9 Essential Skills Every Fitness Coach Should Know

Want to become the best fitness coach you can?

Everyone knows that a fitness coach provides a much greater level of service to their clients than a personal trainer does, but what does a fitness coach need to know in order to deliver the best sessions possible and get the most impressive results?

In this article, I will be explaining the top nine essential things that every single fitness coach should not just know, but master if they want to be truly successful in the industry.

By the time you’ve finished reading, you’ll be fully equipped with just about everything you’ll need to learn to be the best fitness coach out there.

Sound good?

Let’s go…

As a general rule, a fitness coach will need to know how to bring out the best in their clients by understanding advanced training principles and nutrition, but most importantly, they will need to understand the role that psychology and behavior change plays in client progression and success.

The problem with wanting to be a fitness coach is that there aren’t specific training courses that certify you as a “fitness coach”. That would be far too easy, you’d know what modules you would be learning and all the skills that would help you.

Instead, it’s mostly up to people to do their own research, and decide what they should know in order to be able to have the confidence to train people to a far more advanced degree than a personal trainer can.

Well, from here on, I’m going to make things a little easier for you.

I’ll be listing out nine of the most important things you need to know in order to get your fitness coaching business on track.

What do fitness instructors need to know

Top 9 things A Fitness Coach Needs To Know

  1. Behaviour change techniques
  2. Motivation and encouragement psychology
  3. Biomechanics principles
  4. Advanced exercise programming
  5. Injury prevention and rehabilitation
  6. Performance testing and analysis
  7. Advanced nutrition
  8. Marketing and self-promotion
  9. Advances in training methods and practises

Behaviour change techniques

behaviour change

As a fitness coach, you’ll need to understand the psychological reasons that detrimental habits form, and why they have become ingrained in your clients’ lives and minds. It’s then up to you to find and provide solutions to break these progress-harming habits.

For example, If you have a new client that has recently overcome, or is still suffering from a debilitating disease, they may have convinced themselves during their illness that they have become weak and frail.

It is up to you to develop ways (such as CBT techniques) to show them that this is not the case, and they are stronger and more physically able than they currently believe themselves to be.

Changing peoples way of thinking is no easy task, as every person you meet will have a different way of looking at the world, and much as there are programs out there designed to help you to understand how peoples minds work in the general sense, you must also realize that learning to understand people on an individual basis will be the make or break of your profession as a fitness coach.

You may come up against a lot of opposition to changing people’s habits, as it can be a big part of their lives. Anyone who has ever tried to quit smoking will be able to tell you that lifestyle changes are sometimes incredibly difficult to achieve, even if the outcome is very positive, such as a longer and healthier lifestyle.

Motivation and encouragement psychology

motivation from fitness coaches

There’s a lot more to being a fitness coach than teaching people how to exercise. You’re going to need to know how to get inside people’s heads and understand what motivates them.

For some, a coach that instructs like an old-school drill sergeant works fantastically and helps to improve the drive and focus of the individual. However, in another, it would achieve the exact opposite and would have them walking out the door in a matter of minutes.

You’ll need to find what drives that particular individual to want to achieve the goals you have discussed with them. You’ll need to find their “why”, and use your own judgment to determine the most appropriate methods of motivating and encouraging them through the toughest parts of their training.

Even the most dedicated person will come up against brick walls in their training, either mental or physical plateaus will need to be broken and worked through. It’s your job as a fitness coach to find the best way of doing this with each individual you train.

You may use positive visualization techniques to encourage or even try to establish what’s known as a “state of flow”, which is to say that they become so focused on the activity they are engaging in, that nothing else matters to them, all thoughts are on that activity at that time.

This is the state that creates true athletes, and you will need to know how to tune your clients into this state to get the best out of them.

Biomechanics principles

biomechanics of hip

Biomechanics is the study of the movement of the human body, assessing how external forces impact joints and muscles and how the body’s muscles and skeletal systems work in synergy to perform movements.

It is important within coaching, as you will need to understand how the muscular systems work together in order to prescribe the ideal training program for your clients. You should know why injuries occur, how to prevent them and how to rehabilitate any of your clients that have suffered an injury.

By understanding how the muscles and joints of the body react to specific loads, and how muscular systems work together, (posterior and anterior sling systems for example) you can take advantage of the power and force they generate, allowing you to train these areas with the specific aim of improving their efficacy.

With a thorough understanding of biomechanics, you will be able to use progressive training techniques to gradually improve the performance of specific movements.

You will come across many clients and aspiring sports players that may have serious and semi-serious muscular imbalances that would substantially hinder the efficiency of their movements, which you will be able to correct.

Advanced exercise programming

advanced exercise programming

As a fitness coach, you will be offering training that is several times more advanced than a client would get from a standard personal trainer.

In the case of exercise prescription and programming, you will need to know how to create and structure programs using advanced training methods such as periodization, forced reps, supersets, drops sets, isometrics, pyramid sets, the list goes on and on.

In a fitness coach, a customer (your client) is paying for expertise and an advanced level of training that most others aren’t privileged enough to be able to afford. As a result of this, you need to give your clients much more for their money, they are expecting the results they have paid for, so utilizing advanced training techniques can help to speed up the realization of the goals set out by the client.

It goes without saying that when using advanced training principles, there is a much higher chance of injury occurring if attention is not closely paid to each rep. Your expertise is not just knowing how to prescribe advanced exercise, but also monitoring the clients’ performance to ensure maximal safety at all times.

Injury prevention and rehabilitation


Nobody wants their clients getting injured, it’s up to you as a fitness coach to make sure all the exercises you are prescribing are safe and at the correct intensity level for the person, you are training. Much as it may be exciting to progress a client onto more complex exercises or to increase the weight they are lifting, you need to make sure that the safety of your client is always a priority.

However, accidents do happen, it’s a part of life and will occur to most people in the fitness industry at some point in their career. What separates a fitness coach from a personal trainer here is the ability to offer rehabilitation for people who have become injured as a result of their training, or from pre-existing injuries.

As a direct result of training people to a greater intensity than a standard personal trainer would, it is possible that you will come across more injuries, which is why you must be able to deal with them efficiently if they do. However, a good fitness coach should be well versed in the exercises they are prescribing, so if injuries are occurring on a regular basis to your clients, you may be progressing them before they were ready to move on.

Performance testing and analysis

fitness testing and assessments

People who hire personal trainers expect good results, people who hire fitness coaches expect excellent results, and you are going to need to learn how to accurately show them that what you are prescribing in terms of exercise, nutrition, and behavioral changes are having the desired effects.

To do this, you will need to learn how to accurately measure and test your clients so that you can make clear comparisons between your clients’ starting statistics, and where they have progressed. Equally, testing is a fantastic opportunity to find out if there is something that is not working as desired within your training program.

If you spot after testing that your client is not heading in the correct direction in terms of results, it’s the perfect opportunity to look through their training program with a fine-toothed comb to find out what’s going wrong. I guarantee, there will be something that can be altered to get them right back on track.

Finding a disappointing result a few weeks into a training program isn’t the worst thing that can happen to a client, but waiting until several months have passed to test and then finding out the program hasn’t been effective is sure to get you some pretty negative reviews.

You’ll need to learn how to test in many different ways to ensure that every aspect of your training regime is performing at its optimum.

Advanced nutrition

advanced nutrition

As well as learning the standard nutritional information you would need to pass your level 3 and four certifications, you’ll need to study far more advanced nutritional concepts in order to become a fitness coach.

Whereas a personal trainer may give you standard nutritional advice, a fitness coach takes not only their clients’ goals into account, but also how their lifestyle affects how and what they are eating, they are also allowed to prescribe specific diets, whereas most trainers aren’t.

For example, you may have a client who works late nights as a business professional, to tell them that they need to increase their protein and to lower the number of trans fats they are eating is one thing, but it doesn’t take into account their lifestyle at all.

A fitness coach would look at unavoidable situations such as business lunches and client dinners, to see what options their clients have so that they can still continue to attend these important meetings without it spoiling the progress they are trying to make.

This may mean the coach looking through the menu of the restaurant the client plans to attend and finding the healthiest food options and healthiest drink choices for the evening.

The idea of a fitness coach is that they take a much closer look at their clients’ lives and get far more involved than a standard personal trainer or fitness instructor ever would.

Marketing and self-promotion

marketing and self-promotion

Whether you’re a personal trainer or fitness coach, you will need to know how to market your skills and services. I would say though, that working as a fitness coach will take an even greater level of marketing skill, as you will typically be charging much more on a per session basis than a personal trainer.

Your price point may bring up more objections, as people don’t fully understand what they are getting from a fitness coach that they aren’t getting from a traditional personal trainer.

It’s up to you to make sure that you bring across the message that a fitness coach is so much more than a personal trainer, and far more likely to get you to your desired shape, weight, or strength level by taking a far greater interest in your lifestyle and your fitness, taking a completely holistic approach to training.

You may work in a gym, or you may work as a freelance trainer that works in parks or visits houses, whatever location you decide to run your business from, you should never rely on the gym to help promote your services. It’s vital that you study how to stand out in a crowd and sing your own praises through websites, social media, traditional marketing materials, and any other resources you can find.

Advances in training methods and practises

researching fitness trends

Studying as a fitness coach will never end, there will always be new courses to go on and new research papers to read. You will need to keep up to date with every study that is published to make sure that you are giving your clients the most recent and scientifically proven, peer-reviewed training methods.

I’ve learned from my own experiences that what I was taught about nutrition when I first got my certification has now been updated and altered many times over. The courses now are significantly more detailed than what I was initially offered, which can only be a good thing.

It seems that each week there is something new to study in regards to nutrition, and the more up-to-date you can keep with current trends, the more likely your clients are to make great progress.

Never neglect your nutrition studies, they may not be as exciting as the brand new training regimes or equipment, but without the proper dietary advice, your clients will struggle to make any significant progress, and their progress is what they will judge you on when their training with you comes to an end.


So there you go, I hope this article has shown you some of the top things a fitness coach should know. It’s not vital that you have all of these skills mastered before you go into fitness coaching, but the more you know, the higher your chances of success.

It’s pretty difficult to establish yourself in a gym as a fitness coach, as it’ll be difficult to show what makes you different from the majority of the pts that are working there. Members may wonder “Why should I pay you more than the other pts?”, “Why should I let you know personal details about my lifestyle, what good would that do?”.

I hope this article has given you the ability to be able to answer those very questions and get yourself some outstanding clients that you can get equally outstanding results for.

Thanks for reading and have a great day!

Go get ’em!

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Chris Walker

Chris Walker worked in the City of London as a fully qualified REP's level three personal trainer for just under ten years. He built and maintained a client base of 40 individuals and worked with several high profile clients, including actors, actresses, comedians and politicians.

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