What happened two weeks ago is something I’ll never forget. I’m standing outside the Resource Room testing center on Richmond Avenue and just staring at these two pieces of paper with my test results. I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t move. I just kept checking both pieces of paper to make sure what I saw was correct.

After triple-checking that both pieces of paper said “PASS”, I could finally say I was a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS). This was a special day for me and I left the center with a real feeling of accomplishment.

Now, I fully understand the certification doesn’t give me any special powers or add 10 years of experience to my resume. When people ask me if I’ll be getting paid more for it, I tell them, “at the moment, no”. ┬áBut that day wasn’t about increasing my paycheck or acting like I was better than anyone else. This was about looking back at the hours of studying and seeing it all pay off to reach one of my goals.

My results on the Scientific Foundations portion (left) and the Practical/Applied portion (right).

The CSCS was a certification I’ve coveted since I first started training people. After I received my NASM-CPT in February 2014, I started looking around to see what other certifications I should get. Training athletes has always been something I’ve wanted to do and I noticed every trainer I followed had the CSCS, either next to their name or in their bio.

I started digging around online and found out the CSCS was considered the gold standard in the industry. If you ever wanted to work for a pro or college team, you were required to have this certification. So, I went to the NSCA’s website to see how to apply and found out I couldn’t. It was only open to those who had a bachelor’s degree in an exercise-related field.

It hurt realizing it was a certification I could never get. It made me feel inadequate and that I’d never be good enough. I had to move on and find other ways to get better. The CSCS was always in the back of my mind, though.

After a stale time where I didn’t feel like I was really improving, things changed midway through 2015 and started picking up momentum. There was the SB911 Contest, the SWIS Symposium, meeting Justin Kavanaugh and him showing me his gym and the CPPS Certification. Sure, I was far from perfect, but I was seeing progress.

With my confidence high, I decided to check the NSCA site again. I didn’t expect anything to change and figured I’d just stare at the CSCS page with the certification I couldn’t get. But, as I was glancing through it, I noticed there was a change. You just needed a bachelor’s degree, it didn’t have to be in an exercise-related field. After making sure my eyes weren’t deceiving me, I hopped on it and signed up to take the test.

That was one obstacle down. Now I actually had to pass the test. This was easier said than done. The required reading was the fourth edition of the 700-page Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning textbook. This wasn’t an easy book to get through, especially when you didn’t spend years in college studying anatomy and exercise science. It was tough getting through a lot of the chapters and the writing had me on Google searching a ton of words.

You’re given 120 days to study and take the test and I signed up in May with the intention of taking it in June. I didn’t feel ready after that, so I paid for an extension. I read the book twice, and some chapters more, during the first run, but still didn’t feel confident. I even photocopied chapters and brought them to my summer job to look over and still was nervous. I might have been a bit too cautious and worried because of all the stories I heard on how hard the test was and that there was only a 60% passing rate.

The tally chart I kept on the cover of the textbook on how many times I read each chapter.

Even with the extension, I didn’t get much time to study in the fall because I started graduate school. I read when I could and went all-in after I took my last final.

I still had my doubts after the New Year, but received some hope when I found Ryan Grella’s CSCS Test Prep e-book while searching for practice tests. Once I got my hands on this, I started gaining confidence and realized I could pass this test on the first try. The e-book is massive (over 350 pages), but it was filled with over 500 test questions that mimicked what I saw on test day and condensed every chapter into 5-to-10 pages of notes. I’d read it on my phone in the car during breaks at the gym and was able to grasp two-to-three chapters a night. I wouldn’t just use this e-book as a standalone to study, but, coupled with a couple readings of the textbook, it was an invaluable review guide.

All of my attention was on passing this test. Whenever you take a test for a certification, the organization tests you on its’ way of doing things. Because of this, I didn’t read any other training books so I wouldn’t get crossed up on the text. Now, I’m free to read whatever I want and have a stack of books I’ve been waiting to get into. I’ll also be able to add some NSCA seminars to my schedule and continue to grow.

There’s still more work to be done, but this was a big step in the right direction. This has been a goal of mine since I got into the field and to pass this test was a great way to start 2017. I’m already excited about the trips I have planned this year and that list is only going to grow larger. I’m looking forward to an exciting year where I’ll continue to learn and develop as a trainer and meet more of the best this industry has to offer. Only this year I’ll have CSCS next to my name.