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The Difference Between a Personal Trainer and a Coach

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March 15, 2023
tim saye

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One of the significant benefits of pursuing a career in fitness is that there are endless opportunities for you to consider. For example, you could train to become a personal trainer or coach.

While the job titles seem similar, and the positions are rooted in fitness and healthy living, they are much more different than you may believe.

What does a personal trainer do?

A personal trainer is a certified fitness professional who works with individuals to create and implement customized fitness plans based on their health goals, physical abilities, and lifestyle. The trainer typically meets with clients for regular one-on-one training sessions, guiding them through various exercises and activities to improve strength, flexibility, endurance, and overall fitness.

They may also provide advice on nutrition, weight management, and lifestyle modifications to complement the fitness program. Personal trainers are trained to monitor and adjust the client's progress, provide motivation and support, and ensure optimal results while minimizing the risk of injury. They may work in fitness centers, gyms, or independently, specializing in weight loss, sports conditioning, or injury rehabilitation.

Trainers can also work with their clients in small or large groups, in person, or even running remote training via platforms like PT Distinction or Zoom for live sessions.. They also can complete additional nutrition and CPD courses to expand their knowledge and work with a broader range of clients. This often takes them closer to the role of a coach.

What does a coach do?

A coach, can also be known as a wellness coach or a health coach, is also a certified fitness and health professional that focuses on creating long-term lifestyle changes for their clients.

They work with clients to develop a holistic approach to overall wellness, including diet, exercise, stress management, and other lifestyle factors. They provide guidance and support as their clients work towards developing healthier habits, and they tailor their approach based on each client's unique needs, preferences, and goals. Coaches also provide ongoing accountability, helping their clients stay on track and motivated and adjust plans when necessary. They may also provide education and resources on nutrition, mindfulness, and other aspects of wellness.

Coaches work with individuals or in group settings, and they may be employed by gyms, spas, corporate wellness programs, or other organizations, or they may work independently as entrepreneurs.

What are the differences between coaches and personal trainers?

The foundation for both job roles often is a personal training certification. As a result, there is a fair amount of overlap between their knowledge, skills, and expertise, but there are aspects where the differences between the two professions are prevalent.

Area of Focus and Support

The most apparent difference between personal trainers and coaches is the overall scope of their work. Coaches offer broader support packages centered on changing the client's lifestyle as a whole. For example, they offer healthcare and lifestyle advice instead of focusing on working out alone.

On the other hand, personal trainers spend most of their working days discussing exercise and fitness or developing new fitness plans for the people they work with. Once they've curated a fitness plan or routine for their client, they'll help ensure they stick to it and provide them with helpful advice within their scope of practice.


Both positions require some amount of studying before you can take on clients. However, the specific qualifications vary between positions. Therefore, while these courses may touch upon similar bases - such as human anatomy - they also include many modules which are specific to the role you're taking on.

For example, in the UK, personal trainers must have a Level 3 (or above) Personal Trainer Qualification, but their education continues beyond there. You can complete many CPD and additional professional courses to widen your horizon and extend your knowledge as a fitness professional. You must also remain up-to-date with the latest exercise science findings to better help your clients.

In the US, you must complete a Certified Personal Trainer qualification first and then renew it every 2-3 years. You can also complete as many additional courses as you'd like per your interests and clients' needs.

You have NASM, ACE, ISSA, and many more course providers where you can attain your certificate. In addition, most of them now provide fully online solutions.

Unlike a personal trainer, a coach takes a holistic approach to wellness and focuses on a client's overall lifestyle beyond just exercise.

Their education often starts with a personal trainer or fitness instructor qualification, but they expand into other fitness and wellness areas with the certifications they complete.

If becoming a coach is your goal, you can include specializations like Life Coach, Wellness Coach, Online Coach, Sleep Coach, Strength and Conditioning Coach, or even Nutrition Coach.

Client Base

While both operate under the umbrella of health and fitness, coaches and personal trainers also have different target audiences and clients.

A personal trainer's primary focus is creating and implementing workout plans to help clients achieve specific fitness goals such as weight loss, muscle gain, or increased endurance. So, their clients will come mostly with physical fitness-related goals. They can be people who want to become more active, learn how to exercise without getting injured, or complete a physical challenge like attending a park run or being able to run for 30 minutes.

Depending on their education and expertise, coaches specialize in multiple areas of wellness beyond fitness, such as nutrition, stress management, and lifestyle modifications. Their objective is to support and encourage healthier habits and lifestyle choices.

Their ideal clients are those who require accountability beyond workout sessions and might need help with mindset changes so they can get rid of harmful habits and build new ones. Body and lifestyle transformation clients can be one of their main niches. Coaches can also serve better people who have multiple health ailments or prefer an online service with a flexible approach to exercise, habits, and regular educational content.


While personal trainers and coaches have different areas of focus, qualifications, and client base, there is some overlap in their services. For example, both experts may offer fitness assessments, goal setting, and exercise recommendations. Coaches may also offer workout planning, and personal trainers may provide nutrition advice for their overall training plan.


Both personal trainers and coaches have ample opportunities to build a successful fitness business so long they understand their scope of practice and how their education, expertise, and skills align with their ideal clients' fitness goals and needs.

In the online space, if your goal is to minimize contact hours and maximize flexibility in your schedule, becoming a coach is a better direction for your personal development journey. Even if you have a comprehensive online personal training software like PT Distinction to take care of all the automation and client management, you'll want to understand more about habit change, coaching practices and accountability to ensure your clients get exactly what they need to succeed.

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