CSCS Practice Question Preview

A critical part of studying for the Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) exam is practicing test questions. However, just practicing questions is not enough. Every question should be “milked” out for all its worth. Each question is an opportunity to hone in on topics you don’t yet have a good grasp on.

To aid you with that, here is a sample of practice questions. Also, I’ve included explanations and heuristics to help you understand the content, rather than just use rote memorization.

You can grab a free downloadable version below:

1. The lowest myoglobin content is found in which of the following muscle fiber types?

A. I

B. IIa

C. Ix


2. Activation of which of the following structures causes relaxation of a muscle:

A. Muscle spindles

B. Golgi tendon organs

C. Intrafusal fibers

D. Extrafusal fibers

3. Force output of a muscle can be increased by:

I. Increasing the number of motor units activated

II. Increasing the frequency of firing of individual motor units

III. Increasing the strength of the action potential

IV. Increasing the amount of acetylcholine released, well beyond the minimum





4. Caffeine supplementation would primarily provide which of the following benefits to a powerlifting athlete?

A. Increased mental alertness

B. Increased maximal strength output

C. Increased hypertrophy

D. A synergistic effect with creatine to increase maximal strength output

5. While a basketball athlete practices free throws, a coach should use which of the following reinforcement strategies:

A. Say “Great job” after each successful free throw

B. Bench the athlete for the first 10 minutes of the next game if they make less than 50% of free throws

C. Assign 10 pushups after every missed free throw

D. Stay silent to let the athlete improve their self-efficacy


1. B

Myoglobin is found in muscle and transports oxygen into/throughout the muscle cell. Hemoglobin is found in red blood cells and transports oxygen throughout the circulatory system to be distributed to various tissues.

Myoglobin will be found in higher content in muscles that rely more on aerobic energy systems (and vice versa, less myoglobin is found in muscles that rely more on anaerobic energy systems). Type I fibers, or slow twitch fibers, are fatigue resistant, have a high capacity for aerobic energy production, and have a low capacity for rapid force production. On the other hand type IIa and IIx fibers, or fast twitch fibers, fatigue quickly, have a poor capacity for aerobic energy production, and high a capacity for rapid force production. Type I and type IIx fibers are the extreme ends of the spectrum-type I are the most aerobic and weakest and type IIx are the most anaerobic and strongest. Type IIa fibers are a hybrid with qualities of both.

Type I fibers produce high amounts of aerobic energy so they have much more myoglobin. On the other hand, type II fibers do not rely heavily on aerobic energy systems, so they have much less myoglobin.

To remember the difference between type IIa and type IIx fibers, think of “A”=awesome. Type IIa fibers are “awesome” because they have qualities of type I and type IIx fibers and can be thought of as a hybrid of each.

2. B

Proprioceptors are the sensory receptors in joints, muscle, and tendons that respond to pressure and tension. The 2 main types are muscle spindles and Golgi tendon organs (GTO’s).

Muscle spindles are a specialized fiber found within muscles. Muscle spindles are considered intrafusal fibers because they are within the muscle. Muscle spindles run parallel to the “normal” (extrafusal) muscle fibers.

Muscle spindles sense lengthening of a muscle, so when lengthened (stretched), they cause a reflexive contraction of that same muscle. An example, is the patellar reflex. By tapping the tendon of the quadriceps, the muscle is shortened which activates this reflex, causing a quadriceps contraction.

On the other hand GTO’s are found at the musculotendinous junction. They sense lengthening of the tendon of the active muscle. When a heavy load is placed on a muscle, the GTO actually inhibits muscular contraction, causing it to relax. Researchers believe that one of the neuromuscular adaptations of resistance training is the ability to override this relaxation response caused by GTO’s.

3. C

The force output of a muscle is determined by: the number of units activated (recruitment) and the frequency of activation of those units (rate coding).  A muscle produces more force when more motor units are activated and/or those motor units are activated at a higher frequency. Besides, the neurological factors ofrecruitment and rate coding, the morphological factor of muscle cross sectional area determines force output. Increased muscle cross sectional area (hypertrophy) means a larger output of force.

The action potential to create a muscular contraction is caused by sufficient acetylcholine release. However, beyond the minimum level required, more acetylcholine release does not create higher force output.

Also, the strength of the action potential does not determine the force output, rather the frequency of the action potentials (rate coding) determines the force output.

To remember the three main ways of increasing muscular force output, we’ll use a car analogy.

You can go faster in car by upgrading the engine of the car. Getting a more powerful engine allows you to go faster-let’s say upgrading from a V6 Toyota Camry to a V8 Corvette. This is the effect of adding muscle cross-sectional area (hypertrophy).

-You can go faster by making the engine more efficient. Maybe you already have a Corvette, but only half the cylinders in the engine are firing. You tighten a few screws and now all cylinders fire. Through training, we can increase the recruitment of MORE motor units, thus increasing the force output (recruitment).

-You can go faster by learning to shift into higher gears. You might be pushing the gas pedal, but if you’re stuck in 1st gear, you won’t be going very fast. Being able to shift up to your top gear lets you access those higher speeds. Through training, we can increase the frequency of activating motor units (rate coding).

4. A

Caffeine appears to benefit both anaerobic and aerobic athletes. The main benefits are increased mental alertness, improved work capacity, and decreased feelings of exertion.

In aerobic events, caffeine increases time to exhaustion. In anaerobic events, caffeine may increase power performance in trained athletes.

In any case, the recommended dosage is 3-9 mg/kg bodyweight taken 60 minutes before exercise or during prolonged exercise. A lethal dose is 5 g. As a reference point, a typical cup of coffee has 120 mg of caffeine.

5. A

In coaching, behavior change strategies can help modify athlete behaviors. These strategies can be positive or negative and are focused on reinforcement or punishment.

In “Positive” behavior change strategies the coach ADDS something. However, this doesn’t mean that it is always something good. On the other hand, in “negative” behavior change strategies, the coach SUBTRACTS something.

Now for the terms reinforcement and punishment. Reinforcement strategies focus on promoting the desired behavior (successful performance of the task). Punishment strategies focus on eliminating undesired behavior (errors in performance of the task).

So when we put these together, positive reinforcement is ADDING something as a reward for the desired/correct behavior. In this question, we are ADDING the “Great job” to promote the desired behavior of making the free throw.

On the other hand, negative reinforcement is SUBTRACTING something seen as bad to promote the desired/correct behavior. An example would be SUBTRACTING wind sprints at the end of practice to promote the desired behavior of making the free throw.

Positive punishment is ADDING something bad to eliminate undesired/incorrect behavior. In this question, assigning 10 pushups is ADDING something bad to eliminate the undesired behavior of missing the free throw.

Negative punishment is SUBTRACTING something good to eliminate undesired/incorrect behavior. In this question, benching the athlete for the first 10 minutes of the next game is SUBTRACTING something good to eliminate the undesired behavior of missing the free throw.

Here is a summary in table format:

Generally, coaches should use reinforcement strategies to help athletes focus on what they do correctly. Positive reinforcement strategies tends to promote the athletes focus on task relevant cues such as the ball, hoop, and the motions of the free throw. On the other hand punishment promotes a focus on irrelevant cues which can decrease performance.

To get more practice questions, in-depth explanations, and tips for CSCS preparation, enter your email below to get the full study blueprints e-book when released!

The Real Purpose of Health and Fitness Certifications

People often critique exam based certifications like the CSCS (Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist) that lack a practical component. Critics say “you just need practical experience” and “it’s just a title”. I think these critics misunderstand the purpose of these certs. Here we’ll look at the purpose of these certs (next time we’ll talk about the limitations).

Exam based certs like the CSCS are a structured, standardized way to learn foundational, didactic knowledge in health and fitness. This serves several crucial roles:

1. Foundational knowledge makes practical experience more valuable

Imagine Jimmy, an aspiring strength and conditioning coach. Jimmy believes all that matters is practical experience. He walks into a gym and says “I want practical experience, can you mentor me?”. The coach says “Great Jimmy, come along and watch. Today my athlete is doing a squat workout; 3 sets of 5 at 80% 1 RM”. Jimmy is quite confused; what’s a squat? , what’s a set?, what’s a rep?, what’s an “RM”? The coach proceeds to define each term and explain basic principles of strength and conditioning…

As we can see without foundational knowledge, the valuable time of a practical experience would be frittered away passing on knowledge that the student could have learned on their own. The practical experience is the time to see foundational knowledge applied, not to learn it.  

2. Foundational knowledge is crucial to understand and apply scientific literature

Similar to practical experience, having foundational knowledge equips you to take advantage of scientific literature in the field. If you are reading a research paper but don’t know basic terms and principles, it would be nearly impossible to understand and apply that research. And with the plethora of health and fitness gurus promoting “cutting edge” workout routines and nutrition supplements, having foundational knowledge and reading research helps you verify claims.

3. Foundational knowledge lets you think for yourself (instead of just copying gurus)

Suppose a coach mostly does “fives” (sets of five) with athletes. Their apprentice who has no knowledge of loading parameters might just assume, “Well, in strength training we do ‘fives”. The apprentice who doesn’t understand the principles that inform that choice has to follow their guru’s advice. That person cannot adapt a training program to different athletes at different times. Ultimately, this person will be unable to modify and create programs.

Foundational knowledge is necessary to optimize practical experiences, use scientific literature, and think for yourself. It is necessary, but not sufficient. Of course, a certification is not the only way to learn and there are certifications that teach low quality information.

Having foundational knowledge in health and fitness doesn’t “make you a coach”, but it does set you up to become one.

Is Daily Practice Important? Why We Need to “Load the System”

I broke my DuoLingo streak. While studying for the PT licensure exam, I used DuoLingo as part of my Spanish training. Every day, I would hop on the app and do the exercises to hit my daily XP requirements. I built up a 45 day streak. Yet I retained little to nothing from these exercises (despite accumulating almost 2 hours per week). So I deleted the app and broke the streak.

I had been fixated on this idea that I needed to practice every single day. DuoLingo states that “15 minutes a day can teach you a language”. And many people online stress the importance of daily training: exercise, mindfulness training (meditation), etc.

However, if we are overly focused on daily training, we can run into a few issues:

First, adherence can be difficult because there is usually a cost to switching tasks (i.e. to exercise you have to put on exercise clothes, warmup, etc.) Second, sometimes life happens and we don’t get to practice. So we may feel we are failing since we’re not keeping our daily streak. Lastly, certain types of training actually benefit from not being performed daily. For example, most often people lift weights intensely 2-4 days per week. Lifting weights daily can make it harder to bring the necessary level of intensity (i.e. due to motivation, fatigue etc). Training too often can be ineffective and/or impractical.

So what is the alternative to daily training? We need to “load the system” with deeper, more intense sessions. A basic principle of biological systems, like us humans, is that stressors (challenges) promote adaptations. When a person lifts a heavy load they feel tired Their muscles, bones, and tendons have been stressed. They have “loaded the system”. That load provokes an adaptation to get stronger. Now they can lift the same heavy load with less effort.

Similarly, with other types of training we need to “load system”. For example, in language learning we need to reach that point of being challenged in order to progress. When I went to Argentina for a short trip, I thought I would practice a lot of Spanish. I did. However, the conversations were mostly less than 10 minutes and therefore not challenging. When first meeting someone, the conversations are mostly small talk, “what do you do, where are you from, etc”. Only after the 10-15 minute mark do you really get to discuss more in depth topics. And that depth is challenging, which is where the growth happens.

All this being said, daily “low load” training is still beneficial. For example, in addition to lifting weights a few times per week, walking daily is excellent for your health. In language learning, daily immersion is useful in addition to having challenging conversations.

Note that there is a minimum frequency needed for training. For example, although lifting weights for 1 hour, 3 times a week is beneficial, it would be ineffective to lift weights for 3 hours straight, once per week.

In short, not all training needs to be done daily. Rather we need to ensure we “load the system” by working at our limits.

You Are Not Your Grad Program

“You are not your job, you’re not how much money you have in the bank. You are not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet.”

― Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club

I’d like to add to that list, “You are not your grad program.” My choice to enter PT school came after a brief career in engineering, so I had a sense of “this is it, I’ve gotta make this work” when I started PT school. During my first summer in gross anatomy, school was the sole focus of my life. I socialized very little. I did almost everything in relation to school-I focused on quality sleep, exercise and good nutrition to enhance academic performance. I had no real hobbies outside of school. During that summer, I occasionally visited my family to recharge but would otherwise go days without calling because I was “too busy” with studying and needed to focus. As I became more focused on school, my performance on each test became of utmost importance. Doing well on a test, meant it was a great day. Performing poorly, would mean frustration and angrily analyzing why I didn’t perform well.

Once anatomy was finished I picked my head up and realized how much I had missed that summer. I hadn’t really explored the new city I found myself in. I had missed great social opportunities. I had made no progress in the gym. Most concerning of all was when I visited friends back home. In conversation, I mostly just talked about PT school. Of course, grad school is a big investment of time, money, and emotional energy-but my identity had become centered around grad school. I looked ahead to the next 3 years of grad school and thought “I cannot just be a PT student for the next 3 years”.

So over the next year I started building up a life again. I actually said “yes” to social opportunities. I started strength training. I picked up sports like volleyball. And somehow my grades stayed about the same (and no I didn’t sacrifice sleep). I realized a few crucial things:

1. The difference between an 89.5% as a B and getting a 90.0% as an A really wouldn’t matter in the clinic after graduating.

2. Diversifying my identity put school in perspective and dramatically reduced the stress of each test, quiz, or project. Which ironically improved my grades, but with less time studying.

3. PT school and my career are long term commitments, so the only sustainable option to thrive long term is to maintain the other areas of life.

Going to grad school and/or having a career I care about is rewarding and an opportunity I am incredibly grateful for. However, career is only a single dimension of a meaningful life-there are parts of us that our careers will never fulfill.


The Seesaw of Serendipity and Drive

Confused. What better way to feel on a Friday after work. Coming home from work I didn’t know what to do. So, I started changing clothes for the gym. Next stop, the gym and then…

A sort of emptiness started filling my mind. I had no obligations that evening. I had achieved all I wanted to for the week. Larger recent life events: got my undergraduate degree, got a great job, and began work towards new dreams outside of work. My life is going in a direction I want. Yet the empty feeling persisted.

I have been known to get busy and “productive” to defer that empty feeling. That confusing yet strong feeling that I have diagnosed as PES (Post-achievement Emptiness Syndrome): the inability to engage in activities just for fun, often the result of focusing excessively on achievements. I didn’t want to work, but I had forgotten how to play.

So I started watching Youtube videos about business and fitness. After a few videos I thought about a trip I had a few months before…

My first trip to Spain reminded me of a forgotten attitude. The child’s attitude. That mindset of wandering with curiosity and embracing whatever happens. Travel and other non-achievement oriented activities are the perfect way to rekindle this mindset. I don’t mean traveling with a list of the “must sees” or packing each day full of adventures. In fact, I took the exact opposite approach on a recent trip and had one of the most memorable experiences of my life.

We were going to Spain after graduation. But I was poorly “prepared” for the trip. I knew about 15 Spanish words (10 of which were numbers), I hadn’t researched the “must sees”, and hadn’t looked into hotels (we actually had only booked 4 nights of the 14 day trip). A sense uneasiness set in as I boarded the plane with so much uncertainty ahead.

Upon arrival in Spain it was hard to get into that child like mindset.* When you have deadlines, meetings, and classes 7 days a week it can be hard to adjust to having zero commitments. It worried me slightly that we didn’t have all our hotels booked and that we had no planned activities, would this trip be a waste?

On a train out of Madrid we looked over cities to visit and impulsively chose Sevilla, which turned out to be the highlight of the trip. Sevilla has the variety of options typical of a city, while maintaining the hospitality and warmth of a small town. Also, it turned out the hotel had its own inexpensive bike rental service. And the city happened to have recently finished a tourist bike path. And the city is known for its amazing food. I didn’t even know this city existed until 2 days before we got there.

So where does this musing about Spain and my eccentric Friday evening leave us? The recognition of 2 forces that must be balanced in life; drive and serendipity. We need drive to dream and work towards future achievements. However, we also need serendipity to wander, play, and embrace whatever experiences lie before us. The only problem is that in the modern world, drive is overemphasized to the point that we forget serendipity. Think about mainstream Western schooling. For 8 hours a day, enthusiastic children are forced to sit through a series of regimented learning activities. Even P.E., art, and music are highly structured classes. After school, many kids are ushered into sports practices. Finally, at night they do homework. Lunch and recess only offer a brief time to play for most kids. A similar pattern follows in most jobs. Now this is not say our jobs and school system are completely broken, but they need to allow for more wandering and play.

 Serendipity is not just important, it is necessary. This force helps us:

  1. Develop a childlike curiosity for the world, crucial to creativity and learning.
  2. Be inspired and infuse passion into life.
  3. Prevent burnout due to being in drive mode for too long.

So just play. Stare at the sky. Take a walk. Forget having a reason or purpose. Let the waves of life wash over you like when you were a kid at the beach.

*Note this is a repost from August 2015 from a previous blog I ran.


Recommended Further Reading:

Leo Baubata’s The Place Where You Are

Charlie Hoehn’s Preventing Burnout: A Cautionary Tale