What To Look For When Looking For A Strength & Conditioning Coach Or Personal Trainer

What’s the difference between the two?

There are some very knowledgeable elite level personal trainers who have taken many years and spent a lot of money to become an expert in their chosen field. As with any other profession there are those at the very top and those who have little qualifications or experience.

Personal trainers tend to have knowledge on training the general public and many also are very skilled in the area of special populations i.e. people who have to be trained with special considerations, the elderly, pregnant women, people with disease etc. Personal trainers very rarely know how to train athletes.

A Strength & Conditioning Coach has gained knowledge both in the classroom and the gym in order to achieve ‘Sports Performance Enhancement’ with clients who’s goals are to become stronger and faster. Obviously there are always exceptions but generally an S&C coach is also proficient when working with general pop clients.


What is a Strength & Conditioning Coach/Specialist?

Practitioners with the specialist skills to write and coach physical preparation programmes for performance. It includes processes that result in physical adaptation through integrating fitness components into a programme, which compliments other aspects of the performer’s development.

What it is not.

  • Fitness Instructor
  • Personal Trainer
  • Physiotherapist/Physical Therapist
  • Exercise Physiologist
  • Bodybuilder
  • Sports Coach

S&C is the fastest growing sector for elite sport

What you should look for:

  • A Degree
  • Accreditation
  • Experience
  • Competency


  • NSCA – Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS)
  • UKSCA – Accredited Strength and Conditioning Coach (ASCC)
  • ASCA

The above are the ideal when looking for a coach but it’s not black and white. There are people with a degree maybe even a masters in S&C who have never trained anybody, some would have no idea how to train a person whether an athlete or the average guy in a high street gym.

Then there are the opposite, very high level coaches who have never been to a university but these guys have spent many years and vast sums of money travelling the world taking certifications and learning from the worlds best performance coaches.

As well as training athletes or general population there is another area of expertise that also requires skill and knowledge, this being the ‘Physique Coach’. Now this area might not require the academic qualifications that a S&C coach has but it is indeed an area where great expertise is required. When looking for this type of coach it’s very important that the coach walks the walk. You would expect them to be in phenomenal shape and if not they can show you that they have been there in the past. If employing a physique coach you would expect them to have some evidence to show that they have experience in the preparation of another individual for the stage.

A good coach or trainer gives value for money

In the past i’d judge a trainer by what I could see when watching them even if it was for only a few seconds. Now my attitude has changed a little, if I see a trainer who I can tell is inexperienced but he/she acts in a professional manner and teaches exercise in a safe way, if I know they don’t change a great deal of money, say $25 then I like them.

It’s all about value for money, to me a trainer in a gym charging $60 can be overpriced while another trainer in the same gym charging $150+ can be worth every penny.

A good coach or trainer will always teach (insist on) good form. Besides getting better, faster results, they are also giving better value for money, showing more personal attention and a greater attention to detail. Plus, if if a client has been educated on how to use the equipment correctly or perform an exercise properly then there is far less chance of injury. If a person is hurt performing an exercise because they are doing it incorrectly then the person who taught them the exercise could be held responsible.


A coach/trainer should never be arrogant, if they don’t know something they shouldn’t pretend they do and proceed to give incorrect advice/instruction, you will have much more respect for them if they say they are not 100% sure and that they will find out. Also it’s impossible for a trainer to know everything, it’s always better to refer to somebody else rather than delve into an area that they have very little knowledge in e.g. if somebody has a problem refer to a physio or chiro etc.


The trainer needs to know what each exercise does, if for some reason you can’t do the exercise then they should use their discretion and substitute for something else but again document the change.

The trainer should personally be able to do the exercises in the workout, there’s no disgrace in them not being able to do something but if he/she can’t do it then they shouldn’t ask you to. Especially as good form needs to be demonstrated. This doesn’t mean that they are expected to be as strong or explosive as their clients, especially athletes but they do need to be able to demonstrate the movement with excellent form. 

Some people say that a strength coach or trainer should never sit down while training a client, I will not argue with this as it could quite easily be viewed as unprofessional/ lazy etc. Saying this I personally do very often make sure that I am on the same level as the client, I feel comfortable at this level and know that often I can see good or bad form easier. Usually I will be on my knees or squatting, occasionally I will be sat down and if the client is on the floor sometimes I will be on the floor with them. There is a big difference between being on the same level and being sat down because you are lazy, it is not too uncommon to see trainers sat down for the whole workout, even when the client is doing something quite a distance from them, this is the last way that you want to be viewed by others.

While you are performing the exercise the focus should be on technique. There should not be random conversation during the set especially coming from the trainer. If conversation is happening during the set then this is a massive indication that either the resistance is nowhere near heavy enough or that the training is very poor or both.

It’s impossible to be in a good mood all the time but every effort should be made be the trainer to be as positive as possible whenever you are trained. Remember even if in reality the world is not all roses, for that one hour, with you it’s your time.

Your relationship with your client

The last thing any conversation should be about is the trainer’s personal problems.

They should be friendly but very professional, if the relationship becomes too friendly the quality of the training suffers drastically. While if there is a certain level of friendship the relationship is a positive one, it is possible to become too friendly in which case friendship overtakes the professional relationship and it’s possible for the client to begrudge paying so much money for the time of a ‘friend’.


The trainer should not use their phone while training  you, the only possible exception is to use the stopwatch feature but an actual stopwatch does look more professional. Remember that there are many other ways that you could be spending your money, if you pay for an hour of their time then you are entitled to their full attention.

Also unless there’s a possible emergency such as a sick child then the you should not be using a cell phone during the session. If you think that you need it because you are so important then you are obviously not as important as you think you are if you don’t even own an hour of your own time.

Last thing

Be wary of employing a trainer just because they are in good shape. There are a million trainers in the world who look fantastic (even famous ones) who have absolutely no idea how to train somebody else. It’s all well and good that they post photos on social media of their own abs but if you are giving them your hard earned money you need to know what they can do for you. You need to see what they have done for others.





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