May 17, 2021
Last Updated:
May 18, 2021

Health Coach Versus Personal Trainer: The Difference

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 are wellness experts and mentors who empower clients to make personalized lifestyle changes that meet their unique physical, emotional, and dietary goals and requirements. Health 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.

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.

What do Health Coaches do?

Health 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 around physical wellness. Health 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. Health 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 Health 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 using workout plans created by the trainer. 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 can include nutrition counseling, meal planning, grocery shopping, and accountability and motivation.

Key differences

On the surface, many of the services that Health 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.

While a personal trainer’s main role is within the gym (or another fitness setting), Health Coaches typically do not meet clients on the gym floor, nor will they demonstrate how to perform exercises. While Health 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, Health Coaches work with clients to discover what they want – sessions are client-centered and client-led! Health Coaches empower clients to take control over their own lives, and during coaching sessions, clients are prompted to explore all areas of life.

Unlike time-sensitive or short-term goals that personal trainers may set, the health 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.

Health Coaches can also work in doctor’s offices, hospitals, wellness centers, spas, schools, and corporate offices. Many Health 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 a level of education required. 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 Health Coaches, certification isn’t required to practice, but attending a credible training program is recommended. Many people who decide to become a Health Coach have four-year degrees in related wellness fields, but it’s not required. There are many programs and schools that offer pathways to becoming a Health 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 Health 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.

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