What types of questions are on the CSCS exam?

Sep 22, 2022

Photo Credit: Vojtech Okenka

By: Danielle Abel, MSN, FNMS, CSCS(c)

You might already know that there are 2 parts to the CSCS exam, a scientific foundations portion and a practical applied portion. However, the amount and types of questions between each portion vary significantly. So, in this article, we'll break down some areas you can expect to see on the exam.  Keep in mind that not all of these topics will be covered, but it is probably a good idea to be familiar with most of the topics. 

Taking some practice tests could help you identify what sections of the book you might need to spend more time understanding and applying. 

Scientific Foundations - Exercise Sciences

Muscle anatomy and physiology

  • Be able to apply knowledge about muscle group names, specific muscle names, muscle fiber or cell structure along with muscular dynamics such as sliding filament theory and type of muscle action. 

Neuromuscular anatomy and physiology

  • Be able to apply knowledge related motor units, muscle fiber types, muscle spindles, and golgi tendon organs along with the neuromuscular responses to exercise such as motor unit recruitment patterns, nerve conduction, and summation (the additive effect)

Biomechanics

  • Biomechanics related to exercise selection, exercise execution, and sports performance, along with kinematic principles of movement such as anatomical planes of motion, movement pattern joint angles, and velocity of movement.
  • Principles and laws of movement such as momentum, center of gravity, torque, power, work, force, impulse, center of pressure, force-velocity curve, force-time curve, lever systems, and isometric, isotonic, and isokinetic mechanisms
  • Muscular roles in movement such as agonist, antagonist, synergist, neutralizer, and stabilizer functions

Bone and Connective Tissue

  • Understand and apply the anatomy of bone and connective tissue in addition to bone and connective tissue responses to training and exercise

Bioenergetics and Metabolism

  • Apply knowledge related to energy system characteristics along with being able to manipulate training variables such as modality, duration, volume, intensity, work-to-rest ratios, and how to target specific energy system adaptations

Neuroendocrine Physiology

  • Apply knowledge related to the function of hormones like testosterone and growth hormone and neuroendocrine responses to exercise and training

Physiological Adaptations

  • Apply knowledge related to expected adaptations to exercise, training, and the impact of recovery interventions in addition to what to expect from metabolic conditioning, expected signs and symptoms of unsafe training, along with the causes and effects of detraining
  • Expected adaptations of sleep deprivation and disordered sleep in addition to techniques to facilitate recovery

Differences Among Athletes

  • Apply knowledge related to special considerations in athletes such as age, sex, training status, specific activity or sport

Scientific Research and Statistics

  • Apply knowledge related to the scientific process and be able to read, review, and evaluate different sources and types of scientific research along with understanding the differences between reliability and validity. 

Scientific Foundations - Sports Psychology

Psychological Foundations

  • Apply knowledge related to motivational theory and techniques using interventions like imagery, reinforcement strategies, positive self-talk, and confidence, in addition to maintaining attention, influencing decision-making, focus, and managing arousal for athletes.

Motor Learning and Skill Acquisition

  • Apply knowledge related to feedback, attention, focus, practice conditions, internal and external cueing, and instructional strategies. 

Mental Health Issues

  • Understand the psychological impact of injury in sports, and recognize the signs, symptoms, and psychological impacts of common mental health conditions such as stress, anxiety, and depression, along with recognizing behaviors, signs, and symptoms of disordered eating and eating disorders. Additionally, be able to identify signs of symptoms of substance abuse. 

Scientific Foundations - Nutrition

Nutritional Factors Affecting Health

  • Apply basic knowledge of food groups, food exchanges, glycemic index, calorie-dense foods, and nutrient-dense foods. Along with health factors related to dietary choices such as high intake of triglycerides, cholesterol, and/or saturated fat, in addition to low intake of iron and calcium. As well as understand food sensitivities, allergies, and nutritional alternatives in these situations. 
  • Understand and apply concepts related to the effects of hydration status in addition to electrolyte balance.

Nutrition to Maximize Performance

  • Apply basic knowledge to help athletes change their body composition, such as fat loss and increased lean mass, along with nutrient composition, timing, and fluid intake before, during, and after training or sports.
  • Factors related to nutrition that affect aerobic endurance, muscular endurance, hypertrophy, and strength in addition to various nutritional needs for training and different health statuses.

Common Supplements and Performance Enhancing Supplements

  • Apply basic knowledge related to the effects, risks, and alternatives to commonly used supplements, substances that enhance performance, and different methods of use
  • Understand dietary supplements and ergogenic aids such as creatine, carbohydrate loading, and caffeine as well as performance-enhancing substances and methods such as anabolic steroids and blood doping in addition to the performance impacts of drug and alcohol use

Looking for a step-by-step program to help you learn the  NSCA’s Nutritional Calculations step by step? Then you might want to check out our online CSCS Prep Course here.


Practical/Applied - Exercise Technique

Movement Preparation

  • Be able to teach and evaluate preparedness for movements such as soft tissue flexibility, mobility, peripheral nervous system, and central nervous system involvement, along with the utilization of dynamic stretching
  • Body limb and position readiness such as stance, posture, and alignment of joints and lever along with technique execution like body and limb positioning, mechanics of movement, breathing, focus, and level of arousal 
  • Cueing and coaching, monitoring for safety, in addition to performing assessment, correction, and modification of exercise technique

Resistance Training Exercise Technique

  • Be able to teach and evaluate the use of free weight training equipment like barbells, weight plates, and dumbbells, for example
    • Preparation for movements such as grip, stance, and joint alignment
    • Execution of exercise techniques such as body and limb position, mechanical movement, breathing, level of focus, and arousal
    • Spotting techniques and procedures along with cueing and coaching, and monitoring for safety
    • Assessment, correction, and modification of different movements
  • Be able to teach and evaluate the use of resistance machines like pulley machines, cam machines, hydraulic machines, friction machines, air machines, and tubing machines
    • Preparation for movements such as grip, stance, and joint alignment
    • Execution of exercise techniques such as body and limb position, mechanical movement, breathing, level of focus, and arousal
    • Spotting techniques and procedures along with cueing and coaching, and monitoring for safety 
    • Assessment, correction, and modification of different movements 
  • Be able to teach and evaluate the use of alternative modes of stability, balance, calisthenic, and body weight
    • Preparation for movements such as grip, stance, and joint alignment
    • Execution of exercise techniques such as body and limb position, mechanical movement, breathing, level of focus, and arousal
    • Assessment, correction, and modification of different movements 
  • Be able to teach and evaluate the use of non-traditional implements like tire flipping, heavy ropes, logs, kettlebells, and heavy medicine balls
    • Preparation for movements such as grip, stance, and joint alignment
    • Execution of exercise techniques such as body and limb position, mechanical movement, breathing, level of focus, and arousal
    • Assessment, correction, and modification of different movement 

Olympic Weight Lifting and Plyometric Exercise Technique

  • Be able to teach and evaluate olympic lifts such as clean, jerk, and snatch and plyometric exercises that involve vertical, horizontal, and lateral leg extension, trunk extension, flexion, and rotation, pulldown, forward push, and upward push
    • Preparation for movements such as grip, stance, and joint alignment
    • Execution of exercise techniques such as body and limb position, mechanical movement, breathing, level of focus, and arousal
    • Assessment, correction, and modification of different movement 

Speed and Sprint Exercise Technique

  • Be able to teach and evaluate speed and sprint techniques such as resisted and assisted sprinting
    • Preparation for movements such as grip, stance, and joint alignment
    • Execution of exercise techniques such as body and limb position, mechanical movement, breathing, level of focus, and arousal
    • Assessment, correction, and modification of different movement 

Agility Exercise Technique

  • Be able to teach and evaluate agility techniques such as forward, backward, and lateral movements, turn, transition, acceleration, and deceleration maneuvers
    • Preparation for movements such as grip, stance, and joint alignment
    • Execution of exercise techniques such as body and limb position, mechanical movement, breathing, level of focus, and arousal
    • Assessment, correction, and modification of different movement

Energy Systems Development - Aerobic

  • Be able to teach and evaluate aerobic conditioning activities like treadmill, bicycle, rowing machine, stair stepper, elliptical trainer, walking, jogging, running, & swimming
    • Programming and set up for machines
    • Preparation for movements such as grip, stance, and joint alignment
    • Execution of exercise techniques such as body and limb position, mechanical movement, breathing, level of focus, and arousal
    • Assessment, correction, and modification of different movement

Energy Systems Development - Anaerobic

  • Be able to teach and evaluate anaerobic conditioning activities like conditioning drills, heavy rope training, intermittent training
    • Preparation for movements such as grip, stance, and joint alignment
    • Execution of exercise techniques such as body and limb position, mechanical movement, breathing, level of focus, and arousal
    • Assessment, correction, and modification of different movement

Recovery Techniques

  • Be able to teach and evaluate recovery techniques like sleep, hydration, hydrotherapy, soft tissue manipulation, compression, and static stretching exercises
    • Preparation for movements such as grip, stance, and joint alignment
    • Execution of exercise techniques such as body and limb position, mechanical movement, breathing, level of focus, and arousal
    • Assessment, correction, and modification of different movement

Looking for a step-by-step program to help you learn the  NSCA’s Nutritional Calculations step by step? Then you might want to check out our online CSCS Prep Course here.


Practical/Applied - Program Design

Needs Analysis

  • Conduct a Needs Analysis to evaluate the sport movement along with the physiological injury risk of the sport
  • Be able to evaluate the athlete(s) training status, physical testing required, evaluation of test results, and develop the primary resistance training goal

Training Methods and Modes

  • Following the results of the Needs Analysis, be able to design comprehensive training programs that enhance performance while minimizing injury risk
    • Be able to employ different types of training methods and modes such as resistance, speed/sprint, plyometrics, interval, agility, aerobic, and flexibility
    • Combine various training methods and modes to promote an identified goal such as muscular endurance, muscular hypertrophy, muscular strength, muscular power, or muscular aerobic endurance

Exercise Selection

  • Following the Needs Analysis, be able to select exercises that are specific to the sport and muscular demands for its application and effectiveness for the given sport 
  • Choose exercises that consider the type or number of muscle groups used and how to change the exercise to change the involved muscles
    • Power, core, assistance, or structural exercise movements
    • Knowing what exercises train certain muscles 
    • Apply knowledge related to the type of kinetic chain movement, considering open or closed chain exercises
    • Apply knowledge related to minimizing the potential of injury, such as selecting exercises that would train the hamstrings versus the quadriceps or choosing upper body movements to train over lower body movements to train
    • Apply knowledge related to exercises that promote recovery

Exercise Order

  • Apply knowledge related to the order exercises should be performed based upon the training goal
  • Apply knowledge related to variations in exercise orders such as large to small muscle groups, alternating pushing movements with pulling movements, and alternating upper body movements with lower body movements
  • Apply knowledge related to exercise modes such as explosive training, strength training, warm-ups, and cool-downs, and be able to prioritize the sequence of training related to primary and secondary energy systems 

Assign Exercise Intensities

  • Apply knowledge related to the methods for assigning exercise loads such as 1RM, a % of the athlete's body weight, rep max loads, and rating of perceived exertion (RPE)
  • Apply knowledge related to exercise heart rate, such as a percentage of maximum heart rate or functional capacity, in addition to being able to use the Karvonen Method
  •  

Assign Training Volumes

  • Apply knowledge related to volume, also defined as sets x reps
  • Apply knowledge related to the expected outcomes of training volume manipulation
  • Be able to assign training volume based on the training goal as related to training for muscular endurance, muscular hypertrophy, muscular strength, muscular power, and aerobic/anaerobic capacity

Assign Work to Rest Periods, Recovery and Unloading, and Training

  • Understand and be able to apply the concepts of work to rest periods and recovery as it relates to muscular endurance, muscular hypertrophy, muscular strength, muscular power, and aerobic/anaerobic capacity
  • Determine the recommended training frequency as it relates to muscular endurance, muscular hypertrophy, muscular strength, muscular power, aerobic/anaerobic capacity, and exercise recovery

Periodization Models and Concepts

  • Understand and apply the concepts of periods, phases, and cycles in training in addition to the types of training associated with each period, phase, and cycle
  • Understand and apply the concepts of training variations based on sports seasons such as certain training periods, training phases, or training cycles for a given sport season
  • Be able to design and implement a periodized program specific to the needs and demands of the athlete and sport, such as type of sport, athlete position, and athlete's current level of training

Injury and Reconditioning

  • Be able to design and implement programs for athletes during a period of injury or reconditioning, such as assigning exercises for a given acute or chronic injury or condition in collaboration with allied health professionals

Practical/Applied - Organization and Administration

Organizational Environment

  • Understand the policies and procedures that should be in place for safe operations of a strength and conditioning facility, such as facility cleaning, equipment cleaning, equipment maintenance, rules, scheduling, and emergency procedures. 
  • Appoint the primary responsibilities and duties of the strength and conditioning staff members. 
  • How to use effective communication and collaboration with team coaches, sports medicine, athletic trainers, support staff, administration, and media. 

Design and Layout

  • Determine the organization, design, and layout of a strength and conditioning facility, including flooring, ceiling height, place of mirrors, ventilation, lighting, and characteristics of facility equipment.

Professional Practice

  • Understand and work within the strength and conditioning professional's scope of practice.
  • Adhere to the NSCA's policies, procedures, and codes 
  • Adhere to practice standards of related strength and conditioning governing bodies 
  • Be able to recognize and respond to signs and symptoms of unsafe training such as overuse, overtraining, and temperature-induced illness. 
  • Be able to recognize and refer athletes for collaboration with allied health professionals such as athletic trainers, physical therapists, physicians, registered dieticians, and sports psychologists. 

Litigation Issues

  • Recognize common litigation (legal) issues associated with the strength and conditioning organizational environment, physical environment, and professional practice, along with ways to decrease or minimize liability risk within an organization. 

Practical/Applied -  Testing, Ongoing Monitoring, and Data Evaluation

Evidence-Based Tests

  • Be able to select appropriate evidence-based tests to maximize testing reliability and validity. Along with testing based upon the unique aspects of an exercise classification, sport, sports position, health needs, or training status, in addition to using equipment, personnel, and time efficiently. 

Administer Testing and Implement Monitoring Protocols

  • Administer testing and use monitoring protocols and procedures to ensure reliable data collection and safe performance of tests. Along with using testing and monitoring equipment properly. In addition to following testing and monitoring protocols such as warm-up, explaining how to test, providing proper rest between trials, and evaluating athlete readiness. 
  • Use tests to evaluate physical characteristics and workloads such as anthropometrics, physiological, and mechanical stress. Along with being able to evaluate performance such as muscular strength, muscular power, aerobic/anaerobic capacity, as well as muscular endurance, agility, speed, and flexibility. 

Evaluate and Interpret Results

  • Be able to evaluate and interpret the validity of testing results, along with identifying typical vs. atypical results based on an individual, sport, or sport position. 
  • Lastly, design and modify training programs based on testing results to uphold safe performance and determine which training outcome needs to be improved in a future program. 

If you made it to the end, congratulations; as overwhelming as it may seem, doesn't it seem more clear now what the expectations of the program are? After reading through this list, you probably mentally starred some of these areas as learning opportunities for yourself. Great, now you know the specific areas that you need to focus more of your time and energy on to nail down the concepts. 


Support & Courses Available

Ready for more support to help you prep for the CSCS exam? Join our Facebook Group, “Strength and Conditioning Study Group,” here. Ready for even more? Our 24-module CSCS Prep Course has all the requirements mentioned in this article completely laid out for you with full descriptions and practical application examples, plus chapter quizzes to help you pass the NSCA exam; click the link here to check it out.

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