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Notice: The NSCA website is scheduled to undergo system maintenance from 2:00 AM - 2:30 AM EST. During this time, there may be short service interruptions across the site and some parts of  the site may not be accessible. We apologize for any inconvenience while we work to improve the website experience and security.

Choosing the Right Certification

If you plan to be NSCA certified, your first step is to decide which NSCA certification is right for your desired career path. Choosing the right NSCA certification will help direct your career toward a specific category of the industry, while additional certifications can help prepare you for career advancement.

NSCA Certification Seals

Planning to get certified? Unsure which one best fits your career goals? We can help.

In your journey toward your ideal career, it is critical to consider what area of the industry you plan to focus on. Each certification serves various groups of people with specific health, fitness, or performance goals. The steps below will help you select the right certification that fits your career goals:

STEP 1: Who You Want to Work with?

NSCA certifications encompass three population types. Each category includes people looking for specific results based on their existing health as well as athletic or fitness goals.

Competitive, Tactical, and Occupational Athletes Seeking Improved Performance

Improve athletic performance for the competitive, tactical, or occupational athletes including those at the youth, recreational, collegiate, or professional levels.

Applicable certifications:
CSCS, CPSS, TSAC-F

General Population Seeking Improved Health & Fitness

Improve strength and conditioning to maintain health and fitness for the “athletes of life” — from youth to seniors.

Applicable certifications:
NSCA-CPT, TSAC-F

Individuals With Health or Ability Considerations Seeking Improved Fitness, Health, or Performance

Improve strength and conditioning for those with temporary or chronic health conditions, to reach individual health, fitness, or competitive performance goals.

Applicable Certifications:
CSPS, TSAC-F

STEP 2: What Type of Training Do You Want to Provide?

When considering a certification, look at the typical training that a certified individual provides to their clients or athletes. The type of training will also indicate a more specific group of people you work with, as well as typical job settings. Keep in mind each certification covers organizational and administrative duties along with legal issues specific to each job setting.

CSCS Seal

CERTIFIED STRENGTH AND
CONDITIONING SPECIALIST

Training Provided

Coach athletes specifically for their sport by providing a variety of training types that improve:

  • Muscular endurance and strength
  • Power, speed, and agility
  • Anaerobic and aerobic capacity
  • Flexibility and mobility
  • Balance and stability
  • Body composition

Typical Job Setting

  • High Schools
  • Colleges
  • Pro-sports teams
  • Athletic Performance Centers

CPSS Seal

CERTIFIED PERFORMANCE
AND SPORT SCIENTIST

Training Provided

Perform in-the-field research and develop data-driven recommendations for training athletes to improve performance through various training types and methods.

Typical Job Setting

  • Colleges
  • Pro-sports teams
  • Athletic Performance Centers serving elite competitive athletes

NSCA-CPT Seal

PERSONAL TRAINER 
NSCA-CERTIFIED 

Training Provided

Instruct clients or small groups of individuals using a variety of training types to maintain or improve their personal physical abilities such as:

  • Muscular endurance and strength
  • Anaerobic and aerobic capacity
  • Flexibility and mobility
  • Balance and stability
  • Body composition

Typical Job Setting

  • Public training facility
  • Private training facility or setting
  • Corporate wellness facilities

CSPS seal

CERTIFIED SPECIAL 
POPULATION SPECIALIST
 

Training Provided

Coach or instruct clients using a highly customized approach to accommodate physical limitations, injuries, and health conditions. Provide training to safely maintain or improve their individual physical abilities such as:

  • Muscular endurance and strength
  • Power, speed, and agility
  • Anaerobic and aerobic capacity
  • Flexibility and mobility
  • Balance and stability
  • Body composition

Typical Job Setting

  • Healthcare facilities
  • Private or public training facilities or settings
  • Corporate wellness facilities

TSAC-F Seal

TACTICAL STRENGTH AND 
CONDITIONING FACILITATOR 

Training Provided

Train military, law enforcement, and fire and rescue personnel to improve on-the-job performance, promote wellness, and decrease injury risk. Maintain and improve physical abilities such as:

  • Muscular endurance and strength
  • Power, speed, and agility
  • Anaerobic and aerobic capacity
  • Flexibility and mobility
  • Balance and stability
  • Body composition

Typical Job Setting

  • Military installations
  • Law enforcement training facilities
  • Fire training centers
  • Other public service training settings

STEP 3: What Education and Experience Do You Have or Plan to Achieve?

Each certification requires a certain level of education before you are eligible to sit for the exam. Some certifications also require industry experience as well. Many NSCA-certified individuals hold multiple certifications that were earned as they gained experience in their careers.

CSCS Seal

CERTIFIED STRENGTH AND
CONDITIONING SPECIALIST
 

Hold a bachelor's degree or higher, and have a current CPR/AED certification. Currently enrolled college seniors at an accredited institution may sit for the CSCS exam, but must show proof of degree before credentials are given.

CPSS Seal

CERTIFIED PERFORMANCE
AND SPORT SPECIALIST
 

Hold a bachelor's degree or higher in Sport Science or similar degree with related coursework, plus verified full-time professional experience, and have a current CPR/AED certification.

NSCA-CPT Seal

NSCA-CERTIFIED 
PERSONAL TRAINER
 

Hold a High School Diploma or an equivalent, have a current CPR/AED certification, and be at least 18 years old.

CSPS seal

CERTIFIED SPECIAL
POPULATIONS SPECIALIST
 

Hold a bachelor's degree in Exercise Science or a related field, or hold an NCCA-accredited personal trainer certification or similar. You must also have a current CPR/AED certification.

TSAC-F Seal

TACTICAL STRENGTH AND
CONDITIONING FACILITATOR 

Hold a High School Diploma or an equivalent, have a current CPR/AED certification, and be at least 18 years old.

STEP 4: Consider What You Need to Know to Pass the Exam

Each certification exam tests the knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) required to successfully perform your job as a certified individual. NSCA certifications are NCCA-accredited, which means the exams are rigorous and will require study. Look over the following general topics covered on each exam.

CSCS Seal

CERTIFIED STRENGTH AND 
CONDITIONING SPECIALIST
 

General Exam Content

Exercise Science & Technique

Program Design & Planning

Needs Analysis

Testing, Monitoring, and Evaluation

Facility Organization & Administration

Sport Psychology

Nutrition 

How to Prepare

CPSS Seal

CERTIFIED PERFORMANCE AND SPORT SCIENTIST 

General Exam Content

Exercise Science

Program Design 

Needs Analysis

Testing, Monitoring, and Evaluation

Sport Psychology

Research Methods & Data Science

Training Theory & Process 

Learn about the CPSS

NSCA-CPT Seal

NSCA-CERTIFIED
PERSONAL TRAINER
 

General Exam Content

Exercise Technique

Program Planning

Client Consultation & Assessment

Safety, Emergency, and Legal Considerations 

How to Prepare

CSPS seal

CERTIFIED SPECIAL POPULATION SPECIALIST 

General Exam Content

Exercise Technique

Program Planning

Client Consultation & Assessment

Safety, Emergency, and Legal Considerations 

Basic Pathophysiology

Science of Health Status or Condition, Disorder, or Disease

How to Prepare

TSAC-F Seal

TACTICAL STRENGTH AND 
CONDITIONING FACILITATOR
 

General Exam Content

Exercise Science & Technique

Program Design 

Wellness Intervention

Testing, Monitoring, and Evaluation

Facility Organization & Administration

Nutrition

How to Prepare

Strength and Conditioning Career Guide

Now that you have a better idea of the differences between each NSCA certification, take a deeper look at the careers available in strength and conditioning. The NSCA's Career Guide delivers insight from industry leaders to help you get a head start on your chosen career path. link button to https://www.nsca.com/careerguide/

Get the Career Guide
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