techniques to reduce muscle soreness and increase recovery post-workout. 

NASM OPT Model workout template with complete steps for an OPT training program

Conclusion

One of the benefits of being a personal trainer is getting to work with clients towards achieving fulfilling long term goals. A long term plan will lead to success and a successful personal training career after other clients hear about how you helped their friends get to their goals safely and effectively. 

In conclusion, the NASM OPT Model serves as a comprehensive framework for designing effective and tailored exercise programs that prioritize both performance enhancement and injury prevention. 

By integrating flexibility and recovery strategies, such as static stretches and myofascial release techniques, individuals can improve their overall flexibility and mobility, reducing their risk of injury during physical activity. Additionally, I will incorporate corrective exercise techniques into the program to help address any muscular imbalances or movement dysfunctions, further enhancing injury prevention efforts.

The NASM OPT model emphasizes the importance of progression and periodization, allowing individuals to continually challenge their bodies and maximize their results. By incorporating these principles into their training, individuals can optimize their physical performance and achieve their fitness goals. 

NASM OPT Model Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How do I progress through each phase of the NASM OPT Model?

To progress through each phase of the NASM OPT Model, it is important to follow a systematic approach. In the Stabilization Phase, focus on improving muscular endurance and stability by performing exercises that target the core and smaller stabilizing muscles. Once you have built a solid foundation, move on to the Strength Phase, which involves lifting heavier weights with fewer repetitions to stimulate muscle growth. Finally, in the Power Phase, shift your focus towards explosive movements that enhance speed and power.

Can the NASM OPT Model be used in group fitness settings?

Absolutely. The NASM OPT Model can certainly be utilized in group fitness settings. The principles of the OPT Model can be easily applied to group workouts with some minor modifications. By incorporating elements such as proper exercise selection, appropriate intensity levels, and effective progression strategies, fitness professionals can effectively implement the OPT Model in a group setting to optimize the performance and results of their participants.

How does nutrition play a role in the NASM OPT Model?

Nutrition plays a crucial role in the NASM OPT Model as it serves as the foundation for optimal performance and overall health. The model emphasizes the importance of proper nutrition to support energy production, muscle growth and repair, and recovery. By fueling the body with a balanced diet that includes macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, and fats) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), individuals can enhance their physical performance, improve body composition, and prevent nutrient deficiencies.

References

  1. Clark, M. A., Lucett, S. C., Mcgill, E., Montel, I., & Sutton, B. (2018). NASM essentials of personal fitness training. Burlington Jones & Bartlett Learning.
  2. Schoenfeld, B., & Snarr, R. L. (2022). NSCA’s Essentials of Personal Training. Human Kinetics. 
Tyler Read - Certified Personal Trainer with PTPioneer

Tyler Read


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