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Many bodybuilders rely on coaches to get into top competition shape. They may have tried on their own and didn’t get good results. Or they want to shorten their learning curve by avoiding trial and error. Instead, they want to start their training with a program that works. This is where a bodybuilding coach comes into play.
If you’re interested in providing bodybuilding training for your personal training clients, you may be looking for coaching certification. Which one is best? We’ll get to that. Before we do, it’s helpful to be clear about what a bodybuilding coach does. It’s also important to know the benefits of certification.
Imagine a certified personal trainer, nutrition coach, and strength and conditioning specialist all in one. This is a bodybuilding coach. This fitness professional provides exercise and dietary advice to help clients prepare for a bodybuilding competition. They also train physique competitors.
If you’re not familiar with the difference, that’s okay. A lot of people aren’t. In short, a bodybuilder is more concerned about muscle mass and size (muscle hypertrophy). For physique clients, the fitness goal is less about muscle growth and more about creating a specific appearance. Depending on the competition, the desired physique is either an ‘X’ or ‘V’ shape.
X-shaped physique = wide shoulders, big chest and back, small waist, big legs
V-shaped physique = wide shoulders, big chest and back, small waist
Developing award-winning muscle mass isn’t easy. Neither is creating a medal-worthy physique. Both require strict adherence to a nutrition and exercise plan. A bodybuilding coach creates this plan. And they do so using proven bodybuilding methods.
A 2023 study of bodybuilding coaches reveals common elements to this plan (1). One often involves modifying protein intake. It also generally includes specific exercise recommendations. The most common suggestion for competition prep is fasted cardio of low and moderate intensity. Creatine is one of the most suggested supplements.
A bodybuilding specialist is also a problem solver. They are tasked with helping clients overcome training challenges. Maybe the client has hit a muscle development plateau. It’s up to the trainer to find a way to resolve it. One option is to constantly change the exercise. Research indicates that this approach is effective for achieving strength gains (2).
Certification provides many benefits for fitness coaches. This includes those working with bodybuilding clients. One is that it enhances your authority in this space. Another is that a trainer certification course can better prepare you for this role.
If you’ve obtained any other personal trainer certification, you may have witnessed this firsthand. There is a lot of valuable information provided in a coach training course. Even if you’ve been in the field, you’re likely to still learn something you didn’t know before. This new knowledge may be minor. But it may also be major enough to really change your client’s results.
Topics covered in a bodybuilding coaching course include:
Top exercises for bodybuilding competitors
How to use bands and chains to improve strength
Best approach for incorporating aerobic training
Methods for testing and evaluating bodybuilding clients
Why a periodized program is important and how to create one
Ways to improve physique symmetry
Common bodybuilding drugs and their pros and cons
How to prevent injuries during training
How to support healthy muscle recovery
Learning this information better positions you to help your bodybuilding clients. Prescribing the best exercises, for example, can help provide the chiseled physique needed for competition. (In case you’re wondering, competitors typically need to do five to eight poses per competition.)
Talking to clients about physique-enhancing substances is important as well. Even some prescription medications are banned for competitors, such as diuretics. Other substances banned by the World Natural Bodybuilding Federation include anabolic steroids, testosterone, growth hormones, and stimulants (3). You learn all about this in a coach certification program.
If you want a bodybuilding specialist certification, which is the best to get? Unfortunately, there is no singular answer to this question. Simply put, there is no best bodybuilding coach certification.
The reason for this is because ‘best’ is subjective. Check out three articles that each claim to name the top coaching certification courses and each list is likely different. This may be due to the programs being rated on different factors. It can also be because each assessor rates factors differently.
For example, some may give more weight to online coach training programs. Others may prefer those offered in person. Or they might rate program cost more heavily than program length. This creates a wide variance in which bodybuilding coach certification programs are most recommended.
If there’s no one best certification, how do you know which one to choose? A good place to start is by looking for a reputable coaching program.
The last thing you want is to enroll in a fitness training program that lacks credible standing. Sure, you might get your certification. But it likely won’t be recognized within the fitness industry.
To keep this from happening to you, here are things to look for when choosing a coach certification program:
What are its accreditations and affiliations? Is the certifying agency connected with other reputable fitness organizations? If it is, there’s a good likelihood that it is reputable too. The National Board of Fitness Examiners (NBFE) is one to look for. The International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) is another.
Does it provide all the information you need to work as a bodybuilding coach? The more comprehensive a training program is, the more knowledge you have for helping clients. If it doesn’t include all the topics mentioned previously, you may want to look for another program. This information is generally provided in the course curriculum. Some programs also enable you to preview the table of contents for the main textbook. This is a good place to look as well.
Does it offer other certification programs? If it offers a wide variety of programs for personal trainers and fitness enthusiasts, this suggests that they have experience in creating effective training programs. Having several certification options provides another advantage. If you ever want to expand your business, you can get those certifications with the same certifying agency. Maybe you decide at one point that you want to teach group fitness. You can earn your group fitness instructor certification through the same organization.
Does it have continuing education courses? You must take courses regularly to keep your certification current. If the certifying agency offers these courses, it makes it easier. You already know what to expect because you got your coaching certification through them. You also don’t have to turn in the course for credit because they already know you took it.
What do others say about the course? One of the best ways to assess a certification program is to read its reviews. Many programs will list reviews on the page. Read those but don’t forget to also check out independent review sites. Look at reviews posted on Trustpilot and Facebook. What themes do you see? Do several reviewers say that it helped them better work with physique athletes? Did they feel that they learned enough about bodybuilding techniques? Even if some of the reviews are for other courses offered by the agency, that’s okay. It will still give you an idea of whether they develop good training programs. If someone says that they have the best personal trainer certification program, for example, they are likely to also have a good bodybuilding trainer program.
If you’re ready to take the next step, the International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA) offers Bodybuilding Certification. This online certification program provides the information you need for bodybuilding coaching. You also gain access to ISSA professional trainers. This can be helpful when you need guidance and advice.
This distance education course covers training, recovery, motivation, and nutritional strategies to prepare the personal trainer to work with bodybuilders.