Pursuing a career in sports or fitness may allow you to help others become stronger and improve their overall health and fitness. These careers often require you to complete formal training programs and gain extensive experience in the field. Earning an additional certification can show your expertise and help you further develop your skills in a specific area, such as strength and conditioning.
In this article, we discuss strength and conditioning certifications you can earn to advance your career with a definition of the practice and reasons you may pursue a certification in the field.
What is strength and conditioning?
Strength and conditioning is a practical application of sports science that aims to improve movement quality. These practices work to improve performance, prevent injuries and promote the overall health and performance of the body. Professionals in this field rely on evidence-based research and the physiology of anatomy and exercise to create custom training programs for clients to achieve these goals.
Strength and conditioning may apply to athletes or everyday individuals. Strength and conditioning coaches who work with athletes may work on a one-on-one basis or with entire teams to improve agility, speed, stamina and strength. Coaches who work with other individuals may help people move successfully and safely in normal daily situations. For example, a strength and conditioning coach may help an elderly client practice sitting down and standing back up from a chair.
7 types of strength and conditioning certifications
Here are some common types of strength and conditioning certifications to consider earning:
The Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) certification is available from the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA). This certification focuses on the knowledge required for training athletes to improve their performance and referring them to other professionals when necessary. This may involve conducting training sessions related to specific sports, providing guidance about injury prevention and nutrition and developing and implementing programs for safe and effective strength training and conditioning.
CSCS certification candidates must have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree or be a senior in college in an accredited institution and have a current CPR/AED certification. Earning this certification also requires passing an exam that contains two different sections to assess their abilities, knowledge and skills. The first section, which is scientific foundations, includes 80 scored and 15 non-scored multiple-choice questions about exercise science, nutrition and sports psychology. The second section, which is the practical or applied section, includes 110 scored and 15 unscored multiple-choice questions about exercise technique, organization and administration, program design and testing and evaluation.
The Tactical Strength and Conditioning Facilitator (TSAC-F) is also available from the NSCA. This certification focuses on professionals who use their scientific knowledge to train emergency personnel like fire and rescue, law enforcement and military and protective services. Tactical specializations focus on helping these individuals reduce the risk of injury to improve their performance and promote wellness. TSCA-F professionals provide general nutrition information, perform needs analysis and physical training sessions and design and implement programs for safe and effective strength training and conditioning.
TSAC-F certification requires candidates to be at least 18 years old, have a high school diploma or an equivalent qualification and hold a current CPR/AED certification. Candidates must also pass an exam that tests their abilities, knowledge and skills. The TSAC-F exam includes 130 scored and 20 non-scored multiple-choice questions on topics like:
Organization and administration
Testing, assessment and evaluation
The Certified Strength Coach (CSC or NCSF-CSC) certification is available from the National Council on Strength and Fitness (NCSF). This certification includes a comprehensive education program that discusses all aspects of safe and practical strength training. This includes topics like athletic analysis, program construction, athletic-based training, nutrition and exercise techniques.
CSC candidates must be at least 18 years old and have a high school diploma or an equivalent qualification and a current CPT from a program accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA). They must also pass an exam that includes 150 multiple-choice questions. The CSC exam includes questions about topics like:
Advanced programming for sport
Functional anatomy and biomechanics
Injury prevention and return to competition
Nutrition and ergogenic aids
Performance assessment and evaluation
Professionalism and risk management
Training techniques for athletic performance
The Strength and Conditioning Coach (SSC) is available from the International Sports Science Association (ISSA). This certification requires completing an entirely online training course on helping athletes achieve optimal performance. It focuses on topics like the relationship between performance and metabolism, body mechanics and anatomy, program development, nutrition and supplementation, injury prevention, sports psychology fundamentals and how to perform fitness assessments.
SSC candidates must be at least 18 years old and have a current CPR/AED certification. They must also pass an online exam. The program includes quizzes throughout the courses for candidates to test their knowledge but the final exam is also an open-book test. The SSC exam includes 140 multiple-choice questions and 15 unscored field items about topics, including:
Injury prevention for athletes
The Performance Enhancement Specialist (PES) certification is available from the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM). This certification focuses on training amateur and professional athletes to improve their performance. It includes completing a course that discusses topics such as anatomy and physiology for sports, Olympics lifting and injury prevention, sports nutrition and psychology, and sports performance testing.
The NASM recommends that PES candidates have one of the following qualifications:
A four-year college degree
Massage therapist certification
NCCA, NBFE, or DETC-accredited health or fitness certification
REPs Level 3 or higher
Earning this certification also requires passing an exam. This is an online examination that includes 100 multiple-choice questions and NASM divides the test into five different sections. The examination sections are:
Applied and basic sciences
The Strength and Conditioning Coach Certified (SCCC) certification is available from the Collegiate Strength and Conditioning Coaches Association (CSCCa). This certification specifically relates to the expertise, knowledge, skills and techniques required to be an entry-level strength and conditioning coach for college and professional athletes. It focuses on using scientific knowledge to design programs for elite athletes and support long-term athletic development and sport-specific needs of athletes.
SCCC candidates must currently be a full-time strength and conditioning coach at a collegiate or professional level or be a student preparing for this career path. They must also complete a 640-hour internship or practicum program. Candidates must also pass two exams. The first exam is a comprehensive science-based written exam and the second exam is a practical exam conducted before a panel of strength and training coaches who hold the Master and Strength Conditioning Coach Certification.
The Master Strength and Conditioning Coach (MSCC) certification is available from the CSCCa. This certification designates experience, expertise, knowledge, longevity and professionalism as a strength and training coach. It’s one of the highest levels of certification a strength and training coach may pursue, particularly for those who work with athletes at the collegiate or professional level.
MSCC candidates must be active members of the CSCCa and have a current SCCC certification. They must also have at least 12 years of valid employment. This includes any time they worked as a full-time strength and conditioning coach at a professional or collegiate level. This excludes any time a candidate worked in a part-time capacity in roles that combine strength and conditioning duties with the responsibilities of other roles.
Reasons to get a strength and conditioning certification
Here are some reasons to consider earning a strength and conditioning certification:
Job opportunities: Earning a professional certification demonstrates your expertise, which may appeal to employers and provide you with more job opportunities.
Skill building: Pursuing a strength and conditioning certification can help you improve your existing skills or develop new skills to expand your technical knowledge.
Specialties: Choosing a strength and conditioning certification may allow you to specialize in a particular field, helping you become more knowledgeable in a niche area that fits your goals and interests.
Tips for pursuing a strength and conditioning certification
Consider these tips to help you select and pursue a strength and conditioning certification:
Be mindful of costs. Most certifications have fees associated with them. Determine which appropriate certification works with your budget and be sure to consider potential additional costs that may arise during the certification process.
Consider your specialty. A strength and conditioning certification allows you to hone your skills and may help you develop a specialty. It’s important to choose a certification that aligns with your long-term professional goals.
Determine your program preferences. Program designs vary for each certification, such as some that are entirely online or those that have a combination of online and in-person learning. It’s important to think about how you learn best and what program style works best with your schedule.
Evaluate reputation. Some certifications have more prestigious reputations than others based on their requirements and history and reputations may also vary by industry. Select a well-respected certification that applies to your desired industry.
Review the prerequisites. Each certification requires unique prerequisites, such as certain degrees or a specific number of hours of experience. Review the requirements for your desired certification and confirm you meet at least the minimum requirements.
Think about recertification requirements. While many strength and conditioning certifications require you to earn recertification, some never expire. Research the requirements for the certifications that you’re considering and select one that has requirements that align with your career goals.
I hope you find this article helpful.