Personal trainer, nutritionist, diet coach, wellness coach, health coach.. you’ve probably heard one or two of those titles before. But if you’ve been wondering what they mean, and just how exactly you can become one.. then keep reading. Learning how to get started in the health and wellness industry just may be the sign you’ve been looking for to find a fulfilling career that inspires others and makes a difference.
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What is a Health and Wellness Coach?
A health and wellness coach is someone who has made it their career to educate and motivate clients to live healthier lives.
There are all sorts of niches that can be found under the umbrella term of a health and wellness coach. Some coaches may focus on holistic living, others may focus on behavior and habits, while others may coach on nutrition, fitness, yoga, etc.
While it’s true that anyone can refer to themself as a “coach,” clients pursuing the advice and guidance of a wellness or fitness coach should always check to make sure that individual has the proper education, credentials, or certifications to back up their title.
Types of Wellness Coaches
A certified personal trainer is someone who focuses on coaching exercise and fitness for their clients. This could include programming workouts for weight loss, bodybuilding, strength and conditioning, sports training, 1:1 personal training, or group fitness classes.
Specialized Coach (Yoga, Running, Spin)
Personal trainers, or those certified in specific areas of fitness, may choose to narrow their niche even further, obtaining credentials in and working specifically in specialized areas. Examples of this include yoga and pilates instructors, spin instructors, group fitness, sports and athletic training, running coaches, etc.
A nutrition coach is someone who is degreed (Registered Dietitian) or certified in some form of nutrition. This can encompass a general nutrition and wellness approach, to more specific areas of nutrition, such as plant-based eating, autoimmune nutrition, gut health, and more.
Behavior Change Coach
A behavior change coach, also sometimes referred to as a mindfulness coach, is someone who helps their clients focus on habits. This can be the adoption of new, healthy habits, as well as earning to let go of negative habits.
Similar to a behavior change coach, a life coach is someone who helps focus on an area (or areas) of a client’s life they are looking for guidance and change. This can be in the realm of personal development, career changes, stress management, or other areas where a change is desired.
How to Become a Health Coach Without a Degree
If you’re worried that it’s “too late” to shift your career into the health and wellness industry because you don’t have a college degree in a related field… it’s really time to shift your mindset and self-limiting beliefs. Because it’s never too late to start something new.
While there are a lot of great degree programs available, and a lot of amazing experts that hold those degrees, it’s not a requirement for becoming an expert yourself.
There are plenty of certification programs available to help you become a personal trainer, nutritionist, holistic health coach, and more. And the best part is that many of them can be done self-study and online so that you can fit your program into your current busy lifestyle.
Best Health Coach Programs
What to Look For in a Program
When researching certifying programs you want to ask the following questions:
- Is this program accredited?
- Is this program recognized in the industry?
- Does this program fit my vision for the type of coach I want to become?
- What are my state laws and regulations in regards to working with this type of certification?
- What is the timeline for completion?
- Is continuing education required to maintain this certification?
Best Accredited Coaching Programs
National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM)
The National Academy of Sports Medicine is one of the most recognized and highest regarded certifying bodies for personal training for over 35 years.
Their student count is impressive, with over 1.4 million professionals educated, in over 100 countries, and over 10k gym partnerships.
NASM is also accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCAA), and is governed by a NASM/AFAA Certification Board.
NASM is known as an industry leader in personal training certifications, and they also offer courses and specializations in nutrition, group fitness, bodybuilding, wellness coaching, corrective exercise, weight loss specialization, and more.
NASM is where I obtained my personal training certification and while the program was not easy by any stretch of the imagination, my time, energy, and education was well worth it.
American Council on Exercise (ACE)
American Council on Exercise (ACE) is another well known and highly respected certification program that, like NASM, is also accredited by the NCAA.
Most popularly known for personal trainer programs, ACE also offers certification programs in group fitness, health coaching, medical exercise, nutrition, functional training, weight management, behavior change, senior fitness, orthopedic fitness, youth fitness, pilates, and more.
ACE also offers a specialized cancer exercise training program.
ACE is where I obtained my behavior change specialization and I loved the self-study and the course material that came with my program.
American Fitness Professionals and Associates (AFPA)
The AFPA has been around for over 27 years, with 130,000+ students certified, over 30 programs, and a 98.9% student satisfaction rating.
Topics of study range from nutrition certifications, health coach certifications, fitness certifications, personal trainer certifications, bundle options, and continuing education courses.
Personally, after months of research, I opted to obtain my first nutrition certification through the AFPA, completing the Nutrition + Wellness Consultant certification (you can read about my experience obtaining my first certification through the AFPA here).
I followed this up with the Autoimmune Holistic Nutritionist Specialization course in 2022, and am currently enrolled in the Gut Heath Nutrition Specialist course – all through the AFPA.
The AFPA is also accredited by an extensive list of executive bodies, including: the American Naturopathic Medical Accreditation Board (ANMAB), American Association of Drugless Practitioners (AADP), National Board for Health & Wellness Coaching (NBHWC), International Practitioners of Holistic Medicine (IPHM), International Institute for Complementary Therapists (IICT), National Association of Nutrition Professionals (NANP), Health Coach Alliance (HCA), Canadian Association for Integrative Nutrition (CAIN), Association of Coach Training Organizations (ACTO), Florida Association of postsecondary Schools and Colleges (FAPSC), American Holistic Health Association (AHHA), American Nutrition Association (ANA), Council of Holistic Health Educators (CHHE), Federation of Holistic Therapists (FHT), National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), Aerobics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA), Institute for Credentialing Excellence (ICE), and the American Natural Wellness Coaches Board (AANWP/ANWCB).
Precision Nutrition is another organization you’ve probably heard of if you’ve begun your course research.
Often regarded as the best at nutrition education, PN provides graduate level education through self-paced study, and they now offer programs in sleep, stress management, and health coaching.
While I personally cannot attest to the PN certification, I do know it comes highly respected.
The downside to PN is that they only enroll new students periodically, so oftentimes you have to join the waitlist until they’re open again, whereas the other programs mentioned can be started at any time.