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How to Become a Lifestyle Coach

Choose a path that will enable you to help clients balance life issues and take responsibility for their own change.

Online health coaching

If you’re like a lot of successful personal trainers, you know from years of working with clients that even the best fitness evaluations and strength, cardio and weight management programs aren’t always enough. The problem—life gets in the way. From my own experience as a personal trainer, regardless of how great my programming was, it had zero value if my clients had adherence issues. Many of the hundreds I’ve helped over the years followed a plan for a while and then went back to their old self-sabotaging ways. There was never enough time in our sessions to address all the lifestyle issues that pushed fitness to the back burner.

The solution came when I read about lifestyle coaching and thought, “Wow, this is exactly how I want to help my clients.” It was essentially what I’d been trying to coax my clients to do by discussing their lifestyles and schedules during our personal training sessions. It thrilled me that there was a profession that created action plans on how to live, organize and prioritize time, so I sought out and completed an advanced coaching program. While I still offer personal training to my existing clientele, the coaching side of my business is the only area I intend to grow and market moving forward. It has provided me with all the tools I need to help individuals live happier, more satisfying lives. Although physical fitness is a very important component of a quality life, it is only one piece of the wellness pie.

This article provides the basic information you need to know about wellness and lifestyle coaching and will help you determine if coaching is a field you would like to invest in to further and enhance your fitness career.

What is Coaching?

The International Coach Federation (ICF) defines coaching as “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.” I define a lifestyle or wellness coach as “a professionally trained coach who acts as a motivator, educator and accountability partner to support individuals in making lasting lifestyle changes that improve their physical and mental wellbeing.”

Coaching addresses the whole person, not just the different elements of fitness training. Coaching gets under the surface of workout and nutrition plans to discover why a client is unhealthy, what behaviors led to the problem, what daily life obstacles are in the way and how the client can make lasting behavior change. A lifestyle coach creates awareness by asking questions, backing a variety of strategies and options and supporting action.

Think of coaching as a way to build on a foundation. Your programming and approach (framing) may be top-notch, but without exploring the underlying factors and challenges of daily life—managing time, creating healthy boundaries, defining needs and goals, learning accountability, making commitments, delaying gratification and identifying obstacles and solutions—clients won’t be able to create a strong and lasting foundation of awareness and change. Behavior change and learning new ways of showing up in life are key factors to success.

Education and Training

Regardless of the route you choose to take with coach training, obtaining a 4-year college degree is a wise start. A degree in education, psychology, health promotion, kinesiology, nutrition and social work are all good matches for coaching. Since most coach training is done via telephone or online, it can easily be pursued while you are already in a fitness or wellness career.

No doubt about it, if life coaching is a path you want to pursue, you need special training. Several companies provide excellent options (see sidebar for more information). If you intend to offer lifestyle coaching (versus business or corporate coaching), you may choose an abbreviated training program that focuses only on lifestyle and wellness coaching skills; for example, the Wellcoaches® program, endorsed by the American College of Sports Medicine. If you desire to become accredited as a professional coach through the International Coaching Federation (ICF) and want to be trained in myriad coaching areas, you’ll need to opt for a longer, more expensive and extensive training program, offered by various companies. I chose a 200-hour coach-training program that afforded me additional credentials to coach successfully in the business and corporate arena and to become accredited through the ICF.

You can also simply do a search on Google for “coach training” and you will find dozens of organizations offering various coaching specialties, including wellness and lifestyle coaching. A word of caution—If you want to be taken seriously as a coach, participate in a legitimate program with some valid educational content. Don’t opt for the 1- or 2-day workshop that promises “all the skills you need for just $99.” For more detailed information on the specifics of training, read “Becoming a Coach: A Roadmap to Training” by Jim Gavin, Phd, and Madeleine McBrearty, PhD.

Coaching as a Career

Deciding to become a coach is one thing, but is it a good, quantifiable career choice? Thankfully, the ICF researched the field of coaching and made some interesting findings. The following are from the “ICF Global Coaching Study—Executive Summary” (ICF & PricewaterhouseCoopers 2008):

  • There are at least 30,000 coaches worldwide in 73 countries.
  • 68.7% of the coaches are female; biggest age concentration is 46-55 years (38.8%).
  • 60.8% are part-time (7 clients).
  • 39.2% are full-time (16 clients).
  • The majority of the coaches have been coaching for fewer than 10 years (86.4%).
  • 64.5% of the coaches received training through a program accredited by the ICF.
  • Average global hourly fee is $205: full-time coaches earn $250; part-time coaches earn $174
  • Average annual salaries: full-time coaches $82,671; part-time coaches $26,150.
  • Majority of coaches have 1-5 clients.
  • Coaching was done: face-to-face 54.5%; by telephone 41.9%
  • Majority of clients were female (56.5%) aged 38-45 and up to 55.
  • North America is the only region where phone coaching exceeds face-to-face coaching.

It’s important to consider the pros and cons associated with this career choice. Most coaching contracts last less than 1 year (often for as little as 3 months). This is because clients seek an action plan for a specific project or goal, they learn new life skills and move on—which is exactly what coaching is designed to do. Thus, you need a constant influx of new clients to keep coaching hours full. A good plan of action would be to start with a core personal training, nutrition or wellness business and add lifestyle coaching as a service. In the ICF’s research on why people seek coaching services, only 18% indicated wellness as the reason. That is one more reason why simply “wellness” or “lifestyle” coaching may prove, for most, to be difficult to make more than a part-time career.

On the pro side, you get to enjoy the progress clients make toward lasting lifestyle change. You gain an additional revenue stream; learn great communication, motivation and behavior change skills not taught in personal trainer certification courses; and you make the client responsible for results. You can also operate a business from anywhere and work with clients globally. Yet another advantage is that work is more varied, and you can focus on more than just the physical aspect of wellness.

Building a Client Base

If you already have a career in a wellness facility or personal training studio, you have the perfect setup for acquiring new coaching clients. Let your existing clients know about your new service and educate them about coaching if they are unfamiliar with the concept. If you have a limited clientele and practice in-home it can be a bit more challenging. A good first step is to hire a coaching mentor and/or immediately join a networking group. Business Networking International offers a great opportunity to build relationships that may lead to new coaching clients. Other networking opportunities include your local chamber of commerce, women’s clubs, church functions and social media such as Twitter and Facebook.

Don’t underestimate the power of face-to-face contact and word-of-mouth marketing for gaining new business. This takes time and patience, but can pay off richly. The number one key for getting clients is to portray self-confidence and have good rapport with other people. Chances are, if you are already a fitness and wellness professional, you have the personality profile it takes to attract coaching clients.

Tying it Together

Coaching is rewarding in itself, but it also opens doors to many additional opportunities in the wellness field such as speaking, writing, presenting and creating workshops. It is a great avenue for people who are passionate about making a difference in others’ lives through education, behavior change and improved fitness. The biggest opportunity in coaching is personal and professional development—for you and others. What better way to spend your time?

Steps to Becoming a Coach
  1. Earn a college degree.
  2. Decide on a coach training program.
  3. Pursue a certification and (if you desire) an ICF credential.
  4. Hire your own coach to experience the process.
  5. Offer some pro bono coaching to get practice.
  6. Market your services to clients through a networking group and your existing fitness business.
  7. Enjoy coaching!
Where to Get Trained

Associations and training

Which Niche?

Before you choose a target base, consider the following top five factors from the International Coach Federation that reveal why people seek coaching services:

      • self esteem/self-confidence: 41%
      • work/life balance: 36%
      • career opportunities: 28%
      • business management: 25%
      • relationships: 25%

Keep these stats in mind as you pursue a coach training company and program. If you want to coach clients with myriad lifestyle and wellness issues (time-management, work/life balance, personal purpose, vision, etc.), seek out a comprehensive program. Being a personal trainer first and adding the coach skills later is an excellent choice. You can supplement your fitness knowledge and expertise and coach people through lifestyle and behavior change.

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