Health Coach vs. Personal Trainer: Key Differences and Similarities

Consumers not view “wellness” merely as “improved fitness and nutrition,” however, as a substitute, as a a lot broader and holistic path—one which encompasses higher long-term well being administration, psychological well being (particularly, mindfulness), and sleep.

Enter, well being coaches.

Wait. “Health coaches”? Well, in case you have been questioning, sure. Health coaches aren’t fairly the identical factor as private trainers. But how do these two professions differ, precisely? And are there any overlaps between the 2 in any respect? Find solutions beneath so you possibly can decide one of the best profession path for your self within the well being and wellness business. 

What Does a Health Coach Do?

A well being coach helps purchasers enhance their total well-being and well being by equipping them with the mandatory information of sound diet rules and life-style habits.

Health coaches information purchasers by way of constructing self-care expertise, habits, and wholesome behaviors essential for optimum wellness. As a consequence, they can assist with all kinds of well being points—from managing continual circumstances to tobacco cessation, from enhancing weight-reduction plan and train to adjusting to a life-altering well being occasion (e.g., a diabetes prognosis).

In different phrases, well being coaches act as a shopper’s private well being “cheerleader”; they assist a shopper discover the instruments they should make higher life-style decisions and obtain their well being targets.

What Does a Personal Trainer Do?

A private coach works with purchasers to realize fitness-related targets (e.g., weight reduction, improved physique composition, and enhanced athletic efficiency).

They design health applications, show correct train execution, assess progress, and modify coaching plans as wanted. Depending on a private coach’s particular certification, they could additionally assemble meal plans and dietary tips close to MyPlate, a government-recommended revision of the Food Pyramid.  

Key Differences Between a Health Coach and a Personal Trainer

Scope of Practice

Right away, the important thing distinction between a well being coach and a private coach turns into clear.

A private coach’s scope of observe is extra restricted and higher outlined than a well being coach’s. Personal coaching is primarily about health—creating well-designed exercise plans, instructing purchasers on train type, and coaching purchasers in a method that optimizes their athletic efficiency.

On the opposite, a well being coach has a a lot wider vary of points to sort out, akin to stress administration, sleep hygiene, and numerous life-style habits (e.g., alcohol and nicotine use).  

That stated, there is a crucial disclaimer: The scope of observe for a well being coach does have limits.

Ultimately, well being coaches haven’t got the identical coaching and certifications as medical professionals—like docs, psychiatrists, or dietitians.

That means they can’t diagnose a medical situation (e.g., basic anxiousness dysfunction) or try and deal with it. Note: These limitations apply to non-public trainers, too.

Knowledge Specialization

While private trainers’ restricted scope of observe might appear as if a con, it isn’t essentially so. For what they lack in scope protection, private trainers make up with their depth of information as health specialists. What does that imply?

To illustrate: Imagine a shopper is seeking to construct muscle mass.

While a well being coach might information the shopper into staying in line with their exercise classes, they would not essentially learn about what’s wanted for maximal hypertrophy.

Specifically, a well being teaching certification doesn’t cowl ideas like muscle anatomy, muscular diversifications in response to coaching, and progressive overload—foundations important to a well-designed “hypertrophy workout program.”  

The identical applies throughout all health targets, be it improved energy, cardiovascular health, and even energy.

Work Environment

Another distinction between well being coaches and private trainers could be their work setting. In basic, well being coaches conduct their classes remotely (by telephone or by way of web-conferencing instruments).

This contrasts with private trainers, who normally work with purchasers bodily in a fitness center or some other kind of health facility setting.

Of course, it’s price noting that private trainers can even conduct their classes on-line, as has been demonstrated by the pandemic.

But whereas the effectiveness of distant private coaching has been strongly contested (particularly for purchasers new to health), that of well being teaching has been confirmed. Research reveals well being teaching to be equally efficient when carried out remotely as face-to-face teaching.

Why? One of the principle causes for that is that it’s typically difficult for a private coach to make sure correct train type remotely.

This may very well be attributable to a restricted viewing angle (e.g., the digicam solely captures a shopper’s facet profile) or a misunderstanding of verbal teaching cues (some purchasers might “get” muscle activation higher when evenly tapped on that area). 

Bottom line? While a well being coach might work with anybody remotely, a private coach seemingly should meet with a shopper face-to-face in a health facility—particularly in the event that they don’t have any prior expertise figuring out.

Similarities Between a Health Coach and a Personal Trainer

At this level, it’s possible you’ll consider well being coaches and private trainers as like chalk and cheese, so basically completely different that similarities are unimaginable. So, it would shock you to study that the 2 professions share loads of frequent traits.

Level of Regulation

Neither private trainers nor well being coaches want a certification, license, or particular schooling to make use of these titles legally. That means anybody might declare that they’re a private coach and/or well being coach—and cost purchasers for his or her companies.

Still, it’s unlikely for these with out a acknowledged certification to take pleasure in a profitable profession. Many gyms require their trainers to be licensed by a good coaching supplier.

Plus, purchasers would even be cautious about having somebody coach them—be it within the capability of a well being coach or private coach—with out supporting credentials.

And fortunately, whereas authorized laws aren’t stringent, each professions at the moment are recognized to uphold a unified code of ethics, schooling, analysis, and credentials aimed toward standardizing coaching and certification for well being coaches and private trainers:

Health coaches: In 2016, the National Board of Health and Wellness Coaches (NBHWC) joined forces with the National Board of Medical Examiners (the certifying physique that licenses physicians) and accepted greater than eighty well being and wellness coach coaching applications all through the United States. FYI: AFPA’s well being coach applications are acknowledged by the NBHWC.  
Personal trainers: A key attribute of high quality private coaching programs is accreditation from the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), a acknowledged third-party company that accredits certification applications that meet and adjust to its requirements. AFPA’s private coaching applications are all NASM-accredited.

Neither Are Medical Professionals

Here’s some extent touched on beforehand however bears repeating (and elaboration): Neither well being coaches nor private trainers are medical professionals. 

Once once more, this implies they can’t diagnose medical circumstances or deal with them, interpret medical take a look at outcomes, suggest dietary supplements, and even prescribe meal plans (i.e., mandate {that a} shopper should comply with a selected method of consuming).

Whenever needed, each professions should refer their purchasers to the related medical professionals as a substitute. Here are examples of conditions that decision for “external” assist:

Working by way of traumatic experiences: A scenario finest handled by a post-traumatic stress dysfunction (PTSD) psychiatrist.
Diagnosing and/or treating nutrient deficiencies: Best addressed by docs and dietitians who can order blood exams and develop an appropriate remedy plan. Once once more, well being coaches and private trainers can not diagnose or deal with medical circumstances. 
Improving sleep high quality with dietary supplements: Only healthcare suppliers can prescribe sufferers “sleep-promoting” dietary supplements, like melatonin or L-theanine. The furthest well being coaches and private trainers can go could be recommending suggestions for higher sleep hygiene (e.g., avoiding display screen time earlier than bedtime and maintaining the bed room cool)—nothing extra.

A Partner Relationship that is Centered Around Behavioral Change

Another essential similarity between well being coaches and private trainers lies within the nature of the coach-client relationship. It’s a sort of partnership designed to take the shopper by way of a step-by-step course of of fixing their lives for the higher.

Neither occupation makes use of a one-size-fits-all strategy to purchasers.

Instead, all purchasers will usually undergo an “onboarding” session, the place they’ll need to fill out a well being historical past, give the coach an thought of the place they presently stand (health degree for the non-public coach, present life-style habits for the well being coach), and what, precisely, they’re hoping to realize by way of teaching.

Health coaches and private trainers will then take all these components (i.e., shopper’s life-style, wants, and preferences) into consideration when designing teaching classes.

As a consequence, each professions will have to be acquainted with (and perceive learn how to apply) behavioral change information:

Motivational interviewing: A key approach utilized by coaches the place they ask open-ended questions meant to assist purchasers elicit their very own causes for change. Effective motivational interviewing helps purchasers verbalize limitations and different components out of their management but impacting their well being. In flip, this initiates a dialogue about managing these limitations, doubtlessly paving the best way towards the adoption of varied health-promoting behaviors (that make sense for them).
Health habits change frameworks: A shopper’s well being habits outcomes from a fancy course of of choices, habits, psychological state, social help, historic experiences with discrimination, entry to healthcare, trauma, tradition, financial entry, amongst others. Understanding the two well-liked habits change theories—the Health Belief Model (HBM) and the Transtheoretical Model (TTM)—gives a coach with beneficial insights right into a shopper’s attitudes and beliefs towards well being behaviors together with how purchasers may very well be higher guided into altering.
Increasing shopper’s sense of self-efficacy: Self-efficacy refers to a person’s confidence of their capability to realize a purpose (i.e., the specified consequence). Research reveals individuals who expertise excessive self-efficacy set greater targets and put extra effort into altering habits. As such, each well being coaches and private trainers ought to focus their efforts on rising a shopper’s self-efficacy ranges (e.g., with goal-setting and optimistic psychology).

Outcome of Coaching

And what’s the ultimate frequent thread between the work of well being coaches and private trainers? Their purpose for a shopper.

At the tip of the day, each professions need their shopper to really feel empowered—and to have the ability to perceive the tidal wave of well being and wellness info on the market.

A shopper ought to come out of the teaching classes with a clearer thought of the following step to take. Simply put, they need to really feel like you’ve gotten simply helped them discover the steadiness they wanted for higher well being.


Different as they could seem, private trainers and well being coaches play complementary roles.

For occasion, a well being coach coping with a shopper wishing to get in higher form might refer them to a private coach. A private coach with a shopper complaining about feeling overwhelmed by each day stressors, alternatively, might refer them to a well being coach.

That stated, it’s price noting {that a} private coach may be a well being coach—and vice versa.

After all, most of the expertise you’ve gotten developed as a private coach are transferable and related in a well being coach position. In addition to an expanded shopper base, being licensed in each may also give you the chance to help purchasers’ wellness in a multifaceted method.

Personal trainers who earn their well being teaching certification purchase the broader information needed for the each day administration of continual circumstances, for instance.

In distinction, a well being coach geared up with private coaching information might give actionable tips about how, precisely, a shopper might get extra energetic (as a substitute of basic suggestions like “work out three times weekly”).

Bottom line? Getting licensed in each well being teaching and private coaching may very well be one of the crucial rewarding strikes a well being and wellness skilled might make. The time, cash, and effort you place into the method shall be nicely price it. 


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