There are A LOT of personal trainers and coaches out there, but how do you find the best ones, specifically, how do you find the best online fitness coach?  What’s the difference between a coach and a trainer anyway?  Aren’t they the same?

"Thank you, personal trainers..."

"Thank you, personal trainers, for getting paid to count to ten."

Posted by The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon on Monday, March 5, 2018

I saw this video the other night, a little joke that said, “Thanks personal trainers for getting paid to count to ten”.

I laughed.

At first.

The next day, it popped into my head again, and I got a little mad about it.

I let the anger pass, then finally, I thought “man, this is either a good joke that I’m having a defensive reaction to because it doesn’t take my career seriously, OR there is a serious misconception about what a personal trainer is.”

I’ve decided that it’s a misconception of what a personal trainer is. I’ve decided this because I know just how many people’s lives, health, and mentalities I’ve seen and helped change by getting paid to “count to 10” and that doesn’t even begin to describe what I do.

Let’s jump into some definitions about the differences between a trainer and a coach and how to find the best online fitness coach for you.

Definitions in General


  • A personal trainer is an individual certified to have a varying degree of knowledge of general fitness involved in exercise prescription and instruction. They motivate clients by setting goals and providing feedback and accountability to clients. … Qualified personal trainers recognize their own areas of expertise.
  • Personal trainers possess the knowledge, skills and abilities necessary to design safe and effective fitness programs. They instruct and assist people in reaching personal health and fitness goals.

Summary:  Personal trainers are educated, possess skills in the field, deliver programs, and help people reach their health and fitness goals.


  • There is a huge difference between teaching someone and helping them to learn. In coaching, fundamentally, the coach is helping the individual to improve their own performance: in other words, helping them to learn.
  • Coaching is a useful way of developing people’s skills and abilities, and of boosting performance. It can also help deal with issues and challenges before they become major problems.
  • Both coaching and mentoring are processes that enable both individual and corporate clients to achieve their full potential.
  • Coaching is a professional relationship that helps people produce extraordinary results in their lives, careers, businesses or organizations, helping them to bridge the gap between where they are now and where they want to be.

Summary:  Coaches help people improve performance, teach and help learn, help clients reach their full potential, and achieve extraordinary results in lives, careers, businesses, and organizations.

Key takeaway:

Personal trainers are often thought of as the person who gets you in shape, someone that you pay in exchange for losing weight, “toning”, building muscle, getting healthy etc. These can all be by-products of training yes, and are often by-products of good coaching, but they do not singularly define coaching, although they do singularly define training.

Fundamental Differences

Inward vs. Outward

The coach knows that change comes from within.  To effectively change what is within, a good coach knows that there must be a certain amount of reflection and looking inward.  You hit a new PR, now why did that feel so good?  You didn’t let yourself quit, why?  You were able to employ more willpower and maintain focus over the weekend, how’d you do it and why did it work?

A trainer will focus on the facts such as you didn’t do your cardio, or you didn’t get to the gym 5x last week.  These might be true, but aren’t the REAL reason a client needs your help.

The help is within themselves.  Understanding why they need and want to do these things and how to conquer the aspects of their mindset that will allow them to succeed first, with a coach in the gym, and then through other aspects of their life.


Starting fitness and changing your mindset starts with an important shift away from self-deprecation towards one of self-forgiveness, love and kindness.  And if you think that’s a hippie dippie thing then I forgive you.

Either way, no measurable progress can be made when fear, negativity, and judgement are the main motivators.  It must come from a place of healing, love, and positivity.

This is where your mindset shift takes place.  Knowing that you have worth, are worth improving, and have a lot to offer not only with your effort but also your life, your skills, and your being.

Commander vs. Leader

At a basic level, almost primitive, a trainer is a commander or a master. This is in contrast to a coach being a leader or a trusted companion. Both can achieve “results” but in very different ways and often for different lengths of time.

The best coaches, best mentors, and best online fitness coaches don’t give orders as much as they inspire and affirm behaviors.  Behaviors that the coach knows will make the individual better in any capacity.

Knowledge vs. Experience

Due to education, certification, or independent study/research, a trainer “knows everything”.  This is an important step in the process to mastery of your craft.  It is not a bad thing, but it is immature.  In contrast to knowing everything, as a trainer might, a coach knows he doesn’t know everything.

A coach and a trainer both know the basics, the fundamentals, but where a trainer lacks the experience to adapt, a coach knows how to apply those basics across a wide range of methods to achieve the best results.


Every trainer starts out with the intention of getting clients, helping them with their goals, making some money doing it or some combination of the 3. This entry level trainer does not truly understand the game yet. In the beginning, it’s all about making workouts hard, maxing out, and making sure the client “feels” the workout. All of these components have a place, but it would be disastrous to this trainer’s ego for a client to say he/she wasn’t sore because that would mean the workout was bad… He/she has yet to learn how to differentiate between effective workouts and workouts that produce noticeable side effects i.e. soreness, fatigue, sweat.  This person thinks if the program is just right, and the nutrition is just right, then the client will succeed. And for some people, this is correct, but this is not coaching…yet.

A coach knows that changing someones mindset is more important than changing their body for 6 weeks.  A change in mindset will cascade into all aspects of their life, where a change in body will be only that.


The trainer probably talks too much, tries to control how hard the client works and what the client does or eats without understanding that this involvement is most likely the problem. This trainer will try and fit the client to the system, rather than fit the principles to the client. This is an important distinction between a coach and a trainer.

The best online fitness coach, health coach, and even the personal trainer transitioning to coach will know that the best effects of coaching come from fitting the system to the client’s abilities, needs, and strengths while also providing challenge to those abilities, needs, and strengths (weaknesses also). In contrast, the trainer tries to fit the client to the system despite their abilities, needs, strengths and weaknesses.

Transition from Trainer to Coach

Beginning Transition

Once the trainer realizes that hard workouts and controlling clients actions are making no progress, the transition begins. It begins by asking questions and having conversations. This is where the importance of a relationship is realized, and the trainer will find out that clients who he has a relationship with will succeed, and those with whom he doesn’t will not.

At some point in the trainers journey to coach, the trainer will begin to have uncomfortable conversations with clients, hard conversations that involve truth-telling, vulnerability, and calling people out. This is the first step to becoming a coach. This is what leads the trainer into the coaching realm where he/she can understand that change comes from within. It is the coach’s job to give the client tools, to help motivate them to WANT to change, then to let them take the wheel, or own the process.

Endpoint: Coach

From developing the ability to have difficult conversations arises the coach. The coach can take the failures, shortcomings, and weaknesses of the client, as well as their triumphs, successes, and strengths, to inspire change in a positive and supportive manner. In fact, there is no other way to inspire that change than by being supportive and hopeful.

For a coach, there is no endpoint, only getting better and helping people better and more effectively than he/she has before. Becoming a coach is only the beginning. There is no best online fitness coach, no best business coach, no best coach in general, because the methods can be so different and the results so dramatic.

The phase of trainer is over, and the role of coach has begun. There is no turning back. And the coach wouldn’t have it any other way.

Key takeaway:

Look for more than just a trainer to help you get results.  Look for someone who will positively impact your life in a lasting way.  So how can you tell who the best online fitness coach is?

Someone once told me, if someone you coached sees you in public anytime after you’ve worked with them, and they’re not compelled to say hello, then you didn’t really coach that person.

When searching for the best online fitness coach for you, be sure to look for someone looking to develop a relationship with you.  The relationship is the first key in the coaching process.  Without it, there can be no true accountability and the amazing benefits of having that coach will not be attainable.

Wrap up:

There are many differences between a personal trainer and a coach, with the ultimate one being a coach will help you change your mindset in a loving, supportive way, while a trainer will help you get the desired effects with whatever means necessary.

To find the best personal trainer, the best coach, the best online fitness coach, or whatever it may be, the key is to look for someone who develops relationships and has affected peoples lives.

For me, as a coach, the most positive effects I see is empowering people to first change how they view the resistance or the obstacles in their life, then how they can then go on and overcome those roadblocks.

To get started changing your mindset, realizing your potential, and seeing the positive effects across all aspects of your life, put your email in below.