Group Class Instructors, Meet Strength Coaches

It’s time for an introduction. Group ex, meet S&C coaches. All you have to do is look in a mirror.

“Wait WAIT. There’s no way he’s really suggesting that commercial gym group exercise instructors and collegiate or professional strength coaches have the same job.”

You’re right, I’m not. But the two should have more in common than they do, and I’d love it if every group class instructor started by shadowing a strength coach.

Both professions require standing in front of a group and giving exercise instruction. Both (should) require well-thought out programming and exercise correction. And both bring the energy when needed during 5 am workouts.

You see, I own a studio known for group personal training. Unfortunately, with chains opening left and right, that term has been butchered. The term coach, however, is sacred. When I hear one of my former athletes from decades back say coach, I feel like:

Now, why do I say every group class instructor (especially one that needs to own a gym competing in today’s oversaturated market) needs to shadow a strength coach?

Let me take you back to the good ol’ days.

Well, 2003 for me. Some of you were barely in kindergarten.

After finishing up my degree and doing a gazillion hours of internships for no pay, I reached out to Coach Kontos from VCU.

What I saw, it stuck with me for life, and opened up some doors.

You see, I had multiple jobs, bosses and “coaches” by then, but none of them were REAL coaches. I forgot them all, except Coach Kontos. When you see passion, energy, work ethic, leadership, and more passion, you don’t forget it. I still remember the stare and conversation when I used the word “try”.

Even though I coach group classes, I still carry the memories of what an ideal coach should be. The difference between most strength coaches and group instructors is the time invested. To become a head strength and conditioning coach at the college level, you have to get a degree, a CSCS certification, and in most cases, volunteer for years and make pennies as you get a graduate degree.

Fortunately, for group instructors, that wisdom and prowess has nothing to do with the degrees. It has to do with experience and mindset. You have to be passionate enough to do the hard work knowing you will get paid next to nothing. You have to go the extra mile.

My first suggestion to group instructors is to shadow a great S&C coach.

You’ll learn more in the trenches than you ever will by reading online. Short of that, here are a few tidbits of wisdom to take home.

Lesson One: A real coach makes the people they coach better

All of them, from the athletes to the interns. They’re not going to sugarcoat things, but they are also coachable themselves. They are driven by a strong purpose, and create a team atmosphere that drives you as well.

Lesson Two: Bring something else

If you plan to survive in this day and age, you can’t just do the bare minimum. You have to do more than show up, toss some music on, and yell platitudes for an hour. Instead, coach every single member, giving them a personal training experience in the group setting. Whatever class or group you’re leading, define your value every single day.

Lesson Three: Programming and coaching skills matter

I know, I know. This should go without being said, but unfortunately, some of y’all still need to hear it.

S&C coaches tend to get fired when someone gets injured. For that reason alone, they generally have good programming and coaching skills. Your regular members use your class to improve their fitness in the same way athletes train to improve their game. Learning to program months in advance is a strong tool. Treat your clients as if they’re going to be with you for years, and they might actually stay.

Lesson Four: The grind is in the details

The lessons I learned shadowing Coach Kontos last a lifetime. I learned how to pull energy out of nowhere before 6 am, and keep that same energy until 7 or 8 pm. The grind and work ethic were unmatched. His actions spoke louder than his booming voice.

That gritty edge a coach has is also needed to win in business. Go after a real coach, and they game plan and come back twice as hard. They fight until the end. A loss equals lessons. The job is never done until it’s actually done… not because you worked 8 hours, or it’s the weekend. Whatever it takes, believe or leave

Final thoughts

People expect things to happen overnight. The same people who preach patience and work ethic to their clients impatiently anticipate success tomorrow. How does that logic follow?

This industry is tough – it is what it is. But if you develop skills, focus on building a team, and refine your potential through passion, you might just make it. Don’t waste your time doing the bare minimum unless you want the bare minimum in return. The hours it takes to become great and “get there” are enough to make the average person give up. The real coaches will outlast the fads in our industry. The real coaches will last forever.

Books I’m reading right now – And you should be too.

Expanding your knowledge is critical to avoiding complacency. Your clientele and business are ever-evolving creatures that need nurturing, as is your mind.

The books below are written by some of the best in the industry – proving that there’s much more to personal training than counting reps and re-racking weights. If you want to expand your mind and upgrade your personal training business, I highly suggest investing in the books below.

And give me a shout to let me know what you think afterwards.

Day by Day – The Personal Trainer’s Blueprint to Achieving Ultimate Success

By Kevin Mullins

Featured on the PTDC’s top books for personal trainers, Mullins  dives in to a year’s worth of personal training advice. Each chapter literally covers a month of each year, serving as a step-by-step guide to successful business planning. Sure, he covers common themes such as nutrition and program design. But the real juice for fit pros lies in the other chapters, such as “Taking Care of Yourself”, “Professionalism”, and  “Business Building”.

Your Workout Perfected

By Nick Tumminello

Not only is Nick fantastic at building battle-tested programs for all shapes and sizes, but in my experience he combines the practical with passion to really make you think. I loved this book in particular, as its highly-individualized approach matches my training philosophy. With literally hundreds of exercises across over 70 programs, it’s a useful guide when tweaking your individual program design, for even the most seasoned trainer.

The Wealthy Fit Pro’s Guide to Starting Your Career

by Jonathan Goodman

What they don’t tell you after getting your certification  – clients aren’t immediately lined up at your door. You have to put in the work, and Goodman’s book is the perfect guide to figuring out the right work. From securing the perfect job at your dream gym to attracting more clients and discovering new streams of income, this book will save you time while making you more money. It’s a must-read for anyone starting up in our industry.


Detric Smith(CSCS, ACSM EP-C, PN-1) is the owner of Results Performance Training in Williamsburg, VA. He has 18+ years of experience in the Health and Fitness field  with an expertise in Group Personal Training. He is the author of Fit for Life and has been featured in various publications. You can reach out to him with questions via his Facebook page at

Virtual Sessions – Recording

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