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What is the Difference Between the Strength Coach (CSCS) and the Certified Personal Trainer (CPT)?

A panel of five fitness experts gathered their opinions and thoughts on a specific question for the standAPARTfitness.com Round Table Discussion. The panel was asked the following: “Aside from the prominent letters after a strength coachs’s name, where does the line cross between CSCS and Personal Trainers (CPT)? What are the major differences between the two professional roles?”

In no specific order, their answers are as follows:

Rick Karboviak, CSCS: “In today’s realm, and with respect to CPT’s of all organizations, there are some that try to do sports performance programs with their general fitness knowledge. Some of these trainers know how to step things up to a sport’s higher demands and more specific demands, while others merely copy or mimic what other, more highly educated and experienced strength coaches do. It’s these ones who merely try to copy what the CSCS knows and applies daily, and the trainer tries to do it haphazardly, just to make a sale of packaged sessions in the end. Other trainers do study the sports performance methods, maybe obtain other sport-related certifications in the field (there are Speed/Agility/Quickness Trainer certs, Specialist in Strength & Conditioning certs, among others). They then apply their new knowledge they have, after having obtained it through quality education (study, workshops, internships or mentorships), and observation, before they apply anything to their clients.”

Chris Blake, MA, ATC, CSCS: “As far as where does the line crosses between the CSCS and CPT certifications; there are distinct and equally respectable qualities with each certification. I can’t speak for the CPT group as I am not certified as a personal trainer. But the scope of practice states:

Personal trainers are health/fitness professionals who, using an individualized approach, assess, motivate, educate and train clients regarding their health and fitness needs. They design safe and effective exercise programs provide the guidance to help clients achieve their personal health/fitness goals and respond appropriately in emergency situations. Recognizing their own area of expertise, personal trainers refer clients to other health care professionals when appropriate. In order to challenge the exam you must have CPR certification as well as a high school diploma/GED.”

Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialists (CSCS) are professionals who apply scientific knowledge to train athletes for the primary goal of improving athletic performance. They conduct sport-specific testing sessions, design and implement safe and effective strength training and conditioning programs and provide guidance regarding nutrition and injury prevention. Recognizing that their area of expertise is separate and distinct, CSCS consult with and refer athletes to other professionals when appropriate. A bachelor’s degree (BS/BA) or chiropractic medicine degree granted by an accredited institution and current CPR certifications are prerequisites to challenge the exam.”

Dr. Kwame Brown, PhD., CSCS: “As I understand it, the major difference between the CSCS and the CPT certifications is that the CPT spends more time on addressing those with health issues in a training environment, and is more geared toward personal training at a health club. The CSCS is geared toward those who may want to work with sports teams or in training competitive athletes. The overlap between the 2 will be in the knowledge both will acquire during the certification process in the foundations of training techniques and physiology. Another source of overlap is the experience of the individual outside of the preparation for the certification exam.”

Steve Payne, CPT, CSCS: “We all have an obligation to constantly improve, to gain knowledge. It should be, for those who truly care about their clients, a burning desire. Knowledge is the one thing that no one can ever take from you. Knowledge is not power, effective use of knowledge is.

In the gym where I train, there are three CSCS’s who regularly come to me for information. I don’t pretend to know more than them, and give them the respect they deserve for their educational accomplishments. I also inquire of them on many occasions. The reason I think they seek my counsel is three fold:

1) My age – I’ve been involved in this industry in one way or another for over 25 years. That makes me a senior, and age has taught me a few things. I’ve seen a lot of things.

2) Each of these guys knows I read voraciously. I lent two of them my “Essentials of Strength Training” book so they could study for the CSCS exam.

3) I work with athletes of all ages and genders. They have witnessed the results these athletes have gotten and respect my abilities.

I’m not tooting my own horn, just stating fact. I’m not as smart as I look, so I have to work harder to make up for my lack of formal education. I love this job (if you can call it that) so, therefore, I want to be the best that I can be. My motivation is the satisfaction that I receive from the folks I’m able to be involved with. If they like the results they get, then who am I to argue with them.”

Brian Nolan, CPT: “I have to say the letters behind the name are essentially moot. If the trainer is charged with the responsibility to increase human performance than THAT is what they shall do. I’m sure there are some intellectuals that will attempt to refute my following response with some tired-ass, old, and often misapplied research, but it is IRREFUTABLE that athletes are just people. They have higher functioning bodies, but still just friggin’ people. I don’t think there is a line between the CSCS and the Personal Trainer. Personally, I consider myself a “movement and performance” specialist. Which cert does that fall under? I help PEOPLE move and perform better regardless of the task. I will say that I often feel those that pursue or obtain the CSCS cert view it as a way to position themselves away from personal trainers as though CPTs as a whole are lesser qualified professionals. Given the way some people view this profession, it may not be a bad idea if it works.”

John Izzo, NASM-CPT: “Personally, I have run into some real good CSCS’s, and I have known some really bad CSCS that were just proud to have the letters after their name. However, a lot of organizations are crossing-over into the field of strength & conditioning (NASM-PES, ISSA) and I personally don’t see a major difference between a “mediocre” CSCS and a “real good” CPT.I have been inquiring about NASM-PES certification and have published many opinions from professionals (from this forum) on my website about the differences with the CSCS.

Personally, (and I know I may get some flack), but I think the CSCS is outdated. I think the NASM-PES takes a more updated cutting-edge approach to athleticism and human movement. In the last 2 years, the NSCA has really “turned it up” on its competition and really started “working” on its marketing. I guess they realized that simply sitting back and saying “We’re the NSCA, and we’re the best”, was not enough. And that’s good, because that sense of urgency will prompt others to look further in education. I have run into a lot of trainers/coaches who tell me “I’m a CSCS” and I would say “….and?”

Source by John Izzo

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