What Is a Health Coach?

As a Certified Health Coach and a Personal Trainer, I am often asked about the difference between the two disciplines. Almost everyone knows what a Certified Personal Trainer does. But what do we think of when we hear the words Certified Health Coach? To learn what exactly a health coach does, let’s compare health coaching to personal training to first learn what it is NOT.

The Difference Between a Health Coach and a Personal Trainer

Personal Training

Personal trainers, or athletic coaches, are fitness experts who share their knowledge with their clients. They use their experience and their knowledge to develop and implement unique fitness programs based on the needs of their clients. Personal trainers conduct health-history interviews and assist clients with goal setting and then design a program to achieve those goals. Trainers teach correct exercise methods and form using cues and spotting techniques. They may train in a one-on-one setting or a small group at a gym or fitness center. That seems clear enough!

Health Coaching

Health coaching is very different. Although the end goal may be the same – to lose weight, improve strength, improve eating habits, etc., a very different approach is used. Health coaches focus more on psychology than on physiology when working with clients.  Coaching focuses on the process of change by using mindset strategies, motivation, goal setting and accountability. Health coaches facilitate self-discovery and help the client close the gap between who they are now and who they want to be in the future. Coaches may work with clients one-on-one or in small groups and they may meet in an office or via phone or video-conferencing.

Most people know they need to eat better and they need to move more. That isn’t the problem.  Just because we know we “should” do something and we may even “want” to do something, it doesn’t mean we “will” do it. This is where health coaching comes in.

Why Health Coaches are an Important Part of the Health Care System

If you think about the last time you went to visit your physician, how much time did you spend with him? Perhaps you were there for a physical or maybe you were there because you were sick. Either way, you probably didn’t spend more than 15 minutes there. You may have received a lab slip or some medication or a referral to another physician. But did your doctor tell you what you need to do to stay healthy or improve your health? If you need to lose weight, was your doctor open with you and sit down and talk about a diet vs a lifestyle change and what is preferred? Did you discuss healthy habits and prevention? Probably not. The truth is, a doctor’s main focus and training is on treating acute symptoms, which continues to get more specialized by the day.

Doctors just don’t have the time to spend with you to go through the lengthy behavior change process. They also don’t have the training or skills to help you change. They are highly skilled in other areas, but helping you to stop snacking after dinner, find the motivation to go to the gym, or eat more vegetables are not areas they are trained in.

The good news is that many doctors are now partnering with Health Coaches and even have Health Coaches in their offices!! Why?

Even the Federal Government Recognizes a Serious Problem and a Need for Health Coaches

Lifestyle-related chronic diseases are at the heart of the health care crisis in the United States. The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have deemed chronic disease “the public health challenge of the 21st century”.  Decades of research have linked lifestyle factors, such as inactivity, with increased risk for major illnesses and death.


Attempts to reduce these lifestyle-related chronic diseased and costs have proven to be financially unsustainable within a system that rewards hospitalizations and invasive procedures. A large gap exists between health care provider recommendations and sustainable health-related behavior change.


Health Coaches are a new type of health care worker who serve as wellness guides and supportive mentors. They motivate individuals to cultivate positive health choices and move them toward those specific goals. There are an increasing number of studies that show the effectiveness of health coaches in improving individual health and wellness.(www.congress.gov)

Why Work With a Health Coach?

Coaching facilitates the behavior change process by helping clients explore and build their internal motivation for change.  Personal training uses an “expert” approach where the trainer is the expert and tells the client what to do. Health coaching uses a “collaborative” approach with the assumption that the client has the answer within. Health Coaches guide the client to help raise the client’s awareness.

The client is in the driver’s seat when working with a health coach and is in the passenger’s seat when working with a personal trainer.

Health coaches empower clients to find their own answers using motivational interviewing techniques, powerful questioning, and reflection. Coaches help their clients understand why they do what they do which often ties back to self-limiting beliefs or a disconnect between their values and actions.

12 Reasons to Work With a Health Coach

As discussed by Wellcoaches, there are 12 themes or reasons why someone decides to work with a Health Coach. They:

  1. are tired of quick fixes. They are ready to make a lifestyle change.
  2. have decided that their health and wellness is their most precious asset.
  3. are ready to get off the fence and take action on their wellness goals.
  4. realize that well-being is more important than weight loss.
  5. want to be in charge of their health and wellness journey instead of delegating the responsibility to physicians, nutritionists, and trainers.
  6. want to develop their own unique style of health instead of using meal plans and prescribed exercise regimes.
  7. know what they need to do and how they want to master the mental aspects of living a healthy lifestyle.
  8. recognize that to be at their best professionally and personally, they need to improve their health and wellness.
  9. are ready to take small, consistent steps to move in the direction of their goals instead of crash diets and extreme weight loss programs.
  10. want to build their confidence in their ability to master wellness.
  11. would like to succeed at the wellness game instead of starting diets only to stop.
  12. want to close the gap between where they are today and where they want to be in the future.

If you have tried diets in the past that worked for a few weeks, but then you went back to your old “habits” or if you lack consistency in your exercise routine, health coaching may be for you. By exploring current behaviors, values, goals, habits, and motivation, a health coach can help you uncover what has been preventing you from reaching your goals.

Check out my coaching packages and my coaching programs to learn more!

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