So You Want to Be a Strength Coach in the Private Sector?

May 21, 2014

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Contributed by Strength Coach Chris Sanchez

Being a strength coach can be an extremely rewarding profession. Not only do you get to work with athletes from all different types of sports and walks of life, but you also help those same athletes achieve their goals of becoming stronger, faster, more explosive, and better athletes in general. To top it off, the relationships you build with your athletes and clients is by far the most rewarding aspect of the job. This all sounds great in theory, but just how exactly do you go about making it a reality?

First let’s define what type of settings you can choose to work in as a strength coach. Typically you have your commercial gyms, school settings, and then the private sector. Commercial settings typically include your big franchise gyms that tend to be open to the general public. This may not be the best option if your end goal is to work mainly with athletes with specific performance goals in mind, but it could be a decent starting point to gain experience and exposure to working in a fitness setting. Another option is to work in a school setting, such as high school or college. Becoming involved with a school is a sure fire way to ensure you work with athletes on a daily basis and possibly work with very educated strength coaches. However, if you’re just starting out, you better be prepared to work for free just to gain experience. Typically, schools are only going to hire strength coaches who are degreed, certified, and who have a decent amount of experience under their belt. This becomes truer for bigger schools, such as your D1 colleges. Finally we come to the private sector. The private sector will typically include privately owned warehouses, personal training studios, etc. When you work in this type of setting, your clients can range from young kids just starting out with sports in general, professional athletes, and regular adults looking to shed some extra weight. It will all depend on the type of facility and the services offered there. Working in the private sector can give you the chance to do the same type of training done in college and professional settings, but usually in a smaller setting. So instead of overseeing an entire team for a training session, you may only work with one or a few athletes at a time.

So how do you land a spot as a strength coach in a privately run facility? There are a couple options that tend to be the most common routes taken by many strength coaches.  The first, and probably the best option, is to set something up through college. When you major in Exercise Science, Health Promotion, or any other fitness and health related field, many of these colleges will require you to complete observation hours, contact hours, internships, or a combination of these things. This forces you to go out and gain valuable, real life experience in a strength and conditioning setting. It’s possible that job opportunities will present themselves after you’ve completed these obligatory college requirements of just simply observing or completing an internship.

Now let’s say you never went to college but are still very interested in pursuing a career in strength and conditioning. Without sugar coating it, you’re at a disadvantage already compared to the college student. The college student has already gone through numerous courses geared towards becoming more proficient in this field, such as exercise physiology, anatomy, nutrition, etc.  This makes him/her seem like a more appropriate option to hire compared to a non-college graduate. So don’t be surprised when you go in for a job interview against numerous college graduates and come away empty handed. These are just realities you will need to face, so consider this a friendly heads up.

The best way to start your career in the private sector is to obtain an internship, regardless if you’re coming from a college setting or not. Internships are basically jobs on training wheels.  You’ll shadow coaches and see how they do things, how they interact with athletes, and see first-hand what it will be like to work in this type of setting. Internships are incredibly valuable and almost everyone you see working with athletes today has gone through one (sometimes more than that). Make sure when choosing where to intern, do your research on potential facilities you would like to work in. See how they run things, research the staff, etc. Some facilities are head and shoulders above others in terms of how they train athletes, certifications held by staff, and their overall reputation. You don’t want to just randomly choose a facility and hope for the best. Would you rather learn from a coach who holds a 4 year college degree and is a certified strength and conditioning specialist, or a coach who was hired because the facility was desperate to fill a vacancy in their staff? Do your research!

So you’ve obtained an internship. Great! Now what? Here are some notes and advice from my personal experiences to get the most out of your time as an intern.

 

  1. Treat this internship as a job! You are essentially an employee of that company now so you better act like one. This means showing up early, dressing appropriately (some facilities may be more lenient than others with dress code), interacting with coworkers/clients in a professional manner, etc. Your chances of turning an internship into a job increase tenfold when you come off as a professional as opposed to ‘that kid who is here just to pass a course’. Trust me when I say that the staff and people who run the facility will notice the difference between those two types of people.
  2. Pay attention! When you shadow coaches or coworkers, try to actually comprehend why they do the things they do. The best strength and conditioning coaches don’t just throw random exercises and drills together. They will use progressions, regressions, and variations to fit the needs of specific athletes they work with. This goes for weight room lifts, movement drills, and corrective exercises.
  3. Take notes! You will definitely label yourself as an intern when you carry around a notebook with you, but it’s for the best. You probably won’t remember everything that is said or done during the course of one day. Keeping a notebook handy will allow you to retain more information which will lead to more education for you.
  4. Shadow the head coaches! These guys are the head honchos for a reason. They will more than likely have the most knowledge to share with you and more opportunities to learn from. Try to learn from the staff as a whole, but the majority of your learning should come from the senior/head coach or trainer.
  5. Get hands on! This will happen whether you like it or not, so you might as well get used to it early on.  You’re going to need to eventually cue athletes correctly, demonstrate drills and lifts, and explain drills and lifts clearly and concisely. This may mean actually putting your hands on the client (manually pulling their shoulder blades back to show them what scapular retraction feels likes, picking their hips up during a plank, or poking their stomachs to make sure their abs are braced during a lift).
  6. Get to know everyone! This means everyone. Your coworkers, your fellow interns, your clients, your clients parents, everyone! This can be a little difficult for those who are naturally introverts (like yours truly), but you’ll need to come out of your shell a little bit if you truly want to be successful. Sometimes it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. Plus, it’s a great way to build relationships and get your name out there, both of which are vital for long term success in this field.
  7. Learn! And then when you think you’ve learned enough, learn some more. Then once you truly feel comfortable, learn some more. Then once you get to the point where you can write books on subjects because you are an encyclopedia of strength and conditioning knowledge, LEARN SOME MORE! This means read books. It means talk shop with colleagues. It means watching webinars and DVD’s.  I’ve learned as much as I did in college by just being out in the working world, if not more.

 

These are just some tips that will help make your internship as fulfilling as possible. This doesn’t guarantee you will land a job at the same facility you interned with, but it definitely helps. Of course there might be some aspects I did not touch on because every internship is different. Once you’ve dominated your internship, you may be offered a job. You may not, but that’s not the end of the world. Remember the facilities you researched before choosing where to intern? Put in an application. Make some calls. Find out who is hiring. You may have to volunteer your services for free before you get an actual shot at being paid. Just get yourself out there. Don’t get discouraged if all you find are part time opportunities, as those are better than not having a job at all. Some of the top strength coaches in the nation started out as part timers, and they worked their way up to the elite status.

Once you’ve obtained a job after your internship/volunteer services, now it’s important to maintain that job and build upon it. The first step is to stay educated. No amount of marketing will keep clients coming back to you if your product is terrible. Learn constantly and apply that knowledge to your programs and job. Attend conferences, read books, watch DVD’s, read articles and blogs (like this one!). Things to stay educated on include nutrition, functional anatomy, training principles, etc. Try to always stay on top of these things and it will pay off in the long run.

 

Another important factor that will help you grow in the private sector is to get certified. Being a certified strength coach is an excellent way to separate you from every other coach out there as a knowledgeable and reliable professional. The NSCA and NASM are two of many excellent options to look at if you’re looking to distinguish yourself from other strength coaches. Just be aware, some certifications require a college degree before you can officially become certified (another reason college is the way to go when starting your strength and conditioning career). Now just be careful, don’t start puffing out your chest and walking around like you’re the man just because you passed your CSCS or similar certification. Being certified does not make you the expert of all experts. It simply means you’re not a complete idiot.

One of the last things that will likely tip the scales in your favor for landing a job, client, or respect from fellow coaches is to look the part. If you walk into a privately owned training facility, do you want to take training advice from the guy who looks like he has frequent Netflix marathons and Cheeto binges, or the guy who looks like he can handle himself rather nicely in a pickup game? You don’t have to be the biggest guy on the planet, or cut up like Hugh Jackman preparing for his next Wolverine role, but you should have a physique that says, “I practice what I preach”.

These are some of the challenges and requirements you will need to fulfill if you’re interested in pursuing a career in strength and conditioning, mainly in the private sector. Not of all these things are exactly easy to do, but anything worth having isn’t obtained very easily. As long as you have the drive to not only do these things, but do them well, you’ll put yourself in a position to reach success.

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