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The Chiropractor and the Trainer

Here is a parable of two professionals that work to help people.

These two, both of whom work to promote well-being and performance in the physical realm, afford us an understanding of coaching styles that vary in a seldom-considered way.

I regularly see (and am a raving fan of) both The Chiropractor and The Trainer.  In case you’re wondering, they are real people, but for our purposes their real-world identities aren’t important.  What matters in this exploration is they ways in which they work, and the experience of being on the receiving end of their considerable talents.

To see The Chiropractor is a treat: it’s like a mini vacation.  It’s all about hearing you, observing what’s going on with you, and giving you what you need to walk out of there better than you came in.  Tell The Chiropractor what’s wrong, and they can often make it right.  If you have something tweaked or out of order, they’ll do some sort of magic on your body to adjust things back in place and get you on the road to healing.  Just show up, be in communication, and get taken care of.  Even mere maintenance: if you’re generally good but want to keep it that way, a little crack, twist, and/or realignment of this and that will have you feeling great.

I love seeing The Chiropractor.  It’s easy, it’s pleasant, it makes my body work and feel better.  Time and money well spent.

To see The Trainer, by contrast, is decidedly un-vacation-like.  I’m there to work.  The Trainer, too, will hear you, observe you, and give you what you need to walk out of there better than you came in.  But The Trainer’s form of “giving it to you” is more a matter of guiding you through intentionally challenging exercises, and encouraging you, expecting you, sometimes even chiding you to give if your all to do them.  To receive what The Trainer has to give you is to go beyond your usual norms of exhaustion that will leave you feeling like jello at the end, and really feeling it tomorrow (and possibly the next day or days1).  Speaking of the next days, to get what The Trainer has to give you also means doing the work between those visits, and do so with utmost attention to maintain precisely correct form (which make the work not just physically challenging, but mentally as well).  The Trainer will tell you, unapologetically, that you need to do so in order to build strength, without which you are just spinning your wheels, wasting your time and theirs.

I love seeing The Trainer.  It’s challenging, it kicks my butt and cares nothing for my comfort, and it is building lasting changes in my body that make it less apt to hurt in the first place and more able to show up for life.

Looping Back to Coaching

In these practitioners we see parallels in the ways coaching gets done, and in a way that mercifully sidesteps established definitions for judging coaching competence and holy wars bickering over what is and is not “true” coaching.  Consumers of coaching care not for those things anyway.

What The Chiropractor and The Trainer have in common is power to do genuine good for the people they serve, enabled by deep expertise in their modalities and competent execution.  Both are masterful in their work; in our metaphor here we take that as table stakes for a hire-worthy coach.

Where they vary is the degree to which their clients need to show up.  In that regard, The Chiropractor and The Trainer represent two endpoints defining a spectrum of coaching styles.

In terms of the degree to which client needs to show up, and the degree to which coach has purchase to direct client and hold them accountable to do the work2, a given coach’s style sits somewhere along the spectrum between The Chiropractor and The Trainer.  No coach would cop to being The Chiropractor, it’s far too close to coaching’s less trendy cousin, therapy.  This is not to knock therapy: it has its place and is capable of good outcomes, just like physical therapy.  It’s simply not the place where people who are well go to get even better.  Likewise, coaching that resembles therapy is a pale imitation of what coaching is capable of.

The services of The Chiropractor are easier to sell.  The results of The Trainer have greater reach.

The Chiropractor works harder on the client’s body doing those adjustments.  The Trainer works harder to gain the client’s trust and buy-in to do the work themselves.

There is space, and indeed demand, for practitioners all along the spectrum.

As an avid consumer of coaching services3 I’ve ben on the receiving end of a broad range of styles.  I have fondness for the coaches who are more like The Chiropractor.  I have eternal gratitude for the lasting, transformative differences I’ve gotten from those who are more like the Trainer.  My report from the field is that the latter is far harder to find.

If you want to differentiate yourself as a coach, be more like The Trainer.

  1. To wit as I write this, my gluts, hamstrings and quads are all, shall we say, “reluctant to move” from a session with The Trainer three days ago.
  2. Up to and including co-created efforts, this is about much more than mere mandates handed down from on high.
  3. The transformative and fast-acting changes in my life that I got out of coaching are largely the reason I’ve dedicated the last decade+ of my life to building a platform to elevate the practice.


  1. Shorombo

    An enjoyable and insightful. I am much more like the Trainer but I am working on integrating much more co-creation elements into my coaching. This made me realize that again.

    December 12, 2023 @ 11:48 am

  2. Monica

    Love this….thanks for your hard work this last decade. There can be the temptation from a coach to veer into a different lane, like therapy or mentoring…but that’s not coaching. I truly believe that “Coaching punches above it’s weight”- to stay in line with the training analogy… Yet we don’t get the street cred sadly…So thanks for these wise insights John.

    December 12, 2023 @ 6:21 pm