Coach or Trainer - To be or not to be ... but which one?
Updated: May 8, 2019
Is this what you think of when you hear the word “coach”😂? I'll be honest that's what I used to think. Even as a group fitness and team training instructor I tend to take the "tough love" grizzly coach approach when delivering technique and motivation cues. As a personal trainer however I definitely instruct differently.
So the question becomes, what’s the difference between a coach and a trainer; and can you be both or are they autonomous from each other? All good questions to ask and consider when looking for help with your fitness journey. Coaching and training are often used interchangeably, and that leads to confusion.
For definition’s sake let's make the distinction between coaching and training as training is about transferring knowledge while coaching is about enhancing knowledge (or skills).
In other words trainers pass on their knowledge and coaches is more about practical application and long term usability of information.
Coaching is a way to apply learning in an informed way. Training hopes that learners will remember knowledge so it can be applied. For example as a personal trainer my main goal was to provide programming for my client during our training session. All other aspects such as nutrition and positive lifestyle habits were provided as well but if not being done in my presence I could only hope that l the knowledge I had imparted to my client in these areas was being applied.
As a fitness coach, I provide ongoing daily information, knowledge, resources and programming that can be applied directly and immediately.
Another analogy albeit a bit rudimentary would be a trainer doesn’t necessarily have to have participated in the activity for which they are a trainer for but they are educated in the theories necessary to transfer knowledge (ie Athletic Trainer for a team may never have played the sport but has a degree in kinesiology based on personal interest in the human body and movement or even as a prerequisite for masters or doctorate programs).
A coach usually has been a competitor or has participated in the activity they are coaching to some degree or level. If it’s a sport then they should have some sort of national coaching credential as well. Their education may not be limited to the sport itself (ie. a coach who was a gymnast during school and their degree is in business or psychology, not Sports Management or Kinesiology).
A fitness/personal trainer tends to work one-on-one whereas a coach more often works with teams or groups ranging from 2-20 although it’s not unheard of to hire a coach for extra assistance in solo activities.
Here are a few analogies that really put into perspective the skills required for both training and coaching someone.
Trainers “tell”, coaches have “dialogue”.
Trainer instruct, coaches create partnerships.
A Trainer Develops And Delivers Your Workout. A Coach Creates And Cultivates Your Purpose.
Training Is Something You Do To Someone. Coaching Is Something You Do With Someone.
A Trainer Stretches Your Legs. A Coach Stretches Your Limits.
A Trainers Is Concerned With How Much Time You Put In. A Coach Is Concerned With How Much You Put Into The Time.
A Trainer Lights A Fire Under Someone. A Coach Lights A Fire Inside Of Someone.
A Trainer Affects The Hour They Are With Someone. A Coach Affects The Hours They Are Not With Someone.
So when you’re looking for help with creating a healthy lifestyle through targeted fitness and nutrition, what is better, a personal trainer or a fitness coach?
In my 30 years of experience and education and training, I would have to say a fitness professional who is claiming to be able to help you should have BOTH training and coaching experience, skills and credentials. The two are distinct yet complementary processes.
Ultimately you look for what you need the most help with. Are you pretty self-motivated, self-directed? A Trainer is great as they have the information you need and you can take that information and go with it. But if you are unsure how to even get started or how to stay motivated, then a coach is great for ongoing support and guidance.
Again if you can find a fitness professional that has both the education and the ability to relate on a holistic level (mind, body, spirit) to your goals then that is even better; but it's all about what you need. Just be careful and aware of the scopes of practice for each and always seek further (specific) professional advice where applicable.
Still wondering whether to look for a trainer or a coach to help you with your health & fitness goals? Feel free to contact me and I can answer any questions you may have:).