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What is Sports Conditioning?

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From youth sports to professional sports, athletics in the U.S. are serious business. We take our sports very seriously, and that means working to ensure that our bodies are in top form and our physical fitness level is at its peak, whether pre-season, in-season, or post-season.

You may therefore find that specializing your personal training business on sports conditioning (also often referred to as strength and conditioning) will allow you to attract the type of clients you’d like to work with.

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As a personal trainer specializing in sports conditioning, you may work as an independent trainer or you may be employed by:

  • Fitness centers/gyms
  • Personal training studios
  • Athletic strength and conditioning facilities
  • High schools
  • Amateur/semi-pro/professional sports teams

Regardless of the setting in which you work, you can expect to train your clients on a range of equipment that is aimed at improving agility, speed, and sport-specific performance.

The Goals and Benefits of Sports Conditioning

Your work in sports conditioning involves creating and implementing physical fitness programs that have two, primary goals:

  • Improve athletic performance (including speed, strength, and power)
  • Prevent or reduce incidences of athletic injuries

Sports conditioning is a year-round activity for many athletes; therefore, you may train your clients in-season or off-season. Off-season training programs may be quite rigorous as you prepare athletes for their upcoming sports season. In-season training, on the other hand, is usually focused on maintaining your clients’ fitness level and preventing injury.

What’s important to understand is that no two sports conditioning programs are alike, as they will vary depending on the age of the participant, the skill level of the participant, the sport the participant engages in, and even the position played. You must therefore have a deep understanding of your clients’ strengths, weaknesses, and athletic goals, among others things when serving as a sports conditioning fitness specialist.

Preventing athletic injuries is an important component to any sports conditioning training program. A well-planned sports conditioning program will help prevent or eliminate muscle imbalances, address flexibility issues, and strengthen the tendons and ligaments, all of which are designed to lead to fewer injuries.

In addition to preventing athletic injuries, sports conditioning programs are designed to benefit the athlete by:

  • Improving performance: A well-designed program addresses the individual athlete.
  • Improving strength: Every sport involves in the application of force, so sports conditioning programs are designed to allow athletes hit, throw, block, kick, and kick harder.
  • Improving speed: Increasing speed involves addressing the technical aspects of sprinting and agility.
  • Improving power: A sports conditioning program is designed to make an athlete more powerful through the implementation of strength and plyometric exercises.
  • Improving confidence: Improved performance almost always equates to improved confidence.

The Design of Sports Conditioning Programs: What to Consider

Sports conditioning programs are generally two-fold, aimed at achieving peak performance in games and achieving future goals. Using this approach, as well as considering the physical needs of your clients, you can individualize the intensity and extent of the program and establish a time frame that will allow them to reach their goals.

You must take a number of factors into consideration when developing and modifying a sports conditioning program:

    • What is required to excel:
      • Agility
      • Speed
      • Aerobic endurance
      • Anaerobic power and capacity
      • Strength
      • Flexibility
      • Balance
      • Coordination
    • The athlete’s physical traits:
      • Age
      • Maturation
      • Body composition
      • Muscular strength
      • Cardiovascular endurance
      • State of heat acclimation
      • Nutritional status
      • Psychological/emotional condition
  • The athlete’s medical status:
    • Conditions such as diabetes, asthma, high blood pressure, etc.
    • Orthopedic conditions/concerns

Qualities of Sports Conditioning Personal Trainers

As a personal trainer specializing in sports conditioning, you must possess a number of qualities as to effectively serve the athletes you are training. In addition to possessing an extensive foundation of knowledge in the areas of personal training and sports conditioning, you must:

  • Be an effective motivator: Because sports conditioning programs can be quite rigorous, you must be able to get your clients to train as hard as they should to see results.
  • Be detail-oriented and organized: Because your clients will have individualized training programs, you must keep detailed, accurate, and organized records to ensure that the programs are being implemented according to plan.
  • Be a good educator: You must be able to effectively educate your athlete clients on how to properly execute exercises and weight lifting techniques.
  • Be perceptive: As a personal trainer, you will not only design and implement sports conditioning programs for your clients, but also monitor your clients to ensure they are training properly at all times.
  • Be a great communicator: You must enjoy working closely with clients and possess excellent interpersonal skills to excel in personal training sports conditioning.

How to Become a Personal Trainer Specializing in Sports Conditioning

To become a personal trainer with a focus in sports conditioning, you must first achieve a well-rounded education through the completion of an associate or bachelor degree in personal training. Many personal trainers, particularly those specializing in strength and conditioning programs for athletes, also pursue degrees in kinesiology, physical education, and exercise science, among others.

An associate or bachelor degree in personal training or a related program consists of a course of study grounded in the sciences, along with core coursework in topics related to physical exercise and the human body’s reaction to exercise:

  • First aid and emergency care
  • Introduction to exercise science
  • Resistance exercise
  • Sports conditioning
  • Principles and practice of exercise science
  • Theory and practice of cardiovascular exercise
  • Fitness management
  • Health promotion and disease prevention

Professional certification is an important component of any personal trainer’s resume, as it signifies a specific level of professional competence.

Specialty certification in sports conditioning is a valuable addition to your personal trainer resume.

The Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) designation available through the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) is recognized as the gold standard in certification for trainers that specialize in sports conditioning. In order to be eligible to sit for the exam required to earn this highly esteemed credential, you must hold a bachelor’s degree at minimum from a regionally accredited school, or be in the senior year of your bachelor’s program. You would also be expected to hold current CPR/AED certification in order to pursue the NSCA-CSCS credential.

Additional organizations through which you can achieve specialty certification include:

  • American Council on Exercise, Sports Conditioning Specialist
  • National Academy of Sports Medicine, Performance Enhancement Specialist
  • International Fitness Professionals Association, Biomechanics of Sport and Exercise Specialist Certification
  • American Fitness Professionals Association, Sports Conditioning Specialist
  • Agility Training Institute, Certified Speed and Agility Trainer
  • American Sports and Fitness Association, Sport Specific Trainer Certification

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