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  • Writer's pictureKel

Partner with Ethical Coaches

Updated: Jun 7, 2021

How to Identify a Bad Coach

The health and wellness industry has a unique opportunity to impact lives in a positive way. When you think about it, most fitness professionals enter the industry with a personal passion for fitness and a strong desire to help others. Ethics play a large role in the health and wellness industry because the lives of people cannot be improved without placing a priority on respect for individual human rights, upholding any legal obligations and protecting the health and safety of clients.

Unacceptable Behavior

Negative characteristics that detract from professionalism include inappropriate behavior such as flirting, canceling sessions frequently, not calling ahead of being late, cursing, or discussing personal problems, weekend activities, dating/marital problems and successes, dressing inappropriately or making sexual innuendoes.

Here are a few actions and traits to watch out for when choosing a health and fitness coach to work with:

Poor Communication Skills

You should measure a coach’s ability to communicate during the initial consultation. Consider the questions below to determine the strength of a coach’s communication skills.

  • Does the coach make you feel supported by demonstrating empathy and using inclusive language like we, let’s, ours and us?

  • Did the coach explain the what, when, where and why for every assessment, training session, program or exercise?

  • Were the directions clearly stated?

  • Did the coach demonstrate patience when you were asking questions?

  • Is the coach available to respond to your questions via email, text and phone in a timely manner?


In the customer service business, being on time is considered late. A coach should always be respectful of your time and show up prepared.

Negative Reinforcement

A coach should never use exercise as punishment. For example, asking a client to do 50 push-ups due to missing a workout or using insulting comments that invoke fear or shame with the aim to motivate the client. People typically hire coaches because they need help getting and staying motivated. The most effective motivational strategies are positive. For best results, coaches should focus on efforts and behaviors rather than outcomes and performance. Positive reinforcement establishes trust and builds rapport. It also creates intrinsic motivation and confidence, which will support clients in establishing long-term habits.


If coaches live an unhealthy lifestyle, such as eating fast food, smoking or drinking excessively, their clients will soon detect their words may not line up with their actions. Coaches are mentors and must practice what they preach. Coaches should practice healthy nutrition and stress management and make time to workout. Coaches need to take care of themselves in order to give the best care to their clients.

Lack of Professionalism

The last thing a coach should ever want to do is make a client feel less than valued. Clients need to be a first priority during coaching sessions and maintaining a professional relationship between meetings. A coach should avoid texting/emailing, eating, or driving during in-person or virtual sessions.

There are many other unprofessional examples, but these are some of the more common traits for you to be mindful of when choosing a coach. Additionally, it can be helpful to go through a coach’s social media accounts and website to gain a better understanding of their coaching style. If there is a lack of information or inappropriate pictures and captions, then it might be a good idea to explore other options.

Ethical Practices

Here is a brief outline of actual ethical practices that you can expect while working with a certified health and fitness professional:

  • Provide safe and effective instruction.

  • Provide equal and fair treatment to all clients.

  • Stay up-to-date on the latest health and fitness research and understand its practical application.

  • Maintain current CPR and AED certificates and knowledge of first-aid services.

  • Uphold and enhance public appreciation and trust for the health and fitness industry.

  • Maintain the confidentiality of all client information.

  • Refer clients to more qualified health or medical professionals when appropriate.

  • Establish and maintain clear professional boundaries.

  • Make truthful and honest statements to you, including all marketing materials by not offering services or outcomes that cannot be provided.

  • Explain the nature of coaching to you and what you can expect in sessions.

  • Provides a clear coaching agreement prior to the initiation of sessions.

  • Encourages you to take responsibility for your actions and choices.

True Ethics You Can Expect

How do you know if your coach is an ethical person? Most people would say it’s knowing the difference between right and wrong. But that’s not enough because a person of integrity acts on his or her convictions about right and wrong regardless of the consequences. There is a difference between knowing what the right thing to do is and actually doing it.

Below are a few examples that you can expect from an ethical coach in the health and fitness industry.


There is a fine line between the expression ‘fake it till you make it’ and a flat-out lie. When it comes to being a professional in the fitness industry, it is extremely unethical to fake anything when it comes to credentials, business relationships, services, and knowledge of how to properly coach clients.

Health and fitness professionals should always accurately and honestly represent their qualifications, skills, knowledge, and experience.

Stay Within Scope of Practice

Health and fitness professionals should provide coaching, training, or educational services within their areas of expertise. Coaches should not provide medical, nutrition, or other advice unless they are qualified to do so. This includes diagnosing health or medically related conditions, recommending treatment, and providing medical treatment.

For example, coaches have a professional responsibility and obligation to help educate their clients on proper nutrition guidelines. Certified coaches can take active steps to safely, effectively and legally deliver this important component of their professional services while still remaining within their scope of practice.

Maintaining Client Confidentiality

Health and fitness professionals have a legal and ethical responsibility to guard the privacy and confidentiality of their clients and any personal information they have shared. Coaches should also ensure that procedures are in place to protect any personal information, whether health related or not, from being accessed by others. Coaches should also be mindful while sharing stories about their clients, including on social media, even without names.

Maintain Boundaries

Coaches should behave professionally in all relationships with fellow fitness professionals and clients. It is important to avoid personal relationships with clients, and specifically any romantic relationships.

Coaches should communicate and review their cancellation policies during the initial consultation or first coaching session. A cancellation policy should clearly address the following questions:

  • What are the expectations of clients for accountability and attendance?

  • Will there be a one-time cancellation without charge as a courtesy?

  • How far in advance should clients cancel to avoid charges?

  • How much will the charge be for a client that cancels within the set window?

  • Are there any exceptions for canceling within the window?

Exemplify Good Business Practices

In addition to honesty, practicing respect for clients, colleagues, and oneself is good business practice. Good business practices also include conducting business in accordance with the relevant state and federal laws and regulations, including taxation.

Continuous Professional Education

Ethically, training and competence are important for any person asserting that they are a professional in the health and fitness industry. Certified health and fitness professionals are required to complete a certain number of continued education credits on a yearly basis to renew their licensure. Undertaking specialist training in areas of interest and increasing professional knowledge and experience is an ethical responsibility.

Refer to Credentialed Professionals

If anything is outside the scope of services, a coach should refer clients to a credentialed professional. It is even a good idea for a coach to provide the names of more than just one professional to clients. Health and fitness coaches are trained in certain areas and need to stay within their area of expertise.

Listening and Communicating with Clients

Through listening and effectively communicating, health and fitness professionals can truly understand and guide clients towards reaching their goals. Coaches should tailor all of their programming, recommendations, and coaching styles to each client.

The Bottom Line

Health and fitness professionals are in this industry because they are passionate about improving the health and well-being of their clients. However, in order to achieve this, coaches must strive to protect the health and safety of their clients, abide by the law and respect the rights of all humans.

Additionally, health and fitness coaching is a highly customer service-focused industry, in which the client’s needs always come first. Ensuring clients feel respected, valued and safe is at the heart of being a successful coach.

Before deciding to work with a certified coach, you should have a clear understanding of not only the type of services that will be provided, but also the coach’s background and ethics. Unfortunately, the fitness industry is not strictly regulated and there are a lot of coaches out there who lack the proper credentials and expertise. To avoid working with an unqualified coach, do research and even schedule a consultation call to ask questions that will help you to make an informed decision.


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