The 4 Best Strength and Conditioning Certifications

Sports medicine and physical training professionals looking to advance their core knowledge or careers have the option of undergoing strength and conditioning certification. These programs teach and test your knowledge in many areas connected to sports science and offer significant professional advantages both in the office and out. 

Strength and conditioning certifications are perfect for:

  • Physical therapists
  • Personal trainers
  • Athletes and fitness enthusiasts
  • Coaches
  • Athletic trainers
  • And more

Gain valuable insight on how to improve athlete performance safely and effectively. Experience structured, guided sports and physical sciences education that fosters excellence and optimal athletic performance. Acquiring strength and conditioning certifications before or during your athletic or sports-related career is a cost-effective wave to hone your craft and improve results. 

Below are our choices for the top five strength and conditioning certifications available. Each program offers unique benefits for different lifestyles and learning methods. Some programs offer monthly payments or one-time fees that cover the costs of textbooks, program materials, exams, and more for budget flexibility. 

To learn more about each type of certification and related study materials, browse our website or visit each certification’s website for more information. 

 

# 1: ISSA SSC

The International Sports Sciences Association offers a new certification called the ISSA Strength and Conditioning Coach.

This program provides a more relaxed, month-by-month approach to learning core techniques for athletic coaching. Students enjoy a comprehensive online experience that allows schedule flexibility and self-paced studying. 

As a bonus, new students receive a free accredited exam. Alongside the ISSA exam, all ISSA SSC students automatically receive an accredited NCCPT CSTS exam. 

This exam, provided by the National Council for Certified Personal Trainers, offers expanded opportunities for those seeking work as a physical trainer. Candidates for the ISSA SSC must be 18 years or older, possess a high school diploma or equivalent, and have current CPR/AED certification. 

What You’ll Learn 

The ISSA SSC is a targeted program that provides structured, regularly updated training for physical trainers. Students have access to leading sport science knowledge and experience immersive learning with online labs, digital exercise rooms, and more. Expect to learn about topics such as: 

  • Applying the principles of metabolism to boost athlete performance
  • Athlete anatomy and body mechanics
  • Effective nutritional practices for athletic performance
  • Effective methods of athletic instruction
  • Development of fitness programs and training plans
  • How to perform fitness assessments
  • Sports psychology
  • And more

What You’ll Pay 

The ISSA offers the SSC 12-month training and certification program in monthly payments of between $20 and $60, depending on what discounts or sales you can find. Currently, new students benefit from a discounted monthly rate and free access to the first chapter of the course’s textbook. New students may preview course information with zero commitment or money down. 

What Cert Holders Say

Aspiring trainers love the challenge and flexibility of the ISSA SSC certification. Due to the program’s affordable pricing options, more trainers have access to the certification they need to advance their careers. ISSA SSC certification holders experience career growth in personal training, physical fitness, nutrition, and more. 

 

Try ISSA for free! Become a Strength & Conditioning Coach

 

#2: NCSF CSC

The National Council on Strength and Fitness (NCSF) offers a widely-recognized, NCCA-accredited strength training certification program. This program is a complete package for professionals working with all walks of life, from the weekend warrior to the competitive athlete. A one-time fee unlocks access to everything from textbooks to optional advanced technique material. 

Candidates for the NCSF Certified Strength Coach program must first: 

  • Be 18 years of age or older
  • Have a high school diploma or equivalent
  • Possess up-to-date NCCA-recognized CPT certification

What You’ll Learn 

The NCSF CSC program is a full-spectrum educational experience focused on every aspect of safe, practical strength training. Expect to cover material including: 

  • Biomechanical and athlete-needs analysis
  • Ballistic-style instruction, including Olympic lifting and Plyometrics
  • Techniques for improving speed, agility, and reactive strength
  • Corrective exercises, risk reduction, and safe training techniques
  • Training program design 
  • Nutrition
  • And more

The NCSF offers all necessary study material and other supplies in each all-digital NCSF CSC program.

What You’ll Pay

The NCSF offers several program levels for accredited CSC certification. These programs provide different features tailored to meet the needs and capabilities of diverse candidates. 

Every NCSF CSC program packages carry a one-time fee, and program fees vary from $400 to $1,000 depending on the package content. The NCSF often offers steep discounts on these certification programs, so candidates seeking this certification should keep watch on the website for updated pricing and sales. 

What Cert Holders Say

NCSF CSC certificate holders note many positives of the program, including: 

  • Enjoyable, broad-spectrum material
  • Advanced skill training 
  • Improved professional options
  • Better development of strength training programs
  • More comprehensive corrective and rehabilitative knowledge
  • And more

 

Try NCSF and Become a Certified Strength Coach

 

# 3: NSCA CSCS

The National Strength and Conditioning Association offers the Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist certification. This specialized training, education, and examination prepares aspiring trainers and physical therapists for performance-focused work with dedicated athletes.  

Candidates for the NSCA CSCS are required to have, at a minimum: 

  • Current enrollment as a college senior at an accredited institution or possession of a bachelor’s degree or higher in any field
  • Up-to-date CPR/AED certification

The NSCA CSCS is one of the gold-standard certifications for physical training and sports medicine professionals who seek to expand or develop their careers. 

What You’ll Learn

This intensive program requires self-paced but rigorous personal dedication to studying. The NSCA CSCS examination is notoriously tricky, consisting of two exam sessions covering multiple subjects. The material covered in each exam currently includes: 

Exam 1

  • Exercise science
  • Sports psychology
  • Nutrition
  • And more

Exam 2

  • Exercise technique
  • Athletic and training program design
  • Organization and administration of sports medicine and strength training
  • Evaluation techniques
  • And more

The NSCA website offers study materials and comprehensive exam prep guides. Recommended studying for the NSCA CSCS exam includes social media study groups, practice exam questions, and direct study of related material.

While there is no limit to how many times a candidate may take the NSCA CSCS exam, applicants must wait 90 days between each attempt.

What You’ll Pay 

Aside from related study materials, candidates for the NSCA CSCS exam must pay a registration fee. In total, these fees typically sit between $500 and $900, but NSCA members benefit from lower registration fee rates. 

Retaking the exam requires additional registration fees. Applicants may elect to retake one part of the exam or to retake the complete two-part exam. 

What Cert Holders Say

The NSCA CSCS stands as one of the longest-standing, most well-recognized strength and conditioning certifications in the industry. Widely regarded as a top-tier certification, certificate holders note expanded knowledge, capability, professionalism, and opportunity. 

 

#4: NASM PES

The National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) provides yet another gold-star Performance Enhancement Specialist (PES) program. On par with the ISSA SSC and NCSF CSC programs, the PES is an entirely digital, all-in-one program with course material and examination provided for the price of the program. 

Although not required, the NASM PES program recommends all candidates possess at least one of the following certifications or degrees:

  • Certified Massage Therapist (CMT) 
  • NCCA, NBFE, or DETC accredited certification
  • Four-Year college degree
  • REPs, at level 3 or higher
  • NASM CPT certification

After registration, all candidates have 365 days (one year) to complete the course and take the NASM PES exam. 

What You’ll Learn 

The NASM PES program covers all necessary subjects for success both on the exam and in the field. The curriculum for the certificate includes: 

  • Anatomy and physiology, with a focus on the science of movement 
  • Training essentials
  • Sport performance programming, training, and testing
  • Metabolic energy system training
  • Plyometrics
  • Olympic lifting
  • Injury prevention
  • And more

What You’ll Pay

Like other certification programs, the NASM PES offers monthly installment options or one-time-fee choices for all exam packages. Prices can range from around $35 per month to a single payment of $300 to $700. 

Aspiring NASM candidates should check the NASM website regularly for valuable discounts and program pricing changes. 

What Cert Holders Say

The NASM PES exam often proves difficult. However, current PES certification holders note that overcoming the program’s challenges and final exam has improved their performance as sports medicine and training professionals. The PES program reviews as well-structured and informative with flexible pacing as well as pricing.

 

Honorable Mention: CSCCa SCCC

Last but not least is the Strength and Conditioning Coach Certified (SCCC) program, offered by the Collegiate Strength and Conditioning Coaches Association (CSCCa). This prestigious NCCA-accredited program has strict admission requirements and limited testing opportunities. These factors make the CSCCa SCCC program ideal for serious, highly competitive sports medicine and training professionals. 

Aspiring applicants must first have a minimum of 12 years of full-time collegiate or professional-level strength and conditioning coaching experience OR:

  • Obtain a Bachelor’s degree or higher
  • Hold valid CPR/AED certification
  • Have completed a 640-hour internship with a CSCCa-approved mentor
  • Have valid CPT certification

Find a complete list of all prerequisite actions and requirements on the CSCCa website. 

 

What You’ll Learn 

The 640-hour practicum requirement for the CSCCa SCCC program covers various sports science and related material. This experience provides hands-on, in-depth training and practice in coaching and all other aspects of strength and conditioning programs.

The material covered on the exam includes, but is not limited to: 

  • Muscle physiology
  • Bio-energetics and metabolism
  • Neuro-muscular concepts
  • Bio-mechanical concepts
  • Training program design
  • Free weight and machine training techniques
  • Flexibility and stretching techniques
  • Nutrition and exercise supplementation
  • Body composition and weight management science
  • Supervision and instruction practices
  • And more

 

What You’ll Pay

Program fees for the CSCCa SCCC, combined with the cost of the program requirements, are rather steep. This aggressive program offers some of the best hands-on training in the industry, however, so the heavy registration and practicum fees pay off in the end. Expect to pay anywhere from $300 to $700 for SCCC program fees alone. 

What Cert Holders Say

The sports medicine community accepts the CSCCa SCCC program as the most difficult, intensive strength and conditioning certification. Between rigorous program entry requirements, a stringent exam, and fierce program entry competition, it can be challenging to obtain the CSCCa SCCC. However, SCCC holders benefit from industry-wide respect for hands-on training and experience coupled with in-depth sports science knowledge. 

 

Which Strength and Conditioning Certification Is Right for You?

Every strength and conditioning program in this list has something to offer any aspiring or experienced sports medicine or training professional. Those looking to expand their careers, professional knowledge, or capability choose their desired program intensity, cost, and length. 

Intensive programs like the CSCCa SCCC carry high risk, require more dedication, and are best suited for those with more experience and available time. More openly-paced certification programs, such as the ISSA & NCSF, offer flexibility for different learning styles and pricing needs.

We recommend that aspiring certification candidates thoroughly compare each certification program to find one or more that suit their personal and professional requirements. Our top recommendation is ISSA SSC, but it's always wise to speak with professionals or organizations in your target industry to understand which certifications receive the most recognition in your desired field or area. Best of luck!