How to Become a Strength Training Specialist

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Strength training, which can be traced back to ancient Greece, is one of the oldest forms of exercises. As a personal trainer, you will likely incorporate strength training into nearly all of your clients’ training programs. But you may also find that specializing your personal training career in strength training will allow you to capture a unique niche in the industry and market yourself as a strength training specialist.

Strength training is done to increase your physical strength, although it differs from bodybuilding, which is a separate discipline that focuses on building muscle mainly for appearance’s sake. Instead, strength training is done for the purpose of increasing muscular strength over strictly building mass or achieving definition.

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What is Strength Training?

There are two major types of strength that strength training is designed to address and improve:

Relative Strength: Relative strength is all about increasing strength, but never at the expense of increased body weight. Relative strength therefore involves building strength without building muscle mass. For example, gymnasts want to increase their relative strength because building muscle weight may hinder their ability to perform their sport. If you are working with clients to build their relative strength, you will also likely incorporate cardio to control their body weight.

Absolute Strength: Absolute strength involves increasing muscle mass, which therefore increases body weight. If you are working with clients to build their absolute strength, you are helping them become stronger, regardless of their body weight.

Strength training is often substituted with terms such as “body sculpting,” “resistance training,” and “toning,” particularly when referring to women.

As a personal trainer, you will have a number of methods at your disposal when guiding your clients through their strength training program. Strength training includes free weights, circuit training machines, and body weight exercises, all of which are focused on the tension principle, which involves creating tension within a group of muscles.

Weight lifting exercises, which include either free weights or circuit machines, involve following a weight lifting program. Your job as a personal trainer is to demonstrate the proper form when lifting weights, to create a program for your clients to follow, and to slowly and systemically increase the amount of weight they lift. Weight lifting exercises include:

  • Barbell row
  • Bench press
  • Deadlift
  • Leg press
  • Overhead press
  • Squat

Free weights may also include non-traditional weights and resistance equipment, such as bands, kettle balls, body weights, and medicine balls.

Body weight exercises, which involve using your own body weight as resistance, often include yoga, Pilates, and exercises such as:

  • Pull-ups
  • Chin-ups
  • Lunges
  • Squats
  • Dips
  • Pistols
  • Push-ups
  • Sit-ups

Your personal training program will differ based on the type of clients you work with, although it will always include the following components (referred to as the FITT principles):

  • Frequency (how often per muscle group)
  • Intensity (how much weight or resistance)
  • Time (how many reps)
  • Type (what exercises are needed to target different muscle groups)

You may guide your clients through a strength training program in a fitness center, Pilates studio, gym, personal training studio, or even in clients’ homes.

Benefits of Strength Training

Strength training is advantageous for nearly everyone, from young adults to seniors, which is why you will likely incorporate some type of strength training into your personal training programs. The benefits of strength training are numerous and wide-reaching:

  • Strength training builds muscle to improve your body composition, increase your lean body mass, and make you look leaner.
  • Strength training controls your weight by burning fat and calories and elevating your metabolic rate.
  • Strength training improves your health by:

    • Increasing your endurance
    • Increasing your bone density (decreases joint, muscle and bone injuries and fights osteoporosis)
    • Increasing your testosterone levels
    • Lowering your cholesterol
    • Strengthens your joints
    • Improving sleep
    • Increasing your mental focus
  • Strength training strengthens muscles and joints, increasing an athlete’s speed and power and reducing the likelihood of injury.
  • Strength training manages chronic conditions, such as back pain, arthritis, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes.

Regular strength training is designed to increase the size and strength of your muscle fibers, at the same strengthening your tendons, ligaments, and bones. Therefore, strength training has a positive impact on your health, appearance, and metabolism, while at the same time decreasing your risk of injury.

Although cardio is the obvious exercise for weight loss, muscle, as metabolically active tissue, affects your metabolism (your ability to burn calories). Therefore, the more muscle you have, the more efficient your metabolism.

For seniors, strength training should remain an important part of their overall fitness program, as muscle size and strength are shown to decrease with age, thereby leading to injury and a lack of mobility and strength.

How to Become a Strength Training Specialist

If you want to become a personal trainer who specializes in strength training, you must complete a comprehensive educational program to ensure you are offering your clients safe and effective strength training programs.

Degree Programs

For many personal trainers, an education in strength training starts with an associate or bachelor degree in personal training or a related subject, such as:

  • Exercise science
  • Exercise physiology
  • Kinesiology
  • Strength and conditioning

A program in personal training will prepare you to serve as an entry-level personal trainer who possesses a solid foundation of knowledge in how to practically apply strength and conditioning methods.

A Bachelor of Science in Strength and Conditioning, for example, includes a foundation in anatomy and physiology, biology, human nutrition, and kinesiology, along with core courses in:

  • Structural kinesiology
  • Strength and conditioning
  • Strength training and exercise
  • Physiology of exercise prescription

Professional Certification Programs

To market yourself as a strength training specialist in personal training, you would want to pursue specialty certification through any number of nationally accredited certifying bodies, such as:

  • National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA)
    • Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS)
    • NSCA-Certified Personal Trainer (NCSA-CPT)
    • Certified Special Population Specialist (CSPS)
    • Tactical Strength and Conditioning Facilitator (TSAC-F)
  • International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA)
    • Strength and Conditioning Certification
  • American Fitness Professionals & Associates (AFPA)
    • Strength and Conditioning Certification

Certification programs in strength and conditioning consist of a program of study followed by an examination. These programs, many of which are offered as online programs or campus-based workshops, are designed to provide you with knowledge of the basic principles of strength/resistance training and exercise prescription through the completion of courses such as:

  • Types of strength training
  • Adaptations to resistance training
  • Comparing training types
  • Resistance training and endurance, flexibility
  • Single-set system
  • Multiple-set system
  • Resistance training systems and techniques
  • Advanced training strategies
  • Women, children, and seniors and resistance training
  • Periodization of resistance training
  • Strength training prescription design

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