NSCA Personal Trainer Certification Review

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  • National Strength and Conditioning Association review
  • Certified Personal Trainer (NSCA-CPT) Certification
  • Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) Certification
  • Certified Special Population Specialist (CSPS) Certification
  • Tactical Strength and Conditioning Facilitator (TSAC-F) Certification

Choosing the right personal trainer certification can be a tough decision considering the wide range of certifications available. The National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) offers a Certified Personal Trainer credential (NSCA-CPT) for personal trainers. This specific certification carries a wide variety of training-specific coverage. The NSCA also carries an additional variety of bundled specialization certifications as well.

To help you choose the right personal training certification, read on to determine if the NSCA and their umbrella of Certified Personal Trainer Certifications is the right fit for you and your career goals.

As you begin or continue your career in personal training, don’t forget to check out how Exercise.com can help you grow and manage your personal training business. Request a demo of our All-In-One Fitness Business Management Software now. 

About NSCA

The National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) is a nonprofit professional organization dedicated to advancing the strength and conditioning profession around the world.

The NSCA is headquartered in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and offers four fitness certifications. Their mission is to “advance the profession by supporting strength and conditioning professionals devoted to helping others discover and maximize their strength”

Check out the video below for a short clip on the history of the National Strength and Conditioning Association:

NSCA Membership

Trainers have the option to join the NSCA as a member and take advantage of a plethora of resources in addition to discounted certification pricing.

Members have unlimited access to the following:

  • Journal content including all five NSCA publications
  • NSCA Community including member discounts on national and local events, plus opportunities to be recognized for your accomplishments.
  • Member-only content including access to article and video content as well as tools and resources
  • Discounts including certification exams, events, continuing education and store purchases.
  • Member perks such as special discounts and benefits at select companies.

Take a glance at the following table to see which membership level works for you:

Membership TypeCostDurationMembership Details
Student$651 YearFor full-time undergraduate and graduate students, verification required.
Professional$1201 YearFull access to 5 strength and conditioning journals, online content, discounts and more.
CPI$3491 YearFull member benefits plus liability insurance and more.

NSCA Focal Points

The NSCA, being nationally recognized as a leader in fitness and exercise science has been vocal about fitness topics important to bettering the well-being of society today including:

  • Resistance Training for Older Adults
    • The benefits of resistance training are almost overwhelming, however, too few older adults participate in resistance training, largely because of fear, confusion, and lack of consensus to guide implementation. It is the hope that this position statement may have a positive impact on addressing these issues and on empowering healthier aging.
  • Safe Return to Training Guidelines
    • The consensus guidelines provide strength and conditioning coaches with a clear framework for safe and effective program design in the first 2-4 weeks following periods of inactivity or return from EHI or ER.
  • Long-Term Athletic Development
    • There has recently been a growing interest in long-term athletic development for youth. Because of their unique physical, psychological, and social differences, children and adolescents should engage in appropriately prescribed exercise programs that promote physical development to prevent injury and enhance fitness behaviors that can be retained later in life.
  • Androgen and Human Growth Hormone Use
    • The use of anabolic drugs to enhance athletic performance has become a major concern for professional sport organizations, sport governing bodies, and the federal government. It is the belief of the NSCA that through education and research we can mitigate the abuse of androgens and HGH by athletes.
  • Youth Resistance Training
    • The purpose of the present report is to update and clarify the 1996 recommendations on 4 major areas of importance. These topics include (a) the potential risks and concerns associated with youth resistance training, (b) the potential health and fitness benefits of youth resistance training, (c) the types and amount of resistance training needed by healthy children and adolescents, and (d) program design considerations for optimizing long-term training adaptations.

NSCA Foundation

Founded in 2007 with the aim of supporting the advancement of strength and conditioning practical applications, the NSCA Foundation is a non-profit organization committed to providing funding to NSCA members taking part in educational and research endeavors. The NSCA Foundation has awarded over 156 grants and 455 scholarships totaling more than $2 million to outstanding individuals within the strength and conditioning community.

NSCA Certifications

In addition to the Certified Personal Trainer Certification, the NSCA also offers three other types of fitness certifications:

  • Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS)
  • Certified Special Population Specialist (CSPS)
  • Tactical Strength and Conditioning Facilitator (TSAC-F)

Each certification is specific to the type of training the user will be taking part in within their professional lives. We will dive deeper into the differences each certification offers in the next section; in the meantime, the table below gives a short comparison of each certification NSCA offers including descriptions and registration fees.

Name of CertificationMember RateNon-Member RateObjectives
Certified Personal Trainer (NSCA-CPT)$300$435NSCA-CPT Trainers are health/fitness professionals who, using an individualized approach, assess, motivate, educate and train clients regarding their personal health and fitness needs.
Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS)$340$475CSCS Trainers are professionals who apply scientific knowledge to train athletes for the primary goal of improving athletic performance.
Certified Special Population Specialist (CSPS)$340$475CSPS Trainers are fitness professionals who, using an individualized approach, assess, motivate, educate, and train special population clients of all ages regarding their health and fitness needs, preventively, and in collaboration with healthcare professionals.
Tactical Strength and Conditioning Facilitator (TSAC-F)$300$435TSAC-F Trainers apply scientific knowledge to physically train military, fire and rescue, law enforcement, protective services, and other emergency personnel to improve performance, promote wellness, and decrease injury risk.

NSCA-Certified Personal Trainer (NSCA-CPT) Certification

NSCA Personal Trainers are health/fitness professionals who, using an individualized approach, assess, motivate, educate, and train clients regarding their personal health and fitness needs. They design safe and effective exercise programs, provide guidance to help clients achieve their personal health/fitness goals, and respond appropriately in emergency situations. Recognizing their own area of expertise, a personal trainer will refer clients to other health care professionals when appropriate.

Exam

The NSCA-Certified Personal Trainer (NSCA-CPT) exam is comprised of 140 scored and 15 non-scored multiple-choice questions that test a candidate’s knowledge in the following four domains:

  • Client Consultation/Fitness Assessment
  • Program Planning
  • Techniques of Exercise
  • Safety, Emergency Procedures and Legal Issues

The exam is administered at Pearson VUE testing centers of which there are hundreds of locations worldwide.

Registration

Registration for the NSCA-CPT must be done online. Within 2-3 business days after registering, you will receive an Authorization to Test email from Pearson VUE with instructions on how to schedule your exam. At that time, you will be able to select the date, time and location you wish to take your exam. The exam must be taken within 120 days after registering.

Prerequisites

  1. Must be at least 18 years old
  2. Must hold a high school diploma or equivalent
  3. Must have a current CPR/AED certification. (refer to Certification Handbook for acceptable CPR/AED certifications)
    • Documentation only needs to be submitted if the candidate indicated they did not hold a current CPR/AED certification when completing the registration process.
    • Individuals that do not have current CPR/AED certification can still register and take the exam; however, a copy of valid CPR/AED certification must be received within one year of the exam date.

~Please do not send in your supporting documentation until AFTER you have registered for an exam.~

Certification will not be granted until ALL of the eligibility requirements have been met. Candidates have one (1) year to submit documentation demonstrating completion of all eligibility criteria. Exam results become invalid if acceptable eligibility documentation is not received within one (1) year of the exam date.

Exam Preparation

Preparation for the NSCA’s certification exams begins with a plan. The following checklist provides you with a series of recommendations that are fairly comprehensive and therefore may need to be modified depending on your background.

It is important for you to determine what steps will meet your needs and provide you with the knowledge, skills, and abilities to become a professional.

Step 1: Planning

  • Ensure you choose the correct certification.
  • Review Exam Prerequisites
  • Read the Detailed Content Outline in the NSCA Certification Handbook
  • Review Exam Content Description booklet
  • Talk to people with similar backgrounds who have passed to get insights on what worked for them
  • Determine how much time you need to study & set a target exam date.
  • Create and commit to a study schedule. (See table below for study times)
Exercise Science or Related DegreeInternships or Practical ExperienceLength of Study Time Needed
NoNo6-9 Months
NoYes4-6 Months
YesNo3-6 Months
YesYes3-6 Weeks

Step 2: Get your NSCA-CPT Study Materials

The NSCA-CPT certification exam is not based on recall from textbooks and materials, but an assessment of your knowledge, skills, and ability to be a Personal Trainer. However, the NSCAs textbook and official resources are valuable tools to help you prepare for the exam. Visit the NSCA Store to view the exam preparation materials that are available.

NSCA-CPT Study Packages

The NSCA-CPT® examination is based upon the critical knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) needed to safely and effectively work as a personal trainer. These KSAs are developed following a job analysis and are used to create the NSCA-CPT Detailed Content Outline (DCO). Therefore, the materials developed by the NSCA serve as the primary resources for preparation but they should not be considered as the sole sources for the exam.

There are three different packages to choose from to prepare you for the NSCA-CPT exam. They vary by level, price and what’s included, take a look at the following table to see which package is right for you.

Package TypePackage DescriptionMember PriceNon-Member PriceIncluded in Package
NSCA-CPT Digital PackageThis NSCA-CPT Digital Package helps candidates become familiar with the type, scope, and difficulty of the questions on the NSCA-CPT Certification exam.$144$193NSCA-CPT Exam Content Description E-Book - More than 200 Online Practice Questions
NSCA-CPT Essential PackageThis is the suggested package if you have a background or degree in the field or just want the basic study aids. $240.30$290.70Essentials of Personal Training, 2ed - NSCA-CPT Exam Content Description E-Book - Over 200 Practice Questions
NSCA-CPT Essential Plus PackageThis package is ideal for a candidate who is new to the field, does NOT have a background in the field, or just wants all of the study materials NSCA provides.$455$511Essentials of Personal Training, 2ed - Exercise Technique Manual, 3ed - NSCA-CPT Exam Content Description E-Book - Over 200 Practice Questions - And More!
NSCA-CPT Live Study Clinics

The NSCA-CPT exam is challenging, and to support all candidates, the NSCA offers Live Exam Prep Clinics across the country. These clinics are designed to help candidates understand what is included on the exam, to improve candidates’ understanding of the most relevant content as it pertains to the exam, and to provide candidates the opportunity to interact and question industry experts. Your time is valuable; spend it efficiently by gaining focus and understanding!

Step 3: Study!

  • Review the Detailed Content Outline in the content Description booklet to identify your level of comprehension for each domain, sub-domain or task.
  • Develop a study schedule with an emphasis on the weaker topics, but study all topics.
  • Connect with others by creating a study group.
  • Use the Online Practice Questions to :
    • 1st time – to identify areas of weakness
    • 2nd time – after reviewing of content to assess knowledge and understanding
    • 3rd time – toward the end, Score > 85% and identify why you chose the answer and why you did not choose other answers (reminder: a passing score on exams is evaluated on a performance standard scale and not percentage-based).
  • Answer open-ended questions found in the Content-Description Booklet
  • Seek topic-specific webinars, articles, or references to address areas of weakness.
  • Decide if further study of the exam preparation materials is needed; if not, register for the NSCA-CPT exam.

NSCA-CPT Exam Retake Policies

  • Candidates must wait 90 days to retake an exam from the most recent date the exam was taken. The waiting period is the industry standard to ensure adequate preparation.
  • Candidates can register online to retake the exam during the 90-day waiting period (please wait 4-5 business days after a failed exam before registering for a retake).
  • There are no limits to the number of times a candidate may attempt an exam.
  • Candidates do not need to resubmit eligibility documentation unless their CPR/AED certification has lapsed.

Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) Certification

CSCS Trainers 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, CSCS-certified trainers consult with and refer athletes to other professionals when appropriate.

Exam

The CSCS exam is comprised of two sections that test the candidate’s knowledge in the Scientific Foundations and Practical/Applied areas.

  • Scientific Foundations
    • 80 scored and 15 non-scored multiple-choice questions
  • Practical/Applied
    • 110 scored and 15 non-scored multiple-choice questions

Candidates must pass both sections and meet all other eligibility requirements within one year from the initial exam date.

The exam is administered at Pearson VUE testing centers of which there are hundreds of locations worldwide.

Registration

Candidates will need to register for the exam online. Within 2-3 business days after registering, you will receive an Authorization to Test email from Pearson VUE with instructions on how to schedule your exam. At that time, you will be able to select the date, time and location you wish to take your exam. Candidates can view exam appointment availability after registering for the exam. Exams must be taken within 120 days of registering.

Prerequisites

  1. Have a Bachelor’s degree or higher degree OR currently be enrolled as a college senior at an accredited institution
    • Candidates in the United States and Canada must submit an official transcript showing attainment of at least a bachelor’s degree (BS/BA), a terminal degree in physical therapy, or a terminal degree in chiropractic medicine granted by an accredited institution. (Refer to Certification Handbook for a list of acceptable accredited institutions.)
    • Candidates outside of the United States and Canada may submit a photocopy of the final transcript, degree diploma or certificate that was received at the completion of the degree program, showing attainment of at least a bachelor’s degree as defined by the United States educational system.
  2. Have a current CPR/AED certification (refer to Certification Handbook for acceptable CPR/AED certifications)
    • Individuals that do not have current CPR/AED certification can still register and take the exam; however, a copy of valid CPR/AED certification must be received within one year of the exam date.

Do not send in your supporting documentation until AFTER you have registered for an exam.

Certification will not be granted until ALL of the eligibility requirements have been met. Candidates have one (1) year from their exam date to submit documentation demonstrating completion of all eligibility criteria.

Exam results become invalid if acceptable eligibility documentation is not received within one (1) year of the exam date.

Exam Preparation

Step 1: Planning

  • Confirm you choose the right certification based upon the population you will be working with.
  • Review the Exam Prerequisites including the requirement of a bachelor’s degree.
  • Read the Detailed Content Outline (DCO) in the NSCA Certification Handbook. The DCO identifies what the exam will cover.
  • Review Exam Content Description booklet.
  • Talk to people with similar backgrounds who have passed to get insights on what worked for them.
  • Determine how much time you need to study and set a target exam date.
  • Create and commit to a study schedule. (See table below for study times.)
Exercise Science or Related DegreeInternships or Practical ExperienceLength of Study Time Needed
NoNo6-9 Months
NoYes4-6 Months
YesNo3-6 Months
YesYes3-6 Weeks

Step 2: Get your CSCS Study Materials

The NSCA’s textbook, Essentials of Strength and Conditioning (4th edition), and other official resources are valuable tools to help you prepare for the CSCS exam. However, keep in mind that the exam does not assess your ability to recall content found within the materials, but your ability to apply the knowledge, skills, and abilities required of a practicing Strength and Conditioning professional. Visit the NSCA Store to view the available CSCS exam preparation materials.

CSCS Study Packages

There are three different packages to choose from to prepare you for the CSCS exam. They vary by level, price, and what’s included. Take a look at the following table to see which package is right for you:

Package TypePackage DescriptionMember PriceNon-Member PriceIncluded in Package
CSCS Digital PackageThis CSCS Digital Package helps candidates become familiar with the type, scope, and difficulty of the questions on the CSCS Certification exam.$162$215CSCS Exam Content Description E-Book - More than 200 Online Practice Questions
CSCS Essential PackageThis is the suggested package if you have a background or degree in the field or just want the basic study aids. $258$313Essentials of Strength Training, 4ed - CSCS Exam Content Description Booklet - Over 200 Practice Questions
CSCS Essential Plus PackageThis package is ideal for a candidate who is new to the field, does NOT have a background in the field, or just wants all of the study materials NSCA provides.$472$532Essentials of Strength Training, 4ed - Exercise Technique Manual, 3ed - CSCS Exam Content Description Booklet - Over 200 Practice Questions - And More!
CSCS Live Study Clinics

The NSCA Exam Prep Live Clinic series is designed to help individuals understand the most relevant content as it pertains to these exams. The NSCA offers CSCS Exam Prep Clinics that are a blend of classroom lectures and hands-on training. Your time is valuable; spend it efficiently by focusing your studies on the most relevant content!

Step 3: Study!

  • Review Detailed Content Outline in the content Description booklet to identify your level of comprehension for each domain, sub-domain, or task.
  • Develop a study schedule with an emphasis on your weaker topics, but study all topics.
  • Connect with others by joining the CSCS Exam Prep Facebook Group and/or create a study group.
  • Use the Online Practice Questions to :
    • 1st time – to identify your areas of weakness.
    • 2nd time – after a review of the content to assess your knowledge and understanding.
    • 3rd time – toward the end, Score > 85% and identify why you chose the answer and why you did not choose other answers (reminder: a passing score on exams are evaluated on a performance standard scale and not percentage-based).
  • Answer open-ended questions found in the Content-Description Booklet.
  • Seek topic-specific webinars, articles, or references to address areas of weakness.
  • Attend an Exam Prep Live Clinic and receive a comprehensive review of content areas on the exam.
  • Decide if further study of the exam preparation materials is needed; if not, register for the CSCS exam.

CSCS Exam Retake Policies

  • Candidates must wait 90 days to retake an exam from the most recent date the exam was taken. The waiting period is the industry standard to ensure adequate preparation.
  • Candidates can register online to retake the exam during the 90-day waiting period (please wait 4-5 business days after a failed exam before registering for a retake).
  • There are no limits to the number of times a candidate may attempt an exam.
  • Candidates do not need to resubmit eligibility documentation unless their CPR/AED certification has lapsed.
  • Candidates that failed only one section of the CSCS exam only need to retake the failed section. However, a passing score must be achieved within one year or both sections will need to be taken again.

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NSCA-Certified Special Population Specialist (CSPS) Certification

CSPS Trainers are fitness professionals who, using an individualized approach, assess, motivate, educate, and train special population clients of all ages regarding their health and fitness needs while collaborating with healthcare professionals. They design safe and effective exercise programs, provide guidance to help clients achieve their personal health/fitness goals, and recognize and respond to emergency situations. Recognizing their own areas of expertise, CSPS trainers receive referrals from and refer clients to other healthcare providers as appropriate. Learn more – What is a Special Population?

Exam

The CSPS exam is comprised of 100 scored and 10 non-scored multiple-choice questions that test candidates’ knowledge in the following four domains:

  • Basic Pathophysiology and Science of Health Status, Condition, Disorder, or Disease
  • Client Consultation
  • Program Planning
  • Safety, Emergency Procedures, and Legal Issues

The exam is administered at Pearson VUE testing centers of which there are hundreds of locations worldwide.

Registration

You will need to register for the exam online. Within 2-3 business days after registering, you will receive an Authorization to Test email from Pearson VUE with instructions on how to schedule your exam. At that time, you will be able to select the date, time and location you wish to take your exam. Candidates can view exam appointment availability after registering for the exam. The exam must be taken within 120 days after registering.

Prerequisites

  1. Have at least one of the following:
    • A Bachelor’s degree or higher degree granted by an accredited institution in Exercise Science or a related field (e.g., physical therapy, chiropractic medicine). (Refer to Certification Handbook for a list of acceptable accredited institutions.)
    • A current license as a physical therapist, physical therapist assistant, athletic trainer, or registered dietitian.
    • A current NSCA certification (CSCS, NSCA-CPT, TSAC-F).
    • An NCCA-accredited personal trainer certification.
    • Candidates in the United States and Canada must submit an official transcript showing attainment of at least a bachelor’s degree (BS/BA), physical therapy degree, chiropractic medicine degree granted by an accredited institution, or certificate/license that was received at the completion of the approved program within one year of the exam date. (Refer to Certification Handbook for a list of acceptable accredited institutions.)
    • Candidates outside of the United States and Canada may submit a photocopy of the final transcript, degree diploma, or certificate that was received at the completion of the degree program, showing attainment of the approved program within one year of the exam date.
  2. Have a current CPR/AED certification. (Refer to Certification Handbook for acceptable CPR/AED certifications.)
    • Documentation only needs to be submitted if the candidate indicated they did not hold a current CPR/AED certification when completing the registration process.
    • Individuals that do not have a current CPR/AED certification can still register and take the exam; however, a copy of valid CPR/AED certification must be received within one year of the exam date.
  3. Have a minimum of 250 hours of related practical experience.
    • Candidates must submit a completed CSPS Practical Experience Form.
      • Hours must be consistent with the CSPS Scope of Practice (see below) and describe a candidate’s principal or supporting role in managing clients with unique needs.
      • Candidates must be able to perform the following:
        • Educate a client on the basic pathophysiology and science of health status, condition, disorder, or disease.
        • Perform health appraisals, fitness evaluations, SMART goal development, program design, motivational/coaching techniques, and client outcome monitoring.

It is appropriate for candidates to include parallel hours for clients with comorbidities. For example, experience may count in three domains if a candidate works with a client who is obese, has Type 2 diabetes, and osteoarthritis of the knee. Hours are subject to a random audit. It is strongly recommended that candidates gain experience in each CSPS content domain.

~Please do not send in your supporting documentation until AFTER you have registered for an exam.

Certification will not be granted until ALL of the eligibility requirements have been met. Candidates have one (1) year to submit documentation demonstrating completion of all eligibility criteria. Exam results become invalid if acceptable eligibility documentation is not received within one (1) year of the exam date.

Exam Preparation

Step 1: Planning

  • Ensure you choose the correct certification.
  • Review Exam Prerequisites.
  • Read the Detailed Content Outline in the NSCA Certification Handbook.
  • Review Exam Content Description booklet.
  • Talk to people with similar backgrounds who have passed to get insights on what worked for them.
  • Determine how much time you need to study and set a target exam date.
  • Create and commit to a study schedule.
  • Ensure you have a minimum of 250 hours of related practical experience.
Exercise Science or Related DegreeInternships or Practical ExperienceLength of Study Time Needed
NoNo6-9 Months
NoYes4-6 Months
YesNo3-6 Months
YesYes3-6 Weeks

Step 2: Get Your CSPS Study Materials

The CSPS certification exam is not based on recall from textbooks and materials, but an assessment of your knowledge, skills, and ability to be a Certified Special Populations Specialist. However, the NSCA’s textbook and official resources are valuable tools to help you prepare for the CSPS exam. Visit the NSCA Store to view the CSPS exam preparation materials that are available.

CSPS Study Packages

The CSPS examination is based upon the critical knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) needed to safely and effectively work with special populations. These KSAs are developed following a job analysis and are used to create the CSPS Detailed Content Outline (DCO). Therefore, the materials developed by the NSCA serve as the primary resources for preparation but they should not be considered as the sole sources for the exam.

There are 3 resources essential to studying for the CSPS exam. They can be purchased individually or a part of a full package. Those resources are:

  • CSPS Exam Content Description Booklet
  • Essentials of Training Special Populations, 1st Edition Textbook
  • CSPS Online Practice Questions

Many would suggest that instead of purchasing the different parts separately, it is wiser to purchase the Essentials Package that includes it all and saves money. See package chart below:

Study MaterialA La Carte PriceEssential Package Price
CSPS Content Description Booklet$27Included
CSPS Online Practice Questions$48Included
Essentials of Training Special Populations$89Included
Total$164$147.60
Additional CSPS Study Resources

Step 3: Study!

  • Review Detailed Content Outline in the content Description booklet to identify your level of comprehension for each domain, sub-domain or task.
  • Develop a study schedule with an emphasis on the weaker topics, but study all topics.
  • Connect with others by creating a study group.
  • Use the Online Practice Questions to :
    • 1st time – to identify areas of weakness
    • 2nd time – after reviewing the content to assess knowledge and understanding
    • 3rd time – toward the end, Score > 85% and identify why you chose the answer and why you did not choose other answers (reminder: a passing score on exams is evaluated on a performance standard scale and not percentage-based).
  • Answer open-ended questions found in the Content-Description Booklet.
  • Seek topic-specific webinars, articles, or references to address areas of weakness.
  • Decide if further study of the exam preparation materials is needed; if not, register for the exam.

CSPS Exam Retake Policies

  • Candidates must wait 90 days to retake an exam from the most recent date the exam was taken. The waiting period is the industry standard to ensure adequate preparation.
  • Candidates can register online to retake the exam during the 90-day waiting period (please wait 4-5 business days after a failed exam before registering for a retake).
  • There are no limits to the number of times a candidate may attempt an exam.
  • Candidates do not need to resubmit eligibility documentation unless their CPR/AED certification has lapsed.

NSCA-Tactical Strength and Conditioning Facilitator (TSAC-F) Certification

Exam

The TSAC-F exam is comprised of 130 scored and 20 non-scored multiple-choice questions that test candidates knowledge in the following domains:

  • Exercise Sciences
  • Nutrition
  • Exercise Technique
  • Program Design
  • Organization and Administration
  • Testing, Assessment, and Evaluation
  • Wellness Intervention

The exam is administered at Pearson VUE testing centers of which there are hundreds of locations worldwide.

Registration

You will need to register for the exam online. Within 2-3 business days after registering, you will receive an Authorization to Test email from Pearson VUE with instructions on how to schedule your exam. At that time, you will be able to select the date, time and location you wish to take your exam. Candidates can view exam appointment availability after registering for the exam. Exams must be taken within 120 days of registering.

Prerequisites

  1. Be at least 18 years old
  2. Have a high school diploma or equivalent
  3. Have a current CPR/AED certification. (Refer to Certification Handbook for acceptable CPR/AED certifications.)
    • Documentation only needs to be submitted if the candidate indicated they did not hold a current CPR/AED certification when completing the registration process.
    • Individuals that do not have current CPR/AED certification can still register and take the exam; however, a copy of valid CPR/AED certification must be received within one year of the exam date.

~Please do not send in your supporting documentation until AFTER you have registered for an exam.

Certification will not be granted until ALL of the eligibility requirements have been met. Candidates have one (1) year to submit documentation demonstrating completion of all eligibility criteria. Exam results become invalid if acceptable eligibility documentation is not received within one (1) year of the exam date.

Exam Preparation

Step 1: Planning

  • Confirm you choose the right certification based upon the population you will be working with.
  • Review Exam Prerequisites.
  • Read the Detailed Content Outline (DCO) that identifies what the exam will cover.
  • Review Exam Content Description booklet.
  • Talk to people with similar backgrounds who have passed to get insights on what worked for them.
  • Determine how much time you need to study & set a target exam date.
  • Create and commit to a study schedule.
Exercise Science or Related DegreeInternships or Practical ExperienceLength of Study Time Needed
NoNo6-9 Months
NoYes4-6 Months
YesNo3-6 Months
YesYes3-6 Weeks

Step 2: Get your TSAC-F Study Materials

The TSAC-F certification exam is not based on recall from textbooks and materials, but an assessment of your knowledge, skills, and ability to be a Tactical Strength and Conditioning Facilitator. However, the NSCAs textbook and official resources are valuable tools to help you prepare for the exam. Visit the NSCA Store to view the TSAC-F exam preparation materials that are available.

TSAC-F Study Packages

The TSAC-F examination is based upon the critical knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) needed to physically train military, fire and rescue, law enforcement, protective services, and other emergency personnel. These KSAs are developed following a job analysis and are used to create the TSAC-F Detailed Content Outline (DCO). Therefore, the materials developed by the NSCA serve as the primary resources for preparation but they should not be considered as the sole sources for the exam.

There are four resources essential to studying for the TSAC-F exam. They can be purchased individually or a part of a full package. Those resources are:

  • TSAC-F Exam Content Description Booklet
  • Essentials of Tactical Strength and Conditioning, 1st Edition Textbook
  • TSAC-F Exam Prep Online
  • TSAC-F Online Practice Questions

Each of the above study components is available to purchase separately, however, there are also three packages available for purchase that include most of, if not all, the parts you need to be successful in the exam preparation process.

  • TSAC-F Essential Package
    • Contains the Essentials of Tactical Strength Training and Conditioning, the TSAC-F Online Practice questions, and the TSAC-F Exam Content Description booklet. These items describe the content, scope, and distribution of the exam questions.
  • TSAC-F Essential Plus Package
    • Includes everything in the Essential Package plus the Exam Prep Online for those who are new to the field or just want all available study materials. The TSAC-F Essential Plus Package contains the Essentials of Tactical Strength Training and Conditioning, the TSAC-F Online Practice questions, and the TSAC-F Exam Content Description booklet. These items describe the content, scope, and distribution of the exam questions.
  • TSAC-F Practitioners Course
    • A foundational strength and conditioning program designed to provide tactical facilitators with the tools to decrease injury risk and increase longevity and effectiveness of tactical athletes. The course includes 32 hours of classroom and hands-on instruction, a 300-page course manual, exam prep materials and fees, a one-year professional membership, a certificate of completion, and exclusive discounts to the TSAC Annual Training.

For information on pricing for all the above components, take a glance at the pricing table below:

Study MaterialA La Carte PriceEssential Package PriceEssential Plus Package PriceTSAC Practitioners Course Price
Essentials of Tactical Strength & Conditioning Textbook$89IncludedIncludedNot Included
TSAC-F Content Description Booklet$27IncludedIncludedIncluded
TSAC-F Online Practice Questions$97IncludedIncludedIncluded
TSAC-F Exam Prep Online $250Not IncludedIncludedIncluded
TSAC-F Exam Registration$435Not IncludedNot IncludedIncluded
Total$898$191.70$416.70$1200*

The Practitioners Course includes 32 hours of classroom and hands-on instruction and a course manual

Step 3: Study!

  • Review Detailed Content Outline in the content Description booklet to identify your level of comprehension for each domain, sub-domain, or task.
  • Develop a study schedule with an emphasis on the weaker topics, but study all topics.
  • Connect with others by creating a study group.
  • Use the Online Practice Questions to :
    • 1st time – to identify areas of weakness
    • 2nd time – after review of content to assess knowledge and understanding
    • 3rd time – toward the end, Score > 85% and identify why you chose the answer and why you did not choose other answers (reminder: a passing score on exams is evaluated on a performance standard scale and not percentage-based).
  • Answer open-ended questions found in the Content Description Booklet.
  • Seek topic-specific webinars, articles, or references to address areas of weakness.
  • Attend an Exam Prep Live Clinic and receive a comprehensive review of content areas on the exam.
  • Decide if further study of the exam preparation materials is needed; if not, register for the TSAC-F exam

TSAC-F Exam Retake Policies

  • Candidates must wait 90 days to retake an exam from the most recent date the exam was taken. The waiting period is the industry standard to ensure adequate preparation.
  • Candidates can register online to retake the exam during the 90-day waiting period (please wait 4-5 business days after a failed exam before registering for a retake).
  • There are no limits to the number of times a candidate may attempt an exam.
  • Candidates do not need to resubmit eligibility documentation unless their CPR/AED certification has lapsed.

The Bottom Line

The NSCA certifications cover such a wide range of specific client needs that many trainers consider the NSCA umbrella of certifications the only certifications needed to be successful within their profession. The TSAC-F is considered the top military and first responder trainer certification while the CSCS and NSCA certifications are two of the most common certifications required at fitness businesses today.

Additionally, the NSCA certifications are NCCA accredited. The National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) holds the industry standard for certification programs. Established in 1987 by the Institute for Credentialing Excellence, the NCCA is an independent, non-governmental agency that sets the standard for professional certification programs via NCCA accreditation. Their focus is to ensure programs follow the health, welfare, and safety standards to provide quality programs to the public.

Before purchasing any study plans or memberships, it’s important to check and see which types of employers accept the NSCA certification to ensure it is the right one for the career path you choose to take. If there is a particular job posting you would like to apply for, review the posting in its entirety to be sure the NSCA certification is one they recognize.

For more information on developing a career as an NSCA trainer, take a look at the video below:

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How do I maintain my certification and will I need to recertify?

In order to remain certified, the NSCA requires that each certified individual maintain current CPR/AED certification, complete Continuing Education Units (CEU), and pay a recertification fee every three years. A three-year recertification period was chosen for NSCA certification programs to ensure that trainers keep their knowledge of industry trends, technology, and laws/regulations up-to-date.

What are the most popular training certifications?

American Council on Exercise (ACE), National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA), American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), and the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) are considered the top 5 personal training certifications nationwide.

How much does a personal trainer make per year?

According to ZipRecruiter’s 2020 projections, personal trainers make $23/hour, $940/week, $4,073/month, and $48,872/year.

Do you need a college degree to be a personal trainer?

Not all certifications require a college degree as a prerequisite, yet some do and require proof of college transcripts in order to qualify. Be sure to read through the prerequisites carefully before diving in.

Do all personal trainers need to be certified?

Although it’s not legally mandated, most fitness companies do require their personal trainers to hold specific certifications. It’s important to review a prospective company’s certification requirements and ensure it aligns with your personal career goals.

As you take this next step towards becoming a certified personal trainer, remember that Exercise.com’s All-in-One Business Platform sets you up for success and frees you up to fully engage with your clients. Book a demo today to learn more!

References:

    1. https://home.pearsonvue.com/nsca
    2. https://www.nsca.com/certification/exam-preparation/
    3. https://www.nsca.com/certification/nsca-cpt/nsca-cpt-exam-prerequisites/
    4. https://www.nsca.com/globalassets/certification/certification-pdfs/certification-handbook.pdf
    5. https://www.nsca.com/certification/exam-preparation/cscs-exam-prep-live/
    6. https://www.nsca.com/certification/csps/what-is-a-special-population/
    7. https://www.nsca.com/globalassets/certification/certification-pdfs/csps-practical-experience-form.pdf
    8. https://www.nsca.com/certification/csps/csps-exam-prerequisites/
    9. https://www.nsca.com/certification/csps/csps-study-materials/
    10. http://www.humankinetics.com/products/all-products/clinical-exercise-physiology-3rd-edition
    11. https://books.google.com/books/about/Exercise_Physiology.html?id=1b0iwv8-jGcC
    12. https://www.amazon.com/default/e/B0035K6BGE/ref=dp_byline_cont_book_1?redirectedFromKindleDbs=true
    13. https://www.nsca.com/certification/tsac-f/tsac-f-exam-prerequisites/
    14. https://www.nsca.com/globalassets/certification/certification-pdfs/tsac-f-dco–public-view.pdf
    15. https://www.nsca.com/certification/tsac-f/TSAC-F-study-materials/
    16. https://www.acefitness.org/
    17. https://trainer.nasm.org/become-a-cpt-s2l?utm_source=google&utm_medium=paidsearch&utm_content=&utm_campaign=nasm-google-leadgeneration-branded-s2l&gclid=CjwKCAjwmKLzBRBeEiwACCVihvfc0oZ5i2f1lcO4n8BvuailVcSUBJHMCKjFxRa5yGJ3NXzzwd73xRoCHnMQAvD_BwE
    18. https://www.acsm.org/?gclid=CjwKCAjwmKLzBRBeEiwACCVihr7N70Q5IB7NjPLb2OnUAOevaTr9XCCbifM7vI1WS6TeeJ-vYTMKMBoCVdcQAvD_BwE
    19. https://www.nsca.com/about-us/about-us/