The 4 Best Strength and Conditioning Certifications

This review is a detailed study of the pros and cons of the 4 top-rated strength and conditioning certifications in the fitness industry.

This review is based on the following criteria for each certification:

  • Focus of certification
  • Study materials
  • Recognition in the industry
  • Cost of certification

We understand that choosing the best strength and conditioning certification can be difficult. To help you in making the right choice we will discuss the 4 best strength and conditioning certifications that are most recognized in the industry right now. This review will be a comparative look at CSCS, NASM PES, SCCC, and ISSA. Check out the detailed study below to pick the best strength and conditioning certification for a rewarding career in your future.

1. NSCA CSCS

CSCS (Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist) is a CPT recognition from NSCA (National Strength and Conditioning Association). 

This certification is often considered as the gold standard recognition in the fitness industry for its strength and conditioning training along with sports performance.

Eligibility criteria for NSCA CSCS

  • A resident of the United States
  • A bachelor's degree or pursuing a college degree (in any field)
  • A valid AED / CPR certification
  • General CPT is not mandatory

CSCS certification has received accreditation from NCCA. 

2. NASM PES

PES (Performance Enhancement Specialist certification) from NASM (National Academy of Sports Medicine) is considered the gold standard in the category of strength and conditioning.

The certification follows the OPT (Optimum Performance Training) model that is also a standard model for NASM general certification.

OPT programs are considered to be the best in the fitness industry to help and train progressing clients and athletes.

Eligibility criteria for NASM PES

  • The candidate should be a NASM qualified CPT or must hold a general certification of CPT from DEAC or NCCA accredited organizations.
  • Candidate must have a 4-year college degree
  • The candidate must be a certified massage therapist with a license

Eligibility criteria for NASM PES in Europe

  • Candidate must hold CPR/AED certification
  • Minimum age limit is 18 years
  • High school graduation or equivalent qualification

NASM PES has received accreditation by NCCA.

3. CSCCA SCCC

SCCC (Strength and Conditioning Coach Certified certification) from CSCCA (Collegiate Strength and Conditioning Coaches Association) is another well-accepted certification in the fitness industry in the area of strength and conditioning.

This is probably the most difficult certification course on this list. It has only one date for the test each year.

Eligibility criteria for CSCCA SCCC

  • Candidate must qualify for a 640 hours internship under a CSCCA approved coach
  • Valid CPR/ AED certification
  • A bachelor's degree
  • Certified general CPT

CSCCA SCCC has been accredited by NCCA

4. ISSA SSC

SSC (Strength and Conditioning Coach) certification by ISSA (International Sports Sciences Association) is comparatively the newest certification in the industry right now. 

This certification allows candidates to qualify through a completely online course which makes it very popular.

The standard of the test is also relaxed, but the principles it teaches are well respected. 

Eligibility criteria for ISSA SSC

  • Minimum age limit is 18 years
  • High school graduate or any equivalent academic qualification
  • Valid certification on CPR/ AED 

ISSA SSC has received DEAC accreditation.

Recognition in the industry

Acceptance of each strength and conditioning certification varies according to the employer's standards in the fitness industry. 

For the position of a coach to a professional sports team, PES, SCCC, and CSCS will be preferred the most as ISSA SSC is the newest one in the industry.

For working as a personal trainer at any training facility or gym, all 4 strength and conditioning certifications are equally valid and acceptable.

To make an overall comparison, NSCA CSCS is the most-valued certification in the industry while SCCC and NASM PES are tied in the second position. ISSA SSC comes to the last in the list.

Study Materials and Test

Here you will find detailed information on the study materials of the 4 best strength and conditioning certifications that we have listed.

NSCA CSCS

  • Live workshops
  • Primary textbook
  • Additional books on the practice exam and exercise training
  • Practice quizzes

Test:

CSCS Exam is conducted in 2 parts that consist of a scientific foundation and applied// practical. Let's take a look at the assessment technique in both of them.

Scientific Foundations

  • 95 multiple-choice questions
  • Duration is 1.5 hours
  • Assessment of anatomy, biomechanics, nutrition, and exercise physiology

Applied/ Practical

  • 125 multiple-choice questions
  • Exam duration is 2,5 hours
  • Assessment of hands-on training

The exam is scored in grades from 1 to 99. The passing grade is 70 in both tests. 

NASM PES

  • Primary textbook
  • Practice exams
  • Study guide
  • Video lectures
  • Application videos
  • Workout library
  • Short quiz after every chapter
  • Sports training videos
  • Access to live workshop of the all-inclusive package (optional)

Test

PES exam is conducted in 5 different sections that include exercise techniques, fundamental and practical science, workout assessment, program design, and nutrition.

The online test includes:

  • 100 multiple-choice questions
  • Exam duration is 90 minutes
  • Passing score is 70%

CSCCA SCCC

  • Health/ Fitness Facilities guidelines
  • Fitness Management (2nd ed)
  • Guidebook on sports nutrition (5th ed)
  • Program design on resistant training (4th ed)
  • Fundamentals of Strength Training and Conditioning (4th ed)
  • Exercise Physiology
  • Resistance Training principles and practice
  • Sports and Exercise Physiology (6th ed)

Test

SCCC exam is conducted in two parts- written and practical. 

The written exam is designed to assess knowledge on areas like cardiorespiratory system, muscle physiology, training adaptations, biomechanics, workout techniques, program design, plyometric training, nutrition, flexibility training, weight management, etc.

A practical exam includes a week-long training program to assess skills on strength and conditioning exercises, oral demonstration knowledge, etc.

The grade is given only on the basis of a pass or fail.

ISSA SSC

  • Hardcopy textbook of 615 pages
  • Guided workbook for the textbook
  • 250 3D animated exercises
  • Access to the online discussion forum
  • Practice exam
  • Quiz on every section
  • Access to certified SSC mentors

Test

This is a completely online test designed to assess knowledge on areas of fitness assessment, sports training, anatomy, sports psychology, nutrition, physiology, injury prevention, etc. The passing score is similar to ISSA general CPT that is 90%.

The cost of 4 best strength and conditioning certification

NSCA CSCS

Minimum of $500 and a maximum of $900

NASM PES

  • Self-study package at $699 
  • Premium self-study package at $849 
  • All-inclusive package at $999 

CSCCA SCCC

Minimum of $500 which can reach up to $1,000 if you want to buy all recommended books and study materials

ISSA SCC

The cost of this certification may vary between $499 and $799.

Final thoughts

After seeing all the facts in this review you can see which course is best in different situations and that more affordable certifications can offer a significant amount of recognition. After going through this brief study on best strength and conditioning certification we hope that you have a clear idea of which one to opt for to get the very best value for your money.