How to Become a Strength and Conditioning Coach

Mar 26, 2024

Edited by: Danielle Abel

In this article, we hope to help you gain some insight into not only the technical requirements of becoming a strength coach but also some considerations that you may not have thought about that come with becoming a strength coach. 

What exactly is a strength coach?

First, we need to explain the role so you know how the profession works and what you can expect. Strength and conditioning coaches work full-time or part-time with athletes to help them improve their athletic performance or sports skills by applying evidence-based exercise & nutrition science concepts. 

Athletes can be of varying ages, participating in a large variety of sports, both teams and individuals:

  • High school sports
  • College sports
  • Professional sports organizations
  • Recreational sports organizations
  • Private sports organizations

The general duties of the strength and conditioning coach usually include:

  • Athlete assessment 
  • Custom programming
  • Athlete instruction & cueing 
  • Athlete attendance & performance tracking
  • Supervise athlete training sessions
  • Upload & support codes of conduct for athletes
  • Equipment management
  • Strength and conditioning policies and procedures
  • Budgeting for equipment and staffing

What skills are important for a strength coach to have?

Sure, strength coaches need formal education, but sometimes the soft skills that go along with coaching are overlooked. Coaching is not a dictatorship where you, as the coach, determine everything that your athletes will do. Coaching is more of a collaborative relationship. 

What we mean by collaboration is that strength coaches must possess excellent communication skills. Plus, strength coaches need to be able to cater their communication style to the person(s) they are addressing. For example, when addressing other professionals within the coaching or sports medicine realm, a strength coach may use a particular vocabulary, tone of voice, style of listening, etc. This is because they recognize that other professionals share similar levels of knowledge about exercise & nutrition science. 

Whereas, when working directly with clients or athletes, a strength coach likely needs to eliminate fancy jargon and use words the individual understands. Especially when addressing teams, it's important to know your audience so that you're not speaking over them or speaking in such a basic manner that they tune out. 

Another important skill that might be helpful for a strength coach to have includes creativity and initiative. Oftentimes, coaches encounter situations where there is no defined way of carrying out a task. For example, if you're asked to work with a new group of athletes who you've never coached before, you'll need to draw upon the knowledge you have and potentially tap into others within your network to close a gap in your knowledge, all without revealing that you needed to ask for help. 

If you need everything to be perfect for you to take action, you might have a tough time coaching. Elite coaches adapt to what they're given; this is what sets them apart because they realize there is no such thing as perfection. They simply apply their knowledge & lived experiences to the needs of each athlete or team they're coaching, gather feedback, and tweak their approach as needed. 

What type of education do strength coaches need?

Within the industry, we're seeing a trend towards individuals with master's degrees in exercise science. Although it is possible to land a job with a bachelor's degree, you are more likely to qualify for higher-level strength and conditioning coach positions with an advanced degree. 

With all that being said, maybe you're just looking to work part-time as a strength coach for a local high school; if that's the case, you will probably do fine having a bachelor's degree. It is important to note that gaining some experience can be helpful too (we'll cover this below, so be sure to keep reading). 

You might be wondering if any bachelor's degree will do or if a degree in exercise science is required. As of right now (2024), there is no requirement to hold any particular type of bachelor's degree. According to the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), a degree in a related field meets the requirement to sit for the Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) exam. 

What type of experience do strength coaches need?

Hands on practical experience can be really helpful to elevate your coaching game, not to mention help you understand some of the concepts required for the CSCS exam. Being able to work with clients or athletes directly, under the supervision of another coach offers insights that simply reading the book can't provide. 

There's a significant difference between memorizing a concept in the book and being able to apply it in the real world. In real-life coaching scenarios, you'll probably find yourself dealing with not having enough time to coach your athletes or modifying movements because of a lack of equipment.

Really good strength coaches know how to maximize the time they're given, while still getting great results for those that mentor. Plus, not all facilities will have the equipment you need to train clients optimally. So, by knowing exercise science concepts like biomechanics and program design well, you'll feel confident creating a program for your athletes that is sure to have them progressing. 

If you're looking to gain experience, you should know that you will probably need to take the initiative to reach out to a school or mentor asking about opportunities to intern or shadow. Some places don't have intern positions ever posted, so you may never get the opportunity if you wait around, hoping for one to open. If you have a friend in the industry, ask them if they'd be open to helping you learn or connecting you to someone who could help you learn.

Literally, the worst that could happen is that they would say no, and if that's the case, you can simply look for others who would be open to helping you. 

What certification is required to become a strength coach? 

Most organizations and teams will require that you possess a certification showing that you've met the criteria to use the strength coach title. Certifications also show that you have the minimum baseline educational knowledge expected from others within the industry. 

If you have an exercise science-related degree, you will likely have an easier time passing the CSCS exam compared to others who haven't studied within the field. However, for the CSCS exam, there are many specifics and preferences that the NSCA hold. So, simply skimming through the book and expecting that your exercise science degree will be enough for you to pass the exam is not an accurate assumption. 

In our experience, those who have exercise science degrees do reasonably well on part 1, exercise science, but sometimes struggle to pass the part of the exam, the practical application portion. 

Here's our best advice when it comes to passing both parts of the CSCS exam the first time: 

  • Read the book (we mean it, don't just skim the chapters, you need to read it, sometimes more than once)
  • Take notes (as you read through the chapters, highlight concepts that are new to you or that you want to go back and learn more about, then write notes about each of these topics)
  • Schedule your exam (don't just keep studying over and over again, determine an appropriate study timeframe and schedule your exam date. Having a date when you know you'll sit for the exam is really good accountability)
  • Join a study group (learn from others and be able to ask questions of others who might be studying too or those who've passed or failed the exam already) we have a free study group on Facebook called "Strength and Conditioning Study Group" you can join here. 
  • Learn 1 new concept at a time (Each week, try to study one new concept in depth by reading more about it, watching YouTube videos, listening to podcasts, etc.)
  • Follow a strength and conditioning program yourself (find a strength coach to work with and ask them to coach you as you learn; this provides you with a real-life practical example)

Remember that even after becoming a strength coach, you will always be learning. There are so many specialties that you can get into within the strength and conditioning coach industry. If you're open to being vulnerable, learning, and accepting feedback as an opportunity for improvement, you will likely find that being a strength coach is an extremely rewarding career. 

Support & Courses Available

Ready for more support to help you prep for the CSCS exam? Join our Facebook Group, “Strength and Conditioning Study Group,” here. Ready for even more? Our 24-module CSCS Prep Course has detailed explanations of key concepts from the NSCA Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning textbook. Plus, after each chapter module, there is a quiz to help you test your knowledge of the information, increasing your chances of passing the NSCA exam; click the link here to check it out.


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