Strength & Conditioning vs Personal Training

March 2, 2016

By Bodyfit NT Strength and Conditioning Coach Jake Shannon

I often get asked what the difference is between a Personal Trainer and a Strength and Conditioning Coach. It’s a great question because while the industry is the same and from the outside both may seem very similar, both play a very different role.

Both professions can clearly be split into two very different populations. Personal Trainers work with the general population, whereas Strength and Conditioning coaches work with an athlete population.

Personal Trainers work with a range of people (all with varying goals) in many ways depending upon location. They can be one on one, one on two or small group training. They can do outdoor sessions, indoor sessions or boot-camp style sessions or many other variants. With so many fitness trends (or body beautiful status), personal trainers and boot-camps have boomed.

Having been in this industry since 2003 I have seen many shifts and changes to try and re-create the wheel. There are many so called “experts” out there with minimal qualifications or more importantly, minimal real world experiences in helping people. As the paying individual, it is important to research the company or Personal Trainer you choose to ensure you’re getting a quality product. Working out your own goals will help you to make an informed decision on the type of Personal Trainer you need. Good or bad, Personal Trainers are here to stay and are a big part of the fitness industry to not only help new gym goers find their feet, but also motivate even the most experienced amongst us. Personal trainers unwittingly become a sounding board for most of their clients. Once you have a full client list, you find you have a whole range of different people all with different personal issues, and their Personal Trainer is the perfect person to talk to about it. As a Personal Trainer, you become a friend, coach, mentor and confidant to all your clients and it really can be a rewarding job.

Then on the flip side – you have Strength and Conditioning coaches who are specialists in training athletes.

To be a Strength and Conditioning Coach, at minimum it requires an Exercise Science university degree (plus). Strength and Conditioning coaches work specifically with athletes in conditioning their bodies to optimize their competitive advantage. It is a matter of periodising the training plan according to the athlete’s competition year to allocate appropriate training as well a provide adequate rest. Based on the sport that the athlete plays and more specifically the position they play, the Strength and Conditioning coach must work accordingly. A rugby winger will have a different long-term training plan to his team-mates who form the front row. Education, experience and science play key roles in developing a good Strength and Conditioning coach.

So you can see a very clear difference.

To put these differences in perspective, goals for Personal Training clients is often about loosing weight or changing their physical shape. Having worked in the past as a Personal Trainer the main things I heard were generally all very similar. “I want to get fitter,” “I want to build muscle,” “I want to lose weight,” or my favourite from most women, “I want to tone up, but I don’t want to get muscly” (just as a side note: this is garbage. People need to understand that ‘toning up’ requires increasing muscle mass and decreasing fat mass). The end game was usually about decreasing weight, feeling healthy and improving physical appearance.

Strength Coaches needn’t worry so much about this. The training is not dedicated for the athlete having the perfect body. The training is designed for functionality with one goal in mind, and that is athletic performance. If I am to use my analogy of the front rower again, if said front rower was wishing to drop his weight under 100kg for the first time in 15 years and to have washboard abs, than he will see his success in the front row decline and will most certainly be on the end of some serious verbals from the head coach.

Having been both a Personal Trainer and now a Strength and Conditioning coach, I’ve experienced a lot in terms of the role of each discipline and I’ve seen my own focus shift. With so many rewards in both areas, it is important to not get the two confused. For myself, I am not concerned anymore about appearances. My job is functionality and performance in line with what ever a particular sport dictates. I became a better Strength and Conditioning coach the day I realised that my job was to train athletes and that I was not the athlete.

Find out more about Jake and Bodyfit NT’s Strength and Conditioning program here.