The Truth About Certifications


In the last article, Passion Trumps Everything, I think I did a decent job of proving that being a C.S.C.S does not guarantee that you know what you are talking about.  I have to be honest, as much as that does not come as a big surprise it still is a disappointing realization.  In the strength and conditioning community the C.S.C.S. is the holy grail of certifications.  So how can someone attain such a level of status, and not be competent?

Well first you have to look at what is involved in getting certified.  For the most part it is simply passing a multiple choice test.  There isn't really a practical application section included.  One of the reasons is it wouldn't be cost effective to administer.  So you have certifications that are primarily multiple choice in nature.  And as we all know, if you have any amount of knowledge on a subject, you can use the process of elimination to make an educated guess.  However, is that really the best way to test knowledge of a potential coach?  Obviously the answer is NO…

NSCACSCSLogoLet’s look specifically at the NSCA’s C.S.C.S. exam.  It consists of roughly 200 multiple choice questions.  Only 39 of which focus on exercise technique, and 40 of which focus on program design.  Now I don’t know about you, but that doesn't seem like many questions.  Having trained athletes for over a decade I can say with confidence that there is no way those 79 questions cover everything involved in training athletes.

The Truth About Certifications is that they are somewhat overvalued.  I am not trying to diminish their importance, but whether a Coach has a certain certification or not should not be the deciding factor.  Truth of the matter is there are many leaders in the industry that have never been certified.  On the flip side of that, there are many certified coaches that are not qualified to coach athletes in any practical sense.

Certifications are much like college degrees.  They simply prove that you have attained some level of knowledge in a particular field of study.  They do not in any way guarantee proficiency.  If you need any proof of that just check out the state of the U.S. Government.  Need more proof?  Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and the late Steve Jobs all prove that you do not need a college degree to be a successful businessman or a billionaire for that matter.


Think about someone like Louie Simmons.  Louie Simmons is one of the most influential strength coaches in the world.  Do you think he has a bunch of certifications on the wall?  No.  The certifications he has are the lifters he trains and the World Record holders he produces.  When it comes down to it that is the mark of a true coach.

How To Determine a Coach’s Qualification.

  1. Who Have They Trained?
  2. Are They Able To Adapt Their System To a Wide Variety of Athletes?
  3. Do They Know How To Motivate Athletes?
  4. Are They Willing To Explain Why?
  5. Can They Take a Great Athlete and Make Them Better?

These questions are much more important than what school someone went to, or what plaques they have on their wall.  If you are looking for a strength coach these are the questions you should be asking yourself.

fixing-the-squatFirst of all, who have they trained?  If you have a particular goal in mind, has the coach you are considering got another athlete to that goal before?  If not, do you really want to invest a significant amount of time and money hoping that you will be their first to reach that level?

Second, are they able to adapt their system to a wide variety of athletes?  If a coach can only work with a  certain group of people then they will not be able to help you if you aren’t in that group.  A good coach has to be flexible.  They have to understand that training should be fluid to some extent, and they have to be willing to evolve.  If they have a one size fits all training approach what are you paying them for?

Third, do they know how to motivate athletes?  This may be one of the most important questions of them all.  The truth is that most training systems work to some extent.  The measure of a great coach is whether or not they can get 100% out of their athletes.  And do they realize that different athletes are motivated in different ways.  So require external motivation, while others are motivated internally.  The job of great coach is to understand each one of their athletes and get their very best performance.  It doesn't matter how great of a program a coach can come up with, if they cannot motivate their athletes then the results will not be impressive.

Fourth, are they willing to explain why?  This is another very important question.  If you are looking to hire a strength coach, and they won't explain WHY they train people they way they do…RUN.  Seriously, if their only answer is “because I said so…” then they are a shitty coach.  One of the best parts of being a coach is when an athlete asks WHY.  Whenever you are questioned about your methods it makes you really think about why you do the things you do.  If, as a coach, you cannot explain why you do the things you do then you probably shouldn't be doing them.


Fifth, can they take a great athlete and make them better?  This is the true test of a coach.  Literally any coach can take an untrained athlete and make them stronger.  But taking an already elite athlete and improving their performance is the true  mark of a great coach.  Think about it.  Which is harder, taking an athlete from a 4.9 40 yd dash time to a 4.5; or shaving a tenth of a second off an athlete that already runs a 4.3.  Obviously the latter is much harder.

These are all the questions that you should be asking when you are looking for a strength coach.  And as a little bonus advice there is one more thing to look out for.  This kind of goes hand in hand with the first question I mentioned.  If you are talking to a potential strength coach and all he want's to do is try to impress you with the “alphabet soup” behind his name and his personal accomplishments that should be a HUGE RED FLAG.  This is precisely why Ex- Pro Athletes are not always the best strength coaches.  I hate to break this to you, but many elite athletes would have been elite no matter what training they did.  They were just born better at some things than the rest of us.  Do you think they know how to train someone that doesn't have all their advantages?  They might, but just because they attained the highest level of their sport it is no guarantee.

Choosing a Strength Coach is a major investment of both money and time.  It is definitely a decision that deserves some thought.  If you choose poorly you can never get that time back.  So please do your due diligence.  Ask the important questions, and do not get distracted by fancy titles.  What you are ultimately trying to invest in is RESULTS.




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