I just took the CSCS exam. Literally, just took it. I wanted to get down some of my thoughts in case people are interested in taking it. I'd be happy to answer any questions people might have about preparation etc.
First of all, the test is extremely hard. Not for the reasons that it should be however. I studied very hard for it. Probably 4 months, with the last 3 weeks being nearly full time. This seems to be about average for people who don't have a degree in the field. Everything you read on line tells you to just "know the book" which is true however the wording of many of the questions had me shaking my head.
Specifically, there were questions in which of the four possible answers, 3 of the 4 options were reasonable. In many, it was a toss up between 2. Overall it is very challenging, at times, pointlessly so.
First some facts:
The test is the NSCA-CSCS. It's for trainers/coaches who want to work with athletes and is generally regarded as the gold standard of certifications. I'm not here to argue for or against that fact. Many will tell you that other certs and organizations are better, but from everything I've read, if you want to work with high level athletes at the university or even pro level, you have to have this just to get your foot in the door.
In the same way that passing the bar exam doesn't make you a good lawyer, this cert doesn't convert a crappy coach into a good one overnight, BUT, it gives you a foundation of knowledge that is pretty darn solid to start that path.
The pre requisites for this test: You must have a four year degree. You must be certified in CPR/AED. There is talk that eventually they will require that degree to be in a related field but for now it can be in anything at all. They require transcipts and a photocopy of your CPR card before they release your scores.
The test itself is slated to be 4.5 hours long. It is broken into 2 parts. The first is Science/nutrition and lasts about 1.5hrs. Mine was 80 questions. The second part is the Practical and applied portion. It was 2.5hrs long. It was comprised of 120 questions, the first 40 of which show videos of various exercises and ask questions about it. I took the test on a computer at a local HR block.
The advantages to the computer based are that you can take it basically whenever you want. I actually rescheduled it once. You can also get your scores much sooner. If you've submitted your prereq's you can get the results that day. If you take paper, you will have to wait 6-8 weeks.
The test was based off the "Essentials of Strength and Conditioning 3rd Ed" textbook, a monstrous 600 page tome that is broken up into two halves that correspond to the test roughly. The material in the book and on the test ranges from Bioenergentics, functional anatomy, Biomechanics, Endocrinology, Adaptations and program design for both Aerobic and anaerobic exercise. Facility Management, Plyometics, speed and agility training, testing and evaluation, nutrition, psychology(one question only on the test)and exercise form and instruction.
It's a ton of material. If you did get a 4 year degree in EXSci or Kinesiology then it would likely be much easier but even friends of mine who had that, struggled with the test itself.
I purchased the 3rd edition of the text, if you buy it online make sure you don't buy an earlier edition. I also purchased the Symposium CDs and you get a book with which goes over all the major exercises in detail. Many get away with only the book. I found the CDs helpful in drawing out some of the main themes, bc in many instances the depth of knowledge required was unclear. I also purchased the 3 online practice exams.
One annoying feature of this was that the those tests are geared towards the 2nd edtion of the text book so the information is "slightly" different and the "handy" post test references correspond to the old textbook. For this reason it may be best to buy the paper practice exams. Another disadvantage to the online tests is that you only get to take each of them twice. I kept a notebook next to me while I took each of them the first time and wrote down any topic or area that I felt uncomfortable with and then used them to backstudy the book.
The videos cds also contain 10 question tests and the ends of each chapter have those too. IMO it is absolutely essential that you take these practice tests. The more the better. If you have a four year degree in this stuff then this may be the most important part for you b/c it gives you a chance to see how the NSCA tests. Even with the book, studied and memorized I think I would have been sorely challenged by this.
In many instances the test is decidedly NOT intuitive or common sensical. Particulary in the science part you have to have rotely memorized certain things. There was one person online who said that their professor in Kinesiology gave them one of the practice exams for the CSCS in their final semester and everyone in the class failed. This b/c of the test style and not the information base.
The method I used to study which seems to be the most common, is to read the book through once with a highlighter with the understanding that you will only be getting a limited amount of comprehension in certain areas. Then I took each of the practice exams once. Failed all of them. Took the notes. Then I took a week off. With three weeks out. I went at this full time. I was particularly week in biomechanics and bioenergetics.
You must be able to apply what you read in the book. For example, while you may know the basics of say the sliding filament theory, what you are asked is something like: Which of the following is lengthened during an eccentric bicep extension? A)hzone b)myosin actin crossbridge c)I-bands D)zl-line. So for those three weeks I devoted myself entirely to two chapters each day. Sometimes 3 depending on the difficulty. I watched the corresponding symposium lectures before to cement this home. Then I took as many tests as I could.
Overall, this can be done in 2 months depending on how good you are with studying. The book has some chapters that are just so badly written. The biomechanics one in particular was awkward. As was the bioenergetics. I also had to go off and study anatomy on my own for an afternoon to get all the basics. Nowhere in the book is this explained. AND don't underestimate the "gimme" common sense chapters, like the facility layour or organization.
While some of the questions are common sense, others will ask: how many inches are required between window and floor in an S&C facility? You either read that or you didn't in the book.
Ok, the test. as I said, it's hard. I have a graduate degree in an unrelated field and am a "decent" test taker but this test had me scratching my head in frustration at times. In many instances, I thought "where in the book was this?" I'll offer an example there was a video of the lat pull down and in the video the athlete was pulling the bar behind her neck.
In the book and in the videos the NSCA mentions this as a "common technique error" on this exercise. Yet the question was how can this person improve their technique? The possible answers didn't mention the behind the neck option. Meaning the NSCA used a wrongly performed exercise as an example. Other things that come to mind.
You must be rock solid on agonist/antagonist muscle actions in a practical sense. You must be rock solid the sliding filament theory and muscle anatomy. Tons of questions on facility layout and organization, most of these were fair. NUTRITION is huge. And I don't mean nutrition... I mean the horseshit NSCA version of nutrition.
BTW if you want a laugh, check out the prof who does the symposium lecture for nutrition. He is obese. You need to know Kcal requirements for athletes, eating disorders and performance enhancing drugs. Even this stuff, which seems common sense was phrased in a very challenging and awkward manner. Know plyometric technique well, and how you progress from one exercise to the next in intensity. Know work rest/ratios for both aerobic and anaerobic training and what adaptations they cause. Also a TON of questions on sprinting technique and training.
There are charts and tables on normative data for athletes in different tests. You need to have a reference for this. You don't have to memorize them. A very very common and reasonable question that kept coming up in different forms was that they would mention an athletes stats: bodyweight, bench, squat, 40yd run and you need to pick what the athlete should focus on based on that. The only thing I'll say about this is that while it may seem like common sense, some of the tests are not common knowledge.
For example, I didnt know the norms on the hexagon agility test or the wingate test etc. This part of the test tended to be the most reasonable.
I would say that in general, for about a 3rd of the test the answers were clear if you studied. For another 3rd there were two answers that both looked pretty good. And for the last 3rd there were 3 answers that looked good, even when you studied. The computer format allows you to "mark" questions you want to return to later.
When you answer the last question it cycles you back through the ones you marked. I marked about half the questions for review on part one of the test.
The funny part is that I haven't even gotten my results yet. My feeling is that I passed the applied/practical part and that I've got about a 50/50 chance on the science. I'll let you know the results when I get them. Like I said, if you fail one part only then you don't have to retake the part you passed. But you do have to pay to take it again.
All in all, my opinion of the CSCS is that it greatly increased my knowledge of exercise science. Things like advanced plyometrics and Sprint training, as well as facility design and layout were actually quite interesting and not something that an average trainer is likely to know.
In the final analysis, if I had a 4 year degree in this field, then I probably wouldn't even need this test for anything but the paper it's printed on but if you want to "begin" the process of working with athletes this will give you a base to start with.
I spent lot's of time online reading about this test and was helped by many who shared their experiences about where to focus. I hope this helps someone who is either taking the CSCS soon, or is contemplating it in the future.