NSCA CPT Review 2019 – NSCA Cost vs Value, Is NSCA worth it?

NSCA CPT Review - NSCA Cost vs Value, Is NSCA worth it?

Hey everybody, Coach Tyler in the house. Welcome to my official NSCA review.

Did you know that NSCA is one of the oldest and most recognizable certifications in the industry?

In this article, you will find out the kinds of trainers that should study for NSCA cert.

You will determine whether or not it is a good option for you.

Make sure to also check out my article that covers the 5 greatest CPT personal training certifications (of which NSCA is listed) as well my guide on becoming a trainer from step number one.

Picking the right personal training certification can be hard, so, take the quiz to figure out which certification would be a good match for you.

The menu at the top of this page will answer any questions related to personal training that you may have.

Get 3 certs for 1 with the ISSA Elite Trainer Program ($1,400 of savings).

Save 25% on NASM with code PTP25 or Save $200 on the ACE CPT.

Get 50% off MVP study materials for NASM, ACE or CSCS at Trainer Academy
50% off NASM study materials or 50% off ACE study materials or 50% off CSCS study materials

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to leave me a comment here (I’ll respond within 24 hours).

Also, visit the home page for the most recent and popular articles.

Make sure to check out my awesome and free NSCA CPT study guide/practice test here.

Also, if you want to cut your study time in half, check out Trainer Academy for their NSCA study materials. I have a review on them here.

So, is NSCA legit? Let’s find out.

NSCA Pros and Cons


  • Very well-recognized certification
  • Extremely detailed textbook
  • Recertification every three years instead of the average two years
  • Exam questions are of standard
  • NSCA certification is well recognized in the fitness industry


  • Besides the certification handbook/textbook, a weak variety of study materials
  • Does not prepare you for how difficult the test is

For individuals who like to digest their materials in video format, here is the YouTube video I made on the NSCA-CPT about three years ago.

In general, though, this particular article is filled with more information and up-to-date.

Similar to ACSM, the NSCA provides two different tiers of certifications. The certification that I will be talking about in this article is their “general” certification.

NSCA does certify other fitness professionals in other fields namely; Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), Certified Special Population Specialist (CSPS), and Certified Tactical Strength and Conditioning Facilitator.

For this advanced certifications, you are required to have a bachelor’s degree as it is one of the most prestigious certifications in the fitness industry.

I have a completely different article reviewing their CSCS certification.

The NSCA certification is one of the oldest certifications around. It is one of the hardest tests to pass as well.

I would highly recommend shadowing a personal trainer who is already certified as part of your study regimen.

You can make a good income in this industry while doing something that you love at the same time! 

Now, let’s jump right into the full NSCA review.

NSCA Review: General Information

NSCA Review: General Information

The National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) has been around since 1978 and quickly came to the forefront of the fitness industry.

It is now one of the gold standard certifications and is recognized by every employer that I talk to.

In order to get certified, you need to meet some prerequisites.

  • You must have a high school diploma,
  • A current CPR/AED card, and be 18 years old

The NSCA has been leading the field in professional standards since the very beginning. They were the first certifying agency to be accredited by the NCCA. Since they became established in 1978, the NSCA has certified 9600 individuals.

Compared to other organizations, that number is not as high as expected.

This is probably because they have such a low pass rate.

In any case, it remains an important credential to have if you plan to go far in the fitness industry.



This is a non-profit organization that has been certifying fitness professionals in the industry for a long time.

Given that it is accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA), it has some credence, having weathered many storms in the past.

In other words, more recent certifying agencies may be giving it a run for its money, but it is still relevant in the fitness world.

It is not too expensive, when compared with other certifications, and is also not difficult to scale through. These dual features make it a worthy certification to consider.

NSCA membership

NSCA membership

This segment is for you to discover how NSCA membership plans can be of great benefit to you.

Why bother study and take the exam; why become a member; and why put in so much effort to ensure your remain certified?

There are three NSCA membership costs and plans and you should check out the one that suits you below to answer the questions above.

NSCA Professional Members

NSCA professional members have access to five strength and conditioning journals. These evidenced-based journals increase knowledge about the latest discovery in the fitness industry.

This NSCA membership opens access to a lot and costs $120 a year.

You wouldn’t want to miss that!

NSCA Student Membership

NSCA Student Membership

Next, they have student membership.

This package offers students a discount on certifications of their choice, access to events, and continuing education quiz questions.

This student membership plan opens access to lots of important information, from journals to research work and many more offers, that will make you not only pass your NSCA CPT exams but also help you forge ahead in your career.

This membership cost $65 a year

NSCA CPI Membership

The third one is the CPI membership.

This membership package is the cream de la cream of all the packages.

It is robust and you can even get insurance cover thrown into the mix.

To qualify for NSCA membership, one must be certified with any of the NSCA certificates, including Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialists (CSCS), Certified Personal Trainers CPT), Tactical Strength and Conditioning- Facilitators (TSAC-F) or Certified Special Populations Specialists (CSPS)

This membership will cost you $349 a year

NSCA Certifications Overview

NSCA Certifications Overview

To really get to the depth of a topic like this, the certification overview is a must. You need to know what the certification you are about to obtain means and how to obtain it.

NSCA-Certified Personal Trainer

All NSCA certified fitness professionals are well-trained health/fitness professionals.

Their job is targeted at using an individualized approach to evaluate and motivate clients. They also train and educate these clients with respect to individual personal health and fitness requirements.

An NSCA certified personal trainer has a basic knowledge of prescribing effective and safe exercise regimes.

Additionally, they teach clients and guide them towards achieving their personal health/fitness objectives as well as how to appropriately respond in emergency situations.

They know where their jurisdiction ends, by quickly transferring their client to healthcare practitioners when necessary.

In other words, they do not go overboard when doing their job.

Personal Trainer duties with the general population are less risky compared to the other certifications.

It is no surprise, then, that the Personal Training Certification is the most common of all in the health fitness industry and they are also the most sought after by people.

Personal training is a well-paying job in the health and body fitness industry as you may have noticed from online and offline job boards advertising for qualified pros in the industry.

Take a chance and join the NSCA today!

NSCA Professional Development

NSCA Professional Development

The NSCA job board is a platform where Certified Personal Trainers can access available jobs in the industry.

All they need do is browse available jobs and apply online through the electronic recruitment platform.

The good part of this is that the jobs are posted by NSCA members too; so, you are most likely going to find someone more experienced in the industry to guide you (if you are successful with the application).

It’s a win-win for everyone in the industry: employers get to find the most qualified, and job seekers use it as a one-stop-shop to find relevant jobs that will enhance their skills further, and of course, pay the bills.

It is obvious that the NSCA cares about their certified fitness and health professionals and as such, focus on how to help them get job opportunities.

Vets are welcome too!

Tactical Strength and Conditioning coaches with NSCA

This is an opportunity for ex-military personnel that desire to earn some income from their years of training in the field.

They train other people on how to maintain body balance, promote wellness, and ultimately reduce the risk of sustaining injury when working in the field.

A vet who wants to take his/her skills to a higher pedestal and earning a good income from same is encouraged to become one of the highly sought-after Tactical Strength and Conditioning coaches with NSCA.

NSCA professional development materials helps these highly skilled people a great deal too.

In any case, this is a completely separate program designed entirely for professionals that have experience in applying scientific knowledge to military, fire and rescue, law enforcement, as well as protective services.

Because nothing is certain in the world of exercising, this program prepares these vets for rapid response in the face of challenges (considering that they are now in the civil space where their skills might prove too intense for comfort among “ordinary” folks).

After gaining mastery in strength conditioning for civilians, the NSCA then certifies them as qualified professionals in the health and fitness industry.

Can I get a job as a Personal Trainer outside the gym?

Can I get a job as a Personal Trainer outside the gym?

Absolutely yes!

The beauty of the NSCA Personal Trainer certification is that you can work in other settings beyond a traditional gym.

For instance, NSCA-certified experts are highly sought after in high schools all over the United States.

Get 3 certs for 1 with the ISSA Elite Trainer Program ($1,400 of savings).

Save 25% on NASM with code PTP25 or Save $200 on the ACE CPT.

Get 50% off MVP study materials for NASM, ACE or CSCS at Trainer Academy
50% off NASM study materials or 50% off ACE study materials or 50% off CSCS study materials

Although high school students are very delicate – body-wise, those interested in sports and athletics are signed up to strength and conditioning training as part of their routines.

This is where you come in.

High schools with Rugby, American Football, Soccer, Gymnastics, and even Swimming sports programs, among others require the services of a Personal Trainer to supplement the work of the head coach.

While the latter takes the kids in matters of strategy and tactics, your job is to ensure that these young athletes are fit, strong, and able to perform at optimal levels.

Note, however, that some schools employ PT experts on part-time basis and the fees vary across states and even sports.

The Test

The Test

NSCA has, quite possibly, the most challenging test in the entire fitness industry.

The test contains 155 multiple choice questions in a format designed to be answered within 3 hours. Among the 155 the questions, you have 15 experimental questions.

The non-scored questions are there just to test the knowledge of the candidate considering that they are not going to contribute to failing or passing the candidate.

Some of the questions are based on videos.

You need to make sure you are fully prepared before you attempt to take the test.

NSCA certification exams are conducted on computers all year round at accredited Pearson VUE test centers all over the world.

The maximum possible score is 100; however, a candidate must score a minimum of 70 in order to pass the NCSA exam.

Personal Trainer test

Personal Trainer test

The test covers four areas that you should concentrate on during your exam preparation:

  • Client Consultation/Fitness Assessment
  • Program Planning
  • Techniques of Exercise
  • Safety, Emergency Procedures and Legal Issues

The NCSA holds all candidates’ scores until it receives copies of their education certificate and their CPR and AED certificates.

All NCSA members get a discount on the registration fee.

Most of the candidates that attempt the exams for the first time get as much as a 56% pass rate.

I would advise that you go over the “particular population’s section” of your textbook in detail. The test has a lot of questions in this area.

Note that most of the questions in the exams are not based on what you have read from the textbooks.

At this point, I’ll strongly recommend that you find and join the closest exam prep clinic to gain more insights from experts.

The clinic is a 2-day event that blends hands-on practical training with lectures covering everything you need to know before attempting the exams.

This exam prep prepares you by testing your basic knowledge and skills that are required for the course.

Pretty helpful, if you ask me.

NSCA CPT Study Guide

NSCA CPT Study Guide

I’ll advise you to purchase NSCA Personal Trainer Practice kit. This practice kit contains 300 questions, it cost $29.95.

There is another study material, NSCA-CPT Essential Plus Package. This study material is for beginners, and you will learn in details what Personal Training is about.

This study material cost $567.

Next is the NSCA-CPT Essential Package. This material is for those that already have degrees but need minimal resources that talk about Personal Training.

This will cost you $323.

Any or all of these materials will adequately prepare you for the NSCA exams.

Beyond being a preparatory guide, it has loads of practical ideas and can be used as a reference material towards the main exam.

Going through the platform exposes students to the scope and type of grilling they will be facing when the time comes.

With such a platform in place, you can tell if you are ready for the exam or not – or know which area to put more effort to achieve maximum success.

Take a look at my NSCA exam FAQ and NSCA test prep articles for more information.

Also, you can start studying right away with my free NSCA practice test and study guide here.

Otherwise, cut your study time in half with Trainer Academy study materials here.

NSCA Certification Cost

NSCA Certification Cost

You are required to be a member of NSCA to take their test.

You are also expected to write your exams within 120days of registering for the NSCA CPT exams.

If you are currently not a member, however, you should expect to pay around $435 for the membership as well as the exam.

If you are already a member, the cost is approximately $300.

They offer two different options for taking the test. They have a paper and pencil test as well as a computerized version.

After you purchase their certification, you have one year to study for and take the test.

I suggest reviewing for at least six months to be fully prepared.

The only exception to this rule is if you have a strong background in kinesiology.

NSCA provides practice tests on their website. I highly recommend checking these out so you can find out how prepared you are, as well as what areas you need to improve upon.

NSCA offers very little with respect to study materials even though they provide a massive textbook that is pretty daunting to go through.

This textbook will cost you approximately $89 if you purchase it through their website. I’m sure you can find used versions on Amazon much more cheaply.

Continuing Education Units

Continuing Education Units

NSCA requires everyone holding their certificates to take a continuing education course within three years of obtaining the certification to be recertified.

You are to take the short courses so that you can remain relevant in the fitness industry.

As you may know too, scientific knowledge keeps evolving and getting better by the day and that is evidenced in the fact that there are always new and better methods compared to the way things are currently done in the industry.

For this reason, continuing education is required to ensure that certified professionals are steadily competent in delivering services to their clients.

As an NSCA accredited member, you will have open access to SCJ bi-monthly. Each issue of the journal contains an article with an accompanying quiz.

Also, you would be required to renew your Exercise Science-related college assessed grades as well as all approved internships.

NSCA foundations of fitness programming – Your PT work is highly valuable

The NSCA foundation fitness program was created as a CEUs to help bridge the gap for personal fitness training professionals.

This foundation provides an environment for research work for all certified PT professionals that are willing to add to the body of knowledge in the industry.

It serves as a resource and educational tool for NSCA personal trainers to design training programs swiftly and effectively, which are progressive in nature and specific to the needs and goals of their clients.

The good thing is that you do not need to be a doctoral candidate or an academic in a university to take part in this.

In fact, your work as a PT professional in the field, one who is actually using the knowledge and skills to help people, makes you an ideal candidate to create and add new content to existing study materials.

Your failures, successes, challenges, and recommendations picked up in the field are so valuable – and could be worth more than anything an academic may theorize about.

For me, this is one of the best things about NSCA: you do not only get value from the certification, you also add value to the lives of many other propective PT professionals who would study your work in future.

Awesome; isn’t it?


My overall ranking:

If you’re still trying to pick the right certification for you, take the quiz to guide you in the right direction.

Overall, NSCA is one of the top certifications in the fitness industry.

I would put this NSCA personal training certification in my top four even though the test is tough – which, I think, is a good thing.

Start studying NSCA right here for free and if you want to cut your study time in half and get an exam pass guarantee, check out Trainer Academy for their NSCA study materials here.

Another advantage this certification has over others is that you don’t need to get recertified for three whole years.

Most certifications require you to get recertified every two years.

As a member of NSCA, you will have access to The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. This journal has many peer-reviewed articles that are great for keeping you up-to-date in the field.

NSCA is a prestigious certification that ranks with NASM, ACSM, and ACE; I strongly suggest you check out some of my comparison articles, such as ACE vs NSCA and NSCA vs NASM, so that you can see which certification would suit you best.

The most significant disadvantage of this certification is that they provide very little study materials, especially considering how difficult the test is.

If you are not good at specifically studying out of the textbook, you will have trouble with this certification.

I wish they had more online resources, videos or flashcards to aid in studying.

This is where other specific certifications have a leg up on NSCA.

Currently, my two favorite certifications are NASM and ACE due to their industry recognition, excellent curriculum, and extensive study material options.

Check out my comparison article on those two certifications. If you want to know more about NSCA, I suggest you check out their website. Let me know what you think!

11 thoughts on “NSCA CPT Review 2019 – NSCA Cost vs Value, Is NSCA worth it?”

  1. Hello Tyler,
    I live in Australia and wanted to know if NASM will be recognised here to help me work in the industry. Also, would you recommend getting the NASM CPT before doing CES?

    1. Hello Kedar,
      All I know is that NASM is recognized all throughout the United States and in some parts of Europe. I cannot tell you if your local employers will accept the NASM certification. You will need to go ask them which certifications they accept and which ones they prefer. I hope this helped

    1. Hello,
      Getting the certified strength and conditioning specialist certification is definitely enough continuing education in order to renew your NASM CPT. They only require 1.9 continuing education units which is equivalent to approximately 19 hours plus one hour for CPR and AED training in order to get recertified. This is definitely more than sufficient.

  2. Hi Tyler thanks for such a great informational site! Great job. I will make sure to use on of your links for a discount code. I am considering signing up for the CSCS certification. I don’t have a science background (MBA in Marketing), I am an avid runner; Spartan racer and I adore the gym 😉 – My question is whether it is realistic to be ready to take the exam in 4 months from the time I start studying (2 to 3 hours a week). Somehow this info is hard to find online. Thanks a million. Isabelle

    1. Hey Isabel,
      The certified strength and conditioning specialist certification from the National strength and conditioning Association Is definitely one of the most prestigious personal training certifications. It does have a strong focus on sports performance though as it is a strength and conditioning certification as opposed to a general certification such as their general NSCA CPT. Most people go the route of getting their general certification before getting there more advanced CSCS but the route is totally up to you and the CSCS certification is a fantastic certification. In terms of the time. It should take you to study for and pass the exam, you can definitely do it in four months. You just need the right direction for how to study. I do know that our good friends over at trainer Academy have a 16 week study blueprint that you can follow. This seems right up your wheelhouse as four months is your exact time frame for studying. I suggest checking them out as they have a fantastic study guide, practice tests, flashcards and more. https://traineracademy.org/nsca-cscs/ Good luck with all the studying!

  3. Hi Tyler,

    I am looking to get into the field but I don’t have a college degree. If I were to earn my NSCA – CPT certification, how sufficient would that qualification be alone? Based on your insight of the industry, do you see many people without a degree excel in this industry?

    1. Hello,
      you do not need a college degree in order to get the general certified personal training certification from the national Strength and conditioning Association. They only require a four-year college degree if you are trying to get there more advanced CSCS certification. But you really do not need this in less you are planning on working purely with strength and conditioning clients/athletes. And yes, I know a ton of personal trainers that I work with that do not have college degrees but are doing fantastic in the industry both in terms of overall recognition as well as how much money they make. Having a degree is not necessary to become an excellent personal trainer. It’s much more about how you apply yourself and continue your education on your own.

    1. Hey Alec,
      You need to score 70% of all of the 140 questions on the NSCA personal training exam. This would equate to approximately Answering 98 questions out of the 140 correctly. I hope this helps

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