NSCA Special Populations vs. Adaptive Exercise Certifications

If you want a long-lasting career in the adaptive fitness industry, being certified is the first step. It ensures that you can execute and design adaptive exercise programs that are suitable for your clients. Consider that your target population has special needs than an average individual; obtaining a certification is crucial.

When choosing the best adaptive fitness certification, there are factors to consider. Perhaps you are contemplating between NSCA Special Populations and Adaptive Exercise Certification? Both are renowned programs that can get you certified. However, you still need to choose the one that suits you the best.


National Strength and Conditioning Association

Let’s get started with the NSCA Special Populations. It is one of the most-sought programs when it comes to adaptive fitness training. Upon completing the course, you will be one of the Certified Special Population Specialists (CSPS). These fitness professionals are certified to create an individualized approach, train, and motivate the target population. They are trained to collaborate with healthcare professionals to ensure the safety and health of their clients. Moreover, these adaptive fitness professionals are trained to respond in an emergency situation.

Once you become a CSPS, you can offer more services to your clients and benefit from referrals. Besides that, you are authorized to refer your clients to a healthcare professional whenever necessary.



Once you complete the course, you have to review for the exam. Registration is usually done online. Upon registering, you’ll receive an authorization email with instructions on how to take your exam. For your optimal convenience, you can choose the date, time, and location of your exam. Make sure to check the exam availability first after registration so you can plan ahead of time. For more information, you can go to the nearest Pearson VUE testing center. Make sure that you can take your exam 120 days upon registration. You can check your eligibility dates in the authorization email that has been sent to you.

The registration fee for the exam varies. If you are a member, you’ll have to pay for $340. Non-members are required to pay $475 for the exam. NCSA members are able to save money when it comes to taking the exams and other benefits. You can apply for membership and become a part of the NCSA to enjoy all the benefits.



Here are the following requirements before you can start the course and take the exam:

  •  A graduate of any bachelor’s degree
  • A license in current occupation
  • CPR/AED certified


Exam Overview

Basically, there are four areas that you need to pass for the exam:

  • Basic Pathophysiology and Science of Health Status
  • Condition, Disorder, or Disease
  • Client Consultation
  • Program Planning and Safety, Emergency Procedures and Legal Issues


Learning Materials

The NSCA recognizes applicants’ different learning styles and has prepared a variety of study materials that the candidates can access to prepare for the examination. Here are the following materials that are available in NSCA:

  • CSPS Exam Content Description Booklet
  • Essentials of Training Special Populations, 1st Edition Textbook
  • CSPS Essential Study Package
  • CSPS Online Practice Questions

NSCA aims to create a community of professionals who are dedicated to helping the special population. The program is highly-recognized and affiliated with other organizations; this program is known as the NCSA special population. When you graduate from NSCA, rest assured that you’ll be able to thrive in the adaptive fitness industry.

specialstrong-personal trainer and a client on gym

Strong Education Adaptive Exercise Certification

Strong Education is a highly-recognized brand in the adaptive fitness industry. The program offers inclusive, full-scope training for the special population. Besides disability, it also targets other conditions, including cerebral palsy, autism, and down syndrome.

The program can help you thrive in your career while generating stable income working with something you are passionate about. The program is heavy on research-based techniques for working one-on-one and different learning group methods for disabled individuals. Being certified by the Special Strong program means you can benefit from other job opportunities and work with a wider range of clients, thanks to your specialization.


Benefits of Strong Education Certification

Here are the following benefits that you can enjoy once you get certified by the Strong  Education certification.

  • Nationally affiliated with over ten highly-recognized organizations
  • Course previews are accessible
  • Suitable for applicants on a budget
  • No-interest financing
  • 90% passing test rate
  •  Inclusive and wide-scope training
  • Training videos featuring real disabled clients
  • 24/7 support



Once you decide to purchase the course, you’ll be prompted by email in just a few minutes. From here, you can create your profile and access the online database of local service providers. This is an online course. Once registered, you’ll be able to access videos, documents, and other learning materials that will help you fully understand the course’s extent. Rest assured that even if you have prior training experience, you’ll be able to understand the context of the entire course.

Upon completing the course, you’ll get access to the tools you need to help you create an adapted exercise program.


Financing and Discounts

If you are already working as a personal trainer, you can request your employer to pay for your certification. Many employers invest in the continuing education of their trainers, especially if they see the potential. Special Strong will help you draft an email to your employer to consider financing your education and certification with the program.

Different discounts for veterans, military, educators, applicants from nonprofits, and team discounts are available.



Strong Education welcomes its door to anyone who is passionate about fitness and wants to make a difference by working with disabled individuals. Do not worry if you do not have prior training experience. You can still take the course with little to on requirements and get your certification. From then on, you can enjoy lots of job opportunities that will help you grow your career as an adaptive fitness trainer.

Special Strong, despite being new to the industry, is a program that is worth the investment. It is easier to access and more affordable. The program will help you jump-start your career as an adaptive fitness trainer and give you an opportunity for a fulfilling job.


NSCA Special Populations vs. Adaptive Exercise Certification: Which is Better?

Now that you have an overview of each of the certification programs that you can choose from, it’s time to narrow down the most suitable program for you. Both NSCA Special Populations and Adaptive Exercise Certification are excellent in their own way.

If you want a certification program that could open more job opportunities and help you become a thriving adaptive special needs trainer, the NSCA Special Populations is a great option. It offers an exclusive and intensive training program. It is also accredited in many organizations, making it easier to get a high-paying job or continue working with a mentor. However, applying for the program and passing the exam can be challenging.

There are requirements that you need to comply with before you are eligible for the course. If you do not have prior training experience or if you are a self-taught fitness trainer with no educational background, you may not have the chance to get certified by this program.

On the other hand, the Strong Education Adaptive Exercise Certification is more inclusive and accessible. The program aims to create as many professional adaptive special needs trainers as it can. It is easy to understand, making it an appealing choice for individuals passionate about adaptive training but do not have the experience. Not only that, but the program is also affordable.

There are different financing options, interest-free payments, and even discounts you can enjoy when applying for this program. It is easier to apply here, but it doesn’t mean the training would be less challenging than the former. Special Strong will help you maximize your skills and knowledge so that you will be able to design an adaptive exercise program that is valuable to your future special clients.


Why Should You Get Certified?

Despite the industry being unregulated, getting certified as an adaptive fitness trainer is highly beneficial. Some may argue that anyone can be hired in this position, certified or not, so why spend time and money for certification? However, the advantages of certification extend beyond the mere possession of a document. Below are the reasons why getting certified before becoming an adaptive fitness trainer is crucial.


It establishes credibility.

In a sector such as adaptive fitness training, which lacks official regulation, achieving certification is all the more critical. It’s not about exploiting the unregulated system, but rather about cultivating trust in your potential clients. Once you are certified, your clients will have more confidence in your knowledge and professionalism, knowing they are in safe hands with a certified instructor. Being certified not only attests to your capacity to carry out tasks efficiently, it also demonstrates your commitment to your career and serves as a testament to your dedication. Obtaining a recognized certification thus paves the way for a sustainable and prosperous career in the industry.


It offers continuing education.

In the ever-evolving world of adaptive fitness, it is fundamental to stay updated with new techniques, technologies, and methods involved in adaptive training. Becoming certified as an adaptive fitness trainer provides an opportunity for a continuous learning experience. It equips you with the knowledge and skills to offer an expanded range of services to your clients, boosting your marketability and income stability in the long run. Training individuals with disabilities can be challenging, making these certifications not just beneficial, but often essential, to ensure the best quality of service.


It ensures safety while working out.

Gym equipment for disabled people can be different from the standard equipment. Sure, there are instructions, and most of them can be used easily. However, to properly execute and perform to get maximum benefits is something a certified adaptive fitness trainer can do. For instance, using the deadlifts without executing the proper form can cause joint pains. An adaptive fitness trainer will tell you less about how to work out and properly work out without compromising your health.


It offers a healthier career.

Unfortunately, even the most high-paying jobs in the world are promoting a sedentary lifestyle. Sitting in front of your computer all day long is unhealthy and can cause various health problems in the long run. Being a certified adaptive fitness trainer allows you to enjoy a healthier career. When you are always working out and making a difference, being healthy and keeping in shape wouldn’t be a problem. A career in the adaptive fitness industry is healthier than any other office job, no matter how extravagant the pay is.


It offers great flexibility.

Work at your own pace, in your own time. Becoming a certified adaptive fitness instructor means you won’t be struggling to look for jobs. Special clients will flock to you, knowing that you are certified. You can make this a part-time job besides your current employment to stay fit while making a difference. You can also make it your regular salary. The fee for personal training is a separate charge.  Additionally, you can also earn some extra by doing your own fitness instruction and offering it to your clients.


It allows you to travel while working.

Being a certified adaptive fitness trainer means you’re always on the go. You can work anywhere you want. There would always be special clients who need your help. The recent data reveals that the trainer jobs are increasing at 13 percent, which means there’s an endless job opportunity wherever you go. The adaptive fitness industry is booming, and there is no better time to start your career than now. Since there is little competition between trainers, getting certified will help you to stand above the crowd and find clients anywhere you go.


Final Thoughts

Deciding between the NSCA Special Populations and Adaptive Exercise Certification can seem daunting considering the strengths each holds in their own right. Their approach to professional development, methodology in training and overall impact on future career paths differ subtly yet significantly.

If you are after a comprehensive understanding of special populations, their needs and how to train them, the NSCA Special Populations certification might be an excellent choice. It will shape you into a versatile, high-demand professional capable of working with a broader client base.

Conversely, the Adaptive Exercise Certification is a more accessible program, ideal for those starting in the industry or looking to specialize in adaptive training without a hefty price tag. This certification can be your stepping stone into a fulfilling career as a certified adaptive fitness trainer.

At the end of the day, the choice hinges on your personal career aspirations, financial considerations and time commitments. Whether its NSCA Special Populations or the Adaptive Exercise Certification, both paths lead to a rewarding career in adaptive fitness. The decision, ultimately, lies in which pathway aligns more with your values and vision as an adaptive fitness professional.

Just remember, your passion for serving special populations coupled with the right certification can make a life-changing difference to those you train.


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