How to Become a Certified Health Coach

This guide highlights how to become a health coach. Discover the importance of certification and tips for landing a job.

portrait of Tessa Cooper
by Tessa Cooper

Published August 18, 2022

Edited by Colin Weickmann
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How to Become a Certified Health Coach
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Certified health coaches help their clients reach their physical fitness and nutritional goals. They assess a person's current health state and develop a workout and meal plan with them. People interested in healthcare, exercise, human anatomy, nutrition, and encouraging others often thrive in this role. These professionals often work for fitness centers or as self-employed individuals.

The path to certification looks a little different for everyone. This guide highlights the common major steps aspiring health coaches take. Keep reading to learn how to become a certified health coach and tips for applying for jobs.

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What Is Health Coaching?

Health coaching refers to the use of strategies like conversations and accountability check-ins to inspire lifestyle changes. Accessing health coaching does not replace the need to see other healthcare practitioners, like doctors or physical therapists. They generally help people in moderate to good health achieve even better health. People who want to lower their stress levels, lose weight, and eat a more nutritional diet often seek assistance from a health coach.

What Does a Health Coach Do?

Health coaches motivate their clients to create positive changes in their lives. Some of their day-to-day responsibilities include:

After working as a health coach for several years, some professionals may start their own health coaching businesses. These professionals must market their business to get new clients. They may eventually hire other health coaches and take on more of a management role. Some health coaches may earn a certification or specialization in one area of health coaching, like nutrition.

Health Coach Responsibilities

  • Design and oversee workout programs
  • Make recommendations on meal plans, including macronutrient consumption
  • Set measurable goals and evaluate client progress
  • Recommend coping strategies for stress

Health Coach Not For You? Check Out These Related Careers.

What Are the Steps to Become a Certified Health Coach?

Aspiring certified health coaches can launch into their careers relatively quickly. This career only requires certification, but there are other steps you can take to succeed. Keep in mind the path to becoming a certified health coach looks different for everyone.

Then for each step below, detail the cost, the time it takes, and a description of the step. List any internship/practicum/clinical hours for each degree type or health coach job.

Step 1: Earn an Undergraduate Degree

While not every health coach certification program requires an undergraduate degree, earning a formal degree may help these coaches better serve their clients. Undergraduate degrees in majors like exercise science, health science, and health education help learners understand the reasoning behind the practices. Future clients and employers may value majors that relate to science, human anatomy, and nutrition.

Through their studies, learners hone their soft skills and hard skills, like their interpersonal communication and exercise planning abilities. They discover how macronutrients help the human body operate efficiently and how to target certain muscle groups through movement.

Step 2: Obtain Certification

States do not require licensure or certification for health coaches to practice. However, professionals without these credentials can't advertise themselves as registered, certified, or licensed. Additionally, certified health coaches may earn more than non-certified health coaches.

Health coaches often pursue certifications from the following organizations:

Some certification providers require prerequisites like an online program completion. Most certifications do not require any formal education.

Step 3: Get a Job as a Health Coach

Certified health coaches commonly pursue entry-level jobs as health education specialists at community health centers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), these professionals earned a median income of $48,860 in 2021.

When applying for health coaching jobs, applicants should look for positions that offer opportunities for advancement. Aspiring health coaches who have difficulty finding a job may apply for an internship at a local fitness center. Health coaches who want to later earn a master's in health administration may want to complete clinical job shadowing or apply for a job at a clinic.

Most health coaches work in entry-level positions for 1-3 years before they pursue an advanced job or start their own health coaching business.

Step 4: Consider Continuing Education or Specialization

Certified health coaches may earn a specialization or pursue additional education to justify charging higher rates to clients. They may do so through earning a certificate in a niche health coaching topic, like holistic health coaching or aerobic exercise. Or, they may choose to earn an additional master's degree or doctoral degree to perform research in the health coaching field. Professional organizations also offer continuing education opportunities through webinars and conferences.

What to Know Before Becoming a Health Coach

Accreditation

Before pursuing a certificate, associate degree, or bachelor's degree in fitness or nutrition, aspiring learners should research the school's accreditation status. Schools that earn accreditation receive quality assessments from agencies that the U.S. Department of Higher Education oversees. Both in-person and online programs can also earn accreditation. The Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs serves as the top accrediting agency for this major.

Cost

According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), undergraduate students spent an average of about $25,910 on their studies in 2020-2021. The NCES also found that graduate students spent an average of about $19,790 on their studies in 2019-2020.

When budgeting for college, consider the hidden costs. Many schools charge activity fees that drive the actual cost up. Some schools also charge varying prices for online and on-campus programs.

Additionally, certification costs money. Certification ranges anywhere from a $50 annual fee to a one-time fee of less than $1,000.

Salary

According to data accessed in July 2022 from Payscale, health coaches earned an average salary of about $49,370. However, earning an advanced degree may lead to higher-paying positions. Payscale data from the same time shows professionals with a master of science in nutrition earned an average salary of $60,000.

According to the BLS, fitness trainers and instructors in New York earned the most in May 2021, with an annual mean wage of $61,840. Additionally, the fitness and recreational sports center industry paid these professionals the most. They earned a median wage of $46,260 in May 2021.

Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming a Certified Health Coach

Is becoming a certified health coach worth it?

People passionate about helping others achieve their goals through motivation and education often find this certification worth the effort. Through the certification process, future health coaches also learn how to nurture their bodies and protect their health.

While these professionals earn a median salary on par with the median across all professions, according to the BLS, health coaches can always switch to similar but higher-paying fields. For example, the BLS finds dieticians and nutritionists earned a median income of $61,650 in May 2021.

Can I become a health coach without a degree?

People can work as health coaches without a degree or even certification. However, many employers and clients prefer to work with professionals with these credentials. Formal education and certification demonstrate expertise and knowledge in the health coaching field.

Aspiring health coaches can start by earning a certificate or associate degree. Many schools offer these programs online for added convenience. Individuals can also become certified health coaches without any formal education through some organizations. Most certification programs only require a course completion.

How long does it take to become a certified health coach?

The time it takes to become a certified health coach varies. For example, health coaches who earn a bachelor's degree spend about four years on their studies. Then, they often spend at least one year working on their certification. Some health coaches work on their certification while they complete their undergraduate studies.

Certain health coaches may start working after completing just one internship or an online course. However, these professionals can't advertise themselves as certified or registered health coaches.

Starting a health coaching business may take longer. Health coaches usually spend 2-3 years working for an employer before building a client base. Or, they may work a part-time job while building a client base on the side.

Are health coaches in demand?

The BLS projects all healthcare occupations to grow by 16% from 2020-2030, a faster than average growth rate than all other occupations. However, certain health coaching jobs may increase even more. The BLS projects the need for athletic trainers to increase by 23% during the same time frame. This equates to about 3,100 new jobs in the U.S. per year.

The BLS projects an even higher growth rate for coaches — 26% between 2020 and 2030. The organization cites people leaving the workforce to switch occupations or retire as the reason for the large increase.

Other health coaching positions feature a lower but still above-average projected growth rate. For example, the BLS projects the need for health education specialists to increase by 17% during the same time frame.

How much money can I make as a certified health coach?

Earning potential varies depending on the type of health coaching position a person pursues. According to the BLS, the lowest 10% of fitness trainers and instructors earned less than $22,960 in May 2021. However, the top 10% earned more than $75,940.

The location also influences salary. For example, Floridian exercise trainers earned a mean wage of $37,720 in May 2021. However, the same professionals in California earned a mean wage of $55,480.

A professional's level of experience also plays a role in salary. Generally, professionals with more years of experience earn more than entry-level health coaches. Earning potential may also increase with additional education.

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