May 17, 2021
Last Updated:
January 16, 2024

What’s the Difference? Coaching Vs. Personal Training

Today, we understand that fitness and wellness aren’t just important; they’re necessary. Many people know the basics of wellness – eat right and exercise – but often don’t have the knowledge needed to make concrete, sustainable changes in their lives. This is where Health Coaches and personal trainers come in. They act as mentors and guide clients to make the changes they’re seeking. The way Health Coaches and personal trainers approach these changes, however, is one thing that makes them different. So, if you’re seeking to make a change in your life, should you work with a Health Coach or a trainer?

What is a Health Coach?

Health Coaches emphasize health beyond the plate and focus on nourishment through primary food, one of IIN’s core concepts. Primary food consists of all the non-food areas of your life – like relationships, career, spirituality, exercise, and environment – that impact health just as much as food itself. Health Coaches are a specific type of wellness coach and have earned the title through training and certification programs that cover all aspects of health and wellness.

What is a Coach?

Coaches are wellness experts and mentors who empower clients to make personalized lifestyle changes that meet their unique physical, emotional, and dietary goals and requirements. Coaches work with clients to help them discover how to best fuel their bodies, live healthy lives, and find the best wellness routines to fit their specific lifestyles. How they go about this depends entirely on what type of coach they are, what areas of wellness they focus on, and the type of clients they work with.

What do Coaches do?

Coaches work with clients to help them meet goals unique to their individual needs. Coaches typically assist in implementing strategies to improve aspects of their clients’ lives, often (but not always) focused on physical wellness. Coaches also help with other kinds of health goals, whether mental, emotional, spiritual, financial, or anything else the client needs help with.

Clients can work with coaches one-on-one, in a group setting, in person, or virtually. Coaching serves as a complement to services provided by more traditional wellness practitioners, like nutritionists, dietitians, physicians, therapists, and personal trainers. The goal of a coach’s work is to act as a support system, provide accountability, and work with clients to curate a personalized blueprint for success, keeping holistic health in mind the entire way.

What is a personal trainer and what do they do?

Traditionally, personal trainers focus on the exercise aspect of a client’s wellness regimen. This could include meeting with the client to discuss and determine fitness goals before working with them in a gym or home setting, as well as creating personalized workout plans that can evolve over time as you improve your physical fitness. In whatever setting they are working, trainers also demonstrate how to correctly use equipment, warm up properly for workouts, and stretch to prevent injury.

Additionally, personal trainers may assist their clients with nutrition (if they have the training and education to do so) and general fitness motivation. This could include nutrition counseling, meal planning, grocery shopping, and accountability and motivation.

Key differences

On the surface, many of the services that coaches and personal trainers provide are the same. Both help their clients with exercise and diet recommendations as well as provide support and encouragement while clients pursue fitness goals. However, there are some key differences.

live a life you love as a health coach guide opt in banner

While a personal trainer’s key role is within the gym (or another fitness setting), coaches typically do not meet clients on the gym floor, nor will they demonstrate how to perform exercises. While coaches can be employed by gyms, their work is separate from that of a personal trainer and coaching sessions occur either before or after a training session.

Instead of instructing clients on what they need to change to achieve goals, like personal trainers do, coaches work with clients to discover what they want – sessions are client-centered and client-led! Coaches empower clients to take control over their own lives, and during coaching sessions, clients are encouraged to explore how to improve all areas of life.

Unlike time-sensitive or short-term goals that personal trainers may set, the coaching process is long-term and ongoing, even if coaches only work with a client for six months or a year. Helping clients create sustainable habits ensures their progress can be maintained.

Coaches can also work in doctor’s offices, hospitals, wellness centers, spas, schools, and corporate offices. Many coaches choose to become their own employers, opening private practices in the form of in-person or virtual businesses.

Training requirements

With both health coaching and personal training, there is specific education needed. For personal trainers, this often includes enrolling in a degree program that focuses on exercise science, physical education, sports medicine, or kinesiology as well as:

For coaches, certification isn’t required to practice, but attending a credible training program is recommended and can benefit your Health Coaching career in the long run. Health Coaches with proper certification can earn more money, and can practice safely by earning a credible education, as well as pursuing board certification if they want to further demonstrate their expertise (and get educated by a program recognized by the National Board for Health and Wellness Coaching).

Many people who decide to become a coach also have four-year degrees in related wellness fields but going to college isn’t the only way to gain educational experience when it comes to Health Coaching. There are many programs and schools that offer pathways to becoming a coach, including IIN’s Health Coach Training Program.

Should you become a Health Coach or personal trainer?

As more people recognize the benefit and value healthy living brings to improving overall well-being – contributing to lower healthcare costs and reducing the rate of chronic disease – the demand for guidance in these spaces continues to rise. Whether you should become a personal trainer or a coach really depends on your desired career path, how you want to impact your clients’ lives, and how focused you want to be on their fitness as part of their overall health and wellness. Both professions can make positive impacts on the lives of clients for years to come.

Author Biography
Katy Weniger
IIN Content Writer

Katy holds a bachelor’s in English with a concentration in creative writing and advertising from Rider University. After jobs in the field of finance, she wanted to transition to an industry that focused on helping others be their best selves, and discovered IIN.

Read Full Biography
Profile picture







Latest post on Instagram

The Original Health Coaching Program

Learn more about IIN’s rigorous curriculum that integrates 90+ of the world’s leading experts in health and wellness, blending the scientific and the spiritual to create an immersive, holistic health education.

Blog Article Curriculum Guide V2 (small/tokens)

Health Coach Training Guide

By clicking 'Download Now', I consent to Integrative Nutrition and its affiliates contacting me by email at the address provided and/or by telephone at the number provided (by live, automated, or prerecorded phone calls or text messages) about the products and services offered by Integrative Nutrition and its affiliates. I understand that my consent is not required for enrollment and may be withdrawn. This page is protected by Google reCAPTCHA.