Atlanta, Georgia, USA
Thursday 30th January 2014
When I was invited to head south to Atlanta to meet the team behind Fusionetics, I was looking forward to escaping the cold snap that has enveloped Princeton recently. Unfortunately, it appears the icy storms beat me to Georgia & a couple of inches of snow in a southern state reeks total havoc. The flights were delayed, as Atlanta couldn't service the aircraft on their stands to free up space for further arrivals & after finally disembarking, the airport resembled a scene more akin to a refugee camp.

My spirits on the other hand are not to be dampened...I have passed both NSCA CSCS exams with good grades. The past few weeks of hard work have paid off & I am now officially recognised as a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist in the USA.

As promised, here are some tips for any others contemplating studying for the same qualification.

Firstly, what did I get out of it? It was certainly a useful revision exercise for topics that I had already studied during my Exercise Physiology & Sports Physiotherapy MSc postgraduate degrees, in addition to the fitness trainer courses I have taken since graduation. Furthermore, it provided some added reasoning for conditioning approaches that I have adopted over the years of working with some exceptional professionals in the field.

It was also important for me to learn some of the terminology that is specific to the profession in North America along with analysis of the physiological demands specific to the big four sports played over here - American football, basketball, ice hockey & baseball.

On the flip side, the exams test knowledge of the core text, Baechle & Earle's "Essentials of Strength Training & Conditioning", as opposed to the best available knowledge & practice that you should employ. Given that the format is multiple choice & marked on a computer, there really is no room for applying common sense nor providing a more appropriate alternative to the information in the book.

I also question how a strength & conditioning coach can be thoroughly assessed without a practical examination of some type. I have taken several practical lifting & conditioning courses, yet it is entirely possible for someone to pass the exam without ever having lifted a barbell or dumbell in their life.

My subsequent advice would be, therefore, that if you are looking to follow a career in strength & conditioning, the qualification is a good box to tick but you need to supplement it both with other, more practical courses that demand an understanding of more recent research, as well as some gym-based work experience shadowing established professionals.

That said, if you have decided that the CSCS is a qualification you want to attain, I would advise:

- Buy the "Essentials of Strength Training & Conditioning" text book & learn each chapter thoroughly. Depending on your background, some material may be relatively straight forward, whilst other topics may be somewhat more foreign. You can buy it on the NSCA website, however, even with their discounts applied, you can save at least $30 by shopping around on line.

- Before you start each chapter, test yourself on the questions at the end. This will give you a basic idea of your existing understanding. Then test yourself again upon completing your read-through & note taking.

- Speak to your mentors in the field or reach out to meet people that have sat the exam already & ask what they found difficult about the process in addition to their strategies for overcoming these specific challenges.

- There are plenty of websites on line that provide a selection of free test questions that are applicable to the CSCS. They are a useful resource to use on a regular basis to gauge your progress.

- There are also many other websites, including the NSCA, that are very keen to take your money in exchange for learning aids such as practice exams. Again this is where speaking to veterans of the CSCS is valuable.

I did pay the $86 for the 3 "practice exams" that the NSCA offered but I really think they were very poor value for money. They were not "practice exams" as such, as they were far too brief & instead I would describe them as "a selection of exam questions" that are rather lazily compiled. In the case of the third instalment there were answers that contradicted the text book, others that were inaccurately (or even not) referenced & a couple even referenced another NSCA exam text.

My verdict is still out on whether I actually gained much more from the money I spent here, than I could have done from just using the free resources available dotted around the internet.

Given the poor quality of the "practice exams", I opted not to purchase the video resources describing the exercise techniques. I made this decision knowing that my exercise technique knowledge was fairly sound after years of studying & teaching lifting components, in addition to regularly undertaking resistance training myself. If I hadn't been able to say that, then I would have been more likely to shell out for that resource too.

- Once you feel fairly close to being ready for the exam & you have been answering the questions on line with a good deal of success, then I would go ahead & sign up for membership of the NSCA. There's no point in relating it to specific time span of study because everyone's needs are different.

There's no benefit gained from joining too early on, as there are no real advantages of membership until you want to register for the exam, at which point the membership affords you a decent discount. Once you have joined, you can register for an exam date as soon as 3 days later, that is, if you are in the US & can get to one of their affiliated test centres. If you are planning to sit the exam with paper & pencil, then you will need to plan further ahead (more details on the NSCA website).

The main benefit of sitting the exam at a computerised test centre, is that if you have already submitted evidence of your degree course & a valid CPR/AED certificate, then you get immediate notification of your results. I had to wait a few days to get my results, as I had to submit my degree transcripts & emergency trauma management certificates on the day of the exam..

In conclusion, I am pleased I spent the time to thoroughly revise the material, as I felt confident going into the test. I am also glad that I took the leap & committed to doing the exam because I feel that having the qualification will assist me in achieving my goal of getting a job with a team in the USA.

If you have any other questions in relation to the NSCA CSCS exam, please get in touch & if I can help, I will.

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