Hey everyone, and welcome to PT Pioneer.
If you’re joining me for the first time, this is your ultimate destination for all things fitness industry related.
From getting your credentials to mastering on-the-job skills, I have you covered.
I’ll be providing insight into the strength and conditioning coach career info.
To do that, we’ll be looking at the following:
- A brief look at strength and conditioning
- The job description of a strength and conditioning coach
- How to get a job
- A brief look at salary
I also highly recommend that you take the quiz and find out which strength and conditioning certification is best for your career goals.
What strength and conditioning certification is right for you?
We developed this critical quiz to help you find the best certification for you and your goals.
All these aspects will give you a clear picture of group fitness, so let’s get right into it without further ado.
Who is a Strength and Conditioning Coach
Since I’ve gone over this in more detail in a separate article, I’ll touch on it with a brief description.
Strength and conditioning, as the name suggests, is training to improve strength, the ability to perform, and conditioning, or the ability to adapt to required performance demands.
In essence, strength signifies what you can output, and conditioning signifies what you can withstand.
Improving these aspects makes a person a better athlete or a more functional human being.
Job Description of a Strength and Conditioning Coach
According to the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), a strength and conditioning coach’s job duties fall under three main engagements.
The first is to improve athletic performance, the second is to help prevent injury, and the third is to build career-long or lifelong fitness habits and methodologies.
I want to take a look at each of these aspects so we can start to build a more clear picture.
Improving Athletic Performance (Strength)
Athletic performance relates to the strength aspect of strength and conditioning.
As I already mentioned, strength denotes a person or athlete’s output or performance capabilities.
By having a working knowledge of improving strength, you’re improving any number of the following:
These are all key elements in improved performance output, leading athletes to results and progress.
Strength doesn’t just stop there; it has other run-off benefits such as mental well-being and confidence, which contribute to better performance, forming a virtuous cycle.
Strength also somewhat overlaps with the benefits of conditioning, which I’ll indicate shortly.
As a coach, your goal continuously elevates an athlete’s performance capabilities for better results and consistent success.
This means implementing performance-boosting methodologies, which include:
- Resistance and weight training
- power/plyometric training
- Agility training
- Endurance training
- Speed training
Consistent and correct implementation of these methodologies is the key to success as a strength & conditioning specialist.
Reducing Risk and Effects of Injury (conditioning)
This part of the job can bring the most stress and pressure, especially if you’re dealing with solo athletes instead of teams where gaps can be filled by substitution.
Reducing the risk of injury and reducing the effects of injury once it has occurred is the name of the game.
Improving strength itself is already an element of injury prevention.
By simply increasing the body’s resistance to force and resilience against traumatic events, you’re already one step closer to good conditioning.
Other ways injuries are prevented include:
- Flexibility training
- Impact training
- Exposure training
- Joint training
These same methodologies also apply to post-injury rehab protocols.
Conditioning isn’t just about injury prevention and recovery; it’s also about post-performance recovery.
After vigorous training or strenuous competition, the body will naturally be battle-damaged.
Microtrauma in the musculoskeletal system is almost inevitable, especially in contact sports.
The exhaustion one experiences after a hard game or training session also sets in.
These are natural responses and are part of the process of adaptation. Still, when it comes to competitive sports, the turn-around time between the last performance and the next is often longer than desirable.
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To speed up recovery, you, as the coach, must implement recovery protocols.
- Nutrition and diet
- hot/cold therapy (ice bath, heat treatment, sauna)
- Fascial release (sports massage, foam rolling, stretching)
- Active rest
When we talk about conditioning, we can also talk about mental conditioning, a major part of performance enhancement.
An athlete’s mental state can dictate how well they adapt to high-pressure situations in a way that leads to success but also helps reduce the risk of injury.
While a strength and conditioning coach career doesn’t emphasize the mental and psychological aspects of performance, having these in your toolkit as a coach brings you and your clients one step closer to success.
Building Career-long or Life-long Habits
The final role of a strength and conditioning coach is to instill a sense of health and fitness that an athlete or client can adopt and apply to their general lifestyle.
Actual results in any form of health and fitness instruction come from developing habits.
Ultimately, you want your clients to be programmed toward applying useful methodologies despite your presence and engagement as an instructor.
One way of doing this is through consistent repetition.
From an instructional perspective, constant repetition allows athletes and clients to build a routine in their lives.
You’ll soon notice that certain habits gradually become second nature, and no hands-on coaching is required.
Your goal as a strength and conditioning coach, or any health and fitness instructor for that matter, is to create an environment where the student surpasses the master or where the player can become the coach.
Create routines and patterns of training that lead to significant payoffs on and off the field to entrain the mind of your athlete or client into consistently repeating said patterns.
By creating anchors in repeated patterns, you can ensure quality progression at best and a maintained level of optimal performance at worst.
Strength and Conditioning Coach Duties
As a strength and conditioning coach, you’ll have three aspects to focus on, as I’ve just discussed.
However, within these three main frameworks are several duties, roles, and responsibilities within your scope of expertise.
Let’s look at these in a bit more detail.
Program Design and Implementation
As with any fitness instruction practice, your primary task is to develop a comprehensive program for your client or athlete to follow.
In the case of S&C, your program will likely focus on the periodization model.
Periodization is a method of progressive performance enhancement that breaks down training tasks into pre-defined phases or cycles.
Each phase is designed to enhance different aspects of performance over a seasonal period while limiting the risk of injury.
The period can be based on an annual competitive season or a preconceived timeframe based on the client’s goals.
The training volume, frequency, and loads are modified throughout the period and are implemented differently in each phase or cycle.
These cycles are the macrocycle, microcycle, and mesocycle.
The macrocycle encapsulates the entire training period, whether an annual competitive season or a 6-month cut and bulk cycle, as examples.
The macrocycle contains three sub-phases.
These are the preparation phase, the competition phase, and the transition phase.
In the preparation phase, a strength and conditioning coach implements foundational attributes for a stable base from which progress occurs.
In the competition phase, an S&C coach manages an athlete’s performance during the competitive or active season.
This phase emphasizes external outputs such as training equipment, apparel, and nutrition.
Last is the transition phase.
This phase is characterized by deloading with a focus on psychological stress alleviation.
This can be achieved by implementing or suggesting recreational activities such as vacations or relaxing.
In this phase, the athlete or client must avoid counterproductive activities such as heavy partying, which includes substance use and excess alcohol.
This will ensure the athlete retains all progress in anticipation of resetting the training calendar.
A microcycle is defined by a set number of training sessions focusing on building consistency rather than aiming for notable progress.
Because the macrocycle period is so short, often just a week long, it isn’t common to notice significant adaptation; however, it is important to maintain a consistent approach with slight, acute adjustments.
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This will lead to gradual progress over the long term.
The mesocycle is characterized by a continuous stretch of several weeks where specific training methodologies and protocols are implemented.
A mesocycle can therefore be described as a cluster of macrocycles in which notable adaptation can be recorded.
The goal of the mesocycle is to harness the consistency of the microcycle and manage the demands of the macrocycle at each distinct sub-phase.
Therefore, the number of microcycles it takes to achieve notable progress determines the end of a motorcycle.
Liaise With Supportive Specialists
As a strength and conditioning coach, it’s important to understand that your scope of practice is limited compared to your objectives for your athletes or clients.
That is to say, the things you aim to achieve for successful performance optimization cannot be fully catered to through simply strength and conditioning practice.
For instance, injury prevention, management, and rehabilitation fall out of your scope of expertise.
For this, you’d need to employ the support of an injury specialist such as a physiotherapist.
The same can be said for diet and nutrition, and the list goes on.
As a strength and conditioning coach, you must develop a network of specialists and experts in handling other finer aspects of an athlete’s needs.
Adherence and Accountability
As an S&C coach, you must guide your athlete or client’s habits and attitude to the tasks at hand.
Simply having a program and attempting to implement it aren’t enough.
You need to be able to motivate, communicate, and cooperate with the trainees to keep them focused and engaged.
Good quality, progressive strength, and conditioning training can sometimes be challenging and discouraging.
It is, therefore, super important to maintain a keen eye on your athlete’s activities, providing correction, feedback, motivation, and accountability where needed.
Periodization is highly dependent on nailing time objectives, so minimizing time wastage by tracking attendance and task completion is necessary.
Conducting a Periodic Analysis of Requirements
As your athlete or client progresses, assessing their achievements and deficiencies is important to know what is needed next.
After each strength and conditioning program macrocycle, you must analyze the outcomes based on accumulated data and performance results.
This will help you understand how to fill in the gaps.
For example, if your athlete is a track runner and you notice a below-normal performance output with the data presented, you may look at switching up your training apparel.
Perhaps this means kitting them out with faster shoes or an outfit with a lower drag coefficient.
The needs analysis you will conduct as an S&C coach will ultimately become budget-based when dealing with professional athletes since the inputs required will come at a cost.
As an athletic S&C coach, part of your networking duties would include building relationships with prospective sponsors.
Collaborate with other S&C Specialists and Sports Coaches
To maintain industry relevance, continue learning, and be exposed to new opportunities, it is important to network with your peers.
This is usually achieved through on-the-job interactions with colleagues who share your job title.
Let’s say you work for a sports team or a gym. Chances are, you aren’t the only strength and conditioning specialist on board.
Make friends and offer value to your peers.
Also, attending seminars and workshops allows you to rub shoulders with other professionals in your field and perhaps connect with collaborators, mentors, and investors/sponsors.
What Qualifications Do You Need?
I’ve researched the best S&C certifications in a separate article, so please check it out.
For brevity’s sake, I’ll give you a rundown of the qualifications you should aim for.
First, you should aim for a minimum bachelor’s degree in a sports science or sports medicine-related field.
Programs in this category include:
- Sports medicine
- Exercise science
- Physical education
Next, you’ll want to get certified with an S&C specialist cert through an accredited certifying agency.
My top recommended institutions with strength and conditioning certs are:
There are many more, but the primary stipulation is that they are accredited either by the NCCA or DEAC.
The last important credential is, of course, your primary responder certificate.
These are prerequisites for certification through the agencies mentioned above, so you will need to already have current first aid, CPR, and AED certifications in place.
Other requirements include having certain skills and attributes that contribute to optimal outcomes on the job.
These skills include:
- Motivational skills
- interpersonal skills
- Communication and active listening skills
- Experience and passion for strength and conditioning
Strength and Conditioning Coach Job Outlook
Getting a job as a strength and conditioning coach depends on the scale and focus you want to practice within.
If you aim to be a freelance S&C coach, you will follow a similar job-hunting path as a personal trainer.
That means applying at gyms, typically through their online recruitment platforms visible on their websites or through marketing and sales strategies implemented online and through social media.
You can also look at the numerous online classifieds and see available positions.
If you want to go for the big leagues and be worthy of professional sports performance, you must be more proactive and persistent.
The high stakes in professional sports mean a generally high entry barrier for any professional looking to work in that environment.
You will probably need to do a fair bit of shadowing and interning before you can get a comfortable position.
This would be the most rewarding outcome, financially speaking.
And when it comes to salary, what are the stats for a strength and conditioning specialist?
Strength and Conditioning Instructor Salary
Salary and income are huge topics for any career field. That’s why I’ve gone into more precise detail in a separate article.
But so that you know, an S&C coach in America can expect an average income of $44,907 per year.
Many factors play into how much you can earn.
- Credentials and qualifications
- Years of experience
- Job position and nature of employment
Aside from the figure after the dollar sign, your salary or income’s value is determined by your expenses.
These expenses hinge on two factors: your operational expenses, as in how much of your income you need to feed back into keeping your career running, and your cost of living, or the amount of money you’ll need to give up for a general living.
Compared to the average earnings of personal trainers in the US, a figure at around $62k, the salary prospects for an S&C coach don’t seem too magnificent.
However, the potential career heights a strength and conditioning coach can achieve compared to what a PT can expect are far greater.
Imagine being a performance coach for an NFL or NBA team.
Strength and conditioning is an exciting and rewarding take on a fitness career.
Focusing on improving capability rather than aesthetics gives a profound sense of accomplishment, in my opinion, and your clients, especially if they are athletes, will be even more satisfied.
However, strength and conditioning are difficult to find lucrative opportunities, with only a handful of individuals truly elevating to lofty career heights such as working in professional sports.
Therefore, the average S&C coach is better off using their skillset and qualifications with other sought-after specializations such as personal training and nutrition.
I hope this article gave you some much-needed insight.
If you still have questions, please don’t hesitate to drop a note in the comment section below, and I’ll get right to them.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the typical work environment for a strength and conditioning coach?
As an S&C coach, you will be subject to various training environments and weather conditions, including hard, soft, uneven surfaces, wet weather, dry, humid, and hot conditions, as well as noise.
What are the strength and conditioning coach requirements in terms of education?
A bachelor’s degree or higher in a sports science-related field, an accredited S&C certification, and primary responder certifications
What does a strength and conditioning coach do regularly?
The most urgent strength and conditioning coach responsibilities include designing and implementing strength and conditioning programs.
What are the responsibilities of a strength and conditioning coach?
Improving athletic performance, reducing injury risk, managing and rehabilitating injuries and imbalances as well as instilling good health and fitness habits
What is required to be a strength and conditioning coach?
The passion for motivating and monitoring athletes toward optimized performance and injury prevention, as well as the required qualifications
What is the difference between a strength and conditioning coach and a personal trainer?
A personal trainer is a health and fitness instructor who assists clients from a broad spectrum of population groups to achieve diverse health goals. A strength and conditioning coach optimizes functional performance and injury prevention, especially for competitive athletes.
- “Sample Job Description – Full-Time Strength and Conditioning Coach.” National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), https://www.nsca.com/education/high-school-athletic-directors-resources/sample-job-description–full-time-strength-and-conditioning-coach/.
- “Sports Periodization.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sports_periodization#The_macrocycle.
- “Strength and Conditioning Coach Salary.” Salary.com, https://www.salary.com/research/salary/recruiting/strength-and-conditioning-coach-salary.
- “Basics of Strength and Conditioning Manual.” National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), https://www.nsca.com/contentassets/116c55d64e1343d2b264e05aaf158a91/basics_of_strength_and_conditioning_manual.pdf.