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What is the difference between a Personal Trainer and Exercise Physiologist?

Exercise Physiologist V's PT: This is what really differentiates the two professions!

What is the difference between an Exercise Physiologist and a Personal Trainer?

This is a question I am about to answer and lay it to bed once and for all!

There is a lot of confusion over the intersecting responsibilities between an Exercise Physiologists & Personal Trainers when it comes to health and fitness.

My name is Joshua Painter, and I am an Accredited Exercise Physiologist or what is classically named “EP” here at Fighting Fit Physiotherapy.

Throughout this article, I will provide a better understanding on how the two roles differentiate from one another. Shutting the door on a known saying “EP’s are just PT’s with a degree”.

You should think of an Exercise Physiologist like any other specialist.

You go to see a Psychiatrist for mental health treatment, an orthopedic surgeon to fix a broken bone or a general practitioner for a prescription of medication for a disease or illness.

An Accredited Exercise Physiologist also works in a clinical setting.

You go see EP’s for EXERCISE!

They provide their expert, evidence-based advice and prescribe exercise to both the general population as well as those with diagnosed any health and medical conditions. 

EP’s focus on the corrective aspect of exercise for injury recovery or prevention, rehabilitation from acute and chronic disease episodes, musculoskeletal pain, weight loss and general health.

In many clinics, an EP will form part of a multi-disciplinary team which may include Doctors, Occupational Therapists, Surgeons and Physiotherapists.

They bring to their specialized understanding of exercise to compliment other disciplines and improve patient outcomes.

Whereas a personal trainer will focus more on getting the person to simply move with exercise, where a person is not significantly restricted by injury or disease.

A Personal Trainers or “PT’s” in Australia has a Certificate 4 in Fitness as the minimum qualification required. Personal trainers provide fitness assessments, instruction and exercise supervision to individuals or small groups of clients.

PT’s may be employed by fitness centers or work on a freelance basis at a local gym. 

By attaining a Certificate 4 in Fitness or higher (ie exercise science degree) this qualification enables them to work with the general population and are only insured to work with this demographic.

Personal Trainers receive a good base of education in training the general population, how this impacts their physiology and how to program exercise for normal people to improve general health, add muscle and get stronger for example.

Don’t get me wrong, there are many awesome PT’s and I not here to rip on them or lessen their worth to health and fitness. They do great things too, we just need to really tease out the differences here!

Exercise Physiologists can perform metabolic testing such as the VO2max above to understand how a persons physiology influences use of fuels like fats and carbohydrates during exercise. 

Simply, PT’s do not receive the extensive education or training in exercise physiology, psychology, epidemiology, biochemistry, or pathology that EP’s do.

Essentially, this is the why, what, when & how to treat acute to chronic health conditions.

As a result, they are not eligible for private health fund rebates or referrals from General Practitioners (GPs) under a Chronic Disease Management plan.

Exercise physiologists however are eligible for private health rebates. Similarly, Medicare and the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) will also provide rebates for Exercise Physiology when referred by a GP under the Chronic Disease Management plan and the Department of Veterans Affairs-Gold-Card/White-card schemes.

We can also tailor work hardening or work rehabilitation programs for injured workers under Queensland Workers Compensation claims (See here)

Going to an Exercise Physiologist rather than a Personal Trainer may also be suitable for people who have no experience with exercise or gyms.

Having extensive knowledge in population health, such as the impacts of improving the long-term health outcomes for everyday people using exercise.

We are well qualified to work with anyone looking to improve their health & fitness levels.

Exercise Physiologists primarily treat people with chronic health conditions, usually as a result of poor lifestyle choices.

To help, we receive training, both at university and on practicum in what is know as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

The CBT approach seeks to change the way people think, act and feel about exercise so we can best support our clients to ensure they feel comfortable & confident while exercising.

Essentially, breaking down those bad gym stigmas and stereotypes.

This approach can really benefit those who have little to no experience with exercise & are therefore nervous to start working out in public or using gyms.

Technique correction as well as exercise progression like accommodated resistance (above) are tools we use to better our clients performance.

So, what really sets us apart as an Exercise Physiologist?

Well, the short of it is an Exercise Physiologist can do everything a personal trainer can do, but much, much more!

An Exercise Physiologist has completed at a minimum 4-year undergraduate degree at university, either completing an undergraduate in Clinical Exercise Physiology or beginning in in Exercise & Sports Science and going on to do further study in a Master of Clinical Exercise Physiology.

Our extensive qualifications allow us to:

  • Perform in depth assessments of a clients health and lifestyle
  • Undertake extensive testing of a clients fitness and physiology (ie Vo2max and RMR)
  • Test and measure influences of biomechanics during exercise or movement (ie using force plates and 3D video movement analysis)
  • Develop and instruct clients on structured, progressive and highly specific exercise programs designed to match our findings from testing to improve outcomes
  • Review and re-test the influence or changes in a clients physiology following implementation of our programs
  • Monitor and measure the impact of exercise on mental and physical health status

Testing and measuring: all part of what an Exercise Physiologist does before, during and after a program is implemented.

Completing over 300 hours of clinical placement is a requirement and Exercise Physiologist must take to become and accredited through Exercise and Sports Science Australia (ESSA).

Being an Accredited Exercise Physiologist, we are therefore highly trained to improve health outcomes from many conditions that affect out population:

  • Chronic Musculoskeletal conditions such as Osteoarthritis, Osteoporosis, chronic pain to name a few
  • Post Orthopedic Surgery Rehabilitation of total hip replacement, total knee replacement
  • Acute to chronic rehabilitation of musculoskeletal injury and pain including back pain, ankle sprains, knee ligament injuries, headache and neck problems
  • Cardiovascular conditions such as post heart attack, heart disease, high blood pressure.
  • Neurological conditions such as Motor Neuron Disease, Stroke, Multiple Sclerosis, Charcot-Marie-Tooth disorder, and Parkinson’s Disease.
  • Metabolic conditions such as Diabetes, Dyslipidemia, Syndrome X, Obesity and weight loss.
  • Over coming poor lifestyle choices such as smoking, alcoholism and poor dietary choices
  • Healthy Ageing
  • Mental Health conditions including depression, anxiety and stress related disorders
  • General health & wellness through structured, specific and tailored exercise programs to you

Whether young or old, our Exercise Physiologist in Nerang will help you over come any fears of the gym and get you moving!

That should really shut the door on a that known saying I mention above and change it to “EP’s are NOT just PT’s with a degree”.

We are in a different league and that shows you why!

By visiting me, or anyone of the Exercise Physiology team members at Fighting Fit Physiotherapy, our aim is to help those people willing to make the changes and sticking with it.

What fuels us is to seeing your success and how that can be achieved through a holistic approach of exercise and lifestyle changes.

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