NASM OPT™ Model – Introduction
What is the NASM OPT Model?
The National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) built the OPT™ model as a scalable fitness system to meet the challenges of a sedentary society.
First, you need to understand the negative consequences of what scientists now refer to as sitting disease. Then, you can then see how the NASM OPT Model can help you achieve fitness in an unfit world.
Whether you want to get fit or help others improve their fitness, the NASM OPT Model will help you get there.
This post will lift the lid on the OPT Model and how you can use it to get in or back into shape.
Also, as a bonus, this article can also help you to pass the NASM CPT Exam because the OPT Model is the roadmap you must know backward and forward for your certification as a personal trainer.
Let’s dive in!
What happens when you don’t move?
While you are inactive most of the day at your desk, kitchen table, or on the couch watching TV, your body is not. Instead, your body adapts to your inactivity with predictable muscle imbalances.
How your body adapts is described in detail by the general adaptation syndrome and its subcategory – the SAID Principle, also known as the principle of specificity.
The principle of specificity states that your body will get better at whatever you ask it to do. So, make sure that you swim if you want to get better at swimming, run to get better at running, or deadlift to get better at deadlifting.
Likewise, you will get better at sitting if you sit most of the day. And sitting most of the day will result in muscle imbalances.
As a result, these muscle imbalances appear as predictable postural distortion patterns, even disabilities, which will affect the quality of your life, sooner than you would ever dream.
In other words, if you reach to shut your door, get out of a car, or walk outside one day and experience shooting lower back pain, you now know the result of years of sitting.
Therefore, you need to know that while you don’t move, your body is modeling itself to your lack of movement which has consequences.
Take your hip flexors for example.
Your amazing hip flexor muscles help you flex your hips. As you can see above, your hip flexors are comprised of many muscles, but the chief ones you should remember for now are the:
- rectus femoris of your quadriceps,
- TFL (Tensor Fasciae Latae), and
- psoas muscle which connects your spine to your femur
Flexion is when you decrease the angle between two segments of your body, such as your femur (thigh) bone and your spine, and extension is the opposite when you increase the angle.
Therefore, you perform hip flexion when you raise your knee to lift your foot off the ground to walk or run. And you do hip extension when your leg is behind you pushing off the ground as you walk or run.
Hip flexion and hip extension are major movements in walking and running, and you do them seamlessly and effortlessly.
As you can see, hip flexion is one of the most basic movements you learn to do. However, as you move through modern life and become more stationary through excessive sitting, your body adapts to the sitting position.
As a result, your hip flexors become short, overactive, and tight. Short and tight means that instead of their normal length, your hip flexors, for instance, your rectus femoris, psoas, and TFL, become shorter and tighter than they are supposed to be.
So what if my hip flexors are tight?
Tight hip flexors affect how well you walk, run, stand, squat, deadlift, and overall athletic performance. Even worse, tight hip flexors can result in ankle, knee, or back pain.
One major mistake that exercisers make when trying to get back into shape is going to the gym and immediately hitting the squat, deadlift, or bench press to target the most muscles, without addressing underlying postural imbalances.
The remarkable benefits of squats, bench, and deadlifts, for instance, are enormous, as are most compound exercises and calisthenics exercises, however, jumping into bodyweight exercises or resistance training without stabilizing your posture can lead to injury.
The brilliance of the NASM OPT Model is that its design helps you correct your muscle imbalances first, which will protect you from overtraining, and injury – and helps you perform better.
Weak Glutes – Altered Reciprocal Inhibition
Continuing with the example of tight hip flexors, a common side-effect of modern lifestyle, you also need to understand another significant ramification besides tight and short hip flexors – and that is weak gluteus muscles.
In other words, because your hips are flexed so many hours of the day, your brain keeps your hip flexors overactive through your nervous system.
Whatever you might think of your body, know this, you are driving a Lamborghini, meaning, you are the proud owner of an incredible amazing machine.
As your hips flex, mechanoreceptors send signals back to your brain which are interpreted and then acted upon by neural stimulation of those muscles. However, while your hip flexors are active, your brain decreases the neural drive of the antagonist muscles of the hip flexors, which are the gluteus muscles, specifically the gluteus maximus.
This phenomenon is known as altered reciprocal inhibition.
Enter the OPT Model
NASM developed its Optimum Performance Training™ model based on clinical research in partnership with the University of North Carolina.
It is a safe and progressive template that can help beginners or athletes achieve their fitness goals.
Personal trainers can use the OPT model to help their clients reach their goals, whether they are for:
Even decades ago, people were not as deconditioned as they are today.
What happened over the last 40 or 50 years?
Technology and Lack of Physical Activity
As explained above using the example of overactive hip flexors and underactive gluteal muscles, sitting disease is the result of a sedentary lifestyle.
It is also the primary reason that the majority of adults are overweight or obese and prone to injury.
Lack of physical activity is a direct result of technology that glues you to your seat:
- in the office,
- while commuting,
- watching entertainment or
- on the computer
- using your smartphone
After decades of inactivity, a sedentary lifestyle can lead to chronic health conditions like:
Now that you know how a sedentary lifestyle affects your quality of life, it is time to see how the OPT Model can help.
NASM OPT Model Explained
The NASM OPT model consists of 3 significant levels or building blocks, and 5 phases of training within these three levels.¹
The 3 Levels of Optimum Performance Training are:
What are the 5 Phases of the OPT Model:
Phase 1: Stabilization Endurance
- Improve muscular endurance and body composition
- Develop neuromuscular efficiency (coordination)
- Boost joint stability
- Improve posture and flexibility
Stabilization endurance training is a prerequisite for the Strength and Power levels in the NASM OPT model.
The stabilization foundation protects you from injury by ensuring your joints, tendons, and ligaments are healthy enough for weight training.
OPT Model Stabilization Exercises
The stabilization level focuses on exercises that:
- Challenge your sense of balance
- like pushups on a stability ball
- Pushups on a stability ball is an example of training in a proprioceptively enriched environment, meaning, unstable, but controlled, and
- standing cable rows
- Use high repetitions between 12 and 20
A proprioceptively enriched environment means that the exercise is not on a stable surface, instead use a stability ball.
Additional stabilization-level resistance exercises include:
#1. Stability ball squat curl to press:
#2. Multiplanar step-up balance, curl to overhead press:
- Ball dumbbell row
- Single-leg dumbbell scaption
- Seated stability ball military press
- Single-leg dumbbell curl
- Single-leg barbell curl
- Supine ball dumbbell triceps extension
- Prone ball dumbbell triceps extension
- Ball squat
- Multiplanar step-up to balance
Note that all of the stabilization resistance exercises are performed with a tempo of 4/2/1. This 4/2/1 tempo means that the eccentric (lowering movement) is 4 seconds, the isometric movement when you pause is 2 seconds, and the concentric movement is for one second.
Also, read over the list of stabilization resistance exercises and you will see that they are all either performed on a stability ball or on a single-leg.
Both stability ball and single-leg exercises are a ‘proprioceptively enriched’ environment.
Stabilization level resistance exercises are done at a slow tempo, with lighter weights, and higher reps, for example, 12 to 20 repetitions.
Phase 2 of training: Strength Endurance Training
- The purpose is to increase your prime mover muscle strength and increase lean muscle mass while maintaining stabilization.
- The prime mover is the muscle, which is the primary source of power in an exercise.
- Strength endurance training always includes a strength-level exercise immediately followed by a stabilization-level exercise aka superset.
- The superset is also used in level 3 or phase 5 of training which is the Power phase as will be explained below.
Phase 2 of training: Strength Endurance Training
How do you increase prime mover strength while maintaining stabilization?
The answer is to superset one prime mover exercise followed immediately by a stabilization exercise with minimal rest into your training program.
OPT Model strength level resistance exercises
These strength-level resistance exercises include those you are more familiar with, such as:
- flat bench dumbbell chest press
- lunge to two-arm dumbbell press
- seated cable row, shoulder press, lat pull, shoulder press machine, two-arm dumbbell biceps curl (notice that stability level uses standing version of all exercises, either two-leg or the single-leg progression!)
- leg press
Here are some superset examples:
- bench press followed by stability ball pushups
- barbell row which is followed by stability ball dumbbell rows
- standing barbell shoulder press and single-leg dumbbell presses
- barbell high-bar back squat followed by single-leg squats
- exercises are characterized by a 2/0/2 tempo, moderate to heavy weights, and low to moderate reps with a full range of motion
- use moderate weight and 8 to 12 repetitions per set
- but when you superset the stabilization exercise, then use the 4/2/1 tempo, light weights, and high reps of 12 to 20
Phase 3 of Training: Hypertrophy Training (optional)
The purpose of hypertrophy training is to increase skeletal muscle size. This training phase to increase muscle size includes the following acute variables:
- medium to a high volume of sets
- low to moderate repetitions between 6 and 12
- average rest periods between 0 to 60 seconds between sets
Phase 4 of Training: Maximal Strength Training (optional)
- Improve the ability to handle a maximum weight such as you find in a traditional powerlifting program or 3×5 strength training program.
- Increase motor unit recruitment, the maximum number of muscle fibers
- use high loads to achieve maximum strength
- low repetitions in the 1 – 5 range
- more extended rest periods of up to 5 minutes
Phase 5 of Training: Power Training (optional)
- Improve neuromuscular efficiency
- Increase your speed, agility, quickness, and power
- Enhance your rate of force production
The rate of force production is the amount of force you can generate in the shortest time.
The prerequisites of the Power Level are Phase 1 and Phase 2 of training.
Phase 5 of Training: Power Training
The training plan includes:
- superset one strength and one power exercise
- instead of a stabilization exercise, you superset a power exercise after a strength exercise
- perform the exercises as fast as you can
- use an explosive tempo which is delineated as x/x/x
- this x/x/x tempo is also used for phase 4 maximal strength
- you can recognize power exercises because they all use medicine ball passes, repeating squat or tuck jumps, and two-arm push press or barbell clean and press, all explosive movements
OPT Model NASM – Final Thoughts
The NASM OPT Model will guide you through 5 phases of training:
- strength endurance, hypertrophy, maximal strength, and
You need to understand the NASM OPT Model if you want to become a NASM Certified Personal Trainer.
And even if you don’t want to be a trainer, the OPT model is an excellent progressive training system for you to achieve your fitness goals.
The next step is to learn about the Overhead Squat Assessment. This post – Overhead Squat Assessment Muscles Mnemonic for the NASM CPT Exam delivers a lot of bang for the buck.
In this one article, you will learn:
- what is the overhead squat assessment
- how to perform the overhead squat assessment
- the compensations for the OSA
- which muscles are overactive and which are underactive based on identified compensations
- how to relax tight or overactive muscles, and how to strengthen the weak and underactive muscles
Plus, last but not least, this post will reveal my mnemonic for memorizing the entire Overhead Squat Assessment Solutions Table, which encompasses two views, five compensations, over thirty muscles, and many SMR (self-myofascial releases), static stretches, and strengthening exercises.
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