A certified health coach or certified personal trainer should respect the boundaries of her scope of practice. Even though there is no single certifying body for health coaches or personal trainers, there are standards of professionalism that should be followed.
There are five things to look for to ensure that your health coach or personal trainer is operating within her educational and certified practice. If your fit pro raises any of these red flags, it’s time for a conversation and probably a change.
Red Flag #1: The personal trainer or health coach diagnoses illness or medical conditions
Neither a certified health coach nor a personal trainer can diagnose illnesses or medical conditions. Rather, a reputable health pro should have a network of referral partners who can properly assess a medical situation. While your health coach or personal trainer should be able to modify your fitness plan if you note a tweaky shoulder or sore knee, offering a diagnosis of your situation is not appropriate.
Red Flag #2: The personal trainer or health coach provides physician-prescribed rehab
After you’ve seen a physician and received a diagnosis of your injury, you still need medical clearance before working with your health coach or personal trainer again.
If your recovery plan includes physical therapy, make sure you are working with a qualified physical therapist. Their understanding of anatomy and physiology specific to your situation will best support your recovery. Again, the health coach or personal trainer may be able to continue the work you started in physical therapy, but follow your physician’s recommendation for who to see and for how long.
Of course, if your trainer or coach is also a physical therapist, then lucky you!
Red Flag #3: Your personal trainer or health coach writes meal plans
Neither health coaches nor personal trainers can write meal plans. Yes, I know many who do. And I also know you can find a meal plan on websites all over the internet.
But laws in most US states forbid anyone other than registered dietitians to write meal plans. Period. Stop.
So while your health coach or personal trainer can (and should!) encourage you to keep a food diary and discuss your nutrition choices with you, they are most likely operating outside of the law if they write meal plans.
Red Flag #4: Your trainer or coach pushes supplements
Again, there are plenty of personal trainers who sell supplements. It is, however, a clear conflict of interest to sell supplements to clients if the trainer makes a profit off the sale. Health coaches have a more clear boundary regarding pushing supplements to clients, and that boundary makes it a no-go situation.
If a health coach believes her client would benefit from supplementation, it is best to encourage the client to a) seek advice from her physician and b) offer a reputable source for high quality supplementation.
Red Flag #5: Your trainer or coach lacks personal boundaries
Most people get into fitness and health coaching because they want to help people. With that understanding, your coach or trainer should be personable. For sure!
And working with people on personal issues like behavior change or weight requires an intimacy that most client-service provider relationships don’t need. For coaches who work independently (like me), boundaries are further blurred because sessions are often conducted in the client’s home.
While it is natural for trainer-client relationships to be friendly, if you feel uncomfortable with your trainer or health coach, know that there are other health pros out there. Go find a better fit! Remember that you entered into this relationship because you wanted to make your life better and healthier. If the person you hired to help you becomes a liability, you’re in control to end it.
Also, keep an ear out…your trainer or health coach shouldn’t tell you specifics of another client’s situation. Knowing that they respect their clients’ privacy should give you confidence to share openly about your situation.
It is my hope that you never see any of these five red flag warning signs of working with personal trainers or health coaches. I work hard to bring a sense of professionalism to my work, and I know most of my colleagues do as well.