Improve your business
Guides & Templates
Fitness Coach Versus Personal Trainer: What’s the Difference?

Fitness Coach Versus Personal Trainer: What’s the Difference?

Learn the difference between a fitness coach versus a personal trainer and which role is right for you. Find out how to become either.


When you think about fitness coaching, you likely imagine people working out at a gym. You probably visualize an in-person training session — someone guiding their client through weight lifting, cardio, stretching, etc. 

You may not picture a client on their phone with a motivational coach, talking about making changes to their health without a dumbbell in hand or a yoga mat beneath them.

Personal trainers (PTs) aren’t the only wellness professionals that help clients reach their fitness goals. Depending on the outcomes clients strive for, they might need a fitness coach instead. This person will motivate them to overcome roadblocks and stick to the advice of trainers and doctors. 

If you’re looking to help people along their fitness journeys, one of these roles might be right for you. This guide discusses fitness coaches versus personal trainers, so you can find a career you love.

The two sides of the fitness industry

Coaching can’t replace physical training and vice versa, so when clients have a goal they wish to achieve, working with a range of professionals can help. Both fitness coaches and personal trainers want to help clients reach their health and physical fitness goals and have some knowledge of the human body, nutrition, and exercise. But these two fitness professionals come at clients’ goals from different angles.

Coaches guide clients but typically don’t create workout routines or meal plans, accompany their clients’ on runs, or spot them when lifting weights. We’ll discuss each career in more detail to understand how these professionals help their clients. 

What is personal training?

Personal trainers design workout plans and training sessions and guide their clients through them. They often lead group classes or one-on-one sessions to provide advice on exercise form and help clients complete workouts. These plans are usually designed to get clients to their weight loss or strength training goals. 

Athletic trainers can work at homes, gyms, and studios — wherever the client feels comfortable and has access to the necessary equipment.

Becoming a personal trainer

Personal trainers must be highly knowledgeable about the body and exercise to help clients meet their health goals and ensure they don’t get hurt. Strict personal trainer requirements help meet these standards.

Personal trainers must complete a certification process at an institution focusing on sports medicine that offers a PT program and earn their CPR certification. They will also need an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) certificate. 

Some institutions that offer personal trainer certifications include:

What does a fitness coach do?

A fitness coach is trained to understand their clients’ weaknesses and motivational shortfalls, so they can help them change bad habits for good. They focus on short and long-term goals and have a broad bandwidth regarding the fitness goals they can help a client with. 

Trained fitness coaches will:

  • Learn about clients’ medical histories
  • Help clients determine and execute an effective action plan
  • Educate clients about healthy diet, exercise, and stress management habits 
  • Help clients adopt a healthy lifestyle 
  • Track progress and shift goals and strategies as needed 
  • Refer clients to healthcare professionals for issues that need attention


Becoming a fitness coach

Fitness coaches take a comprehensive approach to helping clients with their health. Here are the basic steps to becoming a fitness coach:

Get educated

We recommend earning a degree in exercise science and nutrition. You won’t be giving medical advice, but you should understand the conditions clients are working to treat. 

After getting a college-level degree in a related field, we recommend continuing your education with specialized courses in health science. You can also gain second-hand experience by chatting with other fitness coaches online or in your area. Perhaps one of them will let you shadow their practice. 

Create a business plan

Once you’re ready to take on clients, create a business plan. Determine the kinds of services, coaching packages, and prices you’ll offer. Do market research to find a price point that’s similar to other wellness services in your area. Then, open up shop and begin marketing your business. 

Stay organized

We recommend starting off right by using a customer relationship management (CRM) system. As new clients roll in, you’ll be able to store client data, send messages, and receive payment — all in one place. A solid messaging system is especially essential for fitness coaches because they may want to closely support their clients between sessions.

Trainer versus coach: which is right for you?

Physical trainers and fitness coaches may help clients work toward similar goals, but they do so in different ways. If you’re interested in the health sciences but don’t require the endorphin rush that comes with in-person workout support, leave the sweating to the personal trainers and become a fitness coach.

Regardless of which profession you choose, let Practice help you organize your clients so you can focus on driving results. Get started today.

Free content

Give your clients a simple and professional experience

Practice has scheduling, payments, client management, file storage and more — all in one place.
Try for free

Simple client management designed for teams

Delegate, collaborate, and oversee your client base across your team — without missing a step.
Learn more
Are you a coach? Take our quiz to find out if Practice is a good fit for you
Get started
Get a simple and professional experience for you and your clients
Get started
Text Link