Despite often being lumped together strength and conditioning coaches and personal trainers are vastly different. Though they are in the same industry nearly every aspect of their education, experience, and methodologies oppose one another. The most obvious difference between the two is in their clientele. Strength coaches deal almost exclusively with athletes while trainers deal with the general population.
Training for sports performance must be highly specific to the sport the athlete participates in. The success or failure of training is ultimately determined by performance on the field. If the coach is able to improve the athlete’s 40 time but that speed does not transfer to game speed it is all for not. Along the same lines small improvements in physical characteristics, even if they seem to be insignificant, can result in large improvements on the field. Training for sports can be less exciting because the types of workouts that are most effective utilize a long period of time in order to produce more effective adaptations to sport.
When training a general fitness client, improvements in physical qualities are the goal in itself. Where sports performance is specific general fitness is just that, general. This allows for more variety in training and more variation in training philosophies. Being able to vary training greatly makes for greater enjoyment in training which keeps clients motivated which makes up for the lack of competition motivators that athletes have.
Athletes have very concrete goals which include games and competitions. This provides a strong extrinsic motivation. On the other hand general fitness often lacks the extrinsic motivators that sports naturally incorporate. Non-athletes need to find a unique intrinsic motivator in order to have success within any exercise program. When clients enjoy the process itself greater results are achieved in a shorter period of time.
To sum up, any type of exercise training the coach/trainer must understand that goals are what dictate the training. Only through knowing the athlete’s/client’s goals can they determine the most effective training program.
any strength and conditioning coaches will claim that training an athlete is more art than science. While there is some truth to this, having a sound rationale for the contents of a training program can not be undervalued. Knowledge of the research and practical experience need to work hand in hand in order to provide the best results for an athlete.
An unfortunate but not uncommon response by strength coaches when the topic of research is brought up is "I coach on/in the field/weightroom not in a lab". What they are forgetting is that practical advancements have come as the result of laboratory based research whether they know it or not. For example it is common place for coaches to use programs that involve 3 sets of a given exercise. Where did 3 come from, why not just 1, or 5, isn't more better? The truth is that a study was done to determine the optimal number of sets for strength training. The results showed that comparing 1 set to 2 sets the subjects that performed 2 sets showed a 50% high improvement in strength, and when comparing 2 sets to 3 sets the subjects performing 3 sets showed a 33% higher improvement in strength. They continued to compare higher numbers of sets but it was clear that after 3 sets the results started to show diminishing returns.
With that being said the reverse is just as dangerous. Coaches must also avoid falling into the trap of taking what they read at face value. If a study sounds too good to be true it probably is, one publication does not constitute evidence. Research of a topic must be replicated and verified before it can be considered valid. Only when there is an accumulation of evidence on a topic should it be incorporated into a training program.
To sum up, a coach is responsible for every aspect of their athlete’s training program. They need to have sound rationale for the contents of a training program, which should be based on a large body of scientific evidence.