With the fitness industry stronger and more varied than it has ever been, fitness instructors
and personal trainers are constantly having to diversify their skillset. It should come as no
surprise then, that more and more fitness professionals are turning to the question of how
to become a strength and conditioning coach, looking at more specialised areas of training
in order to secure more clients.
But what is a strength and conditioning coach, and what steps do you need to take in order
to start practising as one?
In this ultimate guide, we’ll take you, step-by-step, through everything you need to know
when asking how to become a strength and conditioning coach.
What’s more, later in this guide we’ll survey what the current jobs market looks like, so you’ll have a clear idea of the practicalities of how to become a strength and conditioning coach in 2018.
What is a strength and conditioning coach?
Think of a strength and conditioning coach like a more specialised version of a personal trainer.
Where a PT or a gym instructor might take a more rounded approach to their client’s health goals – e.g. my client wants to be able to run a marathon, so I want to improve their fitness in terms of core strength, nutrition, and cardiovascular fitness – a strength and conditioning coach offers a more specialised service.
What kind of specialised service? You guessed it, strength training…
Because the remit of a strength and conditioning coach is more specialised, they often end up working with athletes, and clients whose passion for fitness has extended beyond a passing interest.
That doesn’t mean that the client pool is restricted for strength and conditioning coaches.
In fact, recent surveys have found that over 50% of those who choose to keep fit in leisure centres and gyms have attended strength and conditioning specific classes.
So, given the increasingly diverse client pool, what are the day-to-day responsibilities of a strength and conditioning coach?
Who needs a strength and conditioning coach?
Traditionally, if someone was asking the question how to become a strength and conditioning coach, you could pretty much guarantee that they had ambitions to work with professional sports outfits, or elite teams.
However, that is no longer the case.
Where strength and conditioning advice was once the sole preserve of professional sportsmen and women, you’ll now find coaches running all manner of classes, drop-in sessions, and services, which has only helped make this area of fitness more accessible.
In fact, recent surveys have found that the gender divide for strength and conditioning based classes like Bodypump, boxercise, and kickboxing, is weighted more in favour of women (moving away from the male dominated industry that existed just a few years ago):
Are we saying all strength and conditioning coaches are moving towards class based structures?
Not at all. In fact, there’s still loads of professional coaches out there, meticulously tweaking their clients’ programmes.
However, the above results do show an interesting trend: that strength and conditioning, when pitched in an accessible manner, is a really popular fitness tool, and one that should be utilised by more trainers.
What does this mean for the kinds of clients who want strength and conditioning based services?
Well – maybe obviously – that they are all different.
But who are they?
Top Level Athletes
What you might consider the traditional client of the strength and conditioning coach. Top level coaches often recruit high profile clients, ranging from semi-professionals, to Olympic level competitors.
In this role, there will be more emphasis on analysis and measurement, ensuring that every aspect of the client’s performance is improved in an efficient and controlled manner.
Professional and university level sports teams
Strength and conditioning coaches have been staple members of college sports teams in America for some years now. Increasingly, this trend is picking up in the UK, with top sports universities like Loughborough investing in their strength and conditioning provisions.
In this context, you might be expected to work with a number of different athletes, providing advice over a range of different sports. There are also limited positions in university settings, so you have to have a track record of success to secure one of these jobs.
Dedicated fitness enthusiasts / Competition clients
If you’re an experienced personal trainer, and you’re looking how to become a strength and conditioning coach, then you might want to look what services you can offer your existing clients.
Maybe some of your clients compete in bodybuilding or fitness-style competitions, or maybe you’re seeing signs that a client could potentially compete in the future: either way, specialised strength and conditioning training is going to boost their gains in the gym.
For you, it provides a gateway to more specialised strength and conditioning positions at a later date.
Casual fitness enthusiasts / Group class clients
We all have to start somewhere, and for many new strength and conditioning coaches, this may come in the form of group classes for a local gym or leisure centre. While not strictly what you’d call strength and conditioning “coaching,” group classes do use many of the exercises and precepts a strength and conditioning coach would use with their clients.
Of course, measurement and analysis is sacrificed for accessibility and universal training. However, for a new trainer, group classes may offer a way to recruit one-to-one clients, and are one of the top marketing strategies for new personal trainers and fitness instructors.
What are the skills of a strength and conditioning coach?
Asking how to become a strength and conditioning coach is one thing, but actually following through with your curiosity is an entirely different prospect.
Put it this way: it can take years to become a personal trainer whose salary is stable, and who can live in relative comfort…And you want to jeopardise that to start working in a completely different area of health and fitness?!
Sounds pretty crazy, right?
Well, if you think about it, not so much.
Personal trainers are, by definition, motivated. Motivation is their whole thing: motivating themselves, motivating their clients; one thing that they are not short on is drive.
Perhaps then, the question of how to become a strength and conditioning coach, and the obstacles that question brings, is not so much a problem relating to a lack of personal drive, but more a question of skillset and experience.
If you’re in this predicament, of not knowing whether to embark on a career in strength and condition coaching, don’t worry. Take a deep breath, and then consider your strengths and weaknesses related to the following essential skills of a strength and conditioning coach.
Precision, and a meticulous mind-set
You’d be shocked as to the number of personal trainers, fitness instructors, and strength and conditioning coaches who overlook this skill.
Strength and conditioning, perhaps more than any other area of fitness training, is based on analysis and precise measurements.
To succeed in this industry, and to train at the highest level, you need to be obsessed by the numbers. What gains are your clients making, where are the areas for improvement, how can you quantify success.
Everything, down to the finest detail needs to be measured, and you’re going to be the one in charge of the clipboard.
In depth knowledge of anatomy, and how fitness practices can be employed in a professional context
Anyone who has completed a proper Level Two Gym Instructor Course or a Level Three Personal Trainer course will have a detailed knowledge of anatomy.
What separates you from the other trainers out there is your in-depth knowledge of how to apply fitness practices, specifically strength training and resistance training, towards making specific changes to body composition and fitness.
As a strength and conditioning coach, your client might be, for example, a gymnast, who wants to make improvements in a very specific area of strength. You must have the experience and knowledge to design a realistic programme for this specific client and their needs.
This goes without saying.
While there are a few strength and conditioning coaches who start out at an early stage of their careers, may will have worked as personal trainers and other fitness-based positions for a number of years.
This all boils down to one thing: confidence. You need to be able to say you’ve encountered clients with a wide range of fitness issues, and that you’ve helped resolve them using fitness programmes, knowledge, and initiative.
Despite many traditional views of coaches being individuals who will shout at clients, and dictate everything they do on the gym floor, modern strength and conditioning is a much more collaborative process.
Yes, you have to have the expertise and confidence to hold your own when your clients question your programmes or methods. But you must also build a programme that suits your client, and the only way to do that is to find out how they train, and what exercises suit them best for their purposes.
Strong sense of initiative
As well as being able to hold your own when your clients question you, you also need to be able to spot when a client has plateaued, and when they are no longer pushing themselves.
Taking initiative is a huge part of becoming a successful strength and conditioning coach. Developing this skill will give you the confidence to push your clients, and in doing so will mean that they place their trust in you. Nothing instils respect like results, so don’t be afraid to push people to the next level, even if they doubt themselves.
An eye for improvisation
As with everything – careers, education, life – sometimes, things don’t go to plan.
Your client might pick up an injury, there might be a competition deadline change, or even threat from competing athletes meaning the game has changed; whatever it is, sometimes, preparation is not enough.
Being creative with your programmes, but not committing yourself to any one plan, is crucial in a fast-paced and ever-changing industry.
What qualifications do I need to become a strength and conditioning coach?
Now listen up because this next part is important.
Qualifications should not be viewed as a hurdle for those looking to get into fitness careers. You could have all the experience in the world, but without proper training and instruction from a trusted training provider, you won’t know how to correctly apply your knowledge to coaching a client.
In short, you need to seek professional training before you step onto the gym floor with a client. If you don’t and something goes wrong, you’ll be entirely culpable, and your future career aspirations will be ruined.
Now that the serious bit is done…
If you’re seriously considering how to become a strength and conditioning coach, you might quickly find that finding the correct qualification is difficult.
There’s a good reason for this…
Strength and conditioning coaching, like many other areas of the fitness industry, doesn’t have one set route to career success.
Instead, lots of different trainers, coaches, and students take their own route into strength and conditioning coaching, depending on their skillset, budget, and abilities.
How to become a strength and conditioning coach: our suggested pathway for career success.
Because only a few training providers offer a dedicated strength and conditioning course, many strength and conditioning coaches choose to go down alternative routes, gaining a more rounded experience of the fitness industry before converting specifically to strength and conditioning coaching.
Some choose to undertake degrees in Sports Science, because of the emphasis placed upon analysis and in-depth knowledge of anatomy. And it’s true, Sports Science degrees are fantastic for covering a wide range of knowledge in incredibly finite detail.
Increasingly, however, many fitness professionals are steering clear of university degrees because of the price, and the length of time spent studying.
There are many advantages to undertaking these styles of courses over university degrees:
Once you have attained your Level 2 and Level 3, you can start working in a gym as a personal trainer, fitness instructor, or group class instructor.
From here, you should try to gain 6-12 months experience, improving the fitness of your clients and earning a professional reputation. This means you will have a strong foundation to build on when you make the decision to convert to strength and conditioning coaching.
Let’s break that down a little more simply…
In terms of qualifications, your route into strength and conditioning coaching might look something like:
What should I look out for when choosing a course provider?
If you choose to go down the route of attaining your Level 2 and Level 3 qualifications before specialising in strength and conditioning coaching, you need to find the right course provider for you.
There are loads of course providers out there, all providing different price structures and opportunities for professional development through CPD courses.
When it comes to looking for the right course provider for you, you should keep an eye out for the following:
Career prospects: what opportunities when I become a strength and conditioning coach?
If you’re researching how to become a strength and conditioning coach, or any profession for that matter, there will come a point where your dreams have to meet reality.
More specifically, there will come a point where you must ask “are there any jobs out there right now?”
Luckily for you, the fitness industry is predicated upon trainers and coaches being entrepreneurial in how they approach their work. If there isn’t a job opening available right this second, then many trainers simply carve out their own niche using personal trainer marketing strategies.
But let’s say you’ve been working as a freelance trainer for a good number of years, and now you want to become a strength and conditioning coach in a fully paid position…
What does the industry look like in 2018 for new strength and conditioning coaches?
What is the job market like for strength and conditioning coaches?
We surveyed some of the top careers sites to look for strength and conditioning jobs in the UK 2018.
Here’s what we found:
We then researched a cross section of our results, and looked at the types of organisations currently hiring strength and conditioning coaches:
How much will I make as a strength and conditioning coach?
Like personal trainers, the strength and conditioning coach salary can be fairly broad.
This makes everything a little difficult…
Obviously, a strength and conditioning coach in a full time position, working for an elite team, is going to be earning more than a freelance strength and conditioning coach recruiting their own clients in a gym.
It might also be worth checking out our ultimate guide to personal trainer salaries, for a full breakdown of average earnings in the fitness industry.
If you are seriously looking into how to become a strength and conditioning coach, however, here’s our quick breakdown of average salaries (based on research conducted in 2018)
It’s also worth noting that there are far more mid-career strength and conditioning coaches than there are newbies.
When you think about it, this makes a lot of sense…
As we mentioned earlier, many prospective strength and conditioning coaches choose to enter the profession after gaining a few years of experience as a personal trainer or fitness instructor.
This means, most “new” strength and conditioning coaches are actually relatively experienced when it comes to working in the fitness industry, which bumps up the average salary in comparison to other fields.
How to become a strength and conditioning coach: the ultimate step by step process?
And now the part you’ve all been waiting for!
We’ve given you all the information you could possibly need when asking how to become a strength and conditioning coach.
But we didn’t just want to leave you there…
Starting a new career is always scary, whether that’s strength and conditioning coaching, or retraining by going back to study for further fitness qualifications.
To make your journey a little easier, we’ve mapped the complete route into strength and conditioning coaching, including some of the essential experience you’ll need to stand out above the rest, and how to earn money before landing your dream career as a full time coach.
Don’t say we never do anything for you!
And that’s that!
And with that, we’ve covered everything you need to know when looking at how to become a strength and conditioning coach.
Now it’s your turn…
Let us know in the comments how you managed to become a strength and conditioning coach, and what was the most difficult step of the journey…
Alternative, join the discussion on Facebook and Twitter!
And don’t forget! If you’re at the start of your strength and conditioning career path, attaining your Level 2 and Level 3 qualifications is vital in order to start training clients and gain that vital experience which will put you ahead of the game.