How to Get a Special Populations Certification

Starting your trainer career may seem like a daunting task. There are so many untold opportunities, lots of fitness centers, and millions of special populations that could be your next client. Since the adaptive fitness industry is continuously improving, it is rightful to get certified first when starting your career. According to the Department of Labor USA, employment in the adaptive fitness industry is expected to increase by 13% from 2018 to 2028.

Getting a special populations certification is the first step to be taken. Let’s take a closer look at two of the leading certifications for special populations—Special Education and NSCA Special Population Certification.

Read on to have an overview of the certification programs, its benefits, and how you can get your certification. At the end of the article, you are expected to identify which is more suitable for you.


NSCA Special Population Certification

The National Strength and Conditioning Association-Certified Personal Trainer (NSCA-CPT) is a certification program serving would-be personal trainers for years. The program is now part of the healthcare revolution, recognizing the need to contain surging healthcare costs and minimize non-communicable diseases. This certification is heavily focused on special populations. You will collaborate with healthcare providers to refer clients with chronic or temporary conditions. As you get certified, you will be recognized as a healthcare extender, besides being a professional personal fitness trainer.

To succeed, you need to develop great attributes to help your career thrive in the industry. It also serves as your guide in working with special populations safely. The Special Populations certification aims to train Certified Special Populations Specialists (CSPSs) who are competent in working with the special needs population outside of the public healthcare systems.

The CSPSs are personal fitness experts who can provide an individualized approach and assess, evaluate, motivate, and train special needs clients, children, and adults, observing their health and fitness needs. They also collaborate with healthcare professionals to provide for their needs. CSPSs are experts in designing autism exercise programs and are also trained to respond to any emergency situation should anything happen to the client while training in the gym. They know how to recognize warning signs of an upcoming emergency and can also refer their clients to healthcare workers whenever necessary.

Suppose you wish to work in the highest level position with the special populations and become competent. In that case, advancing in these professional developments will take a lifelong education, time, and planning. The first step to your success is getting certified. Here are the following stages you will have to go through before progressing to an advanced practice working with special populations.

Beginner Stage

The first level is the beginner stage, where the aspiring personal trainer receives basic foundational knowledge, skills, and abilities. It is highly recommended to earn a bachelor’s degree in Exercise Science or any related field. Base sciences of kinesiology, anatomy, physiology, and exercise physiology are also accepted. You can make use of this degree to integrate into the fundamentals of exercise programming. Most novice trainers are given a chance to work with healthy populations in an internship, clinical experiences, lab opportunities, and personal experiences.

In order to move forward, you must obtain an accredited entry-level certification, such as NSCA-CPT. Being a member of the NSCA will give you lifetime access to updated and useful information, learning tools, and professional development that can help your career thrive.



The next stage will test your competency as a personal fitness trainer. Here, you are allowed to work with the broader population base. This stage usually occurs in the next three years of your professional development. Since you are advancing to more in-depth knowledge, you will start to attend conferences, workshops and meet with experts in the field to help you grow. Experiences from internships, private studios, clubs, corporate studios, and rehabilitation settings will also continue.

This stage will also teach you how to do an advanced assessment, risk assessment, opportunities for coaching and behavior change, execute advanced exercise techniques with the special needs population, and prescribe exercise guidelines to your clients.

If you want to be successful, you need to do great in acquiring coaching and behavior change knowledge. As a personal trainer, you are expected to understand the psychology of a chronic illness and use your skills to ensure your client’s success. You also need to develop skills that will let you evaluate your clients to prescribe the best methods, progression, and equipment that can lead to a better-individualized approach. As a result, it ensures the success of your client’s long-term goals and satisfaction.

A certified NSCA special populations trainer should guide clients towards lifelong health rather than simply being a basic cheerleader. You need to assess the adaptive exercise program you have made for them and evaluate the development of each step of the program. Keeping the bigger picture in mind—their overall health is important for your client’s development. You also need to develop great communication skills that will allow you to develop a healthy client-trainer relationship so that your client will trust you for their success and growth in the long run.



You can opt to develop your specialization based on your experiences, knowledge, and opportunities in this stage. Depending on your interest, you may opt to specialize in orthopedic conditions, diabetes, pulmonary diseases, cancer, cardiac, and even pregnancy. The more experienced you are, the more you’ll be able to grab more opportunities that can help your career thrive. This base of career development is crucial because you’ll be able to advance into an expert practice in the next five years. An expert special populations personal fitness trainer can now work in highly-specialized settings with the clients and enjoy maximum benefits and high compensation.



As you ascend to the status of an expert practice professional, it becomes crucial to enhance not only your foundational skills but also to develop robust business and management acumen. This comprehensive understanding is vital whether you’re navigating the corporate landscape of the company you’re employed at or embarking on the entrepreneurial journey of managing your own personal training gym. Mastering elements such as costing out services ensures you can accurately evaluate and price your offerings, maintaining profitability while delivering value.

Budgeting and managing capital expenditures become pivotal in forecasting and planning for the financial health and growth of the business. Moreover, investing time in staff training amplifies the quality and consistency of the services offered, elevating the overall reputation and effectiveness of your business operations. Learning how to conduct insightful interviews and acquiring human resource knowledge not only aids in assembling a high-caliber team but also in fostering a positive, productive workplace environment.

These multifaceted skills are honed through practical experience and ongoing education. They equip you with the necessary tools to significantly contribute to an existing company’s success. Alternatively, they prepare you to confidently navigate the challenges of entrepreneurship. By fostering these competencies, you ready yourself for responsibilities that extend beyond your immediate professional expertise. Consequently, this sets the foundation for achieving greater milestones in your career and attaining a higher level of job satisfaction.


Strong Education Special Needs Certification

Let’s take a look at another special populations certification that is worth the investment. Strong Education, a leading brand gym in the adaptive fitness industry, now offers an Adaptive Special Needs Certification. This course will help you learn how to cope and deal with issues, including inactivity, meltdowns, sudden disruptions, and challenging behaviors when dealing with your special needs clients. Strong Education is gaining more popularity as parents and professionals realize the importance of exercise.

What to Expect from the Adaptive Special Needs Certification

Strong Education is accredited by NASM and ACE, making it an appealing program for anyone who wants to build a thriving career in the adaptive fitness industry. Albeit the Adaptive Special Needs Certification’s main focus are people with autism, you can still apply your learning in other conditions from the more common to the rarest. Special Education wants to ensure that you have a lot to offer to your clients once you get certified.

You can opt for a single Adaptive Special Needs Certification course. This course is suitable for fitness professionals, parents, educators, therapists, educators, and caregivers living with autistic people. However, it excludes the training for business owners and group facilitators.

The Adaptive Special Needs Certification is now available in three configurations. To ensure the personal trainer can meet the appropriate needs of different groups, they set these configurations.


Autism Fitness Level 1 Certification

The Special Education program understands that you have other obligations than attending this course. Hence, most of their courses are offered online, allowing you to complete it from the comfort of your own home.

However, Autism Fitness Level 1 Certification requires you to attend a two-day course in person. You will receive demonstrations, coaching, and group activities at this conference. This training is affordable; however, you will be away from your home or business for around 48 hours.

If you want corporate training, the Strong Education founder, Daniel Stein himself, will train you and help you finish this course. The training for a corporate course also includes a 45-minute group class. You can make use of this group class to better serve your special needs clients. Autism Fitness course, on the other hand, requires a representative from your company to attend the live training session.

This virtual course entails a ten-hour online education, and the entire Adaptive Special Needs Certification can be done online. There are also training videos that allow you to feel like you are in the same room with your instructor and other participants.

Autism Fitness requires you to attend the two-day live training to master their course covers. However, some people may find it such a short time to absorb all of the information given to you. Do not worry because Special Education offers online training and support after completing the live training. Nevertheless, if there’s anything else you don’t quite understand, you can always go back to them for assistance.


CBSE Training Model

Daniel Stein, a brain integration specialist, collaborated to develop the CBSE (Certified Brain Integration Specialist) training model. Our program exclusively focuses on certifying individuals in Special Education. We have designed this program to provide valuable support to clients, family members, and employees who aspire to embody the principles of “Strong Education” across physical, mental, and spiritual dimensions. The primary objective of the model is to facilitate the special needs population in leading independent and improved lives.

With a holistic approach, the CBSE training model integrates physical, mental, and spiritual elements, serving as a comprehensive framework for enhancing overall well-being. In addition, this inclusive program contributes to fostering a supportive environment that empowers individuals within the special needs community, promoting independence and an improved quality of life.

4 Target Areas of the CBSE Training Model

  1.       Core, Balance, and Flexibility
  2.       Brain and Sensory System
  3.       Strength and Muscle Development
  4.       Endurance and Stamina Adaptation

Keep in mind that the live training part is highly focused on working with special needs clients rather than exercise routines. The course also includes the Autism Fitness Toolbox. This video series also contains some useful articles that entail autism fitness concepts and methods. Accessing the toolbox requires a monthly subscription fee.

certifystrong-trainer with kids in the gym


NSCA Special Populations Certification vs. Strong Education Adaptive Special Needs Certification


Choosing between NSCA Special Populations Certification and Strong Education Adaptive Special Needs Certification can be conflicting. There are pros and cons to consider. For instance, if you want to finish the course faster and without draining your bank, the Strong Education Adaptive Special Needs Certification is the best way to go. However, if you see yourself being a special needs population specialist for over five years, you should start building your career with the NSCA Special Populations Certification.

Here’s a quick comparison chart for your references to give you a better overview of Special Strong Autism Certification vs. NSCA Populations Certification.


NSCA Special Population Adaptive Special Needs Certification
Trains on different special needs condition Focuses on Autism and other conditions
Includes training for business owners and group facilitators Includes training for caregivers, parents, personal fitness professionals, and therapists
Affordable Affordable
It takes years to finish Takes less than 90 days to finish
Offers specialization Offers specialization
No virtual course Offers virtual course



Working with the special needs population is truly a rewarding experience. This is your chance to change someone’s life and make a profound difference. The early stages of your career are not always appealing. Still, with hard work and perseverance, you could be one of the highest-paid special populations specialists in the industry, working in the highest-level position with special needs clients. Your dream career starts when you get certified. So, what are you waiting for? Register online today!

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In your area we provide virtual in home training. Please take a look at this video to know more about what to expect in a training class. Also join our Facebook and Instagram community where we highlight stories of our clients overcoming challenges to live an abundant life. We hope to highlight your story soon.

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