5 Tips for Aspiring Strength Coaches

1. Certifications Don’t Matter (Kind of…)

“The best kind of certification is the one that get’s you hired.”

Coaches and trainers who are new to the field will find themselves asking two questions.

1. Do I need a certification? 2. If yes…which one?

You do not NEED a certification to legally operate as a strength coach/personal trainer. You could start calling yourself a trainer and taking clients TODAY and no one would be able to stop you.

That being said, it’s highly likely that if you are looking for a job in a larger commercial gym, sports facilities like high schools and colleges, or any other corporate training type situation, they are going to want to see a certification in your resume.

Instead of getting a certification first and hoping for the best, look up the types of jobs you are interested in and the certifications they are asking for. If your dream job requires a certain certification go ahead and get, otherwise you can save your time and money.

If you intend to be self employed, a certification could help garner you some trust from potential clients and is worth looking into. However, so could your own experience and accolades. For example, “ACSM certified personal trainer” sounds pretty good, but so does “Champion Powerlifter“.

2. Your “People Skills” Matter (More Than You Think)

Knowing all there is to know about health and fitness is one thing, and you should certainly strive to be as educated of a coach as you possibly can be.

That being said, all that education isn’t going to do you very well if you can’t connect with others.

A large part of coaching is trust building. People need to trust you are going to keep them safe, they need to trust you can get them the progress they want to see, and on a very base level they need to trust that they can be around you in the first place (Nobody likes a creepy trainer.) 

Try as you might you’re not going to be able to talk about curls for the entirety of a personal training session. Learning how to hold small talk with people, being able to find their interests and motivations, as well as basic communication skills are going to be your best friends as a coach.

Your clients are not robots. They are going to come in with their good days and their bad days and you are going to need the empathy and people skills to know how to teach and motivate them on each of those days, and all the days in between.

Joey Szatmary 2019 USS National Heavyweight Strongman Champion

3. K.I.S.S

You know all that information you learned in Anatomy about the names of different muscles, their insertions, and origins? How about all those movement descriptors like flexion, extension, supination, pronation…all of that?

Yeah it’s all pretty useless from a coaching standpoint. 

The more you can keep coaching cues simple, concise, and relatable the better.

It’s more important that you are understood as coach, than it is that you “sound smart“. Using the scientific names of muscles and movements is likely to lead to more confusion than it’s worth and you’ll be far better off keeping things as simple as possible.

For example, it might not immediately click for a client what you mean when you say “retract your scapula“. But say, “pull your shoulders together like you are trying to squeeze a pencil between your back” and they have now have a point of reference for what you want them to do.

Or just, you know…show them…

4. Make the Right Connections

What can sometimes be a frustrating truth to learn is many higher level jobs in the fitness industry come down to “who you know”.

If you have any intentions of working with sports teams in the future, working for high schools or colleges, or any jobs where the number of applicants is likely to be high, you’re going to need more than just your resume. Getting the right recommendations can put you well above others in the field. Yes, there are some politics to be played even in the fitness industry.

This can be one of the biggest upsides to choosing higher education as a strength coach/personal trainer. All those professors and advisors you meet along the way probably have the “ins” to jobs you are interested in. That is if they like you. Probably best to stop falling asleep in class yeah?

It’s wise to start making connections with people in your area who are doing what it is that you want to do. Learn how they got to where they are at, mistakes they may have made along the way, and any additional resources you might need to progress yourself.

Just…make sure you are developing genuine relationships with others for the right reasons. People can smell a fake from a mile away, and aren’t going to appreciate you very much for seeing them as nothing more than a “stepping stone“.

5. Experience Outranks Everything

Your education level as well as continuing to learn over the course of your career is important, don’t get me wrong. Coaches who haven’t updated their opinions on training and/or kept up to date on research in the last 20 years are THE WORST.

However, your years spent ACTUALLY coaching and teaching others is still arguably more important.

Until you start coaching people for real you’ve never really tested all that knowledge you have. Maybe some of your cues don’t work the way they thought you would. Maybe you’ve been killing it with one on one clients but teaching a large group has been a struggle. There’s a lot of things you won’t learn about strength coaching until you actually starting doing it.

Spend time on your education, but get yourself up and rolling with some “real world” experience as soon as possible. You’ll be surprised how quickly you can learn by having to “just do it“.

Matt Molloy

Matt Molloy

I'm a graduate the University of Pittsburgh with a major in Exercise Science. I’m a local guy (North Penn) and athletics has dominated my life. I've led teams in basketball, baseball, soccer, golf and my passion, long distance running. I've been strength training for 6 years with a focus in power-lifting but have recently stretched to strongman since joining the pride here at the Den. When I’m not in the gym I enjoy, spending time with my friends, music, and relaxing and playing some video games.