What is the CSCS Designation?

The CSCS designation refers to a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) who has earned the credentials from the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) Certification Commission. A CSCS specializes in the strength training and conditioning of athletes for competitive athletics of all kinds. Several qualifications exist in order to acquire the CSCS designation. Implemented in 1993, the CSCS designation is the only nationally-accredited certification that exists for strength training and conditioning professionals.
Certification as a CSCS is quite a rigorous process. Eligibility requirements to receive permission to take the CSCS examination involve one’s level of education. In order to qualify to test for the credentials, a candidate must have a bachelor’s degree from an approved and accredited college or university, be a current senior in college pursuing an undergraduate degree from an accredited and approved college or university or have earned a chiropractor medicine degree. Additionally, candidates must have current CPR and AED certification. Once qualified to take the certifying examination, candidates must prepare for the test. Candidates who pass the lengthy examination will earn the CSCS certification.

Job duties of a CSCS are varied but center around creating and implementing strength training and conditioning exercises and programs for teams and groups of athletes. Devising nutritional plans to enhance physical exercise strategies and using an athlete’s metabolism to take advantage of workouts are some of the duties of a CSCS. Implementation of workout plans, circuit training and other exercise strategies are a regular part of the typical responsibilities of a CSCS. Additionally, certified strength and conditioning specialists act as role models and supporters for their clients, students and patients.
Each CSCS designee must take an oath to adhere to the NSCA Code of Ethics. The Code of Ethics establishes a foundation of appropriate behavior that all strength and conditioning professionals should adhere to and uphold. Fairness, respect, safety and personal responsibility are all ethical standards that each professional should strive to possess and exercise. Additionally, certified individuals should keep confidentiality in mind when working with clients, be willing to refer clients to more qualified professionals when necessary and attempt to stay up-to-date on recent breakthroughs in strength training and conditioning. Furthermore, CSCS designees must avoid any and all experiences that may constitute a conflict of interest.

The CSCS certification works to increase the abilities and skills of strength trainers and help them enhance their performance with clients. Individuals learn all aspects of the strength training process, the rationale behind the methods and theories and implementation tips, including ways to motivate and support clients and patients. Cutting edge developments and new theories are addressed through the examination preparation, and individuals are tested and evaluated on knowledge from all strength training disciplines and perspectives.
The roles of a certified strength and conditioning specialist may vary greatly, as professionals serve in many different kind of roles depending on their interests, specialties and career focuses. Various roles include:

  • Strength coaches
  • Personal trainers
  • Athletic trainers
  • Physical therapists
  • Chiropractors
  • Educators
  • Researchers
  • Physicians

Benefits of CSCS Designation

Professionals with a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) designation reap the benefits of their credentials daily. Not only are they experts within their industry, but CSCS designees have shown they have the knowledge, abilities and commitment to perform at a higher level than other professionals who do not choose to pursue professional credentials.
Benefits of CSCS DesignationCSCS designees experience a higher level of credibility than their non-certified peers and colleagues. Immediately after establishing their credentials, a CSCS demonstrates to his or her clients and patients that he is prepared to perform on a higher level with more knowledge and expertise. Using the credentials on marketing materials, business cards or name badges helps a CSCS tell the world that he has achieved at a superior level and is prepared to deliver similar services.
Obtaining the CSCS designation opens up many doors and enhances career opportunities for strength and conditioning professionals. While many CSCS designees are happy with their former positions, many strive to climb the ladder of success and be challenged by positions that require more responsibility, management and creativity. Administrative, supervisory, managerial and other professional positions may become available to a specialist who obtains his or her credentials.
Some CSCS designees choose to start their own businesses as a result of gaining their new certifications. Many trainers dream of owning their own facilities and yearn to implement their own ideas about design, layout and possible programs. Earning the credentials gives many strength and conditioning specialists the extra confidence to move forward with their plans. The credentials also help prove that an individual is qualified to take on such an endeavor, which helps to make funds from banks or investors more available.
One benefit often overlooked is the advancement of knowledge and becoming a more well-rounded fitness expert. Study preparation for the CSCS examination requires a professional to examine strength and conditioning from various perspectives and to learn science, theories and other methods that may not have been utilized by the individual before designation. Becoming a more learned professional is a benefit that outweighs many other advantages.
Staying current and up-to-date about exercise research and trends is another benefit of becoming certified as a CSCS. To keep one’s designation, a CSCS is required to obtain continuing education, which ensures he or she is informed about the most recent information about the industry. Knowing about the most advanced research and developments can help a trainer maintain his or her edge and increase performance levels.
Networking opportunities are available for CSCS designees. Having someone with whom to consult about a particular client’s or patient’s needs, status or health levels can help a specialist create and an implement the most effective program possible. Often, the networking process stimulates discussion, comparison of knowledge and increased abilities to function as a professional.
CSCS designees have the opportunities to work in several different roles and settings. Many work in health care facilities working with physical therapy or rehabilitation patients. Others work with schools and student athletes. A large number of CSCSs work in gyms with clients who wish to gain muscle and strength or aid their health. A smaller number of CSCS designees work with professional athletes and their teams.

CSCS Examination Expectations

Taking the Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) examination is usually the last step to earning one’s designation as a specialist in the field of strength and conditioning. It’s important to know what to expect not only from the examination, but also from the process of checking in, taking the test and how to acquire one’s scores at the conclusion of the examination.

Test takers must arrive to the testing location on time. Candidates arriving 15 minutes (or more) late will not be permitted to enter the testing area. Sign-in requires two forms of identification. One must include a photograph, such as a driver’s license, military ID or passport. The second form of identification may be one’s Social Security card. Both forms of ID must have the test taker’s signature. The signature must match the signature the test taker provides as he or she signs into the testing center.
Certain items are not allowed into the testing area. Calculators, cell phones, cameras, PDAs, pagers, laptops, guests, electronic devices and study notes are prohibited from the test site. Test takers will be provided with a pencil and a piece of scratch paper for use during the examination. Candidates may bring their keys and a wallet with them. Eating, smoking or drinking is restricted from the testing area.
Students will be directed to a test station where they are prompted to enter their ID number (provided ahead of time) into the computer. The computer will take a photo of the test taker. This photo will be printed on test taker’s test scores at the conclusion of the examination. Questions will be presented one at a time, and candidates may return to questions for review at any time during the examination. Test takers are encouraged to answer all questions; unanswered questions are scored as incorrectly answered questions.
As a candidate concludes his or her test, he or she will be asked to complete a short evaluation prior to receiving test scores.
At the check-out, a test taker is required to return the pencil and scratch paper. As long as all eligibility requirements are met, the candidate will receive his or her test scores. A passing score is from 70 to 100. Passing candidates will receive their certificate within 15 days and may begin using their designation as a CSCS at any time. Candidates who fail to pass the examination may retake the exam after waiting 90 days.

CSCS Examination Preparation

Passing the certification examination is the last step to becoming a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS). Administered by the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) Certification Commission, the examination evaluates the knowledge and skills acquired by a certification candidate to ensure they have the capabilities to live up to the standards of the CSCS designation. In order to pass the exam, candidates are encouraged to prepare several months in advance.
CSCS Examination PreparationThe first thing a candidate must do in order to prepare for the examination is to consider the exam content outline and how the test is structured. The test is divided into two sections: Scientific Foundations and Practical/Applied. Each section of the examination focuses on specific objectives and targets particular types of knowledge. The subsections break down into this division of questions and subjects:

  • Scientific Foundations (1.5-hour time limit; 95¬†questions)
    • Exercise Science: 59 scored questions
  • Exercise science includes questions that pertain to anatomy, anaerobic and aerobic exercise, exercise physiology and bioenergetics.
    • Nutrition: 21 questions
  • Nutrition includes questions about various factors that impact and influence an athlete’s performance and health.
  • Practical/Applied (2.5-hour time limit; 125 scored questions)
    • Exercise Technique: 38 questions — 35 percent of the examination section
  • Exercise technique includes questions about conditioning, resistance training and overall flexibility.
    • Program Design: 39 questions — 35 percent of the examination section
  • Program Design includes questions about creation of programs or circuits that are based on levels of strength and conditioning and one’s training goals.
    • Testing and Evaluation: 20 questions — 18 percent of the examination section
  • Testing and evaluation includes questions about test administration, proper test selection and evaluation of fitness test results.
    • Organization and Administration: 13 questions — 12 percent of the examination section
  • Organization and administration includes questions about facility staffing, layout and safety and policies and procedures.

Because the test concepts are quite varied, candidates are encouraged to study using several different resources. The NSCA offers packages of study guides and assistance or individual study materials, along with a lengthy list of suggested resources. Found on the website, a flow chart based on whether the candidate possesses an exercise-related or non-exercise-related degree can provide direction for study preparation.
Candidates are urged to begin their study preparation at least 3 to 9 months in advance, depending on his or her background and experience. If a candidate is already working in the field as a professional, he may require fewer study hours than someone who is looking to break into the industry.
It is suggested that test takers take into account their personal studying styles and apply these to their study methods. Many candidates prefer to study individually, while other work better in a group. Additionally, some candidates prefer an audio study method, while others succeed using a visual study plan. Candidates should utilize the methods that work best for them.

CSCS Exam Prerequisites

In order to become a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), a candidate must meet certain prerequisites. The National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) requires that candidates be educated and certified to perform CPR in order to qualify to take the CSCS examination and eventually become certified. Several details surround eligibility requirements for the CSCS examination.
Certain education qualifications must be met in order to be granted permission to schedule an examination appointment. Firstly, a candidate must be pursuing or have received a higher education degree. A candidate must possess a bachelor’s degree from an accredited and approved university or college; or be a senior in college and pursuing an undergraduate degree; or have received a degree in chiropractic medicine degree. The NSCA holds that a candidate for CSCS certification must have obtained higher education in order to aspire to the level of knowledge and skill that is required for a specialist in strength and conditioning. Furthermore, the commitment and dedication to a specialty must be proven before being granted permission to take the examination. Candidates who have completed a four-year undergraduate degree or a chiropractic degree have proven themselves to be reliable, skilled, dedicated and specialized in a particular concentration of knowledge. Individuals seeking CSCS certification must arrange for official transcripts that include graduation and degree information to be sent to the NSCA. If a candidate has not graduated yet, he or she may still be allowed to take the examination. However, test scores will not be available until official documentation of graduation is received by the NCSA.
The second education component that must be met is the CPR and AED certifications. Candidates must become certified in Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) and Automated External Defibrillators (AED) in order to gain permission to take the examination. The certification class(es) must have included both a hands-on training component and a skills performance evaluation. Online or distance-learning courses will not be accepted for the certifications. The courses must be given by an approved provider. Approved providers include:

  • The American Heart Association
  • The American Red Cross
  • National Safety Council
  • St. John Ambulance.

Students may be granted permission to take the examination without these certifications. However, no test scores will be released until official certification documentation is presented to the NCSA. Additionally, CSCS certification is not available unless candidates prove their CPR and AED certifications.
After providing information for education and certification requirements, candidates are notified that they have been approved to take the examination that leads to CSCS certification. After being approved, a candidate must schedule an examination. A candidate may schedule his or her examination by registering for it online or by calling toll-free Monday through Saturday. Tests are scheduled on a first-come, first-serve basis according to available space. Assessment centers are available throughout the United States, and examinations are often administered at H&R Block offices. Once registered, candidates will receive an email confirmation for the exam date and time. After passing the examination, candidates acquire official certification, as long as documentation proving the meeting of other prerequisites has been received by NSCA.

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