The National Academy of Sports Medicine’s Performance Enhancement Specialization (NASM-PES™) is a challenging certification geared toward helping fitness professionals enhance athletic performance. Here are five of the most challenging topics that candidates often find on the exam.

1. Periodization

Periodization involves planning and structuring an athlete’s training program into distinct phases or periods, each with specific objectives. The challenge with this topic comes from the intricate planning required to match an athlete’s individual physiological needs and the specific demands of their sport. It involves in-depth knowledge of the principles of training, the timing of various training phases, and the expected physiological adaptations.

Periodization was created in the 1960s by Leo Matveyev, a Russian physiologist. Matveyev believed that training was most efficient when it progressed gradually from high volume/low intensity to low volume/high intensity.

There are typically three phases when using periodization training:

  1. Macrocycle – longer term phase of training, typically six months to a year
  2. Mesocycle – medium phase of training, several weeks to a few months
  3. Microcycle – the smallest phase, typically and individual section of the mesocycle

2. Bioenergetics and Energy System Training

Bioenergetics is the study of energy transfer within living organisms, a key topic for understanding how athletes generate the energy needed for their activities. The challenge lies in understanding the three energy systems (phosphagen, glycolytic, and oxidative) and how they contribute to different types of activities.

  • Phosphagen – ATP-PC creation for immediate energy. Think of high-intensity movements that only last a few seconds.
  • Glycolytic – (anaerobic glycolysis) for short-term energy. This kicks in after your phosphagen system has been exhausted.
  • Oxidative – sustained long-term energy. Any activity your body is doing for several minutes or more relies on oxidative energy.

Applying bioenergetics to training involves knowing which energy system predominates in a particular sport or exercise and how to train that system effectively. This also involves knowledge of energy system interactions during different intensities and durations of exercise.

3. Integrated Flexibility Training

Integrated Flexibility Training (IFT) refers to the inclusion of flexibility training within an overall training program. The IFT model includes four types of flexibility: corrective, active, functional, and dynamic.

The challenge with this topic is understanding when to use each type of flexibility in the training program. It requires an understanding of the athlete’s flexibility needs, injury history, and the specific demands of their sport. It also involves the application of various flexibility techniques such as self-myofascial release, static stretching, and dynamic stretching.

4. Neuromuscular Efficiency and Proprioception

Neuromuscular efficiency refers to the ability of the nervous system to properly recruit the right muscles to produce and reduce force as well as dynamically stabilize the body’s structure in all three planes of motion.

Understanding this topic involves knowing how neuromuscular efficiency is affected by factors such as imbalances, muscle synergies, and proprioception.

Proprioception, or the body’s ability to perceive its position in space, is crucial for balance, coordination, and movement control. Training programs must address and enhance neuromuscular efficiency and proprioception.

5. High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

HIIT is a popular training method involving short, intense bouts of exercise followed by periods of rest or low-intensity exercise. This method can be highly effective for enhancing athletic performance, but it also comes with risks if not properly programmed.

The difficulty with HIIT is understanding how to program it safely and effectively, considering factors like exercise selection, work-to-rest ratios, total volume, and frequency. Additionally, it requires understanding how HIIT affects the body’s physiological systems and how to adapt the HIIT program based on the athlete’s progress and responses.

The NASM-PES™ certification exam covers a wide range of complex topics, all crucial for enhancing athletic performance. It’s essential to approach these challenging areas with patience, consistent study, and practical application.