Legal benefits of certified strength and conditioning coaches

The popularity of strength training programs in schools means greater risk management
By: | March 31, 2017

Certified strength and conditioning coaches bring athletic and legal benefits

Strength and conditioning—or what some call strength training—continues to gain in popularity at high schools and colleges. Recent studies have confirmed its importance in long-term fitness and health, including strengthening bones, muscles, and tendons, as well as decreasing the likelihood of injury. Federal guidelines recommend at least two sessions a week of strength training activities that are moderate- or high-intensity and involve all major muscle groups.

Strength and conditioning can help prevent osteoporosis and reduce the muscle loss that occurs as people age, research shows. As a result of this and other factors, girls and women, in particular, are seeking out strength and conditioning facilities and coaches.

A recent incident at the University of Oregon demonstrates why this welcome enthusiasm for strength and conditioning must be tempered with a focus on the right technique and intensity, and proper training for those who help guide students in using them.

The University of Oregon athletics department recently suspended the head football strength and conditioning coach for a month without pay. The head coach also issued an apology.

Three players were hospitalized following strenuous off-season conditioning workouts. They were diagnosed with rhabdomyolysis, which is muscle damage severe enough to release a substance from the muscles into the bloodstream. Extreme exertion is usually a contributing cause. If left untreated, the condition is dangerous due to its potential kidney harm.

While this kind of strength and conditioning injury is unusual, it does demonstrate why this training should be taken seriously and be overseen by a trained and qualified professional holding an accredited certification. In youth, most reported strength and conditioning injuries involve unsupervised situations or youth attempting to do a max lift before they are physically prepared or have received the proper instruction.

A qualified strength and conditioning professional knows this and can help minimize the incidence and severity of injuries.

Certified strength and conditioning professionals typically have a degree from an accredited college or university in one or more of the “scientific foundations” for strength and conditioning (ex. exercise/anatomy, biomechanics, exercise physiology), or in a relevant subject (ex. exercise/sport pedagogy, physical education, motor learning, kinesiology) and hold a nationally accredited certification. In addition, they are trained in standard first aid, CPR and automated external defibrillation (AED).

Providing this level of expertise is like employing a certified lifeguard on a pool deck. Who would ever consider hiring a lifeguard who knew nothing about swimming, was not trained in first aid, and had no training in how to properly supervise students in a pool of water?

Employing a professional who holds an accredited certification in strength and conditioning also reduces legal and reputational risk. Certified strength and conditioning coaches can and do participate in risk management planning and implementation. They can advise on proper types and placement of equipment, appropriate age restrictions, frequency and intensity of exercise routines and more. Along with their presence working with students, involvement in risk management planning demonstrates a school’s due diligence and adherence to best practices. Both are critical if an adverse event occurs.

Finally, as noted earlier, girls and women in particular have sought out strength and conditioning opportunities in colleges, universities, high schools, fitness chains and other facilities. For example, the University of Vermont’s fitness program has expanded its Women on Weights class in recent years to two sessions each semester. This trend is now moving from colleges to high schools.

Certified strength and conditioning coaches can assist athletic departments to implement strength and conditioning programs that are gender specific. This helps advance gender equity goals and legal and regulatory compliance.

Major League Baseball (MLB) requires all head strength and conditioning coaches and minor league coordinators to hold the National Strength and Conditioning Association’s Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) certification.

Certified strength and conditioning coaches are also the norm in leading NCAA colleges and universities. Many high schools now have also hired certified coaches. It is the key to improving athlete performance and decreasing the likelihood of injuries, legal challenges and negative public attention. It also helps strengthen and differentiate an athletic program, which can be important for schools that must compete for students.

Most importantly, a strength and conditioning program guided by a certified professional is the best way for students to safely enjoy the health and wellness benefits of this increasingly popular athletic activity. That’s an aspiration every school can embrace.

Scott Caulfield is Head Strength and Conditioning Coach at the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA). Michael Massik is the NSCA’s Executive Director.