Strength and Conditioning

The fitness industry has a wide scope, encompassing a variety of careers and specializations. From instructing gym classes to coaching professional sports, and physical rehabilitation to nutrition, there are many different opportunities for students interested in strength and conditioning training.

One job that directly relates to this is strength and conditioning specialist, or athletic trainer as they are referred to by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). These professionals are educated in a variety of disciplines in order to help athletes maintain their health and improve performance through the development of specialized fitness programs. Strength and conditioning specialists are typically required to have a bachelor's degree in strength and conditioning or a related field.

What does a strength and conditioning specialist do?

Strength and conditioning professionals work under the direction of a licensed physician and/or an athletic director to provide treatment for injuries, as well as develop programs to improve athletic performance and prevent injury. According to the BLS, some of their daily tasks may include:

  • Applying devices that protect against injury, such as tape or braces
  • Giving first aid care in case of an emergency
  • Identifying and evaluating injuries
  • Developing rehabilitation programs for injured athletes, and implementing them
  • Performing administrative tasks, such as writing reports on injuries
  • Developing and implementing injury-prevention programs

There are a variety of names for professionals in this field including the following:

  • Strength and Conditioning Specialist (S&C Specialist)
  • Strength and Conditioning Coach (S&C Coach)
  • Performance Enhancement Coach/Specialist
  • Sports Performance Coaches
  • Sports Enhancement Specialist/Coach

How to become a strength and conditioning specialist

The following science-based degrees would be compatible for a job as a strength and conditioning specialist:

  • Exercise science
  • Kinesiology
  • Physical education
  • Physiology
  • Nutrition and fitness
  • Sports medicine
  • Anatomy
  • Communication
  • Psychology
  • Professional ethics

Your degree program will depend on your personal career goals. For example, someone whose goal is to work at a health club, fitness, or recreation center may pursue a degree in exercise science. Those interested in working as athletic trainers for a university or professional sports program may find that a bachelor's degree in kinesiology most closely aligns with their goals.

In addition to the more general classes, each of these degrees will have their own set of specific curriculum. For example, those studying to be strength and conditioning coaches can expect to take classes in:

  • Program and routine development and design
  • Meal planning
  • Methods of injury avoidance

Practical training in the applied methods of strength and conditioning will give these aspiring professionals a unique mastery of the various approaches to exercise. These classes may cover the principals and applied uses of:

  • Resistance training
  • Strength and weight training
  • Flexibility training
  • Aerobic exercise
  • Anaerobic exercise
  • Circuit training
  • Isometric training

Strength and conditioning specialist FAQ

Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about strength and conditioning specialists:

Q. What is a strength and conditioning specialist?

A strength and conditioning specialist is a professional who is educated to design and implement training and conditioning programs for athletes. These programs are designed to maintain the health of the athlete, as well as improve their overall speed, power, strength, and flexibility. All of these functions are accomplished with the overall goal of preventing injury and improving sport performance. This field is different from a personal trainer who works with non-athletes, and different from a traditional coach who teaches sports skills or strategy. Instead, the strength and conditioning specialist is coaching the athlete to physically become more capable to compete and succeed.

Q. How often do strength and conditioning specialists work with an athlete?

There is not much that can be accomplished in training an athlete in one session. Typically, strength and conditioning specialists are seeing repeat athletes. Athletic trainers and physical therapists work with rehabilitating acutely injured athletes, and the strength and conditioning professional then works on reconditioning the athlete. This is something that takes time and multiple sessions to help the athlete become stronger and achieve certain goals.

Q. What types of personality traits make someone a good fit for this profession?

In order to succeed in this field, it is essential to be an effective communicator, since you're working closely with coaches, athletic trainers, team physicians, and the athlete. It is important to be able to relate well to a variety of types of people, as each athlete has a different background. Being disciplined and a good motivator are also important traits to have.

Q. What are the hours like in this field?

In a clinical setting, the hours will typically be regular daytime hours. At the collegiate level, the hours in this field can be more irregular. Not only do sports teams practice early in the morning and late in the evening, but they also have their games on the weekend. And during off-season, when the traditional team coaches get a break from the hectic schedule, the strength and conditioning coach is still hard at it, helping athletes get in shape for next season.

Q. Who do strength and conditioning coaches report to?

In a college sports setting, strength and conditioning coaches typically report to the head coach. The athletic director is at the top of the hierarchy.

Q. What different employment settings are available to strength and conditioning specialists?

  • Collegiate level: These individuals are employed to improve the sport performance of teams not just during the sport season, but in off-season times as well. Sometimes a coach will decide they want the strength and conditioning specialist to focus specifically on one area of improvement.
  • Professional and club sports teams: For professional sports, strength and conditioning specialists work to condition athletes and improve their speed, agility, and overall performance.
  • Sports performance clinics: Some of these clinics are franchised and others are privately owned or owned by a hospital. In these settings, individuals, small groups, and teams pay for training sessions. The strength and conditioning specialist at the clinic then designs a program for the client. These programs may focus on speed development, gaining muscle mass, losing weight, or any other goal an athlete has set to become more competitive at their sport.
  • Physical therapy/sports medicine based clinics: Strength and conditioning specialists are employed in these settings to work with more of the general population, rather than strictly athletes.
  • Self-employed: Some strength and conditioning specialists work sports training camps or are hired to work with athletes independently.

Strength and conditioning certification

According to the BLS, athletic trainers need at least a bachelor's degree, and though the requirements vary by state, nearly all states require athletic trainers to have a license or certification

To license athletic trainers, most states use the standard certification examination offered by the Board of Certification for the Athletic Trainer (BOC). Certification requires graduating from a program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education and completing the BOC exam. Athletic trainers must adhere to the BOC Standards of Practice and Disciplinary Process and take continuing education courses to maintain their certification.

Career and salary information

Job opportunities for athletic trainers should be plentiful in the coming years for those with the right education and experience. Nationwide job growth for athletic trainers is projected to be 21 percent between 2012 and 2022, according to the BLS.

The BLS reports that the national mean annual wage for athletic trainers was $45,730 as of May 2014. However, it is important to note that actual salaries can vary depending on where an individual lives, their degree, and their expertise and experience. Here are the five top paying states for athletic trainers according to 2014 mean annual wage figures from the BLS:

  • New Jersey: $63,850
  • District of Columbia: $63,730
  • Texas: $54,010
  • Massachusetts: $51,530
  • California: $50,170

The BLS says the following percentages represent where athletic trainers were employed as of 2014:

  • Educational services; state, local, and private: 37%
  • Ambulatory health care services: 26%
  • Hospitals; state, local, and private: 13%
  • Fitness and recreational sports centers: 11%
  • Spectator sports: 5%

Regardless of which career opportunities interest you, they all begin the same way: with strength and conditioning degree programs. Learn more about online and on-campus opportunities in your area today.


  1. Athletic Trainers, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2013, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes299091.htm
  2. Athletic Trainers and Exercise Physiologists, Occupational Outlook Handbook, January 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/athletic-trainers-and-exercise-physiologists.htm
  3. Board of Certification for the Athletic Trainer, http://www.bocatc.org/
  4. Coaches and Scouts, Occupational Outlook Handbook, May 2013, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/entertainment-and-sports/coaches-and-scouts.htm
  5. Fitness Trainers and Instructors, Occupational Outlook Handbook, May 2013, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/personal-care-and-service/fitness-trainers-and-instructors.htm

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