I originally tested for my CSCS back in 2010. At the time, I wanted to collect as many certifications as possible and I thought the CSCS was the best of them. Anyone who had this certification knew what they were talking about. There were scores of online fitness authors using this credential ALONE as their credit to qualifications. It was the prerequisite for the majority of strength coaches to be a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. I couldn’t wait to check it off my list. So in 2010, I studied for and passed the test. I was now a bad ass. Or so I thought.
Since then, my opinion has changed a bit. I’ve gotten a little older and little wiser. My sunny opinion of the CSCS (and the NSCA) dwindled to a twinkle, and then finally winked out. When I received a notification to renew my certification this past year (and pay the requisite fees) I walked over to my recycling bin and placed it neatly inside. This was hard for me, like saying goodbye to a friend. It meant I had to admit that the CSCS was not what I thought it was: a rigorous professional standard to raise the quality of all coaches. It had many flaws, and flaws that we as professionals can fix by holding ourselves and our industry to a higher standard.
My conscientious refusal to continue to participate is about more than saving the renewal fees. We, as coaches, stand on a broken industry and the NSCA, and those like it, is supposed to provide rigor and authority, raising the standard of upcoming coaches. But does it?
As a grad student at The University of South Alabama, we formed study groups to prep for the test. A student in my group at the time was taking the test the next morning and getting in some last minute studying by asking me questions:
“What’s the name of that exercise where the weight goes all the way up?”
“You mean a Snatch?”
“Oh yea that one”
My jaw dropped. The next morning she would not only needed to know the name of the exercise, but also how to coach it. I thought her prospects looked poor. She passed the test, and lists the CSCS behind her name to this day. I cannot confirm whether or not she has since learned what a Snatch is, let alone how to perform or coach it properly.
How is this possible? How can an ‘elite’ level certification allow such substandard coaching? I wish there weren’t as many poor training examples to choose from, but this particular story is hardly an anomaly. Here are just a few:
This is the cover of a textbook from the NSCA called Strength Training. This is embarrassing. As anyone who knows anything about strength knows, as an exercise becomes more unstable, force production goes down. You'd be hard pressed to find a better book to judge by it's cover.
This is a picture of a 'squat to parallel with good back position'. This is not a parallel squat, nor is it proper back position, bar placement, grip, or footwear. The only redeeming lesson here is the great article by Dr. Lon Kilgore, outlining the same issues with the CSCS that I present here.
So what do we do?
We, as coaches and professionals, have to start demanding more of our institutions. There is no organization in the world without flaw, but the above examples show a disregard to the furtherance of knowledge that is inexcusable for a governing body and akin to kindergarten being taught by first graders. We know what squats look like, and we know how strength is developed, and this information MUST be known by those writing the textbooks.
If the CSCS won’t further my education, what will?
I’ve made plenty of mistakes in my career, and learned from them. These are the things I wish someone would’ve told me as a young coach, instead of me wasting time trying to collect meaningless certifications:
1) Read everything you can get your hands on. There is no one book that will teach you everything you need to know about Strength and Conditioning, although these three are a great start:
But don’t stop here, as these are only the beginning. Read things you agree with and learn from them. Read things you disagree with, and formulate arguments about why your approach is better. Change your mind based on new research and then change it back again. Science is a growing and living thing and changing all the time. We used to teach people to remove bad humors from the blood, imagine what the strength coaches of the future will know that we don’t.
2) Get out there and coach people. There is no better way to improve than to ‘learn by doing’. When you coach people on a daily basis, you learn what works and what doesn’t. You learn which methods are applicable and which ones should stay in the lab. Science is about experiments, and training people lets you conduct these experiments every day. All your wins and all your losses serve to sharpen your sword.
3) Start a business. Change the industry by coaching people correctly and making a living doing it. With an empty room you can do a whole lot, and with just a barbell you can do almost everything. I literally met with clients in a coat closet when I was starting out. Don’t let circumstances stop you from changing the world. I started as a personal trainer to fix all the problems that I saw in the industry, and I hope as many people as possible do the same. This is how we can fix our industry, by being the coaches we wish we had, and by creating the training environments we wish were on every street corner.
All this is easy for you to say, Elliott…
You’re right it is. From the comfort of TrueFN, where life is great and I’m surrounded by great coaches and athletes, you’re right. There won’t be any repercussions for me, and I doubt the NSCA will even notice my absence. What they will notice, and I hope they do, is a generation of young coaches who begin to feel as Mark Rippetoe does. He writes in his resignation letter to the NSCA that:
"It no longer serves my best professional interest to be associated with the NSCA or the NSCA Certification Commission"
We can fix our industry, and make it what it should be. It can be a reputable science with professionals applying rigor and knowledge to improving the human condition. This can only happen if we determine to never stop learning, never stop applying, and never stop demanding more of ourselves, our clients, and our institutions.