With new years around the corner and everyone looking to kick-start their health goals, people always ask what the best trainer is for them and what is the difference? I have asked Leigh Egger who is qualified as a Physiotherapist working at Bioathletic in Manly, Strength and Conditioner and a Personal Trainer to explain who is who in the trainer world.
Let’s start from the most prevalent of the bunch, personal trainers. A personal trainer studies for a much shorter duration than the other positions discussed in this article, usually somewhere from six weeks to six months. This is not to say that their line of work is inferior or has less impact by any means, on the contrary trainers will usually spend the most amount of time with an individual per week in the setting of the gym, outdoors, at-home etc. The personal trainer’s duty of care is to provide a broad foundation of support to their client in the area of health and fitness. In a nutshell, this covers the following areas: moving, eating, drinking, sleeping, breathing and mental health. It’s not the personal trainer’s role to be an expert in any of them necessarily, but to be a helping hand in all and be vigilant in referring on early to an allied health or medical professional should it be needed.
Strength and conditioning coaches (S&C’s) are typically found in the athletic performance industry, and almost exclusively focus on movement as their specialty. As the name suggests, S&C’s aim to maximise athletic potential and minimise injury rates in their given teams/athletes through increasing strength, efficiency and physical ability. This doesn’t mean that a sound S&C program can’t be delivered to the urban athlete or general population to good effect. There are no rules in the referral to these experts, if an S&C coach is the convenient and available option then so be it! Injury prevention should be a transparent component of any S&C’s services, so finding a useful one will prove fruitful in the long run – for both patients with injuries and clinicians to refer to.
Exercise physiologists (EPs) don’t get enough recognition or use of their expertise. The general consensus among the industry in Australia is that there is not enough jobs for EPs and they are therefore in short supply. Hence they tend to fall by the wayside in the referral department for no good reason. EPs require a minimum four years of university study, and are specialists at testing, monitoring and designing exercise interventions for those with acute, sub-acute or chronic illnesses or injuries. The difference with EP to the above two brackets is that their expertise extends beyond the musculoskeletal spectrum of movement and injuries. They are regularly employed to assist with cardiovascular, respiratory, metabolic and mental health disorders to list a few, and are very well versed in the testing of these body systems to measure and objectify their client’s health and wellbeing. The perception of EPs as glorified personal trainers is unjustified and downright wrong. They change lives drastically, and have a Medicare provider number to use with health care cover much like the next position on our list…
Physiotherapists are broad in their scope. Much like EPs they assist in rehabilitation from various injuries and illnesses – musculoskeletal, cardiovascular, respiratory, aged care, neurological and paediatrics (the list goes on). They are quite commonly found working in multidisciplinary teams with other allied health and medical professionals, but aren’t limited to working in niche areas or private clinics. Physiotherapists differ from the above professionals in that they can provide a combination of treatments; from manual therapy to exercise prescription to taping to gait retraining there is quite the bag of tricks that physiotherapists are trained in and can branch off into. There’s a concerning misconception that physiotherapists are more focussed on passive treatments than other specialties – where the patient lies down and lets the therapist do all the work. Which in reality is quite the opposite; they should be encouraging, assessing and prescribing movement as much or even more than their “trainer” counterparts that we’ve discussed above.
At the end of the day, there are subtle differences in the choice of health professional that you choose or are referred to. These may make all the difference in the amount of success and satisfaction that is experienced throughout your training and or treatment process. Ultimately the goal of all health and fitness practitioners for their patients/clientele is to move more, eat better, be happier and live longer. If you can find someone who can support you in building towards this direction, or find a combination of individuals that can do the same or better, you’re on the right track.