Dr. Erin Nitschke by Dr. Erin Nitschke

Health coaching is a unique profession with a distinct goal of helping clients discern and achieve meaningful lifestyle-change goals. Health coaches not only possess a sophisticated understanding of fitness and nutrition principles, they support clients in identifying and strategically addressing the more complex emotional, behavioral, physical and lifestyle factors related to the process of behavior change. In essence, health coaching isn’t about propelling a client toward a weight-centered goal; it’s about nurturing positive, sustainable change.

The “best” or “most effective” way to coach clients toward success has yet to be determined. There are, however, multiple methodologies and approaches health coaches can employ in working with clients. The method or approach you select will depend on your clients’ needs, desires, goals and preferences. When establishing your health-coaching platform, consider these points as you move forward in shaping your business.

Face-to-face Coaching Advantages

Traditionally, health coaching takes place in a face-to-face setting, much like personal training or group fitness. A health coach meets one-on-one with a client in a pre-determined location, such as a gym, traditional office or corporate setting.

The benefits of face-to-face coaching are similar to the benefits derived from a face-to-face conversation. In person, the health coach can experience the client’s nonverbal communication in its entirety. A face-to-face environment also makes it easier for the coach to demonstrate his or her support and encouragement through nonverbal cues that mirror verbal affirmations and comments made.

Other benefits include the ability to maintain eye contact, develop a strong personal connection, hear and respond to each other’s tone of voice, and observe facial expressions.

Undoubtedly, there are unique nuances of communication that take place in a person-to-person environment that can be lost or underappreciated in virtual forms of communication. 

Face-to-face Coaching Considerations

Just as there are benefits to person-to-person contact, there are also drawbacks. First, offering coaching services in this style limits your availability to a specific geographic area, which makes it challenging to grow your business beyond your physical borders. Second, there are specific business costs associated with face-to-face sessions (e.g., office space, rent, utilities, and commuting requirements). These costs are generally not the same for a virtual environment. Further, either you—as the coach—or the client must travel to some predetermined destination. Weather, unexpected work meetings, traffic and other obstacles can force session cancellations.

From the client’s perspective, face-to-face coaching sessions may be less than desirable due to a chaotic work schedule, inability to secure childcare, too many family obligations and other potential challenges. Still, all clients have different needs and desires and will likely gravitate toward one style of coaching over another. Clients will also likely express their preferences for sessions when they seek your services. This gives you an opportunity to shape your coaching platform as necessary.

Online Coaching Advantages

Virtual coaching is a current and growing trend in the fitness industry and health and exercise professionals are finding new ways to harness the power of technology to bolster their businesses and connect with potential consumers. Remote health services are even starting to creep into the medical field with the upsurge in telemedicine.

The advantages to a remote coach approach include convenience, minimal overhead expenses, efficiency, the ability to connect with clients outside of the professional’s geographic region, and minimal-to-no travel time on either the part of the client or the health coach. In short, tele-coaching has changed the landscape of what it looks like to coach a fitness client.

Virtual coaching is an interesting and viable niche. It has the potential to grow exponentially and reach consumers worldwide and change the face of the fitness industry as a whole.

Online Coaching Considerations

Technology can be a double-edged sword, as it has connected us in many ways and disconnected us in others. While virtual coaching may reach more consumers, it’s also possible that its sometimes asynchronous nature might make some consumers feel less connected to others, thereby negatively impacting social support (which is a predictor of success).

In addition, just as face-to-face communication allows us to better interpret and understand clients’ nonverbal cues, this is a greater challenge in a virtual environment. The use of video platforms can help alleviate some of this, but perhaps not fully replace face-to-face interactions. Lastly, variations in time zones and infrequent, but not abnormal, technology fails can also impede success and effectiveness in the virtual coaching environment.

Hybrid Approach

Each client you interact with will require a different approach. While virtual training may be a best practice for a certain population of users, it may be a barrier for others. Right now, there doesn’t appear to be a best practices model to emulate and, therefore, it will likely take time for you to determine the best options for your business.

If you’re interested in virtual training or coaching, there’s no rule that says you must commit to one format over another. It’s possible to market yourself as both an in-person and virtual coach. For example, if you have current clients who enjoy the face-to-face sessions, but would likely benefit from additional telephonic or virtual sessions, offer those as options and as part of your services package.

Additionally, if you are a professional who is somewhat geographically isolated or located in a rural region with less critical mass than a larger city has to offer, consider expanding your services to the world wide web to nurture a wider market.

Whichever direction you choose to go, remember to secure liability insurance. There are liability issues anywhere personal training or health coaching takes place, whether that is in a client’s home, a local park, online or in a studio or gym. Be sure to research the various liability insurance options available and, if you are considering virtual training or coaching, be assured that the option you select is comprehensive enough to cover that platform of training.

Some clients thrive on their ability to marry technological tools with their fitness and health goals. Others, however, do not respond well to the use of technology and prefer a face-to-face, paper-pencil method. Everyone has different preferences and styles, and health and exercise professionals have a responsibility to respond to those preferences on an individual level to foster success and elevate the client’s experience.

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