10 things every successful fitness and nutrition coach does. The best coaches do them every day. How many are you doing?

10 things every successful fitness and nutrition coach does.
The best coaches do them every day. How many are you doing?

By John Berardi, Ph.D.

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What makes for a successful fitness and nutrition coach? It’s not just what you know… it’s what you do (every day). Here are some of the practices elite coaches use to get results. Keep track of how many you’ve mastered.

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You know the type. It’s the coach that seems to have to it all together.

They have a long waiting list of eager prospects. Their client results are always impressive. They make great money doing what they love. And, just to make us all a little more jealous, they make it look effortless.

Welcome to the elite coach.

What is it that makes elite coaches so special?

Is it their training? Their hard work and commitment? Their passion? Or do they know something most others don’t?

The answer to all of those question is… yes.

Elite coaches do know something most don’t. But it’s not just knowledge. It’s a set of practices they work on daily.

And this set of practices helps them get better at forming strong relationships with their clients, fostering change, and improving their craft.

Here are the active habits that set elite coaches apart from the rest.

1. Elite coaches practice the art of human connection.

Better coaches aren’t just better at customizing workout and nutrition plans. They’re better with people.

Elite coaches don’t limit conversations to “here’s what you have to do”; they speak to clients in a way that nurtures real human connection.

By asking sincere questions, expressing compassion and being a steady source of support, they help guide their clients around obstacles so they can achieve their goals.

To practice this approach:

Ask leading questions that help clients open up and explore, imagine, or build on past successes. For example:

  • If things were better with your eating/exercise, what would be different in your life? What would you do more of? Less of? Be proud of?
  • Imagine that you have the body and health you want. What did it take for you to achieve it? What did you have to give up?
  • What have you had success with in the past? How can we do more of that and apply it to your health and fitness?”

And once you ask, really listen to their responses. Let them sink in. Learn from them. (For more on this approach, check out: Effective coach talk: What to say to clients and why it matters).

2. Elite coaches ask ‘why’. (Again… and again… and again.)

You’ve probably seen it a million times.

New clients get a taste for how hard it is to change their eating habits, do the extra 10 squats, run another mile, and rearrange their lives for all of it… and suddenly they don’t want it so badly, after all.

Elite coaches have a way of inspiring their clients—in every single session—to want the hard work. They know how to unlock their clients’ deeper motivation, sense of purpose, and inner fire.

How do they do this? For one thing, they know how to ask their clients why.

To practice this approach:

Use the ‘Five Whys’ technique.  Here’s how it works:

When establishing goals with your clients, you ask them why.

Q: “Why do you want to accomplish this?”
A: “Because I want to lose weight.”

Then, whatever answer they come up with, you ask why again.

Q: “And why do you want to lose weight in the first place?”
A: “Because I used to be thinner and am embarrassed by how heavy I’ve gotten.”

Continue asking why for a total of five times. It’s surprisingly challenging—and amazingly effective at getting to people’s core motivations.

(By the way, elite coaches use ‘the Five Whys’ on themselves. Because they know that getting to the heart of their own motivation is the best place to begin.)

3. Elite coaches help the “competition.”

Want to know a secret? To an elite coach, there’s no such thing as competition.

Elite coaches don’t feel insecure about what other coaches are doing because they know how to use their individuality as an advantage in their careers.

Rather than hiding and hoarding their knowledge, elite coaches share that knowledge and facilitate conversations, and in doing so build a trusted tribe around them.

Find your tribe and help make those in your tribe successful, and you’ll be more likely to succeed, too.

To practice this approach:

Get engaged with other people’s content and social feeds.

Take the extra few minutes to leave iTunes reviews on their podcasts; review their books on Amazon; share their Facebook posts; and so on.

These simple actions will help them build their expertise and broaden their reach. As a bonus, you might expand your own social networks in the process.

To take this concept up a notch, consider starting a Facebook group or other social community to serve as a source of mutual support, discussion, and inspiration. You’ll be able to answer questions and help your peers—and position yourself as an expert, too.

4. Elite coaches do less.

“Doing it all” is a myth.

Spreading yourself too thin is a first-class ticket to disappointment and failure. Instead, top-notch coaches figure out what’s truly crucial among their particular market and clientele, and do that.

Elite coaches also know their clients can’t do it all. They know that giving clients just one small habit at a time is far more effective than throwing an ambitious project at them and hoping for the best.

To practice this approach:

Give the ‘one habit method’ a try.

Of all the things your client wants to do and achieve, work with them to figure out which goal is most important to them right now. Then, based on their goal, help choose just one habit to start practicing today.

The habit should be so simple it almost feels “too easy” and it should be something they can do in just five or ten minutes, every single day.

Have your client practice that one habit every day for a minimum of two weeks. Ask them to check back in with you regularly to let you know whether or not they’ve completed the task.

(If you’ve completed any kind of PN coaching, you’ll recognize this ‘one-habit’ method. There’s a reason we recommend it: it’s integral to our coaching method, because it works.)

5. Elite coaches practice the basics.

Bruce Lee said: “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”

Kick Guy never needed to have the perfect kick. All he had to do was focus on mastering the process and being excellent with all of the pieces. And that was enough to scare Bruce Lee. (Pretty scary.)

Elite coaches are like Kick Guy. They’re willing to practice techniques—even the basic ones—again and again so they can move towards true mastery.

They take this approach to their clients, too, helping them put their own foundation in place and acquire the skills they need to succeed in sustainable change.

To practice this approach:

Go back to basics with something you enjoy doing and consider yourself ‘pretty good’ at. Think back to the very first skills you learned to do that thing.

If you’re a boxer, for example, consider your stance, your hip movement, or your jab. Could you benefit from drills focusing on your core techniques?

Or, if you once struggled with poor eating habits, pay attention at mealtime. Do you still eat as slowly and mindfully as you once did? Would you benefit from paying more attention to how full you feel at the end of each meal?

Pick one elemental thing you could take from ‘good’ to ‘great’ or ‘great’ to ‘positively killer.’ Then work on improving that one thing. Solicit help from a colleague or peer if you like.

It may feel weird to act like a beginner again, but by doing so, you’re on your way to mastery.

6. Elite coaches listen for what they don’t want to hear.

Many coaches (quite logically) focus on trying to strengthen their clients’ motivation—the side of them that is interested in change.

But in the early stages of client development, it doesn’t work. Because that other side—the part that is scared of change and resistant to your efforts—is ridiculously strong. After all, it’s been preventing your client from changing for a long time.

In order to get your clients moving in the right direction, coaches have to do something that might sound a bit paradoxical: they have to hear out the resistance first.

Elite coaches listen for the resistance. They seek it out. Because they know they have to work with it, rather than against it.

To practice this approach:

Listen for your own resistance.

Think of something you’ve been wanting to change, but haven’t gotten around to yet. Tip: think of all the things you’ve been telling yourself you should or shouldn’t do.

Write down the thing you want to change. Then ask yourself:

  • What is GOOD for me about NOT changing? (In other words, how does NOT changing benefit me or help me solve a problem?)
  • What would be BAD about changing? What might I have to give up or lose?

Write down your answers.

How do you feel? Your resistance might feel a little calmer or quieter; you might feel a little more ready for change. Now that you understand your own resistance a little better, you can listen for it in client conversations, too.

7. Elite coaches know when to shut up.

Elite coaches have a lot of expertise, but that doesn’t mean they always vocalize it.

Think about it: When someone asks, “What should I eat after exercising?” an expert answers the question: “You should eat protein and carbs.”

But when a client asks “What should I eat after exercise?” a coach asks, “Tell me about your training program and what you feel you can manage?” Coaches even consider “What do you like to eat after exercise?”

A good coach doesn’t mind being quiet, asking questions or fading into the background a bit.

Many fitness professionals try to be both expert and coach at the same time. But that never works. You can’t talk and listen at the same time. You have to know how and when to switch back and forth between the two.

In other words: you need to know when to stop talking and listen.

To practice this approach:

Try using this ‘expert vs coach’ checklist on yourself:

With your clients, do you spend most of your time…

Expert Coach
Talking and telling… or Listening and reflecting?
Telling them what you know… or Sharing what you’re working on?
Answering questions?… or Asking questions?
Letting the client set the tone?… or Leading the client towards a decision or action?
Pointing and directing?… or Guiding and accompanying?
Taking the spotlight… or Fading into the background?

If you find yourself more on the ‘expert’ side of things, try actively practicing some of the actions on the ‘coach’ side.

8. Elite coaches practice being imperfect.

Lots of health and fitness professionals have high standards; most of us want to walk the walk. Moreover, we want to look like we walk the walk.

So we try to refine our own health habits, working practices, and self-presentation. We know that our bodies are often advertisements for our services, so we worry about looking our best.

But too often, we try to be perfect. And that becomes our downfall.

Sure, on the one hand, a little fire keeps you energized and sharp. But too much pressure is a parking brake on performance.

(Ever choked during a game or competition? You were probably overwhelmed by pressure. It happens to athletes all the time.)

So while elite coaches strive for excellence, they don’t try to be perfect—and they don’t expect their clients to be perfect, either.

To practice this approach:

Try sharing a little of your own imperfect experience with your clients.

When they’re fumbling with something, tell them about a time you felt awkward, embarrassed or uncomfortable yourself, either when working on your own fitness and nutrition journey or another time you were struggling to learn something new.

When they’re feeling like a failure, let them know everyone falls down sometimes: share one of your own mistakes—and maybe even how you fixed it.

9. Elite coaches keep it real.

If you work in the fitness and health industry, it’s easy to throw around a lot of ideas.

Stuff like this:

  • “Never eat processed food.”
  • “Always eat local, seasonal, organic food.”

On the surface, it’s hard to argue against either. But really? Unless you’re living in a yurt somewhere and growing all your own food from the ground up, I doubt you’re always eating whole, unprocessed, local, seasonal, organic food.

Which means those nutrition ideals aren’t aspirational—they’re impossible. Even for the world’s top experts.

Elite coaches are willing to do a reality check. They realize that people don’t need a nutritional deity to follow. They don’t need strict codes of conduct that includes words like “should”, “always”, and “never”.

Instead of coaching from a place of fantasy, elite coaches stay grounded. They help their clients make progress, bit by bit.

To practice this approach:

Examine the rules you’ve set.

Consider all the “rules” and expectations around fitness, nutrition, and health. Write down as many as you can think of. Be sure to include words like “should”, “always”, and “never”.

  • You should always…
  • You should never…
  • Being “fit” means you always…
  • Being “healthy” means you never…
  • Eating “nutritiously” means…

Now read your answers and think about whether a client could reasonably “always” or “never” do them.

10.  Elite coaches ask for help.

If you’re coaching other people, it only makes sense that you’ve experienced coaching yourself.

After all, if you’ve never been coached through something, you can’t possibly understand what your clients are experiencing, thinking, and feeling.

Elite coaches know this. They seek out mentorship and get coaching themselves. Sometimes it’s not even fitness related. It might be for their business, or their personal life (like how to be a better parent or partner), or a hobby they’re particularly passionate about.

The important thing is that that they are willing to ask for help, to make themselves vulnerable, to go through the process of change… just like their clients.

And they know how powerful that process of change can be.

To practice this approach:

Make your coaching checklist.

What areas of expertise do you seek?

  • Nutritional science?
  • Coaching psychology?
  • Business strategy?
  • Professional development?
  • General life wisdom?

What kind of a mentor or coach would you like?

  • What kind of a person are they?
  • What sort of reputation do they have?
  • What would you want them to show you or tell you in order for you to feel they were the “right fit.”

Now think about people in your life (whether paid professionals, colleagues or friends) who may fit your criteria. If someone springs to mind, great. Ask if they’d be willing to lend their expertise and support to the thing you’d like help with.

Or if you need to do more research, that’s cool too.

What to do next

Pick one of the practices.

Give some thought to which of these practices you’d like to try out for yourself.

Whichever you select, do you have the skills to incorporate them into your coaching style right now? If not, check out the PN approach to skill development for some inspiration to help you figure out your next steps.

Be an observer.

As you’re coaching, be aware of your style. Are you speaking and giving advice when you could be asking questions? Are you actually hearing what your client has to say, or rushing to find the answer?

Don’t judge yourself too harshly—just start building awareness, for now. That way you can start to get clear on what you’d like to improve upon.

Ask for help if you need it.

Moving from being ‘a good coach’ to being ‘an elite coach’ takes a lot of work, and it can’t be done alone. Look for people you can learn from. Maybe it’s a community member, an old mentor, or an experienced friend.

Becoming an elite coach

Of course, great coaching is developed over time, through education and practice.

If you’d like to take your coaching to the next level — and develop into the best possible trainer and fitness professional — consider working with us.

Our next Precision Nutrition Level 2 Certification group kicks off shortly and is the exact training program we use to onboard our in-house supercoaches.

You’ll get backstage access to our newest coaching tools and technologies. And you’ll learn our proven system for delivering the results you want and your clients need.

Since we only take a limited number of students, and since the program sells out every time, I strongly recommend you add your name to our presale list below.

When you do, you get the chance to sign up 24 hours before everyone else. Even better, you get a huge discount off the cost of the program.

[Note: If you’ve not yet enrolled in our Level 1 program, that’s where you should begin.]

Spots open April 3rd — don't miss out! Get on the Precision Nutrition Level 2 Master Class VIP list today.

If you're interested in the Level 2 Certification, we strongly recommend you join the VIP 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 37% off the general price.