Alright, gut reaction, you’re probably saying that they sound like the same thing, right? What is the different between a personal trainer and a health coach? Doesn’t personal training and health coachin both help people be healthier?
Well, as a former personal trainer that transitioned into health coaching, let me break down the difference between the two. To show the difference, you should know some common misconceptions.
Is a coach “better” than a trainer?
You’ll hear this pop up from some self-labelled coaches in the fitness space. They’ll say that a coach is an “advanced” trainer or that a coach is better than a personal trainer. They’ll try to say that a coach does a lot more or serves you a lot more.
It would be really self-serving for me, a coach, to echo that sentiment. I’d love to tell you that I’ve vastly superior to my competition and the best fit for you (now gimme money!). In reality, that’s a fairly shallow comparison and a dishonest dismissal of personal trainers.
In truth, neither is “better” until we break down what your needs are and what you’re looking for.
Do Personal Trainers and Health Coaches Do the Same Thing?
The names sound similar, and you probably think these are just different names for the same job. Even though there is a great deal of overlap, especially around giving exercise and nutrition and other healthy lifestyle recommendations, there are some distinct differences.
Speaking generally (every professional will have a different point of emphasis and skillset), Personal training is a single-facet and focused approach to improving health through fitness and exercise. The nature of the job really encourages personal trainers to lead people through an exercise program. They can suggest other healthy habits (nutrition, sleep, etc), but they really are tied and restricted to the realm of exercise prescription. This is different from health coaching. Health Coaching is often a multi-faceted approach to promoting improved health. As a health coach, I coach my clients in Mindset, Activity, Nutrition, Sleep, Stress Management, and Support.
As an aside, those six categories make up the holistic wheel. You can learn more about that on Episode 84 of the Health REBELs Podcast
Speaking generally again, there’s also a difference in how personal trainers and coaches deliver their support. Personal Trainers are far more prescriptive and dictating. They tell their clients exactly what to do and how to do it. To say it simply, they trade in WHAT. Health Coaches, if they’re truly coaches, are more suggestive and aim for imparting understanding in the client. They trade in WHY.
Personal Trainers tell you what to do to improve health and fitness.
Health Coaches help you understand why you should do something, and uses your input to suggest what to do.
Do Personal Trainers and Health Coaches Get the Same Results?
There’s definitely overlap again, but a lot of separation as well. You’ll get a bunch of different results from both personal training and health coaching, and some of those overlap.
You should get improved health, improved energy levels, and improved body composition (if you’re interested) from both.
Personal Training tends to be more specialized and specific towards OPTIMUM exercise. So you should expect faster short term changes in your body. Personal Trainers can also be… specialized. If you’re looking for an exact improvement, they can better help. If you want to improve your 5k time, get shredded for beach season, get jacked for a bodybuilding competition, lift more weight for a strength contest, personal training is laser focused on that outcome.
Health Coaching tends to be more generalized. There are a few actions we want for your health, but coaches aim more to impart understanding. Where Personal Trainers will give specific activities that hit certain variables, a coach will teach what variables you need to hit and help you figure out what activities accomplish them. I know in my practice, I’m not as interested in what is OPTIMUM, but rather what gets the job done consistently in your personalized life situations.
Because coaches give you understanding more often than dictating optimum, the short term results can be slower, but have more applications in the long term.
Ultimately, personal training gives more specific and short term outcomes. Coaching gives more understanding and longer lasting changes.
Should Personal Trainers become Coaches?
This comes back to the concept that coaches are better than trainers. Again, that’s not true.
There is also a difference in personality traits between coaches and trainers. Because of that difference, some coaches would absolutely suck as personal trainers, and some personal trainers would suck as coaches.
Likewise, some people can’t work well with coaches, but work great with personal trainers. Some people have bad experiences with personal trainers but get tremendous results with coaches. The world needs both.
I’ll be honest… I can never go back to personal training because it doesn’t match my personality. Being a bit more cerebral and concept-based, being able to help people understand what they’re aiming for and how to adapt gives me a LOT of personal satisfaction. I’m not very specific detail focused, and I’m not interested in what’s optimum.
On the other side, there are a lot of GREAT personal trainers that understand the nuance and science of program design and progression models that don’t really want to “be bothered” with explaining everything. They know what’s “best” and they want to offer nothing else. They want to help you achieve a very specific result. End of story.
Some people should be trainers, and some should be health coaches. Some clients needs trainers, and some need coaches. The world needs both, and it’s foolish to say that trainers should become coaches.
Is a coach better for you? Or a trainer?
Now that you understand a little more about what makes trainers and coaches different, let’s figure out what’s best for YOU.
Below you’ll find a series of either/or questions. I will highlight the personal training option in bold and the coaching option in italics. If you answer with more bold answers, personal training is better for you. If you answer with more italics answers, then coaching is better for you.
Are you looking for a very specific outcome, or are you looking to just feel better and healthier?
Do you need to improve one specific area (exercise, nutrition, etc), or do you need to improve a few different areas?
Would you prefer to just be told what to do, or do you want to understand why you do it?
Do you prefer support that is black and white, or support that explores grey areas?
Are you more focused on a short-term outcome (wedding, class reunion, sport event, etc), or are you looking for more long-term outcome (lifelong health, sustainable habits, Anti-aging, etc)?
If you found that you would work best with a personal trainer, that’s awesome! Not every personal trainer is the same, so check with your friends for any recommendations before going blindly into your local gym. And if wandering into your local gym is the best option for you, be sure to really interview the trainer you connect with. Nerd Fitness has a good recommendation list for how to find a good personal trainer.
If you found that a health coach is a better fit for you, I’d love to offer my health coaching to you. Health REBELs focuses on redefining healthy living because your best life lives in a healthy body. With our REBEL Oath framework, you’ll get a custom-built fitness plan, Holistic re-education training lessons, and encouraging judgement free support. To see if it the right fit for you, let’s book a time to chat and you can interview me with your needs.