CSCS Review (2021) - Certification Cost vs Value Comparison

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    This is the ultimate NSCA CSCS review breakdown for 2021.

    I’ll do a breakdown of the following for you:

    CSCS basic info
    CSCS certification cost
    How the test is broken down
    And most importantly, is it worth it?

    I have had the CSCS cert for over a decade. Let me lead you by the hand through all you need to know on NSCA CSCS.

    Make sure to take the quiz to get a good idea of which strength and conditioning cert is right for you.

    Let’s get into it right now!


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      Before we get started, I have three important things to tell you:

      1. I have free study guides and practice tests for the CSCS cert here.
      2. Trainer Academy has fantastic study materials and they offer a CSCS exam pass guarantee.
      3. My Running Start course is 100% free and will guide you A to Z to starting your PT career.

      The certified strength and conditioning specialist certification (CSCS) from NSCA is one of the most difficult as well as the most respected certifications in the industry.

      In this review, you will learn whether or not the certification is right for you or whether you should go with the different certification. I also highly suggest checking out my articles on the top strength and conditioning certifications and how to become a strength and conditioning coach.

      So, is the CSCS legit? Let’s find out.

      Get the CSCS exam cheat sheet for free here. Courtesy of Trainer Academy.

      For you individuals who like to digest their material in video format, here is the YouTube video.

      CSCS Certification Review In Video Form

      Podcast For Those On The Go

      The CSCS has a strong emphasis on reactive or power training for athletic performance compared to other certifications. It is similar to NASM’s PES (performance enhancement specialist) certification but the CSCS is the gold standard for strength and conditioning.

      The information that is outlined in this certification is to help athletes reach their absolute potential. This was the textbook used in one of my classes when I studied kinesiology in college.

      Individuals that try to get CSCS certified typically have a goal of working with athletes. One of the main prerequisites that make this certification so difficult to obtain is that you need a four-year college degree before you can even take the test.

      They used to require you to have a four-year degree in a health-related field, but now all you need is in a four-year college degree (which I think is silly). The earliest you can sign up and take the test is in your final semester in college.

      Pretty much every other personal training certification only requires a high school education. Let’s get right into my CSCS review!

      CSCS Review: Basic Information

      CSCS review 1

      Here, I will be showing you the options you have for taking the certification exams.

      Believe me, you will get value as long as you have the required prerequisite.

      Find out more below!

      The NSCA offers two separate options for taking the CSCS exam. They offer a pencil and paper version as well as a computerized version of the test. They offer lots of different locations to take the pencil paper tests around the world.

      Check out their site to check out their different locations. Regarding the computerized version of the test. They are offered at hundreds of H&R block locations. Once you have your prerequisites (four-year college degree) and are approved for the test, you will have 120 days to take the test.

      Personally, I like the computerized version of the tests but because you get your test score immediately after finishing so you know if you passed.

      CSCS Pros and Cons

      The NSCA CSCS is definitely a top tier certification, but is it perfect?

      Of course not! Even if it was a flawless cert, which it isn’t, it still wouldn’t be for everyone and isn’t really applicable everywhere.

      In fact, its a very specific use type of qualification. Let’s look at the pros and cons:


      • Top tier, elite level sports science cert
      • NCCA accredited
      • Membership allows you access to a plethora of benefits, resources, and infrastructure
      • The highest grade of cutting edge research and knowledge
      • Highly regarded and respected in the global fitness community
      • Equips you with the skills and knowledge to train elite level athletes.
      • Relatively cheap compare to other major certs


      • Notoriously difficult exam (something that can also be seen as a pro depending on your perspective)
      • Study and prep material tends to be lacking in the face of how challenging the exam is
      • Very specific application. Not your general PT certification so will only be necessary of your serious about elite level sports science.
      • Requires a college degree as a prerequisite in order to take the paper

      CSCS certification cost

      CSCS cost 1

      In this section, you’ll learn how to reduce your exam cost by being a member of NSCA.

      Read on to discover which membership level is suitable for you.

      When it comes to cost, the CSCS course will vary primarily based on whether or not you are a member.

      NSCA membership itself is broken down into 3 different tiers which you will need to consider if you want to go that route.

      Membership is obtained by paying an annual fee relevant to whichever tier you choose.

      The 3 tiers of membership are:

      Student Membership ($65/year)

      Student membership is the most basic annual plan. It will give you access to membership as a full-time graduate or undergraduate student.

      Professional Membership

      Professional membership gives you access to some useful materials and resources including.

      • Full access to 5 strength and conditioning journals
      • Online content
      • Deals and discounts

      The 5 journals are a big bonus in my opinion. Industry-leading evidence-based research that can propel your coaching skills to an elite level.

      CPI Membership ($349)

      This membership tier is the top level you can grab. It will include everything you have access to in the Professional membership along with liability insurance and other handy benefits which will allow you to propel your career as a strength and conditioning specialist.

      One of the benefits of the membership is how it knocks off the overall price you’ll pay for your CSCS exam registration.

      When you take the CSCS, you will have to pass two sections. Failing just one of these means you will have to retake it, failing both means retaking the whole exam.

      Let’s take a quick look at how cost factors in both with and without membership:

      Registration Fee$340$475
      Retake Fee for Both Sections$340$475
      Retake Fee for One Section$250$385

      These costs are just for the exam. The study material comes as a separate package with its own pricing structure, which we’ll get into later in this article.

      CSCS Study Materials

      CSCS Materials 1

      With your membership level determining the type of study materials you will be able to access.

      Let me show your other Third-party study materials that will simplify the exam process for you.

      Let’s get studying!

      Unlike many of the popular certifications such as ISSA, NASM and ACE, NSCA CSCS exam registration doesn’t come bundled with study materials.

      You actually need to buy those separately in order to use the first-party course materials.

      The study materials are available in three packaged tiers.

      You have the Digital Package, the Essentials Package, and the Essentials Plus package.

      The Digital Package goes for $162 at the member price and $215 at the non-member price will get you the CSCS study guide and over 200 online practice test questions.

      The Essentials Package, which goes for $258 with membership and $313 without one will give you everything you have in the Digital Package as well as the 4th edition of Essentials of Strength Training, which is the CSCS course textbook.

      Lastly, we have the Essentials Plus Package, going for $472 and $532 for members and non-members respectively.

      Third-party study packages also tend to be greater value for money if you factor in the density of material, the boost in your pass chances, and the price you end up paying for all that goodness.

      This package includes everything you’ll love and expect from the essentials package as well as the 3rd edition of the NSCA Exercise Technique Manual and other resources such as the NSCA’s “Guide To” Series, Exam Prep Live Clinics and NSCA’s Sports Performance Series.

      I personally don’t find the study material suite provided by NSCA themselves as completely adequate.

      For that reason, I strongly suggest getting your hands on a third party exam prep package.

      My best-recommended source for such premium study material is Trainer Academy, which has the most complete NSCA CSCS package I’ve seen to date.

      These types of third party packages are designed by fitness professionals who have taken and passed the CSCS, making them less like study material and more like a complete exam walk-through.

      How the test is broken down and strategies for taking it

      CSCS Strategies 1

      Despite the difficulty of the CSCS exam, having a thorough understanding of the exam structure will help you immensely.

      Join me as I show you where you can get study materials that analyses each question for easy comprehension.

      What are you waiting for? find all you need to know below.

      The CSCS exam is notorious for its difficulty, but let’s skip that for now, I want to first touch on the structure and focus of the exam so you can get a grip of how it works and have a better shot with less anxiety.

      The exam is divided into 2 sections, Scientific Foundation and Practical/Applied. You will be tested on your knowledge of strength and conditioning science and your ability to administer it as a coach respectively.

      The exam has a total of 220 multiple choice questions with 80 of them being based on Scientific Foundation and 110 of them in the Practical/Applied section. The remaining 30 are non-scored questions, divided evenly across the two sections (15 each).

      These non-scored questions are designed to test the test so-to-speak. They are used to evaluate the feasibility of being added to future editions of the CSCS exam, so basically you’re being used as a guinea pig for future exams.

      You won’t know which of the questions are non-scored, so answer all questions if possible.

      To actually pass the exam, you will need to ace both sections. Narrowly failing one and passing the other with flying colors, unfortunately, won’t cut it, and with an average pass rate of 56%, you will need to prep adequately.

      The CSCS is a very difficult test, and it is hard for me to offer comprehensive strategies for you to get ready for it. The reason why it is hard to study for is that the curriculum is not the same as most of the other standard certifications. The Pass rate for the full CSCS test is a super low 56%. That’s almost half of the people.

      This is another reason why I recommend picking up a solid study guide and practice test. I also have free CSCS study materials right here on my website.

      Most of the individuals that are taking this test are coming straight out of college with a degree in kinesiology or another health-related field. These individuals have taken multiple classes on anatomy physiology and biomechanics.

      If you wanted to take the CSCS but did not graduate with a health science degree, it is much more difficult. On the NSCA website, there are few textbooks that are recommended to study for the CSCS.

      Conclusion on the certified strength and conditioning specialist certification (CSCS)

      Conclusion on CSCS 1

      I have given you an insight into CSCS certification in simple terms.

      I have built a successful career out of my certification.

      Put in your best by following the tips outlined and you would have covered all bases.

      Until next time, Adios!

      Overall rating: (But this is NA if you dont have a college degree)

      CSCS Review [year]- CSCS Cost vs Value, Is the CSCS worth it? 4

      If you have not done so yet, the quiz to get a better overall idea of which strength and conditioning certification is the best match for you.

      If you are already certified as a personal trainer through one of the “general certifications” then I would highly recommend going for the CSCS certification especially if you are planning on working with athletes or strictly for strength and conditioning. It is the gold standard for strength and conditioning certifications.

      If you feel like the CSCS is something you want to pursue, you will want to check out Trainer Academy and the helpful study materials that they have there. Also, check out my free cscs practice test in study guide.

      If you do not yet have a general certification, I recommend checking out my article on the good personal training certifications as well as my article on how to get started in the training industry.

      Currently,  I believe that NASM’s PES certification is a good alternative for working with athletes. You can check it out here from their website. But, the CSCS is still the gold standard and you should go for it if you have a college degree.

      This is a very prestigious certification and is recognized throughout the industry as one of the best. This certification looks great on a personal training resume, and you have a decent chance of making more money by holding the certification!

      You need a four-year college degree to take it. You used to require a degree in health-related fields such as kinesiology to take it. I think they should still have it be that way because the degree in something like psychology or business will not help you at all.

      Let me know what you all thought about my CSCS review!

      Have you taken the test? Shoot me a comment down below and please like this article on social media if it was helpful! Happy personal training!

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