The Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist credential is exactly what the title states; it is a certification, hence the word “certified.”
The difference between certifications and licenses is that a certification is something that is recommended for a given scope of practice, while a license is required.
Strength and conditioning coaches are certified. The certification is recommended and often required by a given workplace or work environment but is not required by law. Medical doctors, however, are licensed. Their profession requires a legal license to practice. Anyone can call themselves a strength coach or personal trainer whether or not they have any type of certification from a regulating organization, but medical doctors are only practicing medicine legally if they have a license.
For you, the strength and conditioning professional, the ability to practice without a legal license is both good and bad. The fact that you don’t actually need any official education or certification to call yourself a strength and conditioning coach allows you to set up shop immediately. Whether or not anyone will actually take you up on your services is a different story. The bad part of strength and conditioning not being a licensed profession, is that the barrier to entry is very low; not existent, actually. This means that you might be competing with other coaches that have a fraction of the education or experience that you have.
While not being required by law, the Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist credential does allow for some degree of differentiation between strength coaches. The CSCS requires candidates to have a bachelors degree and you must pass an exam that certifies your knowledge of strength and conditioning and related exercise science.
Certifications like the CSCS or the personal trainer certification are “credibility indicators.” The possession of one or more credibility indicators gives an unspoken impression of certain qualities, characteristics, or knowledge. The world moves very quickly and people don’t always have the time ability to verify an individual’s education, expertise, or experience. Credibility indicators allow you to make certain assumptions and implications without a thorough inspection.
Going with the example of the physician that I used earlier, the MD or DO behind someone’s name is a credibility indicator. When we see someone with that title, that indicates that they have achieved a certain level of education and medical proficiency. We are free to assume that they have the capability to perform as a trained physician.
For strength and conditioning professionals, the lack of a credential means that the professional needs to be vetted. The average person has no idea of how skilled this strength coach is before seeing their work or relying on the testimony of previous athletes. If someone walks into your gym and tells you they’re a strength coach, but has no certifications, you’d have to give them a written test to see if they know the various muscles of the human body. You’d have to watch them lift weights to observe their form, etc. However with the Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist credential, you can enjoy some degree of trust that the strength coach knows what they are doing; at least to basic performance levels.
Should you get a CSCS? Yes. After the various strength and conditioning or personal training certifications, the CSCS is one of the more respected credentials in the industry. It is required if you are going to coach strength and conditioning in a Division One athletic facility. It is a more difficult certification to attain and is more rare than a personal training certificate. It will help to differentiate you and your expertise from others with less rigorous or prestigious credentials. To become a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, follow the steps here.