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Difference Between Personal Trainer & Strength and Conditioning Coach

Personal trainers and strength and conditioning coaches both help people improve their fitness, but the populations they work with and their overall responsibilities may differ significantly. This article compares these hands-on fitness training jobs with salary and education details provided.

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Comparing Personal Trainers to Strength & Conditioning Coaches

Personal trainers and strength and conditioning coaches are both fitness professionals who spend most of their working hours training others in fitness centers and athletic facilities. Personal trainers work with all ages and fitness levels from the general population to help individuals achieve greater personal fitness and well-being. Strength and conditioning coaches are more advanced professionals tasked with improving the performance of athletes and athletic teams. They may also assist with the rehabilitation of injured athletes.

Job Title Education Requirements Median Salary Job Growth* (2014-2024)
Personal Trainer Certification $38,005 (2017)* 8% (for fitness trainers)**
Strength and Conditioning Coach Bachelor's degree and certification $40,013 (2017)* 21% (for athletic trainers)**

Sources: *PayScale.com, **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Responsibilities of Personal Trainers vs Strength and Conditioning Coaches

Personal trainers typically work with clients from the general public who want to improve their health & fitness. They may work with senior-citizens to strengthen weak muscles, help an over- or under-weight client achieve a healthy weight, or design training programs for individuals who simply want to get in shape. Personal trainers require a professional certification to work with individuals and small groups.

Strength and conditioning coaches are also qualified to work with the public, but specialize in improving athletic performance. A strength and conditioning coach may specialize in a particular sport and design training programs for each player on a team based on the physiological requirements of their position. They conduct tests to measure performance, analyze their results, and implement training programs to improve weaknesses over the course of a seasonal training schedule. Strength and conditioning coaches have a formal education (bachelor's degree) in physical fitness or sports medicine and must earn certification; one of the most recognized credentials is the Certified Strength & Conditioning Coach (CSCS) offered by the National Strength & Conditioning Association (NSCA).

Personal Trainer

Personal trainers may work out of gyms and other athletic facilities, within a hospital or clinic, or as freelance private trainers. These professionals design exercise programs to help individuals improve their health, well-being, fitness and physiques. Other personal trainers may work in public gyms, fitness centers, or retirement homes, motivating groups of people to exercise, eat right and get into shape. Some personal trainers earn ancillary certifications in specialized fitness areas such as yoga or Zumba. During private or small group sessions, however, they mostly use traditional cardiovascular, strength-training, and flexibility techniques.

Job responsibilities of a personal trainer include:

  • Review medical histories and personal needs
  • Design individualized fitness plans for clients
  • Monitor progress using tools such as BMI, body fat percentage, and measurements
  • Adjust fitness plans to meet evolving client needs
  • Maintain a safe environment for clients at all times

Strength and Conditioning Coach

In the last few decades, athletic teams have increasingly hired strength and conditioning coaches to help elevate the physical performance of their athletes. A strength and conditioning coach analyzes the sport, positions, and players to develop individualized training plans designed to increase strength, speed, stamina, agility, etc. Football offensive linemen, for example, require a very different training emphasis when compared to basketball centers. Strength and conditioning coaches design workout schedules, demonstrate exercises, and coach athletes through work-outs. Injury prevention is a major part of the programs they design as athletic injuries can be devastating for the player and team. They may work with special populations, particularly rehabilitating athletes, though they may also work with other medical patients under a physician's supervision and recommendation.

Job responsibilities of a strength and conditioning coach include:

  • Conduct tests for agility, strength, endurance, and power
  • Interpret and analyze sports, players, and positions
  • Design seasonal training programs for multiple positions and/or teams
  • Monitor the performance progress of athletes
  • Provide nutritional guidance
  • Lead and motivate during training sessions

Related Careers

Strength and conditioning coaches try to prevent injuries with training programs, but when they occur, a physical therapist may help the athlete recover by implementing a therapeutic exercise program designed to slowly rehabilitate the injury. Personal trainers enjoy improving the well-being of diverse clients, and might find the work of recreational therapists enjoyable. These professionals work with groups in various institutions to organize activities and promote healthy lifestyles.

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