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Strength Coach or Personal Trainer? Who’s Better?

By January 15, 2010December 26th, 2013Coaching Tips, Training Philosophy

I have noticed a remarkable trend in the fitness industry over the past several years.

The strength coaches tend to be extremely innovative in terms of creating better systems for training many people at once, but the personal trainers tend to be extremely innovative in terms of creating strategies for training one person at a time.

Strength coaches tend to be incredibly practical and efficient, while personal trainers tend to be creative and adaptable.

While I had my training studio Lifts, I did small group training. Sometimes I would have five clients at a time, while other times I’d have only one client at a time. Often during the 5:00 and 6:00 time-slots I’d have around 8 clients. The most clients I ever trained at once was 12 clients, although I had one other trainer working with me at that time.

The strategies are quite different when you train one person at a time versus many people at a time. When you train large groups, you must take into account equipment availability and the lifts you’d like to coach intensively, as you can’t be everywhere at once. When you train one person at a time, you can modify the workout, prescribe more difficult variations (since you’ll be right there watching their form), and rig-up MacGyver-like exercises on the spot.

I believe that every strength coach who is always training multiple athletes at once should do at least one one-on-one session per week with a certain athlete or client in order to keep their creative juices flowing. When I was a high school math teacher I would also tutor students after school. You can work wonders with kids when you individualize their instruction. A considerable more amount of learning can take place under individualized circumstances as opposed to group circumstances. Similarly, when you train an individual one-on-one, if you see something wrong with form you can test (assess) them right then, you can switch exercises, you can have them do more or less sets depending on how they feel on that particular day, and you can change strategies altogether and work on a different quality (for example if they are drained on that particular day maybe you’d want to work more on mobility or energy system development). In essence, much more athleticism can be gained from training an individual one-on-one as opposed to tossing him into a group-system.

Conversely, I believe that every personal trainer should do some group training at least once per week as it really leads to improvements in a trainer’s systems and philosophy. When you train a bunch of people at once, you learn what your “big rocks” are and how to get as much work done in as little amount of time as possible.

I believe that most of the creative trainers in the fitness industry who come up with new exercise variations are personal trainers, while most of the creative trainers in the fitness industry who develop the best systems are strength coaches. In other words, trainers tend to get really good at what they do most. If you want to be the best trainer possible, dabble in one-on-one training, small group training, and large group training.


  • Sam says:

    Well said Bret. This exact reason is why i’ve saught tutilage in different S&C settings like group training buisness models and a individualized programming business models. Both have great insights for anyone willing to put in the time.

    Keep the blog posts comming. One thing that i like about your blog is there isnt a new post every other stink’n day! 🙂 You do one every so often but its high quality content each time.

    Keep up the good work my friend

    • Thanks Sam! Actually I think I’m cranking out these blogs very rapidly compared to other fitness bloggers. Many of my blogs I come up with on a whim. I try to get a good variety in my blogs, but I could easily do one blog every other week and make it unbelievable by putting in references and quotes (which I may end up doing eventually). Right now I just like talking about my random thoughts!

  • Ron Crenshaw says:


    Bret’s post rate must be related to the fact that he actually works with real people 🙂 And I am with you on preferring quality of content over a need to post as much as possible just for posting’s sake.

    As for commenting on this post, I definitely need to start branching out into more group work. I tend to stick with one-on-one or possibly 2 or 3 sometimes, because I love getting to impart everything I know and having the people be able to maximally benefit from it. While obviously not feasible in a team setting nor th best way to make a lot of bucks, I just love the process so much, and one-on-one just gives so many opportunities to indulge my geeky side.

  • Mark Young says:

    Hey Bret,

    Excellent post! I have to admit that I personally do not like to do much in the way of group training primarily because I lose the control and individualization that I have with a single person.

    I also tend to work with many people with complex injury histories so I don’t feel a group model is appropriate for them.

    However, I agree that group training would certainly bring about a need to solidify your philisophy. Up until now I’ve primarily thought of group training as a business model, but I’m starting to think it might be advantageous for other reasons as well.

    Great post. You’ve really got me thinking.

    • Thanks Mark! I was actually training five people at a time yesterday and I looked over and saw one of my clients lunging like she’s never lunged before. I am constantly amazed at how much reinforcement some clients need in terms of exercise form. You can train certain clients for a solid year and never let them perform a crappy rep, yet the second you look away everything can turn to sh$%!

  • Justin Devonshire says:

    Great read Bret,

    This was a very relevant blog for me as I’ve recently begun training a group, which is expanding with popularity as we go on.

    I’ve had thoughts about the differences between one-on-one and group coaching on my mind for a few months as a result, and it would be great to find more info / wisdom on group training.

    I have found Dan John’s simplistic approach to group settings to be of great help, wheras I really love the more detailed approach of training individuals (or small groups of up to 3-4 trainees).

    But anyhow I agree, trainers should definately aim to train a mix of both, in order not to lose the practicality and economy of group structures, nor the creative, perhaps more analytical side of one-on-one training.

  • A'Mar says:

    “Conversely, I believe that every personal trainer should do some group training at least once per week as it really leads to improvements in a trainer’s systems and philosophy.”

    I would like to do that eventually but don’t have a clue on how to go about it hehe. Do you have any pointers Bret?

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