Personal Trainers vs Strength & Conditioning Coaches: 3 Differences You Didn’t Know About

PT vs S&C

Many people ask me what I do for a living and when they hear my answer it's sometimes met with confusion, or like the majority who say "oh, like a personal trainer". Well, it's actually very different from a Personal Trainer (PT), mainly because I don't train people, I coach them - there's a massive difference. 

Nothing better summarises the role of the strength & conditioning (S&C) coach than the English Institute of Sport's (EIS) very own head S&C coach, Raphael Brandon - check out the video below.

There are a number of differences between a S&C coach and a Personal Trainer.

#1 - the qualifications and practical experience needed to pursue these careers are very different. There are a number of pathways that you can take to become a PT, which can be achieved by gaining appropriate industry/vocational qualifications such as a Level 3 Certificate in PT - a quick search reveals that you can now be qualified as a gym instructor in 4 weeks, and subsequently as a PT in 3 weeks (

In contrast however... become a S&C coach it is recommended you complete a sport and exercise related, or more specifically, a S&C undergraduate/postgraduate degree, as well as gain UKSCA accreditation (if based in the UK and want a career in elite sport). In addition, practical application of this knowledge is required through mentorship programmes within an elite sports setting (such as Northamton Saints RFC, Scottish Rally, British Cycling, English Institute of Sport etc) or internships with experienced coaches. In all, I'd say that to get started as a competent S&C coach you're looking for at least 3 years of practical and academic training, then a further 2-3 years to become good, and a further 5 years to master it!

#2 - the focus of the job is different. PTs in the main deal with the general population who are looking to increase general fitness levels, as well as improve aesthetics and health by lowering percentage body fat and toning up. The S&C coach works predominately in a performance environment with fit, healthy, athletic populations (individual and/or teams) with the principal goal of physical performance enhancement and injury risk reduction.

#3 - the environment is very different too. You'll generally find PTs in the leisure industry at places such as LA Fitness, Virgin Active, CrossFit gyms and local government-run facilities etc. In contrast, S&C coaches are found within elite-level sports facilities, Universities, within their own private facility or operating between many facilities as consultants. 

Leisure vs S&C Gym


A Final Thought - There are many superlatives banded around the fitness industry when it comes to PTs - 'expert' is probably the most commonly used, but here's a thought for you the next time you read that profile on the wall of your gym - Malcolm Gladwell, the author of Outliers, talks about the importance of accumulating 10,000 hours in order to become an expert in one's field. There are only 8,760 hours in a year – and even if you assume 60-hour work-weeks, it's still going to take over three years to get to that 10,000-hour mark - think about it.

So there you have it... message to you is choose a gym environment and a trainer/coach based on what you want to achieve i.e. if you want to lose weight, tone up, get a bit stronger and generally feel healthier, you can choose either; if your goal is to improve any type of sports performance and reduce your risk of injury, make sure you hire the expertise of a Strength & Conditioning coach!