CSCS Study Guide Chapter 1: Structure and Function of Body Systems

Chapter 1 of the Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning covers a brief overview of the Musculoskeletal, Neuromuscular, Cardiovascular, and Respiratory systems in the body and how they're all involved in exercise.

Today I have three things for you:

  1. A story about my experience taking the exam.
  2. Notes on structure and function of body systems.
  3. A quick request.

How I Got Ready for The CSCS Exam:

A Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) can apply scientific knowledge to train athletes and improve their performance. By far, this is one of the most difficult certifications to get as a personal trainer.

The study process is often twice as long as most personal training certifications and the pass rate isn't nearly as high.

The pass rate was 63% for first-time candidates attempting both sections of the CSCS exam in 2019 per the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA).

At the cost of about ~$340-475 for the test alone (on the first try), you'll want to make sure you're prepared to take it. If you pass your exam, you can get a job at pretty much any gym in the country.

When I first started training, I went for an ACE personal training certification. Honestly, I felt like I learned a few things, but not enough to be a great trainer.

The certifications trainers respect are;

  1. American Council on Exercise Certified Personal Trainer (ACE-CPT)
  2. American College of Sports Medicine Certified Personal Trainer (ACSM-CPT)
  3. National Academy of Sports Medicine Certified Personal Trainer (NASM-CPT)
  4. National Strength and Conditioning Association Certified Personal Trainer (NSCA-CPT)

After a few years in, I can say that the NSCA did a great job in preparing me to learn more.

I grew up reading a lot of fitness blogs, Women's and Men's Health magazines and worked out with different sports coaches. With my experience, I figured I would be able to pass the CSCS exam without much trouble first attempt-that's how my ACE exam went.

Well, I did pass after about 6 months of study-reading the entire book, taking notes. It was a challenge and I noticed that there isn't much out there to help you study.

The exam is based on Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning: Fourth Edition. The text can be fairly dense if you don't have a background in exercise science.

I decided to put this guide together to help you because I wish this was out there for me. This should help you pass on the first try.

Italic Terms are Key Terms that the book has highlighted.

Structure and Function of Body Systems

This chapter is a brief overview of the Musculoskeletal, Neuromuscular, Cardiovascular, and Respiratory systems in the body and how they're all involved in exercise. Anatomy and function. The continuous supply of nutrients from food and oxygen allow exercise to occur.

P.S. Calcium is super important.

Musculoskeletal System

Bones, Joints and Muscles that all act on, and with each other to produce movement.


  • Muscles produce movement by pulling (shortening) on different bones internally to produce external movements. These movements can be pushing objects away from you like the ground or a ball. They can also be pulling objects towards you like a rope.
  • Axial Skeleton - The head and trunk, skull to bones that end at pelvis
  • Appendicular Skeleton - Arms, Shoulder blade to wrist and finger tips. Pelvis, Legs, left and right pelvic bone to your toes.
  • Fibrous Joints-Immovable joints like the bones in your head.
  • Cartilaginous Joints - Joints that allow a little bit of movement like your ribs.
  • Synovial Joints - Joints that allow a lot of movement like your elbow.
  • Most movement in sports comes from synovial joints.
  • Hyaline Cartilage - At the end of bones, the most common and flexible connective tissue.
  • Synovial Fluid - reduces friction between cartilage and joints.
  • Joint movement is on an axis, there are categories that indicate the number of directions movement can occur.
  • Uniaxial Joints - Movement in one direction, hinge like the elbow.
  • Biaxial Joints - Movement in two directions, like the wrist.
  • Multiaxial Joints - Movement in three directions (all planes of movement), like the shoulder.
  • Vertebral Column - The spine. Some parts flexible for movement, others less flexible.
  • Skeletal growth is encouraged by heavy loading and higher impact activities like landing from a jump.
  • the frequency, type and intensity in which you load the skeleton dictates the changes that occur.

Skeletal Musculature

  • The muscles that allow the skeleton to move are connected to bone at each of their ends. Bones are connected by joints.
  • Every muscle is it's own organ made of blood, nerves, muscle tissue and connective tissue.
  • Epimysium - elastic connective tissue that covers every muscle and borders tendons at the end of each muscle.
  • Tendon - flexible collagen that attaches muscle to bone.
  • Bone Periosteum - Bone connective tissue, attached to tendon.
  • Proximal - the muscle attachment end that is closer to the body.
  • Distal - the muscle end attachment that is further from the body.
  • Superior - Closer to the head, further from the feet.
  • Inferior - Further from the head, closer to the feet.
  • Muscle Fibers - a cell, the basic building block of muscle.
  • Fasciculi - groups of fibers, up to 150 according to the text.
  • Perimysium - connective tissue that surrounds bundles or groups of muscle fibers.
  • Endomysium - connective tissue around each individual fiber.
  • Sarcolemma - muscle fiber membrane or basically muscle cell walls.
  • Motor Neuron - Nerve cell that receives the signal from the brain.
  • Neuromuscular Junction - the connection between a motor neuron and skeletal muscle.
  • Motor Unit - a motor neuron and all the muscle fibers it supplies.
  • Sarcoplasm - muscle cytoplasm, the thick solution in a cell.
  • Myofibrils - makes up most of the sarcoplasm, long rod like structures that run the entire length of each muscle cell and are responsible for how muscle contracts.
  • Myofilament - threadlike chains of actin or myosin that's a component of a myofibril.
  • Actin - thin filament.
  • Myosin - thick filament.
  • Cross-bridge - the formation of these causes muscle contraction, when actin and myosin bind to each other. the number of cross-bridges formed at any time dictates how much force a muscle produces.
  • Sarcomere - the smallest contractile unit of muscle, repeated the entire length of muscle.
  • M-Bridge - the bridge between myosin strands (in the center of sarcomeres), center of the h-zone.
  • The way that all these bands are organized gives muscle its dark and light pattern.
  • A-Band - alignment of myosin filaments in two adjacent (next to) sarcomeres, dark.
  • I-Band - alignment of only actin filaments in two adjacent sarcomeres, light.
  • Z-line - middle of the I-band, looks like a dark thin line.
  • M-line - myosin version of the Z-line, dark line in center of H-zone.
  • H-zone - area in the middle of the sarcomere where only myosin is present, within the A-Band.
  • Sarcoplasmic Reticulum - a special type of endoplasmic reticulum. Aids in the release of calcium, it's stored here.
  • Calcium controls muscular contraction.
  • Endoplasmic reticulum-a cells manufacturing and packaging system, a network of membranes.
  • T-tubules - extensions of the sarcolemma that conduct impulses (action potential) from the surface of the cell down into the cell.
  • Action Potential - an electrical nerve impulse.
  • The action potential signal is what tells the body to release calcium from the sarcoplasmic reticulum and that tension developed is a muscle contraction.
  • Sliding Filament Theory - the theory that actin and myosin filaments slide over each other inward for movement to occur in a muscle.
  • Troponin - a protein that has a high attraction to calcium, runs along actin at regular intervals
  • Tropomyosin - a protein that runs along the length of actin in the groove.
  • Troponin binds calcium, moving tropomyosin in the process, exposing myosin binding sites. Myosin then attaches to actin.
  • Power Stroke - the pulling action of myosin and actin moving, energy for this comes from ATP.
  • Muscle contraction will continue as long as there is enough ATP and calcium for the cycle of events to occur.
  • Relaxation occurs when the motor nerve stops receiving a signal.

Neuromuscular System

  • Signals that travel from the brain along the spine and to different motor neurons are in the form of electrochemicals.
  • Control of a muscle is determined by the number of fibers within each motor unit.
  • Acetylcholine-a neurotransmitter or chemical signal. Causes muscles to contract.
  • All-or-none principle - when a motor neuron receives a signal all of the fibers it's responsible for fire.
  • Twitch - a brief contraction.
  • Tetanus - a high frequency of twitches sum to this, the maximal amount of force a motor unit can develop.
  • Slow-twitch - a muscle fiber that develops force and relaxes slowly. Efficient, aerobic, fatigue slowly.
  • Fast-twitch - a muscle fiber that develops force and relaxes quickly. Inefficient, rapid force, fatigue quickly.
  • Muscle fibers are further divided and named by "type". The same classification system can also be used for motor units since they're only responsible for one type of fiber.
  • Type I - slow-twitch
  • Type IIa - fast-twitch, greater capacity for aerobic energy supplies than IIx.
  • Type IIx - fast-twitch
  • The amount of force the body produces can be increased by increasing frequency or recruiting more muscle. Different types of motor units are recruited for different kinds of activities. Long distance, slow-twitch, quick burst to finish a race, fast-twitch.
  • Well trained people are able to use more of the muscle they have than untrained people.
  • Proprioceptors - special sensory receptors in muscle, joints and tendons. Communicate with brain.
  • Muscle Spindles - proprioceptors in muscle, intrafusal.
  • Intrafusal Fibers - in muscle, detect amount and rate of change in muscle length. Tell the body how much force is needed to overcome resistance.
  • Extrafusal - normal fibers,
  • Increase force production in athletics by using heavier loads, building more muscle in the areas concerned with the sport and perform multi-joint exercises that can be done explosively to optimize fast-twitch recruitment.
  • Golgi Tendon Organs - proprioceptors in tendons. Protects against excessive force by shutting muscle down when stretched too far.

Get the full Study Guide

Get the most up to date Study Guide — Subscribe today for 1 year of access and ensure your success on the CSCS Exam.

Cardiovascular System

  • The cardiovascular system's main jobs are to transport nutrients and remove waste.
  • The heart is separated into right and left sides. Right side pumps blood through the lungs, left side pumps through the rest of the body.
  • Atrium - pump blood into the ventricles.
  • Ventricle - move blood through the rest of the body.
  • Tricuspid Valve - prevents blood from flowing back into the right atrium.
  • Mitral Valve - prevents blood from flowing back into the left atrium.
  • Atrioventricular [AV] Valves - the kinds of valves the mitral and tricuspid are. Shut the door to the left and right atrium after blood is pumped into the left and right ventrical.
  • Systole - when the ventricles contract and pump blood to the rest of the body. From the chambers into the arteries.
  • Aortic Valve - prevent blood from flowing backwards from the aorta into the ventricles.
  • Pulmonary Valve - prevent blood from backflowing into the pulmonary arteries into the ventricles.
  • Semilunar Valves - the kind of valves the aortic and pulmonary are, ventrical valves.
  • Diastole - When the ventricles relax.
  • The heart relies on its own electrical timing system to mechanically keep pace.
  • Sinoatrial (SA) Node - The hearts pacemaker where the signal to fire begins in the atrium. Discharges fast (they said 60-80 times per minute)
  • Internodal pathways relay the signal from SA to AV.
  • Atrioventricular (AV) Node - The signal from the SA node is delayed slightly and then passed on to the ventricles. Important that this is timed right. Discharges 40-60 times per minute.
  • Atrioventricular (AV) Bundle - conducts the signal from the atrium to the ventricles. Larger and faster than the AV nodal fibers.
  • Left Bundle Branch - AV bundle on the left side.
  • Right Bundle Branch - AV bundle on the right side.
  • Purkinje Fibers - A further division of the bundle branches. Conducts impulses to all parts of the ventricles.
  • Myocardium - heart muscle.
  • Autonomic Nervous System - regulates the bodies unconscious actions. Fight or flight.
  • Sympathetic Nervous System - fight response. Speeds the heart.
  • Parasympathetic Nervous System - flight response. Slows the heart.
  • Normal resting heart rate ranges from 60-100 beats per minute.
  • Bradycardia - fewer than 60 beats per minute.
  • Tachycardia - more than 100 beats per minute.
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG) - a visual representation of the hearts electrical activity. It's really important to know this.
  • P-Wave - atrial depolarization, wave before the QRS complex, valves between atria and ventrical open.
  • QRS Complex - Three separate waves, Q, R, and S. A recording of electrical depolarization of the ventricle.
  • T-Wave - generated from the electrical potential developed as the ventricles recover.
  • Depolarization - reversal of electrical potential.
  • Repolarization - recovering from depolarization.
  • Atrial repolarizaton is masked by the QRS complex, very important.
  • Arterial System - carries blood away from the heart.
  • Venous System - carries blood back to the heart.
  • Arteries - strong tubes that rapidly transport the blood the heart pumps out.
  • Arterioles - smaller branches of arteries. Are also strong and can change in size to regulate blood flow.
  • Capillaries - facilitate exchange of nutrients, oxygen, fluids and hormones from blood and the interstitial fluid in different tissues in the body. Thin walls.
  • Venules - take blood from capillaries and begin the return process to the heart by moving blood to veins.
  • Veins - take blood back to the heart.
  • Carbon dioxide is the most abundant byproduct of metabolism.
  • Hemoglobin - Iron-protein molecule in blood that carries oxygen. Buffers acid-base hydrogen ion concentration.
  • Red Blood Cells - major component of blood.

Respiratory System

  • The main function of the respiratory system is the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide.
  • Trachea - where oxygen first begins it's passage into the lungs.
  • Bronchi - the second passage of oxygen from the trachea into the bronchioles.
  • Bronchioles - additional generations of passage ways, they say there are ~23 before the alveoli.
  • Alveoli - where gases are exchanged. oxygen and carbon dioxide.
  • The movement of air and gas is controlled by the expansion and compression of the lungs. Done in two ways, normal quiet breathing that moves the diaphragm or depression of the ribs to shrink the chest cavity.
  • Know which muscles make the ribs rise (external intercostals)and which ones makes the ribs compress (internal intercostals).
  • Pleural Pressure - the pressure in the space between the lungs and the chest wall. Normally slightly negative to help breathing in.
  • Pleura - membrane around the lungs and lining the chest walls.
  • Alveolar Pressure - the pressure inside the alveoli when the glottis (throat valve) is open and no air is flowing in or out. Equal to atmospheric pressure.
  • According to the text during rest only 3-5% of the bodies energy is required for breathing. During exercise this rises to 8-15% especially if there's anything restricting airflow like asthma.
  • Diffusion - the random motion of molecules moving from a high concentration to a lower one.
  • Regular exercise is all you need to train the lungs unless the person has had surgery or long bed rest.

Get the full Study Guide

Get the most up to date Study Guide — Subscribe today for 1 year of access and ensure your success on the CSCS Exam.

Steven Mack is founder and a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist at the private training studio, Simple Solutions Fitness. He consults for Stronger by Science, a leader in fitness research dissemination, and is a former Mizzou football walk-on. Steven dedicates his professional life to helping people through his writing, speaking, and role as a personal trainer.