Being a strength coach

Why do people want to be strength coaches? I really don’t get it. Is it for the money? The prestige? Being on the sideline for Saturday football games? Being able to live in a weight room? To not have to wear a suit and tie every day? From discussions with multiple strength coaches, I can’t comprehend why people want to be strength coaches yet have no desire to learn about the profession or even take part in what they’re teaching on a daily basis.

Ten years ago, during my sophomore year of college, I discovered that there was such a thing as a strength and conditioning coach. I honestly had no idea that you could make a living helping athletes become stronger and better prepared for their chosen sport. I already loved lifting and training, but this would give me an opportunity to help others do something to improve their athletic ability.

Upon changing majors, I did everything within my power to learn about strength training for athletes, including getting under the bar on a regular basis. I started out searching the internet, which evolved into reading fitness magazines and from there books and journals. I would be willing to bet that more than 90 percent of what I’ve learned comes from self-education, not from the classroom.

Most importantly though, I kept myself in the weight room. I wrote programs for myself and evaluated how they worked. I experimented. If it worked, I kept it. If not, I threw it to the side. I tried new exercises, new techniques, and new ideas. I learned “under the bar,” and I’m still learning under the bar. There is no replacement for this. No book, article, or professor can tell you what it feels like to be under a weight while making your body move the way you want it to. You have to experience it in order to understand it.

Still today, my motivation to be a strength coach and continue to improve my abilities as a coach is to help athletes. I care about every athlete I work with, even the ones who drive me insane. I will do anything I can to help my athletes in or out of the weight room. I have fought with sport coaches in order to get the best possible plan for the athletes. I have had athletes in my office in tears because of other things going on in their lives. I have had athletes in tears in workouts because they couldn’t perform the way they expected themselves or I expected them to perform. I’ve pushed athletes to levels they didn’t think were possible. I’ve kicked athletes out of workouts because they wouldn’t comply with the program and were a disruption to the team. And I did all of this and will continue to do these things because I care.

Ok, that was a little long for an introduction. But that is what I expect from any strength coach. Maybe it’s a little biased, but I’m ok with that. I’ve worked with strength coaches who have those same ideals or mindset, and they are the type of coaches I want to continue to work with. Maybe they haven’t outlined it in words quite like I did, but I can tell based off of conversations and how they work with athletes that their mindset is quite similar. This is how it should be, but oftentimes, it’s quite the opposite.


Below are some real conversations/interactions with strength coaches, aspiring strength coaches, or those going into similar professions that I find very disturbing.

Conversation #1

Myself: Ok, you want to be a strength coach, but what about your own personal training. What are your goals there?

Intern: I don’t really have any goals.

Myself: Well, why do you lift weights? Certainly, you’re trying to accomplish something.

Intern: No, I just like to lift.

If you don’t know why you’re doing something or where you’re trying to go, how do you expect to accomplish anything or get to where you’re trying to get? The goals don’t have to be complex, but they need to give you a sense of direction rather than just wandering around aimlessly. And this carries over to coaching. If you can’t decide what you’re trying to accomplish yourself, how do you expect to give your athletes a sense of direction in their training?

Conversation #2

This is a statement from a conversation that I overheard between a strength coach and an athlete.

Strength coach: Energy systems aren’t really important. There is no need to understand them because you will never use them.

Are you kidding me? Obviously, there’s no education here. And what’s worse is he’s deemphasizing the value of an education to an athlete who wants to go into a related profession (this makes our job as strength coaches even more difficult). Ok, so if energy systems aren’t important, how are you supposed to design an effective conditioning session without the knowledge of how energy systems work in each sport? Why don’t we just tell the athletes to go run around for a little while. That should work.

Conversation #3

This is a statement made to me by another strength coach.

Strength coach: It doesn’t really matter what you do. We all have different philosophies, and they all work.

I didn’t have a response for this statement. I wanted to respond but didn’t. My response now is that yes, anything might work, especially with untrained athletes. However, we can do better. We can put out a program that has a sense of direction and gives the athletes the best possible chance to perform to the best of their abilities. Programs designed at random with no organization will give random results.

Conversation #4

Myself: I really push my athletes.

Strength coach: I don’t care. The other day Suzie was squatting. She was doing a set of eight, and it got slightly difficult at the end. She could have easily stayed at that weight or done more, but I could see she struggled a little bit, so I just told her to go down because I really don’t care.

Are you serious? How can any coach act like that? At least act like you care!!! I have nothing more to say here.

Conversation #5

I overheard this conversation between two other strength coaches. I’m leaving out the background information that has considerable context, but I also feel that this shortened version says something about the quality of some strength coaches.

Strength coach #1: I know that working on speed technique will help, but I think to make true progress, we need to develop strength.

Strength coach #2: No, people get faster all the time without lifting weights. Look at all those performance training centers. Many of them don’t even have weights.

Strength coach #1: Yes, but once we get technique down, how do we get faster without getting stronger?

Strength coach #2: Getting stronger really isn’t important in my system of training. Later we can add resistance by using parachutes or something like that.

Ok, if strength training isn’t important to getting faster, why do 100- and 200-meter sprinters, whose events rely on speed, utilize heavy strength training as a key ingredient in their training? Maybe the bodies of athletes in other sports don’t work the same as track athletes. So, strength training won’t work for them.

Conversation #6

In this situation, I had two interns teaching me how to do a front squat.

Intern: You should place the bar across your clavicle.

Myself: Why would you want to place the bar across your clavicle and not on top of your front delts?

Intern: I don’t know.

Myself: Well, why would you want it across your clavicle?

Intern: Because Dr. Smith said so.

Yes, I realize that I’m dealing with semantics and also an intern who has received more weight room experience in the last six weeks working with me than in the rest of her life. But this doesn’t change the fact that our current education system isn’t getting the job done. Most of the interns I get have almost no knowledge of strength training, and they’re seniors in college, who will be getting jobs in the next year or two. They have had one or two strength training related classes and think they know what’s going on in a weight room. Our collegiate programs don’t go nearly enough in depth, nor do they force the students to really think for themselves. They simply give basic information and send the students on their way as if they are ready to train high level athletes.

Conversation #7 (more of an observation)

We recently had a strength coach who was opposed to lifting weights. Well, maybe that’s an exaggeration. He is the same strength coach who in conversation #5 said strength training wasn’t important in his system of training. In the entire time I knew him, I only saw him squat twice (not more than 225 lbs) and bench once (not more than 135 lbs). No, I’m not exaggerating about those numbers. He actually said to me (closely paraphrased), “I don’t need to be strong. I just want to stay in shape. And you never hear me complaining about all those aches and pains that you guys have.” My response, “At least I’m strong!”

How can you be a “strength” coach and not have the balls to get under a weight? How can you teach others how to lift if you’ve never been under a respectable amount of weight yourself? How do you expect to get respect from athletes when it’s obvious you don’t lift yourself?

Conversation #8

This conversation between myself and another strength coach took place after an athletic trainer prescribed a series of internal/external rotation exercises for a problem that had been limited down to the supraspinatus.


Myself: Why would you use external rotation exercises for rotator cuff rehab when the problem does not have anything to do with either external or internal rotation?

Strength coach: The trainers are responsible for taking care of injuries. It’s not our job.

Myself: I think it’s important to understand anatomy and how the body works.

Strength coach: No, we are only responsible for getting the athletes stronger and faster.

If you’re training the body to work a certain way, wouldn’t it be a good idea to know how the body works?

Stay tuned for part two. I’ll discuss the political game of strength and conditioning.