11 Strength and Conditioning Certifications for Coaches

Strength and Conditioning Certifications for Coaches Photo By: Deane Rimerman

Whether you are a young strength coach looking to move up in your career or a sport coach looking to improve your knowledge in the weight room, getting certified is great for both furthering your education and bolstering your resume. There are so many certs out there that it can be tough to fight through the noise. Some of the best strength and conditioning certifications are:

NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS)

The National Strength and Conditioning Association’s CSCS designation has been around since 1985 and is one of the easily one of the most respected among personal trainers and strength coaches. This is probably the number 1 cert to get if you want to be a strength coach, either privately or for a high school, college, or professional sports team. Here is my guide to the CSCS exam.

There are a few prerequisites – a bachelor’s degree, CPR/AED, and obviously passing the exam. The exam is proctored at approved locations and this is one of the few certifications on this list where the exam can absolutely not be taken online. Human Kinetics offers an online course to prepare.

CSCCa Strength and Conditioning Coach Certified (SCCC)

The Collegiate Strength and Conditioning Association has recently created their own certification, the SCCC. This is one of the top choices if you hope to be a full-time collegiate strength coach. If you are serious about having a career as a strength and conditioning coach, you’ll definitely want to get this or the CSCS.

This is arguably the most difficult to achieve on this list. You must be a full-time collegiate or professional strength and conditioning coach, have a bachelor’s degree, CPR/AED and First Aid, complete a program design, pass the exam, and either have 12 years experience, or complete an approved 640 hour internship. You can find out more about the requirements here.

ISSA Strength and Conditioning Certification

The International Sports Sciences Association also has a strength and conditioning certification. The ISSA was established in 1988 and has more than 200,000 students and alumni. Their course was designed by Professor and athlete Thomas D. Fahey, EdD.

This is a really good option if you don’t hold a bachelor’s degree and aren’t planning to get one. They offer a home study and online course you can complete at your leisure that comes with a 530 page “Specialist in Sports Conditioning” text book. There are requirements outside of passing the online quiz. They also offer a Level 2 course.

Ace Fitness Sports Conditioning Specialty

Ace Fitness has their own Sports Conditioning Specialty cert. Ace is one of the oldest and most respected names in the personal training industry. They offer this online course, with an open book quiz, as sort of an add on to personal training or others in the health and fitness field.

This is not a standalone designation, but it can be added if you have already completed one of the prerequisites. If you are a personal trainer through one of the major providers, you likely already qualify to take this course.

IYCA High School Strength and Conditioning Specialist (HSSCS)

The International Youth Conditioning Association has created the HSSCS for full-time high school strength coaches, or individual sports coaches who work at the high school level and are in charge of their team’s time in the weight room. The IYCA was created in 2004 to be a resource for youth athlete development.

The online course is instructed by Wil Fleming, Mike Robertson, and Eric Cressey. To become a HSSCS, you must buy and finish the course materials, pass the exam, and pass the background check. This is great if you work with youth and high school athletes, because it is specifically designed for working with those athletes. You will learn all the important programming concepts, as well as injury prevention and tips on long-term athlete development.

Certified Physical Preparation Specialist (CPPS)

The CPPS was found by Joe DeFranco and Jim Smith, who both have years of experience privately training athletes. The CPPS is designed to “learn the proven training system developed for elite athletic performance”. This is done by learning practical information, techniques, and strategies from experienced coaches.

There are no prerequisites and they offer in-person courses on occasion and recently created an online course. It is run like an actual course – a group of people take an online class together for a certain time and are graded by the teachers – so it isn’t open at all times. You can check here to see if there is an upcoming course you can join.

Certified Underground Strength Coach (CUSC)

Zach Even-Esh created the Underground Strength Coach to share his systems for succeeding as a private coach. The Underground way is to get the best training out of your facilities and equipment, even if you hardly have any. This also comes with business advice for private coaches who work with athletes and adults from Even-Esh.

This is available as an online course, through NESTA. You can check the upcoming in-person opportunities to become an Underground Strength Coach here.

USSA Sports Strength and Conditioning

The United States Sports Academy offers a Sports Strength and Conditioning program. The USAA has been around since 1972 and offer classes for a variety of sports related jobs. This class focuses on sports training, programming, nutrition, and injury prevention.

To obtain this cert, you must pass 6 USSA classes, which are available online, and are all related to health, fitness, and sports performance.

AFPA Strength and Conditioning Certification

The American Fitness Professionals and Associates offer over 30 certifications for personal training, fitness, nutrition, and specialties, with over 100,000 students since they were created in 1994.

To receive this cert, you must be 18 years or older, have a high school degree, and pass the exam. Having some kind of personal trainer designation is also recommended. You are given 2 attempts to pass the exam with a score of 85% or higher, after you complete the self-study course.

Certified Functional Strength Coach (CFSC)

The CFSC was created in 2014, with the hopes of improving the quality of fitness and strength coaches by forcing them to pass a live exam that proves their ability in a real world setting. This course includes both online and in-person training.

The requirements include a single day on-site training and passing a practical exam that is given at the end of the day. You must also pass a written exam.

IFPA Strength and Sports Conditioning Specialist

The International Fitness Professionals Association the Strength and Sports Conditioning Specialist designation if you want to learn more about program design for a specific sport. This class offers programs for baseball, basketball, football, golf, hockey, soccer, tennis, and volleyball.

There are no prerequisites for this course, although an up-to-date CPR/AED is recommended. The online package comes with a text book, exam, and a sports specialty training in one of the sports listed above.


If you are a strength and conditioning coach at an NCAA Division 1 school, you may be required to earn a certification. It is important to note that NOT all of the designations on this list qualify. If you coach at the Division 1 level, or are looking to, contact someone at your university.

The best strength and conditioning certifications for you depends on several factors. Budget, time, and career goals are 3 of the major factors, but there are many more variables involved and only you can know what is the best choice for you. It’s important to look at the requirements of each designation to ensure that you are even eligible.

If you are serious about making a career of designing and implementing programs for athletes, the CSCS or SCCC would make a great choice. Both are very well respected and are among the hardest to achieve. There’s no reason you can’t achieve both. You may want to start with the CSCS and then go for the SCCC when you get the required experience or are able to fulfill the internship requirements.

Many of the other strength and conditioning certifications listed fulfill a very important niche. If you don’t have a bachelor’s degree, the CSCS and SCCC aren’t an option. So from there, you can choose whatever suits you best.

For instance, if you work mostly with youth and high school athletes, the HSSCS might be your best choice. It is designed specifically for this purpose and you will get extra insight you might not elsewhere.

If you are a private coach and have limited facilities and want to get creative in your training, the Underground Strength Coach may be your best bet. It also has the added benefit of business advice from someone who has been in your situation.

Personal interest comes into play here also. If you aren’t worried about what would look best on your resume when job hunting, go for the course that will further your knowledge about the topic you use most in your coaching.

Whenever you are looking for a strength coach certification, make sure it not only furthers your career, but also your education. Ultimately, the people who should benefit the most from all of this is your athletes.

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