23 expert tips to help you overcome the most common coaching challenges.

23 expert tips to help you overcome the most common coaching challenges.

By Alex Picot-Annand


If people turn to you for health, fitness, and nutrition advice, you probably face a daily list of coaching challenges. Waning motivation. Irrational resistance. Obstacles and setbacks.

To help you (and your clients/patients) get past them, here are 23 excellent tips from our Precision Nutrition Certification Facebook group, where PN’s renowned coaching experts offer mentoring and time-tested guidance.


As a PN Certified coach, I have a lot going for me as a professional:

Broad and deep nutrition knowledge; an in-depth understanding of how nutrition affects health and fitness; a comprehensive toolkit for using behavioral psychology to guide people to real, lasting lifestyle (and body) transformation.

But I still hit coaching roadblocks… fairly regularly.

I need fresh ideas for the client who just can’t seem to get motivated.

Or the client who’s so stressed that just putting on pants in the morning feels like an epic task.

Or the client whose measurable progress has plateaued and, even though I know she’s still making behavioral progress, I need a creative way to show her that, and keep her engaged.

Helping people with their health can be hard.

Whether you’re an experienced professional, or brand-new to health / fitness / wellness coaching, you’re bound to run into challenges.

That’s why I rounded up these coaching tips from the PN Certification Facebook group, where our renowned experts share tips of the day, weigh in on group questions, offer time-tested guidance and mentoring, and more.

These tips get me (and fellow PN coaches) through our most frustrating moments.

Actually, they’re turned my darkest coaching hours into some of the brightest, proudest moments of my career.

Feel free to read through the whole list from top to bottom, or click on a coaching category to jump to specific tips.

Also, to keep this article a manageable length, I abbreviated many of them. To read the full tips, in context, there are links to the originals below. Many of them have additional insights and action steps to help elevate your coaching game.


About our experts
How to keep people motivated
How to support people through setbacks
How to have difficult conversations
How to work through client/patient resistance
How to handle your own mistakes and uncertainty

About our experts

Dr. John Berardi

Dr. Berardi (a.k.a “JB”) is a co-founder of Precision Nutrition, which has become the world’s largest and most respected nutrition coaching and education company. He’s an advisor to Apple, Equinox, Nike, and Titleist, and was recently selected as one of the 20 smartest coaches in the world and 100 most influential people in health and fitness.

Dr. Krista Scott-Dixon

With nearly 20 years of experience in adult education and curriculum design, Krista is the intellectual powerhouse behind the Precision Nutrition coaching method, which powers PN’s professional certification programs. Once the ‘kid picked last for every team’, Krista sees health and fitness as pathways to a bigger goal: changing people’s lives.

Coach Craig Weller

The creator of Precision Nutrition’s exercise coaching systems, previously Craig spent six years in Naval Special Operations as a Special Warfare Combat Crewman (SWCC), and close to two years on the High-Threat Protection team for the U.U. Ambassador to Baghdad in Iraq. Craig has been published in a host of journals and is now studying how human performance relates to motor and perceptual learning.

How to keep people motivated

Praise behaviors, not results.

Whenever people lose weight, lower body fat, drop inches, or experience positive health changes, it’s very tempting to hug (or high-five) them and lavish praise.

But Coach JB shows us the risks of doing this.

“Results are somewhat unpredictable. Therefore, it doesn’t make sense to praise metrics. Because they’re fickle. And clients have limited control over them.

On the other hand, behaviors are controllable, and consistent behaviors often lead to long-term, sustainable outcomes.

So, when you praise behaviors (instead of outcomes), people will associate taking action and showing up — not dropping numbers on the scale — with smiles and high-fives.”

The next time someone shares an exciting milestone with you, try praising them for the habits that got them there — for example, consistency in showing up to appointments, making more home-cooked meals, going to bed earlier, etc.

To read JB’s entire tip, in context, click here.

Change the system, not the symptom.

“We often think that changing behavior is about motivation or willpower. But, more often, it’s simply about changing the environment,” Coach Craig says.

Craig gives the example of his time in the military, when he had to wake up at 3am for special swim training sessions.

“Sometimes I would have died to stay in bed a few minutes longer. But being even a few minutes late could mess up my whole team’s schedule.

Instead of trying to muster more motivation to get out of my warm bed and into the cold, dark night, I simply moved my alarm clock across the room.

I had to leap out of bed as soon as it went off before it would wake my roommates up. Problem solved, no willpower needed.”

Before you try to wrestle more motivation or willpower out of your clients/patients, see if you can help them build an environment that more naturally and easily supports their goals.

Examples: keeping cooked grains stocked in the fridge, a packed gym bag in your trunk, and moving social gatherings from bars and restaurants to parks and gyms.

To read Craig’s entire tip, in context, click here.

Address stress levels first.

At some point in you’ll probably hear a client or patient say some version of this:

“I was doing great with my workouts but then this thing happened and I got stressed / overwhelmed / busy and I stopped.”

Coach Craig explains that there’s a reason for this: It’s neurobiology.

Research has found that stress literally changes the parts of your brain involved in decision making, pushing us away from goal-directed behavior (“I do this, I lose weight”) in the direction of habitual behavior (“Me tired, me stay on couch”).

“No amount of lecturing or motivating will break the cycle of a bad habit.

Help clients out of their anxiety, and they’ll have a brain that’s capable of making goal-oriented decisions instead of habitual reactions.”

If stress is a perpetual consistency blocker for certain clients/patients of yours, try helping them implement some stress-calibrating techniques. Managing stress will not only have physiological benefits, but these psychological ones too.

To read Craig’s entire tip, in context, click here.

How to support people through setbacks

Separate the person from the problem.

You may notice that clients or patients will often tell you what they “are.”

For example,  “I’m a sugar addict” or “I’m a failure”.

Notice the grammatical construction: I AM a thing. I AM a label.

Coach Krista suggests rewording this identity crisis by separating the person from the problem. For example, instead of validating what they “are”, respond by saying:

“It sounds like you struggle with sugar.”


“It sounds like you’ve had a few setbacks.”

Now the problem is something you have, not something you are.

Using language to untangle the problem from the person isn’t a quick fix but, over time, it gives both you, and your clients/patients, the space that’s needed to see challenges objectively and work toward overcoming them.

To read Krista’s entire tip, in context, click here.

Help them turn knowledge into action.

Many people already know what to do to get healthier. They just struggle with doing it consistently.

“Behavior can’t develop without first having the knowledge to inform it. But most people stop at knowledge and feel like they’re done — as if behavior magically follows knowledge,” says Coach Craig.

“They’ll often express frustration when knowledge hasn’t brought them their desired state, and inaccurately believe that the issue will be resolved by knowing more.”

Progress-stalled clients or patients who seem to want to focus on granular nutrition topics might be caught in this “knowledge trap”. To help them start doing, work with them to set behavior-oriented goals that build toward their desired outcome.

To read Craig’s entire tip, in context, click here.

When things look bleak, re-frame.

When a client or patient experiences a perceived setback, Coach Krista reminds us of the importance of the “re-frame” — offering alternative perspectives that encourage self-compassion, inspiration, and hope.

For example, if someone comes to you with a story of “failure”, you might use reframing to show them where they did succeed, or where they have an opportunity that seems very manageable:

“You could tell that story about this, yes. A story that comes to mind for me, though, is…”

“I know this seems like a setback, but I noticed something you missed: You actually stayed focused on Priority X. That took a lot of strength.”

“Some folks use this type of situation as an opportunity to…”

“That’s one way to look at it. Another way you could think about this is…”

Remind your client or patient that their current story is just one perspective (rather than objective reality). Then highlight opportunities for learning and for focusing on their strengths.

To read Krista’s entire tip, in context, click here.

Keep it simple.

One of the best things you can do is help clients keep things simple, especially when they’re experiencing times of stress, difficulty, or setbacks.

Coach Krista explains, “A big part of a coach’s job is to find the one thing a client needs to know, focus on, or do right now.

Practice distilling your complex advice into simple, prioritized, actionable takeaways, prompting your clients or patients to walk away after each session saying, ‘Hmm, I can manage that!’”

To read Krista’s entire tip, in context, click here.

How to have difficult conversations

(Gently) give the reality bomb.

One of the jobs of a coach is to gently bring people from the child-world of magical thinking into an adult-world of reality and evidence.

“When you grow up, you realize that being an adult means confronting truths that are often…disappointing,” Coach Krista says.

“There is no Santa Claus, and you don’t always get what you want.

Whenever you catch a client in a fantasy that could be hurting them in the long term, ask yourself: ‘Is it time for a reality bomb?

Is this client ready and stable enough to hear the cold, hard, facts?’

If it is time, ask permission to share your perspective, keep it factual and simple, and make it OK to find reality difficult. Encourage the client to take time to process, and check in later with how the client has received the information.

To read Krista’s entire tip, in context, click here.

Ask the two questions that matter.

Coach JB reminds us that when people feel groundless or uncertain in the face of change, you might see them grasping for certainty and asking all kinds of nit-picky questions, like:

“What about this supplement, or that?”

“What do you think about this theory / guru / article / study?”

“What about when (unlikely, unforeseeable future event) happens — what do I do then?”

“These kinds of questions, although intended to provide a sense of security, don’t reduce anxiety at all.” Coach JB says

Instead of getting swept up in these kinds of details, direct your clients or patients back to the only two questions that matter:

‘What should I do today?’


‘How do I do that?’

Use the above two questions to lead people toward calm, focused action. In the face of frenzied questioning, help your clients focus on what’s needed right now.

To read JB’s entire tip, in context, click here.

Draw on your own experience.

Sometimes clients will come to you with pain that is beyond your own personal experience.

These situations may make you question “How am I supposed to know what to say/do here? How can I understand?”

Coach Krista reminds us that in these moments, you don’t have to experience the exact same thing as your client to understand.

“If a client comes to you with sadness, think about your own experiences of sadness. If a client comes to you with anger, think of your own experiences with anger. If your client comes to you with physical pain, recall your own injuries and soreness.

As you think about your experiences, recall what helped, what you learned, and how you moved forward. Offer this compassion, insight, and hope, drawn from your own experiences, to your clients, and share in your common sense of humanity.

To read Krista’s entire tip, in context, click here.

Know what to control.

Often, people get distressed about lack of control.

Maybe they’re trying to exert control in an uncontrollable situation. Or maybe behaviors that used to make them feel in control don’t work anymore.

The interesting thing is that, when obsessing about lack of control, they often miss places where they do have control, such as particular behaviors, choices, or mindset.

When these freak-outs and confidence crises hit,  Coach Krista suggests asking this one powerful question:

“Right now, what is actually within your control, and what is not?”

With this one question, you can cut through the clutter, and help them open their minds to discover perspectives (and solutions) they weren’t seeing before.

To read Krista’s entire tip, in context, click here.

Know that sometimes, just being there is powerful.

When things get really rough for clients or patients, sometimes just your presence is powerful.

Coach Krista reminds us, “It’s a rare and special thing to have a person who cares about you, and who listens with full engagement, compassion, curiosity, and non-judgment.

Coaches can be that person.

You don’t always have to say the ‘right thing.’ Sometimes, all you have to do is simply be there.”

To read Krista’s entire tip, in context, click here.

Say ‘thank you’.

Coach Krista reminds us that, as a coach, one of the most impactful things you can do during difficult conversations is to say… thank you.

Especially in the weird or awkward moments, when you might not feel like saying it.

For example, when a client or patient discloses something big, you might say: “Thank you for trusting me with this. I appreciate that it might have taken a lot of courage to share that.

Or when you get feedback: “Thank you for being so honest with me.”

Or when you end a challenging session: “Thank you for taking the time to come in today. I know you are busy.”

Have a spirit of gratitude with your clients, even when you might not feel like being grateful. Make them feel understood and validated by telling them how much you appreciate them.

To read Krista’s entire tip, in context, click here.

How to work through client/patient resistance

Stay on the same team as your client.

Sometimes your client or patient will come to you with a belief or idea you blatantly disagree with.

And all you want to do is tell them that they’re wrong.

Don’t do that.

JB shares some counterintuitive truth:

“The harder we try to convince someone of something, the harder they will push back from the opposing side. We’re emotional beings, and if someone argues for one side, we tend to respond by arguing the opposite.”

In other words, if someone comes to you with, er, controversial opinions, don’t try to convince them to change their minds with research, articles, or lecturing. If you do, all you’re likely doing is further entrenching them in their position.

Instead, try exploring why they think/feel what they do.

Listen to and honor your clients’/patients’ perspectives to build trust and cooperation, and a sense of being on the same “team”. It’s only from this foundation that people are able to be receptive to different perspectives and learn from them.

To read JB’s entire tip, in context, click here.

Keep in mind that all behavior is an attempt to solve a problem, even if it seems destructive.

Coach JB swears that once he learned this coaching lesson, it changed not only his coaching practice, but his whole life.

“Behaviors will often look confusing, or sometimes downright self-sabotaging. But they’re usually there for a purpose.

For example, consider a client who desperately wants to lose weight but also compulsively overeats.

Overeating appears to contradict the client’s goal of being healthy, but it may also be doing a terrific job of meeting other, perhaps less-recognized, goals of alleviating immediate pain.

The reality is that humans have multiple goals, or “competing commitments”. Competing commitments look something like this:

‘I want to get healthy… and at the same time, I want to stop feeling stressed.’

Knowing this helps us see that people aren’t usually chaotic and irrational. Behaviors almost always make sense, and they’re usually there to solve a problem.

Solve the problem in a different way, and the undesirable behavior is no longer needed.”

In conversation, help clients or patients dig a little deeper to understand what’s motivating their behaviors. Next, help them practice a (new, goal-promoting) behavior that solves the problem — before the overeating swoops in to solve it.

To read JB’s entire tip, in context, click here.

Emphasize choice.

Choice is essential to human motivation.

In order to feel engaged in an action, we need to feel like we can choose.

Coach Krista suggests that, when appropriate, coaches emphasize choice with their clients or patients.

Got a gym session booked? Let clients choose:

  • the music;
  • the exercises;
  • the level of difficulty / resistance;
  • the location (e.g. inside or outside); etc.

Choice encourages people to feel like active participants in their own health/fitness journey, thereby naturally building empowerment and motivation.

To read Krista’s entire tip, in context, click here.

Allow and accept the possibility of non-change (for now).

If a client or patient you’re working with doesn’t change, what have you got to lose?

A lot.

Confidence. Results. Security. Your livelihood.

So it’s natural that coaches feel anxious about their clients’ progress… or lack of it.

Coach Krista notes that when coaches feel anxious, many of us move toward our “worst self coaching”. We push, lecture, worry, interrupt, cajole, etc.

Ironically, the more anxious we feel about change, the less likely we are to get it.

Paradoxically, it’s only when we accept and allow non-change that our clients become more ready, willing, and able to change.

With clients, aim to play the long game. Change may stall for long periods of time. Learn to sit with your discomfort, and focus on supporting your client wherever they are, at whatever pace they’re working at.

To read Krista’s entire tip, in context, click here.

How to handle your own mistakes and uncertainty

Embrace feedback. (Even when it’s negative.)

We need feedback, says JB.

“To learn. To grow. To go beyond the ‘you’ of today and become the wiser, more learned, more experienced ‘you’ of tomorrow.

But we tend to be pretty bad at receiving feedback. We only want it on our terms. Under certain conditions. When we’re in the right mood. When it’s delivered just so. And only in certain contexts.

Work on getting past this.

Instead, be open to and even seek out feedback from your clients or patients. Our ability to receive and apply quality feedback pretty much determines how awesome we’re going to be, not just as a coach, but in life.”

To read JB’s entire tip, in context, click here.

When a client expresses discontent, get curious.

When a client comes to you and expresses discontent about the effectiveness of your program or their slow results, the instinctive response is to tell them their feelings are wrong.

You might say:

“No, it’s not too slow. Here’s why.”


“Actually, this program is incredibly effective. Look at all the research and success stories I have to support it.”

Although your intention here may be to educate and support your client, what you’re actually doing is invalidating their feelings.

At times like this, JB says:

“Get curious. Respecting and hearing the person’s concerns will help them feel validated, and will help you understand them better, which makes it more likely that you can help them move forward. Give yourselves time to process concerns, then come back another day with suggestions.

The best case scenario is that you retain the client or patient, who is now happy to stay because you listened to their feedback. The worst case scenario is that you lose a client but gain valuable information on how to make your coaching better.”

To read JB’s entire tip, in context, click here.

Set clear expectations.

As a health / fitness / wellness professional, you may feel uncertain or even overwhelmed at times — especially if you’re just starting out.

For example, how do you know if you’re giving a client enough of your time, or too much? How do you set boundaries? How do you make sure you’re living up to their expectations… and getting what you need?

Coach Krista says it’s all about setting expectations.

“Ideally, you should have a conversation about expectations during the initial consultation (although you can also do this at various intervals throughout the coaching journey process).”

“In this conversation, you will want to discuss:

  • what to expect of the program;
  • what YOUR expectations are of them;
  • what you’d like them to expect from themselves; and
  • what they can expect from you.

“This conversation will define clear actions and boundaries for both you and your client. No mind-reading necessary.”

To read Krista’s entire tip, in context, click here.

Don’t run from failure. Anticipate it.

Failure is part of life.

But most of us are pretty crappy at interpreting failure. We think that if we fail, we are a failure.

Not so.

Failure is just an opportunity for learning.

Coach Krista counsels coaches to anticipate failures, and learn from them.

“Learning from failures helps us build systems and support networks around our weak points.

“For example, if your ‘failure likelihood’ is following up with clients, don’t get mad at yourself! Just build a system around it, like setting calendar reminders to check in with your clients at regular intervals.”

Know your potential failures (and be open to discovering ones you weren’t aware of), and plan to put a little extra effort into those areas of your practice.

To read Krista’s entire tip, in context, click here.

Never stop experimenting.

Coach Krista reminds us that the only way to keep learning and growing as a coach (and as a human) is to experiment.

“Experiments invite us to:

  • create a hypothesis;
  • decide what data/metrics to gather;
  • collect and analyze the data;
  • draw conclusions; and
  • decide what to do next, based on the results of the experiment.

Experiments help us stay curious, observant, and detached as possible.

They also help us discover new things about ourselves or new systems that work better than older versions.

Experiments encourage a lifetime of learning and growing.

So, rather than trying to get everything right the first time, embrace an experimental mindset.”

To read Krista’s entire tip, in context, click here.

Recruit a team.

Sometimes the needs your client or patient brings to the table will be out of your scope of practice.

Coach Krista says:

“No shame in that. People are best supported by a team.

As you develop your practice, build a support network of trusted professionals in other health/fitness/wellness fields you can refer clients or patients to when appropriate.

This ensures that you don’t feel obligated to deal with everything, that you don’t go outside your scope of practice, and that your clients/patients get the help they need.

Additionally, consider your own coaching mentor and team of specialists. You need support too!”

To read Krista’s entire tip, in context, click here.

And when you’re feeling the frustration? Just feel it for a minute.

Then… reset.

Put your coaching hat on and remember what you’re here to do: help people. Think, “How can I help this person move forward today?” and focus on that.

Yes, helping people can be hard.

It’s also enriching and fulfilling. Especially when you use the coaching challenges you face to level up your game and become the kind of coach who can get results for everyone, in every situation.

Passionate about nutrition and health?

If so, and you’d like to learn more about it, consider the Precision Nutrition Level 1 Certification. Our next group kicks off shortly.

What’s it all about?

The Precision Nutrition Level 1 Certification is the world’s most respected nutrition education program. It gives you the knowledge, systems, and tools to really understand how food influences a person’s health and fitness. Plus the ability to turn that knowledge into a thriving coaching practice.

Developed over 15 years, and proven with nearly 100,000 clients, the Level 1 curriculum stands alone as the authority on the science of nutrition and the art of coaching.

Whether you’re already mid-career, or just starting out, the Level 1 Certification is your springboard to a deeper understanding of nutrition, the authority to coach it, and the ability to turn what you know into results.

[Of course, if you’re already a student or graduate of the Level 1 Certification, check out our Level 2 Certification Master Class. It’s an exclusive, year-long mentorship designed for elite professionals looking to master the art of coaching and be part of the top 1% of health and fitness coaches in the world.]

Interested? Add your name to the presale list. You’ll save up to 33% and secure your spot 24 hours before everyone else.

We’ll be opening up spots in our next Precision Nutrition Level 1 Certification on Wednesday, April 4th, 2018.

If you want to find out more, we’ve set up the following presale list, which gives you two advantages.

  • Pay less than everyone else. We like to reward people who are eager to boost their credentials and are ready to commit to getting the education they need. So we’re offering a discount of up to 33% off the general price when you sign up for the presale list.
  • Sign up 24 hours before the general public and increase your chances of getting a spot. We only open the certification program twice per year. Due to high demand, spots in the program are limited and have historically sold out in a matter of hours. But when you sign up for the presale list, we’ll give you the opportunity to register a full 24 hours before anyone else.

If you’re ready for a deeper understanding of nutrition, the authority to coach it, and the ability to turn what you know into results… this is your chance to see what the world’s top professional nutrition coaching system can do for you.

Spots open April 4th — don't miss out! Get on the Precision Nutrition Level 1 Certification presale list today.

If you're interested in the Level 1 Certification, we strongly recommend you join the presale list below. Spots are limited and open just twice per year.

We'll send you more info about the program, and give you the chance to register 24 hours early — and save up to 33% off the general price.