CSPS® Certification

  • CSPS certified strength coach assisting an older woman with mobility

    Certified Special Population Specialist® (CSPS®)

    Certified Special Population Specialists (CSPSs) are fitness professionals who, using an individualized approach, assess, motivate, educate, and train special population clients of all ages regarding their health and fitness needs, preventively, and in collaboration with healthcare professionals. Special populations include those with chronic and temporary health conditions. 

    CSPSs design safe and effective exercise programs, provide the guidance to help clients achieve their personal health/fitness goals, and recognize and respond to emergency situations. Recognizing their own areas of expertise, CSPSs receive referrals from and refer clients to other healthcare providers as appropriate.

    To learn more about Special Populations, click here

    CSPS® Exam Format

    CSPS certified personal trainer assisting an older man with a Swiss ball

    All NSCA English language exams, within the United States and internationally, are administered by Pearson VUE.  After you have registered to take an exam you will receive an email from Pearson VUE, within 2-3 business days, with instructions on how to schedule your exam. At that time, you will select the date, time and location you wish to take your exam. Exams must be taken within 120 days of registering. For more information on Pearson VUE or to locate the testing locations nearest to you, click the link below.

    Pearson VUE

    CSPS® Exam Registration Fees

          Member Rate*     Non-member Rate
    Registration fee     $340     $475

    *Student and Professional Membership Only


    To earn the CSPS® credential, candidates are required to pass a challenging 2.5-hour written examination that includes 100 scored and 10 non-scored multiple-choice items.

    The exam consists of four domains:

    Domain   Number of Questions  
    Basic Pathophysiology and Science of Health Status or Condition, Disorder, or Disease 40
    Client Consultation 19
    Program Planning 31
    Safety, Emergency Procedures, and Legal Issues 10
    Non-Scored Questions* 10
    Length of exam
    2.5 hours 

    Basic Pathophysiology and Science of Health Status or Condition, Disorder, or Disease 

    Includes Cardiovascular; Pulmonary; Metabolic; Immunological and hematological; Musculoskeletal/orthopedic; Neuromuscular; Post-rehabilitation; Cancer; Female-specific conditions; Behavioral/psychological disorders; Older adults; Children and adolescents. 

    Client Consultation 

    Determine the fitness professional's role in the wellness continuum; perform health appraisal; fitness evaluation.

    Program Planning 

    Develop SMART goals; program design; apply motivational/coaching techniques; monitor client outcomes; recognize need for referral to health-care professional. 

    Safety, Emergency Procedures, and Legal Issues 

    Comply with scope of practice requirements; practice safety procedures; follow emergency procedures; recognize professional, legal, and ethical responsibilities; comply with HIPAA regulations.

    * Explanation of Non-Scored Exam Questions

    The CSPS exam contains non-scored questions that are being "pretested" or evaluated for future use. Including this type of question allows the CSPS Exam Development Committee to collect meaningful information about items that may appear on future exams. Pretest items are not scored, and do not affect an individual's pass/fail status.

    The CSPS exam reflects current job-related duties and industry practices. As such, new items are continuously introduced and evaluated. Pretesting is an accepted testing practice that creates a statistically sound standardized exam, and allows candidates to receive scores that are based solely on previously verified ("tried") items.

    Non-scored pretest questions appear on both paper/pencil and computer-based exam formats. This provides a similar testing experience to all candidates.

    Certification Prerequisites

    **Please do not send in your supporting documentation until AFTER you have registered for an exam.**

    Candidates must currently hold at least one of the following:

    1. Current NSCA certification - (e.g., NSCA-CPT, CSCS, etc.) or NCCA-accredited personal trainer certification 


    2. Bachelor’s degree or higher granted by an accredited institution in Exercise Science (or a related field, e.g. physical therapy, chiropractic medicine)


    3. Current license as a physical therapist, physical therapist assistant, athletic trainer, or registered dietician 



    CPR and AED Certification

    To be eligible to take the CSPS examination, candidates must hold current CPR and AED certification. Registrants must submit a copy of current CPR/AED certification card.       
    The NSCA Certification will accept any adult CPR and AED certification obtained by attending a CPR and AED course that meets the following criteria:        
    (1) Must have a hands-on training component (certification through a course completed entirely online will not be accepted); and        
    (2) Must include a skills performance evaluation.        
    Examples of accepted CPR and AED certification include:  
    • American Heart Association (Heartsaver)
    • Red Cross (including Blended Learning First Aid/CPR/AED Program)
    • National Safety Council
    • St. John Ambulance


    Minimum of 250 hours of related practical experience

    A CSPS Practical Experience Form must be completed and submitted as part of the registration process. Related hours must be consistent with the CSPS Scope of Practice, and describe a candidate’s principle or supporting role in managing clients with unique needs.  

    1. Educate a client on the basic pathophysiology and science of health status, condition, disorder, or disease 
    2. Perform health appraisals, fitness evaluations, SMART goal development, program design, motivational/coaching techniques, and client outcome monitoring. 
    3. It is appropriate for candidates to include parallel hours for clients with comorbidities. For example, experience may count in three domains if a candidate works with a client who is obese, has Type 2 diabetes and osteoarthritis of the knee. 
    4. Hours are subject to a random audit. 

    It is strongly recommended that candidates gain experience in each CSPS content domains.

    Please mail your supporting documentation to: 

    1885 Bob Johnson Drive
    Colorado Springs, CO 80906
    FAX: 719-632-6367 (copies of CPR/AED and Practical Experience Form only)
    Email: exams@nsca.com (copies of CPR/AED and Practical Experience Form only)

    Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning textbook cover

    CSPS® Study Materials

    The CSCS, CSPS and NSCA-CPT examinations reflect the most current and accepted KSA standards within the health and fitness industries. Further, the examinations may be developed from references that may be in addition to resources listed below. NSCA materials survey important content area, but are not a comprehensive study of the Exercise Sciences.

    NSCA Publications can be purchased in the NSCA Store.

    Suggested NSCA Resources:     

    Purchase Study Materials

    Additional reference materials can be purchased through Human Kinetics.

    Additional Resources:     

    • Clinical Exercise Physiology, 2nd edition by Ehrman, Gordon, Visich, and Keteyian
    • Guidelines for Pulmonary Rehabilitation Programs, AACVPR, 4th edition 
    • AACVPR Cardiac Rehabilitation Resource Manual 
    • Online Course – Exercise Management for Cardiovascular Conditions

    The Certified Special Population Specialist (CSPS) program was created in 2012 to identify individuals who possess the knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSA) to design indicated exercise programs for individuals with unique needs. The credentialing program encourages a higher level of competence among practitioners and raises the quality of strength training and conditioning programs provided by those who are CSPS certified.

    The inaugural exam for CSPS will proudly be launched at the 2012 NSCA National Conference and Tradeshow. Thereafter, the NSCA will submit the CSPS for national accreditation by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA). 

    Why choose CSPS?

    The NSCA has been a leader of practical application and research of strength and conditioning for over three decades. In recent years, the focus of the fitness industry has shifted toward greater specialization. The NSCA envisions this trend as an opportunity to expand the development of its members and certified professionals. The CSPS was developed to support fitness professionals who work with special population clients in their careers.

    The NSCA brought together an expert committee of doctors, clinicians, and fitness professionals to develop the CSPS certification. The CSPS committee established a list of essential knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) when designing indicated exercise programs for individuals with unique needs. Special populations include those with chronic and temporary health conditions; more specifically, cardiovascular, pulmonary, metabolic, immunological/hematological, musculoskeletal/orthopedic, neuromuscular, post-rehabilitative, cancer, female-specific, behavioral/psychological, or age-related conditions. The scope of the CSPS makes it as the most comprehensive special populations certification in the industry.

    The NSCA has a longstanding commitment to education, professional development, and continuing competence. Designing exercise programs for higher risk clients presents distinct challenges. Thus, the minimum requirement to register for the CSPS exam is to have a Bachelors Degree in Exercise Science (or related field), or a current NSCA certification or NCCA-accredited personal trainer certification or a current license as a physical therapist, physical therapist assistant, athletic trainer or registered dietician; and 250 hours of related practical experience and a current CPR-AED certification.