The CSCS: What it is & Why I Wanted it!

I sat for the exam to become a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist on May 16, 2019. With total relief and elation, I passed both sections - the scientific foundations and the practical applied - on my first attempt. This strength training designation is offered by the National Strength & Conditioning Association, and is described as the following:

Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialists® (CSCS®) are professionals who apply scientific knowledge to train athletes for the primary goal of improving athletic performance. They conduct sport-specific testing sessions, design and implement safe and effective strength training and conditioning programs and provide guidance regarding nutrition and injury prevention. Recognizing that their area of expertise is separate and distinct, CSCSs consult with and refer athletes to other professionals when appropriate.

— NSCA.com

At the onset of my coaching endeavours I became painfully aware of my limited ability to back up and validate my teaching. I could hear myself stumbling over explanations, not knowing the actual names of certain musculature; not knowing how to communicate movements, stretches, or exercises to my running clients. What is worse, I could not explain to my clients WHY certain exercises and drills I prescribed were important and worth embracing.

Because of my own experience as a Olympic athlete, I knew first hand the importance of the “why.” I was coached on the track, in the weight room, in the psychologist “office” (Skype video calls) by some of the very best coaches available. These professionals explained the benefits of the workouts I ran, the significance of the strength training I did, and the incredible power of training my mind. They made me understand how training in these ways would improve my performance. For a motivated athlete, it was all I needed to buy in. It was EVERYTHING I needed to buy in. And as a coach I could not offer that.

The coaching I received as a professional athlete from an Olympic weight lifting coach was a huge help in successfully passing the CSCS exam.

The coaching I received as a professional athlete from an Olympic weight lifting coach was a huge help in successfully passing the CSCS exam.

I needed more knowledge to back up my 20 years of experience in the world of running, and not just any knowledge. I needed a certification with the reputation to match the truly exceptional practical instruction I’d received as an athlete and that I wanted to share with my clients. The certified strength and conditioning specialist certification (CSCS) is described as “one of the most difficult as well as the most respected certifications in the industry.” This certification also has stringent requirements for continued education to remain certified, and would provide the accountability to always prioritize learning and expanding my horizons. Of all the certifications available, it was clear that the CSCS was the best fit for me because of the scope of learning required to attain it as well as the reputation associated with it.

Having earned my B.S. in Civil Engineering, I had no background education to “brush up on,” or textbooks to dust off. I started from scratch by purchasing and reading the entire Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning textbook cover to cover. And then the real studying began.

For a month straight I cleared my calendar to study. I am self-employed and at the time was in the early stages of my new business, so I was able to put almost everything on hold except providing quality service to my current clients. Using online quizzes helped me learn anatomy. Conversations with my massage therapist (who I’d worked with throughout my athletic career) allowed me to better understand the function of various muscle groups based on our history of working through my own injuries and ailments over the years. I watched many youtube videos to improve my grasp on energy systems, muscle contraction, blood and oxygen circulation, and nerve impulses. I purchased and took all the practice questions available from the NSCA - twice through.

Although my background education in this subject matter was non-existent, there is no question that my engineering background helped me with the analytical and problem solving skills needed to successfully pass the test, because every question requires the application of scientifically proven information. Furthermore, I had been coached Olympic lifting from one one of the top S&C coaches in the US at the University of Michigan, which put me in great position to approach the video form analysis questions.

The exam itself was incredibly challenging and required intense focus. After 4 hours I was mentally fried but had passed by a landslide. I have never experienced a test so difficult that ended with such a successful result. (Generally I assume with proper preparation, a test would be easy. Not the CSCS!)

Through my preparation for the CSCS I learned the scientific foundations that support the training philosophies and techniques taught to me. I also learned new perspectives and coaching styles. The CSCS gave me confidence to lean into all my knowledge and experience, and most importably gave me the ability to explain the “WHY” with my instructions .

The CSCS certification has opened more doors for me as a professional. I could work in a gym, train college athletes, or even elite athletes. However my vision to be a great running coach in my community has not changed. I love the passion my clients have to improve their running. I truly enjoy working with them as they aim reach their own personal potential. The CSCS has taken me one step closer to my ultimate goal of becoming a truly excellent coach.