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We know there are different types of coaches: business coaches, life coaches, executive coaches, career coaches, etc.

So, what’s a change fitness coach? Is it a new type of coaching, or is it something else? This is what we consider in this article.

The real goal

Before we go any further, we must discuss something very important. As coaches, we all have our preferences and our individual pathways through life. Some of us choose to become life coaches, some business coaches, and others to some other type of coaching. But we must never lose sight of the real goal of coaching. The real goal of coaching is the positive changes that clients experience as they progress towards their goals.

Coaching is a vehicle that can help clients navigate the change process in pursuit of their goals. The focus of coaching must remain firmly fixed on the client. The main issue for the coach to consider is ‘how’ – how can my coaching best support clients as they navigate the change process in pursuit of their goals? It is in relation to this question that change fitness coaching is best understood.

Approach and methodology

Don’t see change fitness coaching as just another category of coaching, like career coaching, or life coaching. Instead, see it as a coaching approach, framework, and methodology that builds clients’ capacity to successfully navigate the change process.

Change fitness coaching is a way of;

  • understanding your clients’ capacity to succeed at the change process, and
  • building their capacity to succeed at the change process

As you better understand your clients’ capacity to succeed at change and help them build their capacity to succeed, they will be more empowered to achieve their goals. That’s what’s in it for them.

What’s in it for you?

What’s in it for you, as a coach? When your clients develop their capacity to succeed at the change process, your coaching becomes more effective. You become a more effective coach and you can expect the benefits this brings – a deeper satisfaction at helping others shine, a growing sense of purpose that you’re really making a difference, kudos and appreciation from clients you have helped, positive word of mouth marketing and referrals, and a more rewarding coaching career.

Let’s take stand back and look at what we have seen so far.

Standing back

We have seen that change fitness coaching;

  • is a way to approach coaching clients and a methodology for how to work with them. As such, it can be applied to any type of coaching (such as business coaching, life coaching, career coaching, leadership coaching, etc).
  • is focused on building the capacity of clients to succeed at the change process. As such, it is important for all clients, especially for those whose change fitness is low.
  • helps all coaches become more effective.

Change fitness coaching is therefore important for all coaches and all clients.

Projects and process

You can see from what we have said so far that change fitness coaching is about the client’s capacity for the change process. But clients will almost never come to a coach with the change process in mind. They will come with a change project in mind.

The project will be either a problem to solve or a goal they want to achieve. Think about the clients who come to you – what problems do they want to solve? What things do they want to achieve? Some clients may be very clear about what they want to achieve, and others bring only a vague idea of what it is. But whether clear or not, it’s this ‘what’ that drives them seek out a coach. They know there’s something that needs to change.

Their job is to work out what they want to achieve. And your job is to work out how to help them get it.

Strategies and process

The how may involve strategies – like learning how to market a product, how to create a website, tackling a new course, or how to manage time. It can be tempting as a coach to launch into these strategies, imagining they are what’s most needed. But it’s important to understand these strategies are not the change process – they are simply the fine-textured elements of the change project.

At the deepest level, the how is not about strategies, it’s about the change process. If change projects are to succeed, if coaching is to ‘work’, the client must successfully navigate each step of the change process. There are no shortcuts and no trade-offs.

And here’s the important point: the demands of the change process are mostly psychological.

Why change fitness matters

Why is change sometimes hard? It’s hard when change involves learning new things, unlearning old things, developing new ways of thinking, and building new habits. It’s hard when it involves stepping outside the comfort zone and taking a risk. Those things are hard because they come with many psychological demands.

Think about it. In theory, losing weight shouldn’t be hard. All we need to do is to stop eating the wrong food, start eating the right food, and getting regular exercise. This may be relatively easy to do at first, but it usually gets harder over time. Why? Not because we don’t know what we ought to do, but because it’s psychologically challenging to change something we’re used to doing.

Change fitness means having the psychological fitness to meet these kinds of psychological demands associated with change. It is about what you think and how you think – it’s not primarily about the strategies you could employ to make the change. Don’t worry, the client will need some strategies, but there’s no point presenting the client with strategies if they lack the psychological fitness to execute at them.

When change fitness coaching is needed

What’s the important point here? It’s this – change fitness coaching is an approach that becomes most important when clients lack the psychological capacity to meet the psychological demands of the change process. It is a ‘tool’ a coach could use with clients who need to more capacity to succeed at change. Would you use it with every client? Not necessarily, but it would be good to use with every client who could benefit from more change fitness.

Understand that clients come to a coach with a ‘what’ (whatever it is they want to achieve through coaching). But the client isn’t expected to know ‘how’. It’s the coach who’s expected to know how to get the client from where they are to where they want to be. Of course, the client must do the work, but the client is going to struggle if the psychological demands of the journey are high and their change fitness is low.

It’s up to the coach to make professional recommendations and suggestions to the client. And if the coach believes the client will struggle to make progress because of their change fitness, the coach should recommend (and provide) change fitness coaching.

But how will the coach know if the client’s change fitness is likely to cause them to struggle?

Identifying need

You identify need through a change fitness assessment. We have developed a psychometric assessment tool that measures change fitness. This is a valuable tool for all coaches to use with all their clients, because it helps you identify who would benefit most from change fitness coaching.

Everyone would benefit from more change fitness (we all want to be more successful at change), but some people are really limited by low change fitness. Change fitness coaching is most important for those whose change fitness would cause them to struggle with change.

Please understand we’re not suggesting you should look for people who have low change fitness. You simply look at your normal coaching clients and assess who could benefit from change fitness coaching. If, in your professional opinion, a client could benefit, you make that recommendation to them.

What happens

So, you have assessed a client and they agree to participate in some change fitness coaching, what happens next?

Helping clients develop their capacity to succeed at change begins with a 12-week coaching program called the ‘Personal Change Fitness Program’. This provides the client with an understanding of how the change process works, why change is sometimes hard, and what we must become like to get good at change. This program includes 36 hours of individualised work plus 6 hours of coaching.

At the end of the 12-week program, clients take the change fitness assessment again, so all progress is measured. Following the program, and according to client needs and wishes, the coach may continue to provide change fitness coaching for some time.

Where from?

You might be wondering where these ideas and resources have come from, and how scientifically valid and reliable they are.

The original ideas behind change fitness came from the PhD research of Dr Steve Barlow. Steve researched why some people are ‘better’ at change than others and how to identify those who are likely to be better at it.

Then, with his partner, Stephanie, they both developed the psychometric change fitness assessment tool (IRVEY®), the Personal Change Fitness Program (PCFP), and a variety of other coaching and training programs and resources. The PCFP is accredited as CPD training by the International Coach Federation and the Australian Association of Social Workers.

Have these ideas spread very far? Yes. These ideas about change fitness are taught to master’s students in the School of Medicine at the University of Tasmania. The Change Gym’s founders, Steve and Stephanie Barlow, teach the theory of change fitness to students undertaking Master of Leadership, Master of Public Health, and MBA courses. Their work is also referenced in other tertiary institutions in Australia and beyond.


Let’s sum up what we’ve seen about change fitness coaching.

It’s not a different type of coaching – it’s an approach to coaching and a way of conducting coaching. It’s not meant to replace what coaches already do, but to complement what they do and how they do it.

Although everyone can benefit from more change fitness, some clients need it more than others. Our research suggests that at least 60% of the population needs change fitness coaching.

Many of your coaching clients could achieve better change outcomes were you to integrate change fitness coaching into how you work with them. This would directly benefit your clients; it would also directly benefit you and your coaching practice.

If you would like some free coach training and explore how you could incorporate change fitness coaching into your coaching repertoire, please contact Steve Barlow.

To see how these ideas about change fitness coaching can play out in the real world, read this case study.

Steve Barlow
Author: Steve Barlow

Steve heads up The Change Gym. He is a change readiness specialist. You can contact him at