Personal Training for S&C coaches – get off your high horse!

I don’t like to judge a book by its cover but generally personal trainers aren’t exactly held in high regard by S&C coaches for good reason.  A large number aren’t skilled enough to look after peoples’ health, I’ve personally seen far too many shocking examples of incompetence and PTs need barely any qualifications to work in a poorly governed fitness industry which is mostly motivated by gimmicks and money.

shit trainer sb

Ok, rant over, now for some productive chat….

The above being said, I do know some great personal trainers and I’m sure there are many more out there.  This post isn’t about personal trainers because as much as I’d love to continue my rant, I honestly try my best to NEVER CRITICISE.  This post is about how S&C coaches who want to work with elite athletes can earn more money and gain valuable experience in coaching movement and fitness through working with the general public.

don't criticise

The general public may not be your ideal population but I believe there are positives to be taken from every situation and here’s just a few examples where you can improve your coaching:

The squat – The squat is a complex movement. If you can teach it to a 40-year-old housewife who’s never squat before, then for sure you’ll be able to teach it to skilled athletes with ease.  Here’s a tip, start with goblet squats because they naturally encourage a good movement pattern and pretty much everyone should do them anyway.

goblet squat


Hip hinging – The ability to dissociate between hip flexion and lumbar flexion seems to be a rare ability.  It is certainly that combined with trunk strength that for me are the main root causes of lower back pain and you will find plenty of high level athletes who can’t do this perfectly too!  It’s not hard to teach and there are several methods that work well, finding the one that best works for you is definitely a worthy tool having in your box.

I believe I understand how the body moves very well, but I attribute my skill at coaching basic movement patterns to the number of less trained and less coordinated individuals who I have coached over the last 10 years.

Sport – There are a lot of amateur athletes out there and you can still approach your coaching with the main aim of improving their sport performance.  Not to mention by advertising to amateur sportsmen and women opens up a niche market for you to specialise in.  In my first few years of supporting myself through internships and my Masters, I worked with countless people who played sport for fun, tennis, football, rugby etc. plus everyone apparently wants to run a marathon at some point (no idea why personally).  It would only benefit us both by structuring their training sessions toward their sport goals.

Adaptation – fair enough its easier to make the lesser trained stronger, in fact they should respond quickly to most forms of training and if you’re basing your approach on solid scientific principles with good movement patterns, your clients are sure to achieve great results in the gym.  For sure your clients’ abilities and training level will vary but the nature of the job will teach you what works with some populations and not with others, what works better and what doesn’t work at all, and gives you plenty of opportunity to experiment and develop your own style of coaching.

Discipline & Motivation – you might think that these are negatives as in general, civilians may not be as disciplined as professional athletes, they don’t have the same motivation which is why they’ve failed at their fitness goals in the past and after all they have busy lives, work & kids that prevent them from committing to the programme as much as you’d like.  Personally I see all of these as positives!  If you think all elite athletes are the utmost professional all of the time, then you’re wrong and it will one day be your responsibility to educate your athletes around training, nutrition & recovery etc. so start now.  Likewise very few people are 100% motivated all of the time, goal setting, making plans and having a positive attitude are attributes that you’re going to need at any level of coaching.  Finally just because professional athletes train full time doesn’t mean they should train all the time so finding the quickest and simplest solution to reach the desired outcome is often the most effective.

Working with people – not only does personal training allow you to practice coaching but also means you have to interact with all kinds of different personalities.  Whether this be in a gym and includes your colleagues or on a self employed basis, you will have countless interactions that you can learn from.  Furthermore this is probably one of the most important skills that you can develop and will contribute directly towards your success.  In sport (much like any job) you’ll find a lot of strong minded coaches, humble athletes, arrogant athletes, some bursting with confidence and others not, whilst all members of the MDT will want to voice their opinion on most situations.  Learning how to act in precarious situations, pick your battles and deal with different personality types are vital skills in succeeding as a coach.  I will write a separate post on this topic alone, very soon so keep your eyes out if you’re interested.

Corrective exercise – Whether it be posture, muscular imbalance or movement patterns, no one is perfect and you can practice your coaching skills with just about anyone.  Improving mobility and function are arguably more beneficial to many than simply shedding a few pounds and with your real interest in athletic development rather than making money, you have a great opportunity to improve people’s day to day living and longevity.  Here’s 4 more great reason’s from Eric Cressey as to why you need to be an expert in corrective exercise:

Aesthetics – whilst aesthetics are not always a priority in S&C, you are often expected to be an authority on nutrition, many athletes will either need to gain lean muscle mass or often gain strength without gaining mass, if looking good provides confidence then it might actually improve performance and most rugby players I know are as vain as the guys on the latest Made in Chelsea!  My old training partner/head coach at Worthing Raiders, Kieron Dawson loved to accompany Friday’s Gun Day with the motto:

“Look good. Feel good. Play good.”

italian rugby players

I understand that to most, me included, the idea of working in a public gym sucks.  To start with, any room full of machines is not what I like to call a gym.  Plus, chances are you’d have to work with some of the incompetent trainers previously mentioned, have a boss who is more motivated by money than people’s heath and work with clients who aren’t particularly dedicated to achieving the results they apparently want.  However, as I’ve just stated, there are a lot of benefits that can be taken from PT work, so that’s where you have a few options:

  1. You can suck it up, realise that no job is perfect and now (after reading this post) understand all the benefits you’ll learn from working in that environment.  Go to work each day with a smile knowing that you are growing through your experience, whilst moving on to bigger and better things.
  2. Seek out specialised S&C facilities – until recently this type of gym was quite rare in the UK and far more common in the states.  As for other countries I don’t know?  For anyone reading across the pond, you have a lot of options from Athlete’s Performance (now EXOS), Cressey Performance, DeFranco’s the list is almost endless.  Now in the UK I believe there are some great options too: Neil Parsley runs The Underground Training Station in the North West, Sean Cole runs SC Vital Fitness in Portsmouth, Matt Church runs Locker 27 in Weybridge and I know there are many more.  To work under one of the coaches in such a facility would be a fantastic opportunity!
  3. Go self-employed – this is what I chose to do.  At the outset it’s safe to say that if you’re going to be successful, there’ll be a hell of a lot more work involved than working in a gym.  However in my opinion, the biggest positive to learn really is that the more you put in, the more you get out.  The best form of marketing by a long way is word of mouth.  If you’re a personable coach who genuinely cares about your clients and does a good job of achieving health & fitness goals based on solid principles and good movement patterns, you’ll be better than 90% of other PTs out there.
  4. You don’t have to do personal training, this is just a suggestion as I wanted to highlight the positive benefits for S&C coaches.  I’m sure its possible to support yourself with a higher paid or more flexible job so that you can spend more time volunteering with athletes as discussed in my previous post TASK #1 Get More Experience.  One of the most important benefits I mentioned was learning how to deal with different personalities and pick your battles, this is something you can take from practically any job!

gandalf smith machine


Finally, the best part of this is that it’s pretty darn easy to become a personal trainer.  Most qualifications these days are just 4-6 weeks long, comprised of some basic anatomy, physiology and practical coaching.  It is important to have the necessary qualification if you are going to work in a gym and you’ll need to have insurance.  In reality I suggest doing far more than the minimum requirements.  As you’re on your way to working with elite athletes I’d certainly recommended that you have a relevant degree and are an accredited S&C coach with a high quality governing body such as the UKSCA, NSCA or ASCC.  This will make you a far more competent coach, whilst putting you heads and shoulders above half the PTs out there who are doing their CPD on the latest fitness gimmick.

I am aware there’s quite a selection of courses out there.  Unfortunately I am not hugely familiar with many so the best advice I can give is to do your research first.  I’d be wary of short/weekend courses in “S&C”.  Whilst the UKSCA certainly offer great workshops in important elements of S&C practice, you certainly can’t learn everything in a weekend and I feel a course that tries to cover that much in such a short amount of time will either barely touch on anything or only go over the basics.  These short courses are largely aimed at those in the fitness industry who intend to run “S&C classes” (cringe at the thought) which by definition is contradictory on so many levels.  The only experience I have of such a course was witnessing a horrific attempt by a KBT instructor, coaching weightlifting.  I have heard good things about this company, I can only say that from my experience I would tread with caution.  Personally I can tell you that many moons ago as soon as I realized I wanted to work in S&C, I qualified as a PT through a 6 week course with a company called The Training Room.  It wasn’t great but allowed me to set up my own business and pursue a path of continuous learning and development from there.

For better options, it would be worth looking at what courses your University runs that you can take alongside your degree.  I believe it is certainly worth doing a degree and probably a Masters nowadays if you want to work in athletic preparation!  I’ll always recommend St Mary’s University, though I hear great things about the Middlesex courses too.  Another option is to look at the kind of courses/mentoring that Brendan Chaplin offers.  He’s a guy who’s been in the industry for a long time, knows what it takes to work with the best and continuously provides some of the best CPD for coaches of all levels through his network of practitioners who are seriously at the top of their game.

There you go, just a few benefits to why personal training is a good thing for S&C coaches.  Although a lot of S&C coaches look down on PTs, I certainly value this type of experience, its still coaching if you do it right at the end of the day.  Keep at it and look out for the next post, next Sunday.

NB:  The motivation for this article came from a previous intern of mine.  He knows who he is.  After completing his degree and some work experience at the Scottish Institute of Sport, he went into personal training whilst looking for further experience in S&C.  After a while he ditched the personal training to do labouring work and interned for me at Worthing Raiders.  From that he took a full time internship with a professional football club and then moved on to a role alongside a Masters Degree at another professional football club.  He’s worked seriously hard to get to where he is and gained plenty of invaluable experience along the way.  Maybe if he didn’t ditch the PT job, he would;t have created the further opportunities that he did.  My only point is that for those of who don’t yet have elite experience, don’t be too quick to snub working as a PT because as I’ve tried to highlight, there are a lot of positive skills that can be learnt and will directly improve your coaching.  Thanks for reading.



Filed under Development, Strength & Conditioning

3 responses to “Personal Training for S&C coaches – get off your high horse!

  1. Pingback: If you want to be a top level S&C Coach, you need to act now! | Matt Dickens' pureHealth pureSport

  2. Pingback: Coaching Cues – A deeper look at communication skills. | Matt Dickens' pureHealth pureSport

  3. Pingback: Welcome to The World-Class Coaching Podcast! | Matt Dickens' pureHealth pureSport

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