Fitness Coach vs. Personal TrainerFitness Coach vs. Personal TrainerFitness Coach vs. Personal Trainer

Health and well-being are a priority for people worldwide. In fact, in a McKinsey & Co. survey of 7,500 consumers in six countries (including the U.S.), 79% of respondents said wellness is important and 42% rated it as their top concern.

The importance of fitness to overall wellness makes exercise science an in-demand field that helps people become physically and mentally healthy. Fitness coaches and personal trainers, among other exercise professionals, can help people address their commitment to wellness. These professionals work to ensure people have health and exercise programs that meet their needs. When developing individualized health plans, fitness coaches and personal trainers consider factors such as age, health and fitness levels, interests, and body type.

The nation’s focus on health and well-being is helping fuel the demand for fitness trainers and instructors, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The BLS predicts the field will add 121,700 positions between 2020 and 2030 — 39% growth. By comparison, the average projected job growth for all careers is 8%.

A bachelor’s degree in exercise science can provide a solid foundation for becoming a fitness coach or personal trainer. If you’re considering these professions and how to prepare for them, a good start is to gain an understanding of the similarities and differences between the roles of fitness coach versus personal trainer.

A personal trainer spots a client lifting weights.

Definitions: Fitness Coach vs. Personal Trainer

Fitness coaches and personal trainers lead people in exercise and encourage a healthy lifestyle. Fitness coaches help people develop healthy habits that contribute to emotional and social well-being in addition to physical fitness. While personal trainers’ work can address their clients’ overall wellness, these professionals’ main focus is on exercise and workout programs.

Fitness Coach

Fitness coaches help people achieve long-term health and fitness goals in areas such as weight management and body shaping. They coach their clients to develop a healthy lifestyle through plans that often include the exercise and workout programs that are part of personal training. But fitness coaches’ work tends to focus on other aspects of fitness, with tasks typically including the following:

  • Interviewing clients to learn about their medical and health histories
  • Guiding clients in setting long-term goals to improve their overall health and fitness levels
  • Working with clients to develop good habits in diet and stress management
  • Advising clients on strategies for adopting healthy lifestyle habits in areas such as exercise, nutrition, and disease prevention
  • Conducting routine health checks and referring clients to healthcare professionals when necessary
  • Monitoring client progress toward health and fitness goals, encouraging healthy habits and adjusting strategies

Personal Trainer

Personal trainers are exercise science professionals who work with clients to help them become more physically fit. They design workouts and lead training sessions, correcting exercise form and adjusting training plans as needed. Their tasks typically include:

  • Designing and leading one-on-one or small-group exercise programs customized to the skill level and fitness goals of clients
  • Assessing client fitness levels
  • Using knowledge of human anatomy and exercise science to guide clients through fitness routines
  • Encouraging and motivating clients
  • Modeling exercises and teaching clients proper form, exercise variations, and modifications
  • Providing feedback and corrections to clients during exercise

Similarities Between Fitness Coaches and Personal Trainers

The work of fitness coaches and personal trainers is similar; both seek to help people become and remain healthy. Comparing the roles of fitness coach versus personal trainer reveals some similarities.

Focus on Fitness

Fitness coaches and personal trainers can play a crucial part in helping people reach their fitness goals. Both mentor clients about making lifestyle changes that can enhance their well-being. Fitness coaches and personal trainers include exercise planning in their efforts to assist clients. They put their own passion for fitness and helping others to work as they motivate and inspire others.

Knowledge of Exercise Science

Expertise in exercise science generally is a prerequisite to becoming a fitness coach or personal trainer. Education and certification focused on topics such as exercise techniques, anatomy, biology, and nutrition can provide the health and fitness knowledge these roles demand. These professionals also may specialize in a variety of areas related to health and fitness, from working with different age groups to leading specific types of exercise.

Employers of fitness coaches and personal trainers often prefer professionals to be certified. Fitness-related certifications generally require applicants to prepare for and take an exam. These certifications also typically require those seeking these credentials to be certified in CPR and the use of an automated external defibrillator (AED).

Fitness coaches and personal trainers must commit to continuous learning to stay abreast of the latest exercise and health techniques and trends. Continuing education also is a common requirement for maintaining certifications.

Location of Work

The two career paths offer opportunities to work for gyms or as entrepreneurs who provide their services in clients’ homes or in a rented office, in public places, or virtually. These professionals also can work with groups of people or with individual clients. Experienced fitness coaches and personal trainers can pursue leadership roles at gyms and other health and fitness facilities.

Differences Between Fitness Coaches and Personal Trainers

Despite their commonalities, there are clear differences between the fitness coach and personal trainer professions. Fitness coaches’ work is generally more comprehensive in scope, and each role has different options for certifications.

Scope of Practice

Fitness coaches take a broader approach to health and well-being, addressing the physical and emotional aspects of healthier lifestyles. They incorporate approaches related to fitness psychology to condition clients to behave in ways that motivate them to achieve — and maintain — their desired fitness levels, sharpen their focus, and enhance their performance.

Personal trainers’ work generally focuses more specifically on physical fitness. These professionals develop personalized programs with exercises that target the physical changes their clients want to achieve.

Types of Certification

When examining differences in certifications for fitness coaches versus personal trainers, it’s important to note that many certifying organizations offer credentials related to both careers. These credentials can build on exercise science education and experience to show an additional level of expertise.

American Council on Exercise

The American Council on Exercise (ACE) offers programs for personal trainers and health coaches, as well as other types of professionals. Personal training certification focuses on exercise science fundamentals, while health coach certification addresses encouraging lasting lifestyle changes.

American College of Sports Medicine

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) offers many exercise-related certifications. The one for personal trainers can enhance fitness professionals’ skills in developing health, fitness, and wellness plans.

International Sports Sciences Association

The International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA) provides personal trainer and health coach certifications. To become ISSA certified, personal trainers focus on topics such as motivation and exercise science, while health coaches study the physical and mental aspects of wellness.

National Academy of Sports Medicine

Personal trainer and wellness coach are two of the certifications the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) offers. The personal trainer credential shows knowledge of areas such as client relations and exercise techniques. The wellness coach one focuses on a whole-body approach to a healthy lifestyle.

National Strength and Conditioning Association

The National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) offers a personal trainer certification. It helps fitness professionals build expertise in designing safe and effective exercise programs.

Launch the Fitness Career Right for You

Fitness coaches and personal trainers help individuals lead healthier lives. Fitness coaches incorporate physical and mental aspects of well-being into their work with clients, whereas personal trainers focus primarily on physical fitness. If you’re ready to assist people in their wellness efforts through one of these in-demand exercise science roles, explore Maryville University’s online Bachelor of Science in Exercise Science program.

The curriculum can give you the knowledge of exercise science you need to begin a career focused on movement, nutrition, exercise, counseling and coaching, and behavioral strategies. And the program offers a state-of-the-art education with the flexibility and convenience of online learning.

Whether you want to work in fitness coaching, personal training, or another area of fitness, let Maryville’s online bachelor’s in exercise science help you take a brave step toward a rewarding and in-demand career.

Recommended Reading

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American College of Sports Medicine, ACSM Certification

American Council on Exercise

Coach Foundation, “The Beginner’s Guide to Becoming a Fitness Coach”

Houston Chronicle, “Fitness Coach Qualifications”

Institute for Integrative Nutrition, “Health Coach vs. Personal Trainer: The Difference”

International Sports Science Association, Become a Certified Fitness Coach

International Sports Science Association, Certified Personal Trainer

International Sports Science Association, “Health Coach vs. Personal Trainer — Which Is Right for You?”

McKinsey & Co., “Feeling Good: The Future of the $1.5 Trillion Wellness Market”

MindBodyBuild, “Personal Trainer vs. Fitness Coach Benefits on Health”

M-Power Fitness, “Fitness Coaching vs. Personal Training: Which One Is More Beneficial to Have?”

National Academy of Sports Medicine, Become a Certified Personal Trainer

National Academy of Sports Medicine, NASM Certified Wellness Coach

National Federation of Personal Trainers, Personal Trainer Job Description

National Institute for Exercise & Wellness, “What Is the Difference Between a Personal Trainer and a Fitness Coach?”

National Strength and Conditioning Association, Become an NSCA-Certified Personal Trainer

The Physiological Society, “Why Study Sport and Exercise Science?”

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Fitness Trainers and Instructors

Verywell Mind, “What Is Sports Psychology?”

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