Health Coach vs. Personal Trainer: Key Differences and Similarities


Shoppers now 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”? Properly, in case you have 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 possibly can decide the perfect profession path for your self within the well being and wellness business. 

What Does a Well being Coach Do?

A health coach helps shoppers enhance their total well-being and well being by equipping them with the mandatory data of sound diet ideas and life-style habits.

Well being coaches information shoppers by constructing self-care abilities, habits, and wholesome behaviors essential for optimum wellness. Consequently, they may help with all kinds of well being points—from managing persistent situations to tobacco cessation, from bettering food regimen 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 life-style selections and obtain their well being objectives.

What Does a Private Coach Do?

A personal trainer works with shoppers 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 alter coaching plans as wanted. Relying on a private coach’s particular certification, they could additionally assemble meal plans and dietary pointers just about MyPlate, a government-recommended revision of the Meals Pyramid.  

Key Variations Between a Well being Coach and a Private Coach

Scope of Apply

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 shoppers on train kind, and coaching shoppers in a manner that optimizes their athletic efficiency.

Quite the opposite, a well being coach has a a lot wider vary of points to deal with, equivalent 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 follow for a well being coach does have limits.

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

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

Information 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 information as health specialists. What does that imply?

As an instance: Think about a consumer is seeking to construct muscle mass.

Whereas a well being coach might information the consumer into staying in step with their exercise periods, 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 diversifications 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 energy, cardiovascular health, and even energy.

Work Surroundings

One other distinction between well being coaches and private trainers can be their work atmosphere. Normally, well being coaches conduct their periods remotely (by telephone or by web-conferencing instruments).

This contrasts with private trainers, who normally work with shoppers bodily in a health club or another kind of health facility setting.

After all, it’s value noting that private trainers may conduct their periods on-line, as has been demonstrated by the pandemic.

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

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

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

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

Similarities Between a Well being Coach and a Private Coach

At this level, you might 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 schooling to make use of these titles legally. Which means anybody might declare that they’re a private coach and/or well being coach—and cost shoppers 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, shoppers 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 will not be stringent, each professions at the moment are identified to uphold a unified code of ethics, schooling, analysis, and credentials geared 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 authorised greater than eighty well being and wellness coach coaching packages all through america. 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 Drugs (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

Here is a degree 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 observe a specific manner of consuming).

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

  • Working by traumatic experiences: A scenario finest handled by a post-traumatic stress dysfunction (PTSD) psychiatrist.
  • Diagnosing and/or treating nutrient deficiencies: Finest addressed by docs and dietitians who can order blood checks 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 can be recommending ideas for better sleep hygiene (e.g., avoiding display time earlier than bedtime and conserving the bed room cool)—nothing extra.

A Companion 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 kind of partnership designed to take the consumer by a step-by-step course of of adjusting their lives for the higher.

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

As a substitute, all shoppers will usually undergo an “onboarding” session, the place they’ll need to fill out a well being historical past, give the coach an concept of the place they at present stand (health stage for the private coach, present life-style habits for the well being coach), and what, precisely, they’re hoping to realize by teaching.

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

Consequently, each professions will should be aware of (and perceive easy methods to apply) behavioral change data:

  • Motivational interviewing: A key approach utilized by coaches the place they ask open-ended questions meant to assist shoppers elicit their very own causes for change. Efficient motivational interviewing helps shoppers verbalize obstacles and different components out of their management but impacting their well being. In flip, this initiates a dialogue about managing these obstacles, doubtlessly 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 selections, 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 invaluable insights right into a consumer’s attitudes and beliefs towards well being behaviors together with how shoppers might be higher guided into altering.
  • Growing consumer’s sense of self-efficacy: Self-efficacy refers to a person’s confidence of their capability to realize a objective (i.e., the specified final result). Research reveals individuals who expertise excessive self-efficacy set greater 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).

Consequence of Teaching

And what’s the closing widespread thread between the work of well being coaches and private trainers? Their objective 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 periods 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.


Totally 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 stated, it’s value noting {that a} private coach is also a well being coach—and vice versa.

In any case, lots of the abilities 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 may also give you the chance to help shoppers’ wellness in a multifaceted manner.

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

In distinction, a well being coach outfitted with private coaching data might give actionable recommendations on how, precisely, a consumer might get extra energetic (as an alternative of normal suggestions like “work out thrice weekly”).

Backside line? Getting licensed in each well being teaching and private coaching might be some of the rewarding strikes a well being and wellness skilled might make. The time, cash, and energy you set into the method will probably be effectively value it. 


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