Strength and Conditioning Ethics

Something I think we can universally agree upon is that one of the foremost obligations we have as strength and conditioning coaches is to give our athletes the training that is most optimal for their needs. We are ethically obligated to give them effective, efficient, safe programs that are based on the best and most recent scientific evidence available. I doubt there is little controversy among coaches and sport scientists that this is the case.

However, something that doesn’t seem as commonly talked about is the idea that we should give our athletes the best training that they can get for their money. For example, is it ethical to talk a client aiming to improve performance in their chosen sport into purchasing 5 sessions per week with you when they could get identical results out of 4 sessions per week? Perhaps not, given that there is assumed to be more value to the client that comes from the 5th session. In this case, if you are taking the extra money but not adding extra value to the training you do with the client, it is not a fair trade.*

Similarly, it is common for coaches, laypersons, and athletes to ask advice about various products that are for sale, such as supplements, training equipment, and methods. It is unethical to recommend anything that simply doesn’t work; for example, you certainly shouldn’t be recommending the vast majority of supplements that exist out there. Why not? If the supplement does not do what it says it does, then buying it is an exchange of money for zero value to the purchaser. As an “expert”, we have an ethical obligation to recommend products that provide value.

Training equipment is where the stakes get higher though- a $30 bottle that makes expensive urine will generally have lower implications than what it takes to outfit a weight room. Just for the sake of a quick example, here’s a piece of equipment that seems to be gaining in popularity- a flywheel trainer. You can purchase a single unit for $3863. Let’s compare that to a kit from, seen below. For about $300 more than a single flywheel unit, I can outfit a gym with 3 bars, racks, benches and bumper plates. You can bet your house I am going to recommend the bars and plates over the flywheel trainer. Why? There is no way that a coach can positively impact a team’s performance with the flywheel better than with three stations worth of barbells and plates. The flywheel trainer might be awesome, but it can’t compete with three full setups of barbells, plates, and racks. In a situation in which somebody has $4000 to spend- you bet I’m ethically obligated to recommend the better option here- the one that gives the coach the biggest bang for his (literal) buck.

rogue shopping cart

It would seem to be that this concept should scale up and down similarly regardless of the dollar value of the items in question. Now certainly, there are cases where a team/school/club has more dollars than they know what to do with, and they want the latest and greatest. In this case, I think that ethically, you should steer them toward the most important items, like bars, racks and plates, but if the money is burning a hole in their pocket, then you can add in the shiny and exotic “extras”. The reality though, is that the majority of the time, the coaches we work with have very limited budgets, and aren’t going to be able to afford the bumper set and the other stuff. Steer them to the most important items so that they can maximally improve their team within the constraints of their budget.

So what do you think? Do you agree, or disagree? Is this a “given”? Are there other cases that are much more ambiguous or cut-and-dry?


*This is assuming that we constrain the “value” you provide to your client to entirely or almost entirely to improving the client’s performance in their sport. It is also ignoring market forces etc. which certainly will affect what the going rate is for how much value you provide.