Strength and Conditioning Coach: It’s Not a Hobby. It’s a PROFESSION.

Strength and Conditioning Coach: It’s Not a Hobby. It’s a PROFESSION.

It dumbfounds me that people who aren’t strength coaches call our professions a “hobby.”

Okay, maybe I get it.

Because, from the outside, they see us frolicking around in sweatpants, tossing workouts together for athletes, not doing any real work, working out all the time, running athletes through ladder drills, getting paid to blow a whistle, and partying like Leonardo DiCaprio.

Full disclosure: this is so incredibly far the from the truth.

Rarely do I feel the need to defend myself and what I do, but every week I’m putting in 50-70 hours of coaching, business, blogging, writing for other publications, programming, filming, and building long-term relationships. And more often than not, these shenanigans continue Monday through Sunday.

Don’t get me wrong, I love what I do. But it irks me when people relate “loving what you do” to a partaking in a “hobby.” I believe you can love what you do AND make it a career.

But it does take an insatiable desire to put in the work, while your friends are taking tequila shots to the face on the weekends. It takes a burning passion to perfect your craft. It takes balls the size of mangos to create content and blog.

It takes critical thinking, emotional intelligence, and creativity.

Personally, I marvel at leading professionals in the strength and conditioning industry who have the discipline they do, train the amount of athletes they do, organize seminars across the world, blog articles in the double digits each week, write for fitness publications, spend full weekends designing programs for athletes, and build businesses that have lasted over decades.

Holy. Fuck. A hobby? REALLY???

Alas, no more beating around the bush and getting fired up. Let’s get right into why strength and conditioning is a true profession.

1.) Exercise physiology and anatomy knowledge.

Do you know what muscles flex the hip? Or externally rotate the shoulder? Or what human movement system is at work when you perform a Bulgarian split squat? Good. You’re a true strength and conditioning professional.

Now I don’t mean to give a lecture in anatomy, but this is stuff every strength coach must have knowledge of at a MINIMUM. More often than not, strength coaches have a Bachelor’s degree in exercise science and have obtained their Master’s degree. Even if their degree is unrelated to the field, they still have exercise physiology knowledge.

At least the trainers that do well and keep their athletes healthy.

It’s critical every strength coach has a basic understanding of the human body – from muscle groups to human movement systems to biomechanics – it’s all important for programming the proper exercises for each athlete.

Now this doesn’t mean give your athletes and clients an anatomy lesson. It means you gingerly program movements that will best serve their muscle imbalances and unique anatomical make-up. Because, you know, you’re an exercise science wizard.

2.) Ability to regress or progress athletes.

Telling athletes how to do movements is one piece to the puzzle. Any Joe blow can tell someone to perform a dead lift, squat, kettlebell swing, or ladder icky shuffle. But can they coach them through an exercise?

Not everyone can teach movements in a safe and effective manner. Rounded backs on a dead lift are a no-no. High center of gravity during a ladder drill is also a no-no. And squatting on a bosu ball for maximal strength breaks every rule in exercise science.

Expounding further, if an athlete can’t perform a movement, how will you regress them on the fly? You better fucking do it in 2.75567 seconds, or I’ll hunt you down.

As an example, not everyone can dead lift a barbell from the floor. Every athlete has different limitations based on biomechanics. Taller athletes may need to use a trap bar or start with elevated pulls from platform blocks. Some with less hip mobility may need to do a sumo stance. And some super humans may do chains.

So, what about coaching cues?

Well, sometimes “don’t round your back” isn’t enough to get an athlete to evade a broken spine during the dead lift.

Strength coaches must learn to be creative with cues. Here are a few examples:

“Pretend you’re holding a baseball in your arm pits” – for deadlift posture and lat engagement
“Squeeze a pencil between your shoulder blades”
 – for deadlift posture and lat engagement
“Superglue your heels into the ground” – for squat depth and keeping weight in heels
“Hump the air” – for explosiveness during ascend in kettlebell swing
“Squeeze the ball with the inside of your foot” – for locking the ankle for soccer passing technique

Speaking of the kettlebell swing, here’s a cool cue I came up with to help a client who was a kinesthetic learner:

Also, here’s a cool plank progression to kick things up a notch and ensure athletes have fun:

3.) Upholding certifications and degrees.

Not to blow sunshine up my own ass, but it’s taken me over 4 years to get to a high degree of stature and credibility when it comes to certifications and degrees.

This isn’t to say these are the only things that make a great strength coach. They’re not.

However, every strength and conditioning coach, at least at the college level, must be a NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) holder in order to be hired by the NCAA. If you’re in the private sector, having a CSCS behind your name always helps and makes you look like a badass.

Let’s get real for a second: the CSCS exam is pretty fucking hard. It took me 3-5 months to study the textbook – a time cushion that most use. The 5 hour test was comprised of exercise physiology, biomechanics, sports nutrition, anatomy, functional movement, periodization, and lifting technique. But here’s the thing: memorizing the CSCS textbook from front to back isn’t enough to pass the exam. I’ve known many people who have failed the exam multiple times, so it’s no joke.

I passed on the first try. So therefore, I’m awesome.

But how did I do that? I applied the information to practical situations, and was able to answer questions like:

– What part of the SSC (stretch shortening cycle) happens when an athlete initiates a box jump with a countermovement?
– What muscles extend the hip?
– An athlete wants to train to become more explosive. What energy system should he focus on?
– What muscles are the agonists in the first phase of the power clean?
– What test should you administer to test anaerobic capacity? 

If you’re not a strength coach, can you give me the answer to these? Methinks not.

But wait. There’s more. ;-0

Certs and education are just glossing over the tip of the iceberg. The best fitness professionals in the industry attend workshops, seminars, and conferences to learn from people smarter than themselves. And on a daily basis, they’re reading fitness blogs, research publications, and books on sport psychology, nutrition, behavior change, sport science, and entrepreneurship.

^ That’s my book stash. It gets the dudes, I know.

Like any other full-time professional with a 9-5, us strength coaches are doing grown ass adult things by attending conferences, reading, and working to better our crafts.

And I always promised myself this: the moment I stop learning is the moment I start sucking as a coach. End of story.

4.) Running a business.

On top of coaching people, most strength coaches are also running a business. In my case, I’m a one woman show.

I dabble in all things marketing, accounting, responding to emails, blogging, posting to social media, building lasting relationships, and setting prices for the season based on whether the groundhog sees his shadow or not.

And for a girl who almost failed accounting in college, I’m flabbergasted I haven’t declared bankruptcy yet. However, I give myself credit for investing in people and providing enough value to keep people coming back – my specialties being soccer technical skills, soccer performance training, strength and conditioning, and women’s strength training. Also, I’d be lying if I said my sarcastic jokes didn’t keep my business afloat. They do.

Sense of humor = profit. <— it’s microeconomics.

This bears repeating: the private sector strength coaches who have the highest volume of people coming into their facility are the ones who know how to run a business. More importantly, they know how to retain their athletes by providing customer service that is irreplaceable.

5.) Other random shit.

Having exercise physiology knowledge, being able to teach, upholding your education, and running a business are the main reasons you should bow down you should hold respect for strength and conditioning as a full time profession.

To augment to these pieces, strength coaches face unpredictable and long hours. Oftentimes, this can get to the point when your spouse nags you to hang out with them more, or you forget to shave your beard for a month.

As far as being able to get our own workouts in, it takes painstaking planning to take care of yourself like your athletes. For me, it’s a lot of pressure to perform the deeds of a strength coach, while trying to still look like Megan Fox.

When I can fit in 3-4 workouts of my own a week, it’s like winning the freaking Super Bowl.

Strength and conditioning, whether you’re in the private or college sector, is a true profession that involves competence, personal growth, business knowledge, science and book smarts, and creativity. Don’t get me wrong: some people do enjoy fitness as a hobby. But for the full-time strength coaches, they deserve the title of “profession” at the end of the day.

It’s possible to love what you do and make it a career. And for those who think otherwise, probably haven’t followed their true purpose, or haven’t taken actionable steps to make shit happen.

1 Comment
  • Gustavo de Matos
    Posted at 13:55h, 17 February Reply

    Excellent article, indeed. Many people see the fitness professionals and personal trainers as in the bottom of the pyramid of health professionals, but if they had a clue of what we need to know, study and continue to do to evolve continuously, they would have much greater respect.

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