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In an increasingly sedentary society, health coaches have become more prominent than ever before. Their rise has coincided with the need to combat various long-term ailments, many of which come from spending too much time sat at a desk, and too little time exercising and eating the right foods.

The simple fact is that an increasingly fast-paced world, coupled with changing workplace conditions, are taking their toll on society. The mental strain of modern work, combined with the physical after-effects of a sedentary lifestyle, increase the risk of heart disease and obesity. A 2014 compilation of studies, published in the British Journal of Sports, also highlighted a link between sedentary lifestyles and depression.

Your lifestyle choices affect your wellness.

This has led to many people becoming concerned about their overall wellness. Unfortunately, many don’t know exactly what they need to do to start feeling healthier. While the internet may contain lots of information, it’s sometimes too much for the average person to deal with. Furthermore, it’s easy to find contradictory information, which leaves you feeling more confused.

That’s where health coaches come in.

At its core, health coaching is a simple profession. Health coaches assess your personal situation, including lifestyle, exercise habits, and diet, to come up with a plan of action that will help you to tackle health-related issues.

However, they also recognize that it’s not easy to change behavior. A well-laid plan means nothing if somebody doesn’t want to follow it. As a result, health coaches often help people change the behaviors that may have led them to adopting unhealthy habits in the first place.

That’s a basic description of what a health coach does. Let’s take a look at the role in more detail.

Who Can Work as a Health Coach?

Typically, you’ll find that health coaches already have careers that involve either health or fitness. For example, many who achieve the certification already work as nurses, dieticians, or in some other medical field that requires direct interaction with people. Many sports trainers and physical fitness professionals also study to earn a health coach certification so they can provide more information to their clients.

Beyond this, people study for health coach certification so that they can advance in their careers. Many specialists see health coaching as a way to round out their skillsets, as it gives them knowledge in areas that they may not have studied in-depth before. For example, a nurse may study to become a health coach to develop a better understanding of proper nutrition.

Are There Any Requirements for Training?

Yes, you will have to meet certain requirements to begin training as a health coach.

Most health coach certification courses ask that candidates provide proof of possession of at least one of the following:

  • An associate’s degree earned at an accredited university or college. This degree should focus on a field related to health coaching, such as healthcare, nutrition, wellness, or fitness. For example, a sports science degree would be suitable.
  • Certification in one of the above-mentioned fields that carries accreditation from the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA).
  • Certification in a different health coach training program, which should have approval from the International Consortium for Health and Wellness Coaches (ICHWC).
  • A couple of years of experience in the health, fitness, behavioral, or wellness fields. This experience should focus on the design and implementation of plans for clients, ideally with a leadership element.

These requirements may vary depending on the certification provider. However, the general gist is the same. Health coaches must already have a background in a related field before they can earn certification. This is because the certification builds on their pre-existing knowledge, in addition to introducing new concepts.

Beyond this, most certification providers ask that applicants are at least 18 years of age, though most are older due to the need for previous study and work experience. Knowledge of cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is usually a prerequisite.

Furthermore, most certifiers ask for proof of identity, such as a driving license or passport.

Getting Certified as a Health Coach

It’s a good idea to take some time to compare programs before you apply for health coach certification. Look for a program that will match your career plan and equip you with practical skills and new insights.

For most people, ACE Fitness is the best and most well-rounded certification option. The American Council of Exercise cares deeply about the quality of your work, and they are the only organization to offer NCCA-accredited certifications for health coaches.

NCCA accreditation means you will develop a very thorough understanding of your job. You’ll be required to maintain your certification by attending courses or specialist programs. This will help you progress in your field and stay aware of new scientific developments.

If you decide on ACE Fitness, how do you get started? First, you have two programs to choose from: Standard and Premium. The Standard program is more affordable, but the Premium program comes with more study materials and practice tests.

Whichever program you select, your goal is to learn all you can from the ACE Health Coach Manual. It was co-written by an experienced physical therapist, nutritionist and a behavioral psychologist.

This manual will teach you how to recognize the underlying psychological issues that may stand in your client’s way. You will learn the best ways to approach your client’s issues with confidence, professionalism and tact.

On average, it takes 80-100 study hours to learn this manual, and the extra study materials can be a big help. Make sure to register for your exam within six months of starting your program, but you can sit the exam whenever you’re ready.

You can take ACE Fitness exams in a large number of cities worldwide. If you decide to go for the electronic version of the exam, results will be instantaneous.

Since it guarantees quality performance and dedication on your part, your ACE Fitness certification will make it much easier to get any job you may choose. Some employers list NCCA accreditation as a requirement, after all. Once you are certified, you may want to start thinking about specializations. ACE Fitness offers a wide variety of specialization options as well.

What Are a Health Coach’s Tasks?

Health coaches perform a variety of tasks, with a general view to improving a client’s overall health and wellness. These tasks often include the following:

  • Working with clients to identify issues that affect their wellness and come up with plans of action to confront and resolve those issues.
  • Provide ongoing support and education for their clients to help them better understand the purpose of the plan.
  • Examine the current behavior of clients so they can identify patterns that may prevent them from achieving their goals.
  • Work with clients to confront behavioral issues that may prevent them from following their plans.
  • Take regular readings of client vital signs, such as blood pressure, blood sugar levels, height, and weight.
  • Use the readings to adapt their clients’ plans as needed.
  • Apply their specialist knowledge, usually in the fields of fitness, nutrition, or medicine, to refine plans.
  • Suggest new exercises and techniques for clients to try.
  • Maintain positivity in all interactions with clients, while also showing empathy to their personal situations.

This last task is particularly crucial, as empathy is key to helping clients through personal situations. Health coaches must understand both the issues afflicting their clients, and the mindsets that may keep clients in damaging patterns. Through understanding and continued positivity, a health coach leads their clients, ensuring they follow the plans the coach puts in place for them.

What Secondary Skills do Health Coaches Need?

Beyond the formal qualifications mentioned above, health coaches must employ a range of secondary skills to provide effective services to clients. These include the following:

  • A well-rounded knowledge of nutrition, fitness, and health. The coach must understand how these three things combine to affect both physical and mental health.
  • The ability to recognize common medical conditions and create treatment plans based on their knowledge.
  • Stellar communication skills. This extends to talking, writing, and, perhaps most importantly, listening.
  • The ability to motivate others to keep them on track. This often requires the coach to have a lot of self-confidence.
  • The patience required to provide insight to clients of different ages and backgrounds.
  • An efficient and well-organized personality.
  • The desire to stay up to date on the latest developments in the health and wellness sectors.
  • The ability to educate clients, without confusing them by using complex medical terminology.

How Do Health Coaches Differ From Doctors?

In some respects, doctors and health coaches have similar roles. They both work with people, with the aim of discovering issues and providing solutions.

However, their approaches and qualifications differ.

Some argue that doctors focus more on the disease than they do the patient. While they must interact and show empathy, their focus is on finding the condition and providing treatment. Oftentimes, their treatment revolves around curing symptoms while trying to get to the root of the condition itself.

Health coaches reverse that focus, placing more emphasis on the person behind the condition. They learn as much about their clients as possible, both to build a connection and so that they can develop better long-term wellness plans. Empathy is key, as is the ability to listen to and understand the challenges that clients face in their personal lives.

In doing this, health coaches facilitate lifestyle changes. Their focus is on helping their clients avoid the behaviors that lead to poor health. Health coaches don’t diagnose medical conditions, or prescribe treatment for them. However, they often have a rudimentary understanding of medical issues, which they use to support their recommendations.

They also commonly work with clients who have chronic health conditions. Again this work involves confronting the condition, and the behaviors that can make it work. For example, a health coach may educate a diabetic client on the importance of maintaining a healthy diet. The coach then provides recommendations, support, and understanding to ensure the client eats more healthily.

Having said that, both take a scientific approach to their work. This is why most health coach accreditation bodies require the pre-requisites mentioned earlier.

The Benefits of Health Coaching

When working with a health coach, you’ll benefit from the following:

  • The creation of actionable and achievable goals related to your wellness issues.
  • Focus on the entire wellness spectrum, rather than a specific condition.
  • A connection with a professional who wants to understand what makes you tick.
  • The ability to retrain your mind so you can move away from harmful behaviors.
  • Continued education with the aim of making you more independent.
  • The confidence needed to take control of your life and confront your wellness issues.

The Final Word

In many cases, your lifestyle and personal choices have a huge effect on your wellness. However, you may not realize just how much an old habit may be harming you. Over time, such behaviors can lead to long-term health concerns, or exacerbate chronic conditions.

Health coaches aim to educate you about the issues, and help you to understand how they apply to your personal circumstances. They also provide recommendations, ongoing support, and the benefits of extensive knowledge in a range of health-related fields. All in all, they are an invaluable resource on the path toward wellness.


Those in the fitness field have several options open to them if they want to move up in their careers. Group Fitness Instructor certification is amongst the most powerful career boosters. Not only will you have your training as a personal instructor to fall back on, but a group fitness certification means that you can take on more tasks.

Better yet, hosting classes is a great way to get people interested in you. If somebody likes your group fitness sessions, they’ll be more likely to ask you for one-to-one sessions. This works both ways. You can encourage your personal fitness clients to also take your group fitness classes. Over time, you can develop a client list that makes you valuable to your gym, or opens the door to going into business for yourself.

This means a higher income for you, and more career options. Furthermore, a good course can also help you to understand how to market your services.

However, it’s not easy to find the right certification. Several organizations offer courses, all of which take a different approach.

We’ve examined some of the leading Group Fitness Instructor certifications for the purposes of this guide. Read on to find out which the best course is for you.

The American Council on Exercise (ACE) Certification

An ACE Certification shows that you can do more than memorize a class and perform. As part of the program, you will develop a better understanding of how different activities affect different parts of the body as well as become equipped with the skills and knowledge to create classes of your own.

The study program comes in three flavors – Pro Essentials, Pro Plus and Pro Advantage. Each offer quality, though the most advanced packages offer more educational materials.

The Essentials program currently costs $299 and gives you access to ACE’s Group Fitness Instructor Handbook in either physical or eBook form. This provides in-depth information about fitness and demonstrates how it impacts overall wellness. You’ll also enroll in the ACE Digital Classroom, which offers access to chapter reviews and quizzes so you can track your progress against the handbook. You also receive access to the ACE Resource Center, and a practice test that you can use to prepare yourself for the final exam. This exam is also included as part of the package.

The Plus program adds to this by offering an additional practice exam. You also receive both physical and eBook versions of the handbook. This comes at a cost of $349.

Finally, the Advantage package comes with everything in the Plus package. However, you now have unlimited access to practice exams. Furthermore, ACE offers its Enhanced Digital Resource Package, which goes into more detail on becoming a quality group fitness instructor. Typically, the Advantage package costs $499, but ACE runs regular offers so you may get it cheaper.

Whichever you choose, you’ll have access to a ton of resources to help you understand group fitness. Furthermore, their certification carries accreditation from the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA).


  • Focus on applying theoretical knowledge to creating new classes.
  • Access to the ACE Resource Center, which offers one-on-one help with a study coach
  • Dedicated Facebook Group
  • NCCA-accredited
  • Three program options.
  • Detailed study materials included as part of the package.
  • Practice tests included.
  • Final test included.


  • No physical teaching component.

National Exercise Trainers Association (NETA) Certification

The NETA certification also carries NCCA accreditation, plus it takes a more physical approach to learning. The most expensive version of the course places more of a focus on practical learning than theoretical. While experienced personal trainers may not need these, they go a long way to teaching the fundamentals to beginners. As part of the package, you’ll take part in workshops where you review your progress with a trained professional.

All told, NETA offer three routes to earning its certification. There’s the previously described practical course. However, you can also choose courses that focus on self-study using the NETA materials, or a course based on live webinars. The latter courses reinforce the theory behind the physical aspect of teaching group fitness.

Importantly, you may need to purchase one of these two theoretical courses if you take the workshop-based course. This is because the workshop course doesn’t provide you with any study materials as part of the package.

However, all three do include a final test, which you must take at one of NETA’s 500 testing centers in the United States.

Course prices range from $239 to $299. While this may seem cheaper than the ACE course, there is a catch. You have to purchase the related course books and practice exams separately. When totaled up, the courses have a comparable price. The courses also focus more teaching group fitness classes than they do on creating your own.


  • A choice of three courses.
  • The most expensive course has a physical teaching component.
  • Courses carry NCCA accreditations.
  • Can control your own schedule if you take the self-study course.


  • Course materials aren’t included in the package.
  • You receive no practice tests.
  • Physical course offers less control over your own schedule.
  • Less focus on developing your own group fitness sessions.

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) Group Exercise Instructor Certification

The ACSM differs from the other courses on this list because of its focus on camaraderie. Through this course, you’ll understand the importance of bonding with your students, as well as teaching them. We mentioned previously that this bond is crucial to improving personal training businesses. If this is a route you’re interested in, the ACSM course may be the right choice for you.

ACSM has a different pricing structure too. You pay for the exam separately, meaning you can choose which course materials you invest in. The exam typically costs $299, though ACSM members receive it at a reduced price of $239. You can also buy a retest for $155, should you not succeed on your first attempt.

While this may seem lower than the ACE certification at first glance, the prices go up depending on which study materials you buy. For example, the basic resources package costs an additional $75.99, while ACSM’s Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription costs a further $47.99.

ACSM also offers physical workshops at locations throughout the United States. However, each of these carries a separate cost of their own.

One the one hand, this pricing structure gives you more control over how much the course costs you. If you already have a solid knowledge of group fitness, you could take the exam without studying. However, those who need extra tuition soon experience mounting costs. Attending multiple workshops could easily lead to the certification costing more than any other on this list.

However, there’s no denying the ACSM’s quality either. The organization has over 50,000 members making it the largest sports science organization on the planet. Studying through them gives you access to well-researched materials. Furthermore, taking out a membership lowers the cost of the exam, and may provide you access to other professionals so you can build your professional network.


  • Course is backed by a global professional organization.
  • You receive greater control over how you study.
  • Offers the option of attending workshops across the country.
  • Puts a greater focus on developing bonds with class members than other courses.


  • You must buy all of the course materials separately to the exam.
  • Every workshop costs a little extra on top.
  • Does not have NCCA accreditation.

Overall cost of the course may be higher for beginners due to their need for study materials.

The Final Word

In choosing the best of these three Group Fitness Instructor certifications, we have looked at several factors. The quality and methods of tuition play a huge role. So too does the focus of the course. The best certification should help you to build on your existing skills, and develop new skills that help you to teach classes better.

Price is also a factor, as this is especially important for beginners who need study materials. Any additional accreditation has also factored into our decision.

With all of those factors taken into account, we believe that the ACE certification is the best choice for both beginners and experienced practitioners. It is the only one to provide all of the program materials and the exam as part of a package deal, which simplifies the cost.
Furthermore, its focus on helping students learn how to develop their own classes stands out. This skill will prove advantageous to you as you try to set yourself apart from other group fitness professionals. The ACE program also carries NCCA accreditation, and includes practice tests. The only thing missing is a practical component, such as a workshop.

That’s not to say that the other two courses don’t have plenty to offer. NETA’s practical approach offers a different take on training, plus their course also has NCCA accreditation. The ACSM course could be either the most costly, or least expensive of the three, depending on your current skill level. However, it also comes with the backing of an established organization with tens of thousands of members.

Still, if we are to choose one, we select the ACE certification. It’s the most comprehensive of the three choices. Plus, you receive access to an extensive library of resources to help you pass.


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