Health Coach vs. Personal Trainer: Key Differences and Similarities

Customers not view “wellness” merely as “improved health and diet,” however, as a substitute, 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 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 under 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 purchasers enhance their total well-being and well being by equipping them with the mandatory information of sound diet ideas and way of life habits.

Well being coaches information purchasers by means of constructing self-care abilities, habits, and wholesome behaviors essential for optimum wellness. In consequence, they may help with all kinds of well being points—from managing continual circumstances 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 shopper’s private well being “cheerleader”; they assist a shopper discover the instruments they should make higher way of life selections and obtain their well being targets.

What Does a Private Coach Do?

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

They design health applications, exhibit correct train execution, assess progress, and regulate coaching plans as wanted. Relying 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 Meals Pyramid.  

Key Variations Between a Well being Coach and a Private Coach

Scope of Follow

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 type, 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 sort out, equivalent to stress administration, sleep hygiene, and numerous way of life habits (e.g., alcohol and nicotine use).  

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

In the end, well being coaches do not have the identical coaching and certifications as medical professionals—like medical doctors, psychiatrists, or dietitians.

Meaning they can not diagnose a medical situation (e.g., common nervousness dysfunction) or try to deal with it. Be aware: 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 information as health specialists. What does that imply?

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

Whereas a well being coach might information the shopper into staying per 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 variations in response to coaching, and progressive overload—foundations important to a well-designed “hypertrophy exercise program.”  

The identical applies throughout all health targets, 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 means of web-conferencing instruments).

This contrasts with private trainers, who often work with purchasers bodily in a health club or another sort of health facility setting.

In fact, it’s price noting that private trainers also can 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 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 many principal causes for that is that it’s usually difficult for a private coach to make sure correct train type remotely.

This may very well be as a consequence of a restricted viewing angle (e.g., the digicam solely captures a shopper’s aspect profile) or a misunderstanding of verbal teaching cues (some purchasers 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 possible should meet with a shopper face-to-face in a health facility—particularly in the event that they haven’t 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 totally different that similarities are unimaginable. So, it’d shock you to study that the 2 professions share loads of frequent 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 might 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 no 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 rules should not stringent, each professions at the moment are recognized to uphold a unified code of ethics, training, 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 accepted greater than eighty well being and wellness coach coaching applications all through the USA. FYI: AFPA’s well being coach applications 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 applications that meet and adjust to its requirements. AFPA’s private coaching applications 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 not diagnose medical circumstances or deal with them, interpret medical check outcomes, suggest dietary supplements, and even prescribe meal plans (i.e., mandate {that a} shopper should observe a specific approach of consuming).

Every time needed, 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 means of traumatic experiences: A scenario 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 assessments and develop an appropriate therapy plan. As soon as once more, well being coaches and private trainers can’t diagnose or deal with medical circumstances. 
  • 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 suggestions for better sleep hygiene (e.g., avoiding display screen time earlier than bedtime and protecting the bed room cool)—nothing extra.

A Associate Relationship that is Centered Round Behavioral Change

One other essential 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 shopper by means of a step-by-step course of of fixing their lives for the higher.

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

As an alternative, all purchasers will usually undergo an “onboarding” session, the place they’ll should fill out a well being historical past, give the coach an concept of the place they presently stand (health stage for the non-public coach, present way of life habits for the well being coach), and what, precisely, they’re hoping to attain by means of teaching.

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

In consequence, each professions will should be conversant in (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. Efficient 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, probably paving the best way towards the adoption of varied health-promoting behaviors (that make sense for them).
  • Well being conduct change frameworks: A shopper’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 worthwhile 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.
  • Growing shopper’s sense of self-efficacy: Self-efficacy refers to a person’s confidence of their skill to attain a aim (i.e., the specified consequence). Research reveals individuals who expertise excessive self-efficacy set increased targets and put extra effort into altering conduct. As such, each well being coaches and private trainers ought to focus their efforts on growing a shopper’s self-efficacy ranges (e.g., with goal-setting and constructive psychology).

Consequence of Teaching

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

On the finish 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 periods with a clearer concept of the following step to take. Merely put, they need to really feel like you could have 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 shopper wishing to get in higher form could refer them to a private coach. A private coach with a shopper complaining about feeling overwhelmed by every day stressors, alternatively, 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 abilities you could have developed as a private coach are transferable and related in a well being coach function. Along with an expanded shopper base, being licensed in each may also give you the chance to help purchasers’ wellness in a multifaceted approach.

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

In distinction, a well being coach outfitted with private coaching information might give actionable recommendations on how, precisely, a shopper might get extra lively (as a substitute of common suggestions like “work out thrice weekly”).

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


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