Most people know what they “should” do to foster a life of wellness. Eat a balanced diet and avoid processed foods, get regular movement, prioritize sleep, reduce stress, and cultivate a positive outlook on life that includes purpose, meaning, and connection with others. Yet, this seemingly simple checklist and the resulting satisfaction with life and well-being allude many.

Wellness coaches have a unique opportunity to support their clients in building lasting and meaningful lifestyle change and personal transformation towards well-being.


The overlapping terms fitness, wellness, and well-being are often confused within the fitness industry and the public. Wellness can be defined as “an individual’s personal journey toward the mental, physical, social, and emotional betterment of life.”

Translation: it’s not only someone’s healthy behaviors or habits, but the process of making ongoing choices which in turn make that person’s life better, healthier, more connected, and emotionally satisfying.

A wellness coach’s job is to support an individual in the process of making those choices; not only telling someone what to do but helping that person examine their relationship with the choices themselves. That coaching role is unique among health, fitness, and wellness professionals.

When a trainer or group fitness instructor works with a client or student the process relies on their expertise. In the case of personal training, it means designing a program towards the client’s specific goals and guiding them to ensure they execute that program. A group fitness instructor designs classes that inspire, inform, and motivate their students to move well and often. In coaching the focus isn’t on the instructor’s leadership or the trainer’s program but on guiding a client’s internal process.

In the case of wellness, the coach creates a safe environment for a client to examine not only their habits but also their relationship to the domains of their lifestyle that affect their wellness.

These include established fitness domains such as nutrition, sleep, movement, and recovery practices as well as emotional health, stress management, psychological recovery, mindset, and more. Wellness coaches help clients to establish subjective and objective goals related to their wellness and then explore the obstacles and areas of challenge on the pathway to those goals.

Wellness coaching is unique in the fitness and wellness space because the client isn’t told what to do but given information and empowered to examine their choices and make their own decisions on how to move forward.


Coaches typically meet with their clients for either one-on-one or small group sessions. During their sessions, they support clients with a variety of tools to examine not only their behavior but their mental and emotional reactions to that behavior.

Together coach and client create action plans, brainstorm solutions, and troubleshoot potential obstacles to the clients’ long-term success. Though the coach is supportive and provides information the onus is on the client to decide what works for them.

Coaches are not therapists and therefore do not diagnose or treat mental or physical disease or dysfunction. However, sub-clinical challenges are likely to come up.

Certified coaches are trained in how to support the client through examining their emotional or behavioral challenges and can teach clients related mental and emotional skills. These problem-solving skills don’t only help the client to reach their current goals but are ongoing tools that propel clients forward long after the current session.

These skills might include in-the-moment reframing of internal dialogue and self-talk, how to break down goals, examine and understand emotional reactions to behavior, dealing with shame, focusing on strength, or finding motivation when feeling stuck.


Change can be hard. According to the Boston Medical Center, an estimated 45 million Americans go on a diet each year and Americans spend $33 million annually on diet products yet nearly two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese. Similarly, the CDC reports that in 2015 68% of smokers said they wanted to quit and in 2018 55% of smokers attempted to quit but only 7.5% were successful.

The CDC also reports that only 1 in 4 American adults gets the recommended amount of physical activity and 31 million Americans over 50 are sedentary, costing $117 billion annually in elevated health care costs. People often know what to do, but struggle with how to fit healthful behaviors into their lives in lasting and positive ways.

Over the last few decades, research has evolved techniques for how to positively support change. Coaching allows for a neutral party in one’s life to provide evidence-based information, reflect on current behavior, and brainstorm possible solutions.

They do so with unconditional positive regard, the judgment-free position of supporting their client to make lasting changes that work for them. Wellness coaches are trained not only in coaching but have information on lifestyle practices related to wellness. This is a unique combination of physiological understanding with psychological tools that support the betterment of one’s life.

This unique combination of tools also allows a coach to support the client in priming compounding positive change.

Leveraging phenomena such as the transfer effect, where a positive change in one area of life creates positive change in another, or upward spirals, where the emotional boost from meaningful changes creates the opportunity for more difficult changes to occur. By understanding how these mechanisms work and how to spark a wellness coach supports their client not only in the immediate future but in building lasting changes which create the opportunity for a transformative lifestyle change.


These leaders work with individuals or small groups supporting self-directed change toward the client’s goals. It’s not a leader’s job to tell their clients what to do. They guide, give relevant information, and provide support while each client decides what’s right for them.

Using techniques like Motivational Interviewing, tools from Positive Psychology and the science of behavior change coaches support clients in changing. Within that framework different coaches have different focuses on what kinds of change they support:

  • Life Coaches focus on the main factors of a person’s life. That may include time management, productivity, professional goals and projects, relationships, life goal setting, leadership, career development, self-care, and financial goals.

    • A Health Coach works with individuals who have a medical diagnosis or health condition. A health coach helps the client implement lifestyle changes related to the management or care of their health as part of the care team.

    Wellness Coaches support clients in the ongoing process of building wellness through movement, nutrition, sleep, recovery and regeneration, and stress management with a focus on their holistic lifestyle choices.


The primary differences between a health coach and a wellness coach are their focus of work, who their clients are, and if the changes are prescribed.

A wellness coach focuses on the ongoing process of a client’s overall wellness. Outcome-based goals will be chosen by the client as well as the focus of the program overall. Individual coaches may choose to specialize in a particular group of people, such as new dads or women over 50. The changes being made are driven by the client’s self-directed goals and desired outcomes.

In contrast, a health coach focuses on the health outcomes of their client, typically related to their physical health status. A health coach works with individuals who’ve had a clinical diagnosis that requires sustained lifestyle changes. Making those changes can have a long-term health benefit, like the dietary and exercise changes needed to combat a rising A1C before it develops into diabetes. Many of these changes will be prescribed by the physician or other medical professional managing the client’s care.

Wellness Coach Health Coach
Focus on the ongoing process of a client’s overall wellness Focus on the client’s health outcomes. Typically relates to physical health status.
Works with general population on improving overall wellness. May have a group they choose to focus on. Health coach works with individuals who’ve had a medical diagnosis that involves lifestyle changes to mitigate or treat.
Client chooses what areas of wellness to focus on as part of their wellness journey. Changes being made may be prescribed by a physician as part of the client’s ongoing treatment plan.


Life Coaching and Wellness Coaching are not the same. There are differences in expertise, the tools used, and the scope between Life and Wellness Coaching.

Depending on the life coach’s training and focus, they may help with personal organization, time management, career development, focus, productivity, relationships, finances, and more. This broad focus can help take a 360 view of one’s life and move through significant transitions or other life changes.

Because the scope of wellness coaching is more focused, the coach and client can work together to go more explicitly into the factors affecting the client’s wellness. A certified wellness coach is educated in more detail on nutrition, sleep, stress management, movement, and other factors affecting wellness.

Wellness Coach Life Coach
Focus specifically on wellness domains. Focus broadly on different domains of life.
Works with clients on holistic habits affecting wellness using in-depth knowledge of sleep, nutrition, movement, recovery, stress management, and behavior change. Works with clients broadly unless has additional in-depth training around a specific area of wellness or well-being.



While individuals may hire a health coach they may also be partnered with a physician or provided by the insurance company when an individual is diagnosed with a chronic illness. Whether working 1-on-1 or in a small group, the coach will help the client set goals related to their physical health, share relevant information, and identify necessary lifestyle changes to meet their goals. Then the health coach will use common coaching techniques to support the client in making those changes.


Clients may seek out working with a life coach individually or sometimes through their employer. They may work 1-on-1 or in small groups. The life coach will support their clients in setting goals in the various domains of life including career, home, relationship, family, financially, spiritually, and others depending on the specialty of the coach.

A life coach will share information and resources relevant to their client’s goals and work through self-limiting beliefs and patterns that are blocking the client’s progress.

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