In a recently published article on Health Coaching, I offered an overview of this exciting field, outlining the many positive attributes such a service can provide for our personal training clients. In Part Two, we will explore in more detail some specific methods employed by health coaches as they guide clients on their path to wellness.
We are all undoubtedly familiar with the following quote:
“Give a man a fish and he eats for a day; teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime.”
The role of a successful health coach mirrors this premise. While physicians and other clinicians are concerned with healing a patient, a health coach teaches a client how best to implement suggestions given by medical professionals. Providing clear strategies for establishing a course of action, followed by a dedicated commitment to helping a client achieve success in reaching his/her goals, is where health coaching becomes a valuable tool for personal trainers.
A common reason many individuals seek out personal training is to lose weight. While some clients are motivated and self-directed when it comes to pairing good nutrition with prudent exercise, the majority of individuals we will encounter have ended up in the gym under duress. Perhaps recent blood test results have indicated high cholesterol or a pre-diabetic situation; maybe a yearly check-up might have led a doctor to suggest weight loss and exercise. Often when delivering such news to a patient, medical professionals are either too rushed to explain further, or might lack the knowledge their patients require in order to enact a plan toward success. Thus, said client arrives at our gym with an edict but no road map.
A vital role of health coaches is to listen. It may sound simple, but since health coaching is a process which requires a highly individualized plan, it becomes essential that the client’s needs are going to be fully met. However, clients often cannot provide enough detail to their coaches simply because they failed to fully understand their physician’s directions. It has been estimated that as many as half of all patients leave a doctor’s office having not comprehended the clinician’s highly technical language. Such accurate comprehension can be facilitated by the health coach.
Many clients come to us in a frightened state. They have just been told that certain numbers from recent lab tests were out of the “healthy” range. That part is easy to understand, however difficult it is to hear. After receiving such news, one of two things will usually occur: either the doctor elaborates on why this number is pointing in a dangerous direction using rapid-fire medical jargon, or the patient becomes so distracted with worry that all further listening has completely ceased. Either scenario commonly renders the patient unable to format a plan of action. This is where a health coach once again proves to be a strong ally.
Once a client has conveyed his/her fears and concerns to the health coach, a road map toward improved health can be drafted. One key to successful relationship-building between a client and a health coach is the process of shared decision making. Health coaches study the arts of motivational interviewing, positive psychology and effective goal-setting in order to help support meaningful behavioral changes.
Armed with the information, however limited, that the physician has provided, a health coach might consider asking the following questions:
- What ultimate goal is important to you?
- What choices would you like to make regarding your health?
- Are you in agreement with your doctor’s suggestions?
- What behavioral changes might you be motivated to attempt?
The answers to these questions will assist the health coach in planning an appropriate course of action…..not for the client, but rather with the client.
A client once told me she had sought out the advice of a registered dietitian at the onset of her exercise program. The dietitian looked over the woman’s food log and told her two things: she was not consuming enough calories each day to allow her metabolism to operate at its fullest potential, and she needed to increase her calcium intake. While those were indeed accurate observations, no further information was forthcoming from the professional. Thus, my client returned for our next workout session very frustrated, with no clue how to make these changes in her meal plan. Simply telling an individual what to do, regardless of his/her level of motivation, will have very little effect on behavioral change. Rather, it is important for the client and coach to review such information, establish goals that are realistic, and finally create an action plan that can be achieved —- together. Usually one or more daily behaviors will need to be identified before change can be enacted. In some instances, a client may realize roadblocks that have heretofore prevented progress from being made. Setting time aside each evening to assemble workout clothes, shoes, socks, a water bottle and a protein bar in a gym bag that can be placed in the car might be all that is required to set in motion a new habit of exercising immediately after work. Charting a course together towards progressive changes is a powerful aspect of a successful coach-client partnership.
With the abundance of health –related magazines available today, most of our clients already realize what is required to maintain a “clean” meal plan. The unfortunate truth is that only a small percentage of these individuals actually have the drive to establish and adhere to such changes in their daily diets. A qualified health coach is well-versed in such topics as weight management psychology, the physiology of obesity, and techniques for establishing lifelong changes. Sometimes all that is required is to arrive at each session armed with easy-to-follow recipes to encourage clients to branch out in the kitchen, but in a healthy direction. Experimenting with new foods may be daunting for some clients, and recipes containing too many new and unfamiliar ingredients can deter many individuals. Choosing prudently will enable the health coach to approach this delicate area in a positive light. Sharing tips from top nutritional experts also helps to foster open lines of communication and application of healthier meal options.
As personal trainers, we often limit our scope of practice to gym members or our in-home clients. A virtually untapped population which could truly benefit from the services of a health coach encompasses individuals who for whatever reason do not belong to a gym, yet still need much guidance when it comes to instilling major lifestyle changes. This is where workplace wellness programs come in. 67% of employers claim that poor employee health habits, which may quadruple health care costs, render it difficult for companies to keep insurance costs affordable. Offering health coaching in the workplace as part of a benefits/ incentive program could in all probability mean the difference between short-term success and long-term, cost-saving results. The rate of preventable disease and obesity has increased almost exponentially in recent years, placing a considerable burden on employers of large businesses and corporations who are required to pay for increasing health care costs. In searching for solutions, some companies now offer healthier options at on-site cafeterias, smoking cessation programs, and physical activity programs (walking at lunch time, aerobics classes on-site after work hours, stair-climbing competitions) for employees who need help achieving a healthier lifestyle. Nearly half of all employers who have instituted workplace wellness programs report a health coverage cost savings, and 69% of them cite a marked improvement in employee health. Fewer “sick days” means greater productivity, and healthy employees are bound to be happier overall.
Getting employees on board with a new wellness initiative may be challenging for those high-powered individuals who face time crunches and deadlines on a regular basis. Health coaches may choose to offer a brief “get acquainted” seminar, to familiarize employees and bosses alike with how the process works to maximize both their wellness and their time. Lunch-and-Learn sessions are often time-efficient ways of introducing a workplace staff to the benefits of health coaching. Supervisors may be interested in working with health coaches to create an incentive program for any employee demonstrating progress while utilizing this service. As health coaching becomes more integrated into the fitness and wellness arena, there is bound to be an exponential growth in the number of companies willing to offer such programs.
If health coaching sounds appealing to you as a way of enhancing the services you offer as a personal trainer, look into obtaining a certification for this specialty. Marketing yourself as a professional who can take a complete, holistic approach to improving a client’s life is always going to get noticed!
About the Author
Cathleen Kronemer is an AFAA-Certified Group Exercise Instructor, NSCA-Certified Personal Trainer, competitive bodybuilder and freelance writer. She is employed at the Jewish Community Center in St. Louis, MO. Cathleen has been involved in the fitness industry for more than two decades. Look for her on www.WorldPhysique.com, and feel free to contact her here. She welcomes your feedback and your comments!