How to Become a Health Coach

Kelly Hopper

Kelly is a Chicago-based writer with an educational background in mass communication, digital content marketing, and creative writing. Her 20 years as a business owner and operations consultant provides unique insights through storytelling and brand journalism techniques.

Are you ready to motivate others to improve their health? If you want to become a health coach, you will likely possess critical traits and skills that inspire people while holding them accountable. However, it takes more than health knowledge to attain corporate clients or contracts with wellness centers.

As more people and companies prioritize wellness, the coaching and training sector continues to grow. Although the US Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t report on job opportunities for health coaches, it predicts an 11% growth rate for health educators through 2028. Both careers share similar responsibilities and growth reflects current sentiments expressed by consumers and executives. 

Take advantage of the shift towards health and wellness by moving into the coaching field. Discover your next steps as you head into a new adventure in the health industry.  

Female client doing abdominal crunches with ball while her personal trainer assisting her.

Decide on a health coach specialty

Health extends into every area of people’s lives. It impacts careers, families, and social activities. As a health coach, you’ll deliver personalized advice and push clients to reach their goals. Before selecting a training program or investing money into university courses, it’s a good idea to determine what type of health coaching you’ll offer.  You may even want to brainstorm some health and wellness business ideas to see if something special interests you. Three main coaching specialties include:

  • Health coach. Help clients achieve health goals by holding them responsible for outcomes. 
  • Holistic health coach. Encourage clients to adopt changes using mind and body techniques.
  • Wellness health coach. Balance your client’s physical, emotional, spiritual, occupational, intellectual, environmental, and social wellbeing.

Health coach versus personal trainers versus nutritionists

As a health coach, you’ll devise strategies and give clients goals to improve their physical wellbeing. You may suggest ways that food decisions impact overall goals, but your main focus isn’t that of a nutritionist. You serve as a mentor to motivate clients to change their lifestyle. 

Nutritionists deliver custom food guidelines specific to the health issues clients face. They may encourage physical activity, but their main focus is on what types and amounts of food help their clients become healthier. 

Personal trainers share similarities with health coaches, except their primary purpose, is training not coaching. They educate clients and provide training or rehabilitation regimens to improve fitness. Many even offer online fitness sessions. 

Select a degree or certification program

While a degree isn’t required to become a health coach, many entrepreneurs opt for a certification program that provides a pathway to credentials from the National Board for Health & Wellness Coaching (NBHWC). Others pursue an associate’s or bachelor’s degree to gain further knowledge in subjects like:

  • Psychology
  • Health sciences
  • Fitness
  • Nursing
  • Health management
  • Counseling
  • Nutrition or dietary medicine
  • Sociology
  • Behavioral therapy

Advantages of completing a health coach program

As more people dive into health coaching careers, entrepreneurs find it difficult to differentiate themselves from competitors. A health coach certification or degree enhances your reputation and provides credibility. Furthermore, corporate clients, like health insurance firms or wellness studios, prefer health coaches with documented skill sets.

How to choose a health coach program 

For starters, research accredited certification programs. Two accrediting agencies include the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) and the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools. 

Next, assess the format and time to completion. Many schools offer virtual classes, on-campus sessions, or a combination of both. You’ll spend three months to one year while studying for a health coach certification. 

Another key point is if your classes count towards Continuing Coach Education (CCE) credits or are transferable to four-year degrees. CCE credits are often accredited by the International Coach Federation (ICF).

Finally, make sure any certifications lead you towards accreditation with the NBHWC. These extra credentials mean you can call yourself a board-certified health coach. 

Explore popular health coach programs

The growing popularity of the health and wellness industry means more schools and online education centers offer various health certifications. With so many choices, it’s tough to choose just one! Below are a few top recommendations:

  • The American Council on Exercise (ACE) health coach certification is accredited by the NCCA. It also partners with several organizations for approved continuing education hours. Plus, the ACE certification is affordable and available online. 
  • The Institute for Integrative Nutrition (IIN) is accredited by the New York State Department of Education. It provides up to 29 college credits that students can use towards a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctorate. 
  • The National Society of Health Coaches (NSHC) program is only available to licensed healthcare professionals. However, it’s a prestigious certificate of completion that uses evidence-based health coaching. 

Get real-life experience

Degrees and certifications are great, and for some clients, they’re necessary. But people who hire coaches want to see your experience in real life fitness centers, clinical services, or other people-related services. And if you’re going to fund your health coaching business, you need to prove that you have the business skills and experience that’ll help you pay off debts. 

Ways to gain credibility through employment or volunteering  

Many soon-to-be health coaches gain experience by working at local fitness studios or rehabilitation centers. Look for full or part-time positions that provide insights into how different health businesses function and what health clients expect from each service. Other ways to explore the world of health coaching include:

  • Work with a local chiropractor to assist with coaching services.
  • Teach yoga, Zumba, or other health-related classes. 
  • Volunteer at a local community health program for adults or children
  • Speak about healthy life decisions at a regional event.
  • Partner with a health food cafe or school to guide decision making. 

Define your health coach career path

While working on a certificate and joining the workforce, take time to think about your future as a health coach. Explore niche options along with self-employment versus joining a wellness center or private practice. 

What’s your health coaching niche? 

Start by asking yourself what problem you’ll solve for others. Next, define who those “others” are in terms of demographics and psychographics. For example, what types of employers benefit from your services? Will you move towards a clinical setting and work alongside doctors and nutritionists? Or will your co-workers be massage therapists and spa service providers? 

If you want to start a business, then think about your ideal clients. Do you want to work with individuals or corporate clients? Will you go to offices and homes or open a private wellness center? 

Once you know your potential clients, you can dive into ways to further develop your niche. Your information helps you narrow down your specialties into distinct areas like:

  • Corporate health and wellness coaching where you design and implement company programs to enhance emotional and physical wellbeing
  • One-on-one coaching sessions with consumers focused on fitness and diet changes to support better health
  • Diet or exercise-specific coaching where you tailor services to clients who want organic or paleo lifestyles or those with specific conditions limiting their exercise or food choices

Seek employment as a health coach

Many professionals work in the industry for a few years while gaining insights into health coaching and running a company. Others find their passion and decide to hold off on self-employment because they want extra stability or educational opportunities. 

Joining the right organization opens doors via networking connections, paid education programs, and access to the latest industry reports. If you’re unsure about your health coach niche, then discover your path by working different positions in health centers or a clinical setting. 

Start a health coaching business

As a private or corporate health coach, you define your business hours, services, and techniques. You’re also responsible for finding and maintaining a client base. Starting a business requires financial, legal, and marketing knowledge. Health coaches often turn to self-employment to expand their reach and income. Many start their business as a part-time gig by:

  • Developing a website and blog that provides support for those looking to improve their health
  • Posting coaching videos on social channels like YouTube, Instagram, or Facebook
  • Getting published in authoritative websites or health-focused magazines
  • Creating digital eBooks or other health guides for consumers or corporations

Take the next step to become a health coach

Experience the satisfying arena of health coaching by moving towards your goal. Regardless of where you are on your path, you can build an online presence and a network of like-minded individuals. Doing so gives you a head start once you seek employment or start your health coaching business. Explore your future by speaking with an expert in wellness.

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