Strength Coach: The Almighty S&C Specialist


Team coaches and athletes who want to maximize performance in their respective sport often seek the assistance of a qualified strength coach; more specifically a coach that’s a certified strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS).

What is a Strength Coach?

This type of exercise professional analyzes athlete performance, identifies any weak points, then develops or makes corresponding changes to the athlete’s training program.

Strength, power, agility and speed are the primary components of sports performance targeted for improvement by the CSCS. The CSCS certification is acquired through the National Strength and Condition Association (NSCA), which is a standard requirement to practice as a strength coach.

CSCS vs CPT | Difference Between Strength Coach and Personal Trainer

One major difference between a CSCS and a CPT is that a bachelor’s degree is required to become a CSCS, while there are no degree requirements to become a CPT.

Both the CSCS and CPT need to know exercise science and its applications as well as nutrition. They also need to know anatomy and physiology. However, their focus and depth of knowledge in certain areas is not the same.

Although there is some overlap in knowledge and skill, the CSCS is more educated in the area of sports performance and science than the average certified personal trainer. Basically, the CSCS focuses on helping athletes improve physical ability for a given sport, while the CPT usually works to enhance a person’s total health and fitness levels.

Both CSCSs and CPTs can work in various commercial gyms, however it’s mostly certified strength specialists that are in charge of athlete workout programming in the weight rooms of collegiate and professional sports teams.


Though graduating with a 4-year bachelor’s degree in any subject (or being a college senior) is required to sit for the CSCS, a bachelor of science in kinesiology (the study of movement of the body), exercise science or related major is highly recommended to prepare for this certification exam.

The CSCS exam consists of multiple-choice questions exclusively, divided into two parts. The first section (95 questions in 1.5 hours; 80 are scored) covers the candidate’s scientific knowledge in such areas as muscular anatomy & physiology, and energy metabolism. The second part (125 questions in 2.5 hours; 110 are scored) explores practical applications, including workout programming, athletic performance testing and exercise technique.

If a total score of 70 or higher is achieved, the CSCS certification is awarded. By no means an easy feat, passing is challenging by any standard with NSCA reporting a 63% pass rate for the CSCS exam.

In order to maintain this certification, the NSCA requires its Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialists to complete 6 continuing education credits (CECs) every 2-year period.

Job Duties

Frequently, the CSCS is employed in settings that have competitive sports teams, either at the high school level or, more frequently, at the collegiate and professional levels. Their primary goal is to help improve athletic performance through optimal and science-based physical conditioning regimens.

The Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist credential may also be required for some job positions outside of strength coaching, such as athletic department director or gym facility manager.

5 Common CSCS Job Duties

When preparing the athlete in preseason, postseason, and in-season, the CSCS will perform the following:

  • Make a physical assessment of players similar to the one a personal trainer makes of his or her clients.
  • Design a lifting, running and conditioning program for the athlete.
  • Observe the athlete’s technique in doing the exercises and make corrections as needed.
  • Be sure proper eating habits are followed to enhance exercise recovery and maximize athletic performance.
  • Put the athlete through a series of tests to determine where there is a weakness in performance.

Examples of athletic performance tests administered by the CSCS:

  • Vertical jump for power
  • 40-yard dash for speed
  • 1-repetition lift maximum in bench press, squat and deadlift for strength
  • Hexagon obstacle test for agility
  • 12-minute run for endurance

3 Primary CSCS Work Settings

High School
Some high school coaches are CSCSs and provide a solid introduction to the fundamentals of exercise and correct lifting techniques to young athletes.

College or University
If the CSCS works in a collegiate setting, he or she will usually be responsible for the conditioning of multiple and possible all athletic teams. For example, they would be in charge of the strength training for tennis players as well as football players.

Professional Sports
At the professional level, the CSCS usually focuses on only one sport. Quite often, he or she is considered part of the coaching staff. There is a great deal of pressure on the CSCS to ensure the team is optimally conditioned and reaches peak performance by the time their season rolls around. On the flip side, their is a huge sense of accomplishment that comes with the athlete’s or team’s success.