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In parts 1 and 2, we discussed why some online "coaches" may be playing fast and loose with that title, and how their actions and ignorance can be incredibly damaging on multiple levels. In Part 3, we'll talk about how to tell the difference between an actual health and fitness coach, and someone who bought a $99 starter kit and posts faux inspirational memes on Instagram.

Here are a few key characteristics to look for in a legitimate health, fitness, or nutrition coach:

1. They’ll display their education proudly (or have no problem talking about it if you ask).

(Image via Pixabay)

If you search on social media for “personal trainer” or “health coach,” a ton of profiles will come up. Click around on a few just for fun. You may find some people with a slew of letters after their names: NASM, ACE, Pn1, CSCS, BS, MS, DPT, RD, IIN…the list goes on. You may not know what these letters all stand for, but you’ll know what they mean - that the person you’re looking at has invested time, effort, discipline, and money into their education. In many cases, it also means that they’ve passed scrupulous tests or board examinations in order to obtain those letters. They have a comprehensive knowledge in exercise science, nutrition, physical therapy, or dietetics. They are qualified to be giving health and fitness advice and know how to appropriately program a workout, build a meal plan, or coach a client.

If they don’t have those letters listed - ask! A legitimate coach will gladly provide their background and qualifications quickly and without issue.

2. They’ll program your workouts and/or nutrition plans individually and according to your goals and considerations, rather than telling you to follow a "one-size-fits-all" plan*

(Image via Pixabay)

A real health coach, nutrition coach, or personal trainer will begin their professional relationship with you by performing some sort of assessment or intake. They'll ask questions about medical issues, surgeries, past and current injuries, and medications. They may also ask some lifestyle questions, like "what's your current stress level?" Or, "what recreational activities do you enjoy?" They may even ask a question like "do you have a desk job or spend most of your day sitting?" While this type of questioning might not make sense to you, it will inform a personal trainer about potential weaknesses or imbalances you may have in your body, and they'll know what to be on the lookout for when you go through a physical assessment.

Most importantly though, a qualified health, nutrition, or fitness coach will ask you about your goals. They'll want detailed answers. A little bit of history. Maybe some of the ways you've tried to achieve your goals in the past. They'll never assume you want to lose weight, drop a dress size, or achieve a "beach body" (whatever that means). They'll want to hear about your goals from you. And once they do, they'll come up with a detailed program that addresses those goals and your considerations (all the stuff you listed in your intake, like previous injuries or current medications). They won't sign you up and then send you a bunch of little containers, prepackaged meals, and a link to a workout app, without delving deeper into what it is you want to work on.

*It's important to note that many legitimate coaches or trainers do offer generalized programs that tend to be more affordable less hands-on. That's why #1 is very important - before you purchase any general program, make sure whoever designed it knows what they're doing.

3. In most cases, they won’t cold message you.

(Yikes on several bikes)

There are some legitimate coaches that have no problem cold messaging people. But most of the established professionals I know (myself included) would never message a random stranger on social media asking them if they're interested in whatever it is they're peddling. It's time consuming, yields little-to-no results, and....well, it's very icky.

That's not to say that if you expressed at least some sort of interest in training or coaching, a qualified individual wouldn't reach out. I've seen posts on Facebook asking for coach or trainer recommendations, and have either commented or messaged with my own name, or referred them to a colleague. When I worked out of a gym, I would call new members to set up complementary fitness assessments. This is pretty common and not something I'd really consider a "cold" contact.

But regardless, posting a picture of your dog or a selfie at the park would never (and should never) illicit a message from a professional pimping out their services. This is something I've seen way too much of from "coaches." ("Haha I love my bulldog too! And seeing your pic of Fido got me thinking about how you might love my workout accountability group!" - Just, no).

4. They’ll recommend a variety of brands or options when you ask for their opinions.

We all have our favorites - favorite pair of shoes, favorite desert, favorite protein powder and pre-workout. If you ask your coach or trainer for product recommendations, they'll definitely let you know their favorites. But a good, knowledgeable coach will give you a variety of brands or products to consider, and they'll NEVER pressure you to buy any of it. In fact, in some instances they may recommend against it. ("Don't waste your money on a ketone supplement, they're nonsense").

Beware of anyone who claims to be a "coach" and ONLY recommends one brand of product, or tries to pressure you into purchasing anything besides training or coaching (especially if you've never asked for their recommendations). While not illegal, it's highly unethical for any certified coach or trainer to sell products themselves; it's strongly discouraged in most reputable coaching and training certifications. It may not be obvious, but if your coach pushes a certain product or brand on you, and tells you that you should only order it through a link they provide, chances are they're selling the product themselves (and they may not be a legitimate professional).

5. They’ll never, ever ask if you would consider being a “coach”*

This is the red flag to end all red flags. A real coach or trainer will NEVER ask you if you've ever considered "doing what they do." Ever.

Whether or not you're a "coach" makes absolutely no difference at all to a legitimate health and fitness professional. We don't care what you do for a living, or as a hobby, outside of how it affects your body. It would be weird if the cashier at Trader Joe's asked you if you'd ever considered working there when all you wanted to do was pick up some groceries (although their benefits are pretty good, so I might consider it). It's just as weird if your "coach" asks you if you'd like to be "a part of their team" - especially if you have no background in health or fitness.

Remember from Part 1 - building a "team" (also called a "downline") is the only way a "coach" will ever make any money. The situation is reversed for an actual professional: if my client decides to be a personal trainer or nutrition coach, they'd now technically be considered my business competition. And while I would definitely encourage any client with a genuine interest in the career path to explore their options, I would never suggest it unprompted. Why would I want to create my own competition?

*I've actually had a few clients that have gone on to receive their training certifications after working with me. In these instances, the clients ALWAYS initiated the conversation, and I gave them my opinions and provided information I thought they'd find helpful. I'll always advocate clients following their interests and passions, no matter what they may be!

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