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Health Coach vs. Personal Trainer: Key Differences and Similarities


Customers not view “wellness” merely as “improved health and diet,” however, as an alternative, as a much 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. “Well being coaches”? Nicely, in case you had been questioning, sure. Well being coaches aren’t fairly the identical factor as private trainers. However how do these two professions differ, precisely? And are there any overlaps between the 2 in any respect? Discover solutions beneath so you’ll be able to decide the very best profession path for your self within the well being and wellness trade. 

What Does a Well being Coach Do?

A health coach helps purchasers enhance their total well-being and well being by equipping them with the required data of sound diet rules and way of life habits.

Well being coaches information purchasers by way of constructing self-care expertise, habits, and wholesome behaviors essential for optimum wellness. In consequence, they will help with all kinds of well being points—from managing continual situations to tobacco cessation, from enhancing weight loss plan and train to adjusting to a life-altering well being occasion (e.g., a diabetes diagnosis).

In different phrases, well being coaches act as a consumer’s private well being “cheerleader”; they assist a consumer discover the instruments they should make higher way of life selections and obtain their well being objectives.

What Does a Private Coach Do?

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

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

Key Variations Between a Well being Coach and a Private Coach

Scope of Observe

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

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

Quite the opposite, a well being coach has a a lot wider vary of points to deal with, comparable to stress administration, sleep hygiene, and varied way of life habits (e.g., alcohol and nicotine use).  

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

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

Meaning they can’t diagnose a medical situation (e.g., common anxiousness dysfunction) or try and deal with it. Word: These limitations apply to private trainers, too.

Data Specialization

Whereas private trainers’ restricted scope of follow could 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 data as health specialists. What does that imply?

For example: Think about a consumer is seeking to construct muscle mass.

Whereas a well being coach may information the consumer into staying per their exercise classes, they would not essentially find out about what’s wanted for maximal hypertrophy.

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

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

Work Atmosphere

One other distinction between well being coaches and private trainers could be their work atmosphere. Basically, 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 health club or another sort of health facility setting.

In fact, it’s price noting that non-public trainers can even conduct their classes on-line, as has been demonstrated by the pandemic.

However 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 exhibits well being teaching to be equally efficient when carried out remotely as face-to-face teaching.

Why? One of many most important causes for that is that it’s typically difficult for a private coach to make sure correct train kind remotely.

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

Backside line? Whereas a well being coach may work with anybody remotely, a private coach possible should meet with a consumer face-to-face in a health facility—particularly in the event that they haven’t any prior expertise understanding.

Similarities Between a Well being Coach and a Private Coach

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

Stage of Regulation

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

Nonetheless, it’s unlikely for these with out a acknowledged certification to get pleasure from 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 rules usually are not stringent, each professions at the moment are identified to uphold a unified code of ethics, training, analysis, and credentials aimed toward standardizing coaching and certification for well being coaches and private trainers:

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

Neither Are Medical Professionals

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

As soon as once more, this implies they can’t diagnose medical situations or deal with them, interpret medical check outcomes, advocate dietary supplements, and even prescribe meal plans (i.e., mandate {that a} consumer should comply with a selected approach of consuming).

At any time when vital, each professions should refer their clients to the relevant medical professionals instead. Listed below are examples of conditions that decision for “exterior” assist:

  • Working by way of traumatic experiences: A state of affairs greatest handled by a post-traumatic stress dysfunction (PTSD) psychiatrist.
  • Diagnosing and/or treating nutrient deficiencies: Greatest addressed by medical doctors and dietitians who can order blood exams and develop an acceptable therapy plan. As soon as once more, well being coaches and private trainers can’t diagnose or deal with medical situations. 
  • Enhancing sleep high quality with dietary supplements: Solely 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 ideas for better sleep hygiene (e.g., avoiding display time earlier than bedtime and maintaining the bed room cool)—nothing extra.

A Accomplice Relationship that is Centered Round Behavioral Change

One other important similarity between well being coaches and private trainers lies within the nature of the coach-client relationship. It is a sort of partnership designed to take the consumer by way of a step-by-step course of of fixing their lives for the higher.

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

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

Well being coaches and private trainers will then take all these elements (i.e., consumer’s way of life, wants, and preferences) into consideration when designing teaching classes.

In consequence, each professions will must be accustomed to (and perceive the best way to apply) behavioral change data:

  • 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. Efficient motivational interviewing helps purchasers verbalize boundaries and different elements out of their management but impacting their well being. In flip, this initiates a dialogue about managing these boundaries, probably paving the best way towards the adoption of varied health-promoting behaviors (that make sense for them).
  • Well being conduct change frameworks: A consumer’s well being conduct results from a complex process of choices, habits, psychological state, social help, historic experiences with discrimination, entry to healthcare, trauma, tradition, financial entry, amongst others. Understanding the two popular behavior change theories—the Well being Perception Mannequin (HBM) and the Transtheoretical Mannequin (TTM)—supplies a coach with worthwhile insights right into a consumer’s attitudes and beliefs towards well being behaviors together with how purchasers might be higher guided into altering.
  • Rising consumer’s sense of self-efficacy: Self-efficacy refers to a person’s confidence of their skill to realize a aim (i.e., the specified final result). Research exhibits individuals who expertise excessive self-efficacy set larger objectives and put extra effort into altering conduct. As such, each well being coaches and private trainers ought to focus their efforts on rising a consumer’s self-efficacy ranges (e.g., with goal-setting and optimistic psychology).

Final result of Teaching

And what’s the closing widespread thread between the work of well being coaches and private trainers? Their aim for a consumer.

On the finish of the day, each professions need their consumer to really feel empowered—and to have the ability to perceive the tidal wave of well being and wellness data on the market.

A consumer ought to come out of the teaching classes with a clearer concept of the subsequent step to take. Merely put, they need to really feel like you’ve simply helped them discover the stability they wanted for higher well being.


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

As an example, a well being coach coping with a consumer wishing to get in higher form could refer them to a private coach. A private coach with a consumer complaining about feeling overwhelmed by each day stressors, then again, could refer them to a well being coach.

That mentioned, it’s price noting {that a} private coach is also a well being coach—and vice versa.

In any case, most of the expertise you’ve developed as a private coach are transferable and related in a well being coach position. Along with an expanded consumer base, being licensed in each can even give you the chance to help purchasers’ wellness in a multifaceted approach.

Private trainers who earn their well being teaching certification purchase the broader data vital for the each day administration of continual situations, for instance.

In distinction, a well being coach geared up with private coaching data may give actionable tips about how, precisely, a consumer may get extra energetic (as an alternative of common suggestions like “work out 3 times weekly”).

Backside line? Getting licensed in each well being teaching and private coaching might be probably the most rewarding strikes a well being and wellness skilled may make. The time, cash, and energy you place into the method might be nicely price it. 


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