In this review, I’m going to compare the top four strength and conditioning certs that are the most sought-after in the fitness industry based on:
I’ll unleash all my knowledge from 10+ years of experience in the industry to guide you.
Here are the 4 Best Strength and Conditioning Certifications!
Hey everyone and welcome to my guide on the best strength and conditioning certifications in 2021.
Picking the best certification can be difficult if you don’t know the differences.
I will be talking about the top four certifications so that you can choose the best one for you.
The 4 strength and conditioning certifications I will be comparing are the CSCS vs NASM PES vs SCCC vs ISSA.
Receiving one of these sports performance certifications and becoming a strength and conditioning specialist can be very rewarding for your career and professional development.
I highly recommend that you Take the quiz to get an estimate on which strength and conditioning certification is the best fit for you overall.
This is just an estimation, read the article to get the full understanding.
Make sure to check out Trainer Academy as well.
The team over there creates epic study materials for training, will dramatically reduce your overall study time, and boast a 99% exam pass rate.
They have study materials for the CSCS certification exams, as well as the PES certification.
If you have any questions or concerns about SAC certifications, drop me a comment here and I will get back to you within 24 hours.
Whether you are just graduating from college or have been a personal trainer for some time, these certifications will expand your knowledge of exercise science and training.
Let’s get right into the comparisons!
Listed below are the top four strength and conditioning certifications.
I will be going over important factors such as price, study materials, recognition, prerequisites, and more.
By the end, you will know which strength and conditioning certification is the best option for you.
1) NSCA CSCS
In this section, you’ll discover all you need to have before having a certification with NSCA CSCS.
The Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) is a certification from the National Strength and Conditioning Association.
The certification is viewed by many to be the gold standard for strength and conditioning/sports performance training.
This is one of the harder strength and conditioning certifications that I have ever studied.
To be eligible to take the CSCS certification you need to:
- Live within the United States
- Hold a minimum of a bachelors degree (Or currently be enrolled as a college senior)
- Hold a valid CPR/AED certification
- You do not need a general CPT
In regards to the bachelor’s degree, it does not need to be in an exercise science related field. The CSCS certification is accredited by the NCCA.
If you discover that 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 study materials here.
2) NASM PES
Join me to find out what makes NASM PES a gold standard in the strength and conditioning industry.
The Performance Enhancement Specialist certification (PES) from the National Academy of Sports Medicine is another gold standard in the strength and conditioning space.
It is created from NASM’s popular Optimum Performance Training model (OPT) that they use in their general personal training certification.
The OPT model is regarded as one of the best ways of progressing clients/athletes very efficiently and safely.
As of now, I consider the NASM PES to be equal to or better than the CSCS. Keep reading to find out why.
The suggested requirements for the NASM PES certification are:
- That you currently hold the NASM CPT
- Or, you now own a general CPT certification accredited by the NCCA or DEAC
- Hold a four-year college degree
- Be a licensed massage therapist
Europe list of the requirements:
- Must be CPR/AED certified (this is a requirement)
- Must be 18 years old
- Must have graduated high school or the equivalent
The NASM PES is accredited by the NCCA.
This is one of the best sports performance certifications for becoming a strength and conditioning specialist.
Check out the NASM PES here.
Also, make sure to check out my free NASM PES study guide and practice test here.
3) CSCCa SCCC
Below, I’ll show you why CSCCa SCCC is regarded as one of the most difficult certifications to obtain in this industry.
The Strength and Conditioning Coach Certified certification (SCCC) from the Collegiate Strength and Conditioning Coaches Association is a very prestigious strength and conditioning certification.
This certification is by far the most difficult certification to obtain out of all four on this list.
In fact, they only have one test date every single year. Approximately 200 people sign up for and take the SCCC test every year.
The requirements for the SCCC are:
- you must complete an internship with a CSCCa approved mentor for 640 hours.
- You must be CPR/AED certified and valid
- Must hold a bachelors degree
- Must currently hold a general CPT certification.
The SCCC is an NCCA accredited certification.
4) ISSA SSC
Come along and find out why ISSA SSC is a better option if you are looking for a strictly online certification.
The ISSA Strength and Conditioning Coach (SSC) is a relatively new certification from the International Sports Sciences Association.
This is one of the only certifications that can be done entirely online which makes it very attractive to some.
The standards of how rigorous it is to get the certification are much more relaxed.
That being said, the information that you will learn from the strength and conditioning certification is legit.
To obtain the ISSA strength and conditioning certification you need to:
- Be at least 18 years old
- Would be a high school graduate or equivalent
- Have a valid CPR/AED certification
The ISSA SSC is DEAC accredited.
The recognition of each strength and conditioning certification
From this section, you’ll be able to gauge the popularity and acceptance level of each certification among employers.
Acceptance and popularity for each of the strength and conditioning certifications vary and depend on who the employer is.
If you are going to be working for a collegiate or professional sports team, the CSCS, PES, and SCCC are the three certifications they will be looking for.
This is because the ISSA certification is relatively new and unheard of.
In regards to personal training employment, all four certifications are accepted at any gym or training facility.
You can check out job boards to get more insight on where these training programs are relevant.
Here is a graph of the popularity of each for the certifications over the last 12 months according to Google trends.
As you can see, the NSCA CSCS certification is the most sought after by people searching Google.
The NASM PES and SCCC certifications are tied for second.
If you can notice the flat green line at the bottom, that is the ISSA certification.
This makes sense because the certification was just released more or less.
Study materials and Test/Program info
Below, I’ll outline the quality and relevance of the study materials available for each certification.
In this section I’ll be giving a rundown of the study materials you will receive with each strength and conditioning program, as well as information on the certification exams.
There are a few study materials that can get you ready for the CSCS test.
The NSCA is expecting a lot of their candidates to be coming from an exercise science-related college degree.
That being said here are all of the exam prep study materials that they offer.
- Live clinics ( to help people get hands-on experience)
- The primary textbook: Essentials of strength training and conditioning
- Online practice quizzes
- Additional booklets such as (exam content description) and an exercise technique book
To be honest, CSCS study materials are not the best.
My students much prefer the study materials from Trainer Academy when studying for the gruelling CSCS exam.
Check out my free CSCS practice test and study guide here.
Overall, CSCS study materials are fundamental.
This is because they assume you are coming from an exercise science background already.
The CSCS test
The CSCS test is comprised of two different sections.
The scientific foundation’s portion, as well as a practical/applied part.
Let’s break down both of these to see what they are all about.
The scientific foundation’s section consists of 95 multiple-choice questions.
You will receive 1.5 hours to complete this portion.
You will be tested on your knowledge of exercise physiology, anatomy, biomechanics, and nutrition.
The test is broken down like this.
- 44 questions related to exercise science
- 19 sports psychology questions
- 17 questions related to nutrition
- 15 questions that are non-scored (research purposes)
The practical and applied section will test your knowledge for program design, evaluation, organization, testing and exercise techniques.
Overall there are 125 multiple-choice questions and you are given 2.5 hours to complete this portion.
- 40 questions of exercise technique
- 38 questions of program design
- 12 questions regarding organization and administration
- 20 questions regarding testing and evaluation
- 15 questions that are not scored
Both tests are graded on a scaled score from 1 to 99.
You need to score at least 70 in both sections to pass the CSCS.
The pass rate for 2017 was 53%.
Overall, this is one of the lowest pass rates in the entire industry.
If you fail to pass the test on your first try, the retest fee is $340 (basically the whole price) for members.
If you only failed one section, the retest fee for one part is $250.
Don’t risk failing this test, pick up a great study guide instead.
The performance enhancement specialist certification, on the other hand, is packed with all kinds of study materials similar to their general CPT certification.
Here is what they offer regarding the guided study.
- Their primary textbook
- To online practice exams
- A syllabus and study guide
- Application videos
- Video lectures (Basically the book in video form)
- A complete exercise library
- Mini-quizzes for each chapter
- Sport specific lecture videos
- In the option to attend a live workshop for their all-inclusive package
I like how the PES offers tons of interactive study materials. All of us learn in a different fashion.
Make sure to check out the PES study materials over at Trainer Academy that will cut your study time in half.
The NASM PES Test
The NASM PES exam will test you on five separate sections.
You will be tested on exercise assessment, applied and basic sciences, exercise technique, nutrition, and program design.
The test will be taken online and contains 100 multiple-choice questions. Similar to the CSCS certification, the PES is graded on a scale, and you need to score 70% to pass.
You will be given 90 minutes to complete all 100 questions.
The SCCC exam is tough to prepare for.
This is because they do not have their specific study materials for the tests.
Most of your learning will come from the 640 required internship hours with a mentor.
This makes studying for the SCCC even harder.
Here is the list of recommended study materials that they recommend for you:
- ACSM’s Health/Fitness Facilities Standards and Guidelines
- Health Fitness Management, 2nd ed.
- Sports Nutrition Guidebook, 5th ed.
- Designing Resistance Training Programs, 4th ed.
- Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning, 4th ed.
- Exercise Physiology: Theory and Application to Fitness and Performance, 9th ed.
- Principles and Practice of Resistance Training
- Physiology of Sport and Exercise, 6th ed.
As you can see, they merely recommend other study materials to prepare for their test.
They even include (bolded above) the primary textbook for the CSCS as an approved study material.
The pure volume of books and pages that they recommend you study is overwhelming.
These are all complete textbooks for the most part.
They also have some recommended manuals, articles, and videos that can aid in your study process.
Here is the link to their full study resource suggestions.
The SCCC Test
There are two separate sections to the SCCC test.
There are a written examination and a practical exam.
Let’s talk about both of these.
SCCC Written exam
The written exam will test you on multiple areas of exercise science such as:
- muscle physiology
- cardiorespiratory system
- adaptations to training
- program design
- exercise technique
- speed/plyometric training
- flexibility training, nutrition
- weight management
- goal setting and much more.
SCCC Practical exam
The practical exam for the SCCC is a very rigorous process.
Before taking the practical exam, one is required to submit a one-week training program for a particular sport as if they were handing this program over to an athletic.
The practical exam will be performed in front of the handle of SCCC certified professionals.
You will have to personally demonstrate:
- Strength and conditioning techniques and skills
- Orally demonstrate knowledge of strength and conditioning
Individuals will also have to defend the one week program they have designed for their imaginary athletic.
You need to pass both the written and practical exams to pass the SCCC certification.
You are only giving a pass or fail grade.
The overall passing rate for both sections is 61% as of 2017.
Similar to the NASM PES, the ISSA SSC certification provides sufficient study materials that are all particular to their program.
Here are all the study materials you will receive with the SSC.
- A hard copy of the primary textbook which is 615 pages
- A guided study workbook to help you along with the book
- 250 animated exercises online (3-D animation)
- Access to an online student forum
- Practice exams and section quizzes.
- Access to SSC certified professionals for any questions you have
The ISSA SSC study materials are fantastic overall.
I like the online student forum and the ability to ask experts on concepts I was struggling with.
The ISSA SSC exam
The ISSA SSC test is done entirely online.
The test is also open book, and you have an unlimited amount of time to answer the questions.
You will be asked questions about the following areas.
- Fitness assessment
- Sport-specific training
- Sport psychology
- Injury prevention for athletes
I could not find pass rates for the ISSA certification, but I am assuming it’s close to 90% similar to their general CPT.
Strength and conditioning certification Prices
In here is the financial implication for obtaining any of the certifications.
Let’s see how much each of these certifications cost.
The price point of certifications can be the make or break it for lots of personal trainers.
The CSCS certification depends on how many study materials you purchase as well as whether or not you are a member of the NSCA.
The flat rates for the exam are $340 for a member and $475 for a nonmember.
There are two popular membership prices.
The first price is $65 a year and is the student price.
The next is $120 a year, and that is the professional price.
Regarding the study materials, the cheapest route that you can do is to purchase their main textbook, the essentials of strength training and conditioning and conditioning.
This book costs approximately $70 or $80.
Overall it will cost you approximately $500 at the minimum to get certified with CSCS.
If you want to get all the study materials and not become a member, it will cost you around $900.
You also required to acquire 6.0 CEUs for NSCA CSCS recertification every three years.
The performance enhancement specialist has three separate packages that are available on the NASM website.
Here are the three prices for packages.
- $699 for the self-study package
- $849 for the premium self-study package
- $999 for the all-inclusive option
- Check out the current price here.
These certifications usually have about 20% to 30% off, and you can generally get the self-study package for as low as $489.
Similar to the CSCS certification, the SCCC certification depends on whether or not you are a member of the CSCCa.
The cost for the certification for members is $360 and for nonmembers is $470.
The yearly membership with the CSCCa has two options.
For students, it cost $55 a year, and for full-time coaches a costs $110 a year.
Whichever option you go with, it will cost approximately $500 to get the SCCC certification.
If you end up purchasing each of the recommended study textbooks that the SCCC recommends, you will be spending approximately another $500 on those books along.
The ISSA strength and conditioning coach certification vary between $499 and $799.
They usually have sales going on that bring it down to $499, or you get some gift card which is a debit card with a certain amount of money on it.
On average, each of the certifications is approximately $500.
Check out the current price for the ISSA SCC here.
Conclusion on the Top Strength and Conditioning Certifications
That is all the pointers you need to help make a decision on the strength and conditioning certification of your choice.
If you have not done so yet, Take the quiz to get a better overall idea of which strength and conditioning certification is the best match for you.
Well, that’s about it for my best strength and conditioning certification article everyone.
All four of these are legitimate options if you want to get into training athletes for peak performance.
The professional certificate programs maintain best practices needed to become a certified practitioner.
This certification overview shows the benefit of continuing education and online courses.
For collegiate or professional training, the CSCS, PES, and SCCC are the top three certifications.
I would personally select the NASM PES or CSCS certifications because you do not need to go through nearly as many hoops to get them.
Overall these are my top two choices.
- Check out the NASM PES here
- Check out the CSCS here
- Check out Trainer Academy for great study materials for both the CSCS and PES
- Check out my free CSCS study materials here.
- Check out my free NASM PES study materials here.
For regular personal trainers that would like to start working with athletes on sports conditioning, any one of these four certifications will be sufficient.
If you are outside the United States or would prefer to do a certification online, ISSA is the way to go. Check out ISSA SCC here.
Regarding study materials, I think that the PES and ISSA’s SCC certification stand out.
I don’t like how the SCCC does not have their study materials for their certification.
In regards to the examinations, the SCCC is by far the most rigorous.
On top of needing 640 hours of internship time, there is only one test time every single year, and you have to take the test in front of the panel of individuals.
The CSCS is also a problematic exam in regards to pure question difficulty.
When it comes to pricing, either way, you slice it, you will be spending around $500 minimum.
After that, it depends on what type of study materials you would like to prepare you for the strength and conditioning certification.
Let’s pass the torch to you guys.
Which certifications do you think are best for strength and conditioning coaches? Have you guys gone through any one of these four programs?
Let’s start a discussion down below so that we can further our knowledge on this topic!
Now get out into the real world and start working towards becoming a strength and conditioning specialist!
4 Best Strength and Conditioning Certifications FAQ
What is the top strength and conditioning certifications?
This will be NCSA-CSCS and NASM-PES. The two certification agencies provide an easy process of getting the certification and the complete study materials
What is Strength and Conditioning?
Strength and conditioning is basically a form of exercise that is meant to build your skeletal muscles that is administered by experts.
What are strength and conditioning exercises?
There are various forms of strength and conditioning exercises. There are Dealift, Squats, Benchpress and many others.
How difficult is the CSCS test?
CSCS test is harder than the general personal trainer test, you are required to dedicate more time to studying for the exams.
Where does a Strength and conditioning specialist work?
Strength and Conditioning Specialist works with athletes at every level, so this means that they work at the universities, high schools and at football clubs.
What is the cost of Strength and Conditioning Certification?
The cost of strength and conditioning certification depends on the certifying agency that you choose but the most expensive so far is NASM PES at $999 (all-inclusive study package).
What are the prerequisites to becoming a strength and conditioning coach?
The prerequisites are that you must be at least 18 years old, have your current CPR/AED certification, your valid ID and a bachelor’s degree.
Are there study materials and practice tests for the CSC tests?
Absolutely! There study materials to be purchased like NSCA’S Essentials of Strength and Conditioning 4ed, Exercise Technique Manual,3ed and so much more.
You can visit my home page for free CSCS study materials and flashcards.
What is SCCC?
The SCCC stands for Strength and Conditioning Coach Certified. This certification is issued by Collegiate Strength and Conditioning Coaches association (CSCCa) and it is recognized by the NCCA.
Which is the toughest CSCS test in the industry?
Personally, I believe that they are all in the same category. All that is needed is for you to put the effort of studying and get an internship or live workshop for practical experience.
Do I need a bachelor’s degree to become a Strength and Conditioning coach?
Yes. You are required to have a bachelor’s degree before attempting to write the CSCS certification test.
Which is the best online strength and conditioning program?
ISSA SCC is the best online strength and conditioning program. All your study materials and test can be accessed via the internet
What is strength training?
strength training is simply a form of intense physical exercise that builds anaerobic endurance and increases the size of the skeletal muscle of a person.
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