Recently, I have passed my Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) exam (check out my video on the live prep course), which is based on the Essentials of Strength and Conditioning Textbook by NSCA. Since passing the exam effectively was a proof that I have read this book from A to Z and tested my knowledge on the exam, I think, I can and should talk about it. I will start with a short preface by simply saying that this book was quite good – it was recommended to me by Google or Amazon, it immediately drew my attention on multiple occasions (it was popping up in lots of searches) and when I finally bought it and started reading it I was impressed with the scope and quality of its content – the book is amazing and I am very happy that I got it (I have both the 3rd and the 4th editions). As I said, I had to read it through and through in order to pass the exam and I noticed several things that could be improved or, in my opinion as a test taker and practitioner are redundant:
1. First of all, there are quite a few topics that are too basic, too general or too complicated to be used practically – like the biomechanics chapter. They talk at length about all the physics, classes of levers and I am still not sure why people have to know all of this. There will likely be a question or two on the exam asking about the class of a lever that a certain joint represents, but I don’t see any practical point in that. Another example would be the anatomical planes and test questions about them – it has purely theoretical usage and unless you are a hardcore anatomist you couldn’t care less.
2. The second item on my list is the tendency to start talking about something and then – to wrap up the explanation just short of finishing it. Perhaps, the descriptions of the onset of blood lactate accumulation (OBLA) or the general adaptation syndrome (GAS) would be good examples – you will notice the feeling that you have to find information elsewhere after reading these sections of the book.
3. One big shortcoming of the book on strength and conditioning is the absence of good description of musculoskeletal anatomy. I could not expect that it simply wouldn’t be there – at least several pages and illustrations of the major muscle groups would be very beneficial. Also, when discussing exercises, having the schematics of muscles employed would be just awesome. Speaking of exercises – the book comes with a video guide for major exercises and errors in their execution, which is just awesome. I hope that they will be able to expand the scope of it to offer more to readers in the next edition.
4. The fourth item is the location of references (I am a nerd and I do check them) – the way they all are placed in the end of the book makes it hard to use them effectively. I believe that it would be much more convenient to place them at the end of each chapter and to switch to a different referencing style. On a positive side, I was pleasantly surprised with lots of interesting references that I could check out in my free time.
5. One thing that I particularly disagreed with was the MyPlate section – I think that this guideline system is very biased and is not truly evidence-based (I will definitely make a blog on it) and I think that it’s wrong to force people like myself to learn these recommendations while we have so many truly scientific and appropriate dietary models available.
6. Repetition, vagueness and errors: This is likely a very common thing for textbooks in general – sometimes (actually, quite often) there is just too much meaningless text, sometimes there are too many details that seem to be present on exam just because they were in the textbook, but nobody would ever care to remember them (like the tables on percentiles in various performance tests) and sometimes there are real errors like the Cunningham formula (550 instead of 500 makes a huge difference). Certain chapters were duplicative e.g. the general adaptation syndrome was discussed twice, but in fact, none of the two chapters covered the topic in sufficient detail.
7. Psychology and research sections: being a psychiatrist and a researcher it was quite a read for me. On the one hand I was really impressed with the description of validity and reliability and introduction of good psychological concepts and their application. I must say though that certain concepts were redundant or poorly explained. I know for sure that there are questions about eating disorders which seem to imply that a potential CSCS would act as a psychiatrist and I find it odd.
Just to sum it up – the book has its shortcomings, but realistically only one of them is serious (the lack of musculoskeletal) anatomy, the rest has more to do with the flow and the amount of information and doesn’t make this book bad. In fact, I still find it amazing and I am very grateful to the authors for their work. I will talk about the NSCA CSCS online course in my next blog and then we will be ready to talk about the test itself, quite a story, trust me, so stay tuned – subscribe to my newsletter, to my YouTube channel, ask questions and make comments. All kinds of interactions and constructive criticism are welcome!