// Health wellness fitness coaching - New ways of working

by Fiona Cosgrove

As fitness professionals we are well aware of what is involved in training a client – but what about coaching them? Coaching is a collaborative partnership that provides inspiration, structure and accountability to help clients achieve their goals more effectively. It has long been used in the corporate world in the form of executive coaching to help employees achieve their full potential at work, and is now being applied to health, fitness and wellness goals as well as work behaviours. Coaching is a highly valuable tool for the fitness industry. Some of its features include:

• Coaching focuses on the ‘thinking’ processes that produce change
• The client is regarded as the expert about what works best for them, not the coach
• The coach helps the client create structure to achieve their objectives
• Expert advice is offered only when the client cannot come up with his or her own answers
• Many clients flourish with the sense of self responsibility
• Behaviour changes occur and tend to be long-lasting.


The intersection of coaching with the health and wellness industry is being seen around the world with the UK, USA and now Australia leading the way. As each country develops its own ‘brand’ of coaching service, the need for clear definitions has become apparent. Within Australia, three organisations are working in the field to develop and differentiate health, wellness and fitness coaching. Janette Gale of Health Coaching Australia works with health professionals and trains them in the use of health coaching techniques to assist patients to avoid or manage chronic health conditions like diabetes, heart disease and obesity. Andrew Dawson of Deakin University is developing fitness coaching to be used by professionals working with athletes and those interested in improving their sports skills. Wellness Coaching Australia is promoting the two roles of wellness coaching and fitness coaching for use in the fitness industry with the main aim of improving lifestyle habits that can lead to optimal health for the general public.

Together, Janette, Andrew and Fiona have come up with the following clarifications and definitions of the three modalities.

Health coaching is a practice in which accredited health professionals apply evidence-based psychological, counselling and coaching principles and techniques to assist their patients to achieve positive health and lifestyle outcomes through cognitive and behaviour change. The focus is on prevention and self-management of chronic disease and other chronic health conditions. Source: Janette Gale, Health Coaching Australia (www.healthcoachingaustralia.com.au).
Health coaches work mainly in the medical arena and focus on reducing lifestyle risk factors and promoting self-management of chronic health conditions for improved health outcomes. Their clients are often seen as ‘patients’. However, there may be exercise physiologists who work in this area either through the corporate health management industry or other health related professional organisations.

Wellness coaching is a field in which accredited health and fitness professionals apply evidence-based techniques from coaching psychology and positive psychology to assist their clients to master wellness and optimal health through cognitive and behaviour change. Wellness coaching focuses on mental and physical behaviours relating to nutrition, exercise, weight control, and stress management and expert advice is delivered only in the field in which the coach has a technical background. Whereas fitness coaching is performed during the course of training a client, wellness coaching is conducted by phone or face to face and is separate and distinct from a training session. Source: Fiona Cosgrove, Wellness Coaching Australia (www.wellnesscoachingaustralia.com.au).
Wellness coaches tend to be trained in fitness or nutrition and work with clients creating positive lifestyle habits that will enhance their health and wellness. They focus on creating a vision for the future, identifying obstacles and helping clients come up with strategies to overcome them. There may be a cross over with health coaching when medically trained people such as nurses work with people who wish to concentrate on their wellness in a broader sense, rather than pain management or chronic disease management in a medical context. Wellness coaching can be conducted in person or on the phone.

Fitness coaching is a field in which fully trained fitness professionals apply evidence-based techniques from sport and exercise psychology and coaching psychology to assist their clients to achieve positive fitness and lifestyle outcomes through attitude and behaviour change. Source: Andrew Dawson – Dawson Education and Deakin University (www.dawsoneducation.com.au).

Fitness coaches work with their clients while they exercise in a personal training setting but run the sessions in a different manner, concentrating on helping clients make choices, set appropriate goals and confront their sometimes self-limiting thoughts and beliefs.
The table on the next page gives a useful overview of the coaching roles and relevance.


Personal trainers can train to be a ‘coach’ in any of the three areas depending on the category that most of their clients fall into. Generally their work will be with members of the public who are trying to achieve optimal wellness and need a coach to move them forward, rather than help them overcome health risks. Wellness and fitness coaching are generally the most relevant for personal trainers.

Personal training studios and fitness facilities can adopt a model that has been developed by Wellness Coaching Australia where clients are assessed for readiness to change, the behaviours that will help them achieve optimal wellness (as defined by themselves) and given a program appropriate for their needs. This may involve coaching without training for the first few weeks until they feel confident to start. Members are provided with information about coaching and behaviour change and helped to identify and overcome their personal obstacles. The end result for the business can be improved retention and more satisfied clients.


• Health Coaching Australia runs 2-day skills-based workshops for health professionals and teaches health coaching in the context of chronic condition prevention and self-management.
• Wellness Coaching Australia holds half-day, full-day and three x 4-hour workshops with 4, 8 and 12 CECs attached respectively. The workshops teach the theory behind wellness and fitness coaching and basic skills are concentrated on in the longer workshops.
• Dawson Education in Melbourne runs 1-day workshops in fitness coaching.
• Wellcoaches US has a certification program in partnership with the American College of Sports Medicine that Australians can follow by means of tele-class via the States. They train, health, wellness and fitness coaches and have strong links with Wellness Coaching Australia.


A great coach has excellent communication skills, an innate understanding of people and is passionately committed to helping their clients be their best. They have training in their chosen profession and further training in coaching psychology including principles of positive psychology. Most of these qualities are often found in good personal
trainers, and can be utilised, with further training, to create a stimulating, satisfying and often longer-lasting

Fiona Cosgrove, MSc SptsSci, MCounselling
Fiona has worked in the fitness industry for over 20 years as lecturer, trainer, corporate presenter and club owner and is now a licensed and certified Wellness Coach. She holds masters degrees in sports science and counselling and is passionate about helping people create lasting change in their lifestyles. For more information visit www.wellnesscoachingaustralia.com.au

• PP56-58