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Physical Therapist vs Personal Trainer: Understanding Your PT Options

Senior at the gym with a personal trainer

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When someone says: “I’m a PT!”, what is the first thing that comes to your mind? Do you think they’re a personal trainer or a physical therapist? Maybe you don’t know what that means and you are just confused.

That is understandable because these two professions each have important roles in promoting healthy habits and helping people achieve their fitness goals. However, physical therapists and personal trainers have completely different training and areas of expertise.

This article aims to dive into what each of these experts do and to help you decide which one is right for you depending on your situation

The Roles and Importance of a Physical Therapist vs a Personal Trainer

Personal Trainer: Helping You Take Your Fitness to the Next Level

What is a Personal Trainer?

A personal trainer is a health and fitness professional that adapts their approach to each person they work with.

More specifically, personal trainers evaluate, encourage, teach, and coach their clients on their health and fitness. They also create safe and efficient workout plans, offer support to reach individual health and fitness goals, and react appropriately during emergencies (Melton et al., 2008).

What Type of Certification Does a Personal Trainer Need?

Not many studies focus on finding out what type of education or certifications personal trainers need.

In a 2016 study, a survey that was conducted on 606 personal trainers, revealed more information on the certification topic.

They found that the most common certification for personal trainers was the one from the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) at 59.2%. The runner-up was the certification from the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) at 28.9%.

Interestingly, only 2.9% of personal trainers that were surveyed had no exercise-related bachelor’s degree and no personal trainer certifications (Waryasz et al., 2016).

To become a personal trainer with the ACSM or the NSCA, here are the requirements for the participants:

  • Be at least 18 years old.
  • Have at least a high school diploma.
  • Have a cardiopulmonary resuscitation/ automated external defibrillator (CPR/AED) certification.
  • Prepare for the examination.
  • Pass the examination.

Participants can prepare for the exam either on their own or with the prep program from the ACSM or the NSCA. They then need to book for the exam which can be done online or in person for the ACSM and in person for the NSCA.

What's the difference between ACSM-CPT and NSCA-CPT?

If participants pass the exam successfully, they will be certified as personal trainers. For someone certified with the ACSM, their title will be ACSM-CPT. On the other hand, a personal trainer with the title NSCA-CPT will have been certified with the NSCA.

It is reassuring information for the general population’s safety to know that personal trainers must undergo an accredited qualification to hold the title.

Why is Personal Training Important?

The most common reason for a visit to the emergency department was because of people dropping weights on themselves

Current recommendations encourage doing 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise. It is also recommended to work on strength training exercises for all major muscle groups at least 2 times per week (Department of Health and Human Services, 2018).

Unfortunately, without proper exercise knowledge, injuries can occur. This is why personal trainers are important as they can help people exercise safely.

In a study published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine, it was reported that the most common reason for a visit to the emergency department was because of people dropping weights on themselves (Kerr et al., 2010).

Another reason why personal training is important is to make sure the exercises we do are efficient to get the most out of our training.

For example, when people exercise under supervision, they have more improvement in their strength compared to when they exercise on their own (Mazzetti et al., 2000).

To sum up, when we decide to work with a personal trainer, they can give us tips on optimal form and make sure we are using the equipment properly to minimize injury risk. Personal trainers can also help us be more efficient and to maximize our gains during our workouts.

How Can I Find a Personal Trainer?

There are many ways to find personal trainers, here are the most reliable ones:

  1. Through online directories such as the United States Registry of Exercise Professionals

    This is a great way to find certified personal trainers in your area if you haven’t already found one. You enter your city, postcode, and state and determine what radius you would like to find a personal trainer in.

    This is also a good way to verify a personal trainer’s credentials. If you find a personal trainer online, for example, you can search the directory with their name to verify they are who they say they are.

  2. At a gym or a fitness center

    Most gym and fitness centers will have personal trainers on site. You can usually ask for more information at the front desk or check their website for information on available trainers.

    Learn more about Beyond the Gym’s personal training services here.

  3. Through referrals

    Asking family and friends for referrals is also a good strategy. They will be able to give you information on the trainer’s approach, style, and effectiveness and you can decide if that aligns with your goals as well.

  4. On social media

    Social media is a great place to connect with personal trainers that you might not have found otherwise. You can get a feel for what their approach and specialties are by looking at their content on their Facebook or Instagram page, for example.

Follow Beyond the Gym on Facebook!

When choosing a potential personal trainer, it’s important to ask about their certification, experience, and approach. Most trainers will be happy to book a call or consultation to answer your questions and give you further information.

To enquire about a free consultation with a trainer from Beyond the Gym visit the contact page to submit your enquiry.

Physical Therapist: Supporting You on Your Rehabilitation Journey

What is a Physical Therapist?

According to the American Physical Therapy Association:

“Physical therapists are licensed doctors who work with multiple patient populations impacted by disease, injury, and movement dysfunction. They optimize quality of life by maintaining, restoring, and improving patient’s ability to move, function, and live more active lifestyles’’ (APTA, n.d.).

In other words, physical therapists are like special doctors who can help people move and feel better so they can get back to doing what they enjoy. They usually work with people who are hurt and have trouble moving a part of their body. 

They can help through exercises, manual techniques, and education.

What Type of Certification Does a Physical Therapist Need?

In the United States, physical therapists need to get a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree from an accredited program at the University level. This program is usually 3 years. To enter the Doctor of Physical Therapy program, it is usually required to have a bachelor’s degree beforehand.

After completing the DPT program, there is an exam to pass from the National Physical Therapy Examination to receive a Doctor of Physical Therapy license. 

It’s also important to note that each state will have specific requirements for the Doctor of Physical Therapy license.

Why is Physical Therapy Important?

Physical therapy is important for many reasons. Here are some of the most important ones:

  • Pain Management
    One of the main roles of physical therapists is to help patients manage their pain. We know that pain can affect people both mentally and physically, as well as reduce their quality of life.In 2016, it was reported that 50 million Americans were living with chronic pain, mostly affecting people who didn’t have access to proper pain management (Dahlhamer et al., 2016).
  • Rehabilitation
    After sustaining an injury or getting surgery, patients will likely need to see a physical therapist to regain their full function.Physical therapists can help by prescribing exercises to regain strength, range of motion, and flexibility. They can also perform manual therapy techniques and other specialized techniques such as cupping and dry needling to help manage the pain and help in the recovery process.
  • Preventing Injuries
    Physiotherapists can also work with people before they are injured. They can determine if certain movement patterns or risk factors could lead to injury. They can help by suggesting exercises, lifestyle modifications, and ergonomic adjustments to prevent injuries.

How Can I Find a Physical Therapist?

There are many ways to find physical therapists, here are the most reliable ones:

  1. Through online directories

    The American Physical Therapy Association has a directory called Choose PT where you can find a physical therapist near you. 

    On this platform, you can also filter according to the type of problem you may be experiencing. This ensures that you get access to a physical therapist who specializes in the kind of problem you might have.

  2. At a gym or a fitness center

    Gyms and fitness centers are often affiliated with a physical therapy clinic to work together. Don’t be shy to ask if they have any physical therapists they can refer you to.

    Beyond the Gym is located next to Beyond Physical Therapy Tulsa. This physical therapy clinic was founded by two Doctors of Physical Therapy to cover all aspects of recovery and motion.

    On Beyond Physical Therapy’s website, you will be able to find information on the various physical therapy services offered as well as how to make an appointment.

  3. Through referrals
    When a friend or a family member has had a good experience with a physical therapist, that is usually a good sign. Ask them what kind of approach their physical therapist has and what they specialize in to see if it could be the right fit for you.

  4. On social media

    Physical therapists or physiotherapy clinics will often have a business account where they post educational content. This is a great way to see what their approach is and what kind of clientele they can work with.

    They will usually point you to ways on how to work with them and a website you can visit for more information.

Follow Beyond Physical Therapy on Instagram!

When choosing a potential personal trainer, it’s important to ask about their certification, experience, and approach. Most trainers will be happy to book a call or consultation to answer your questions and give you further information. 

To enquire about a free consultation with a trainer from Beyond the Gym visit the contact page to submit your enquiry.

Just like it was mentioned for personal trainers, it’s important to check the physical therapist’s credentials to make sure you receive appropriate care. To do so, you will have to check on the website of the state you are currently in to see what the process is to verify a physical therapist’s license.

The Similarities Between a Physical Therapist and a Personal Trainer

Now that we have defined both physical therapists and personal trainers, you can see how people can easily mix up the PTs.

Both personal trainers and physical therapists play an important role in helping people achieve their health and wellness goals.

The main difference is that physical therapists typically deal with patients who have a specific health problem and help with the rehabilitation process. On the other hand, personal trainers are more focused on improving or maintaining the client’s overall fitness and health.

Can a Physical Therapist be a Personal Trainer?

A physical therapist can also be a personal trainer. This can be a great addition to helping the patient more comprehensively. Not only will they be able to help with rehabilitation, but also help with performance and other fitness goals.

After doing a personal trainer certification, physical therapists can add “certified personal trainer” (CPT) to their title.

Can a Personal Trainer be a Physical Therapist?

On the other hand, personal trainers can become physical therapists as well, if they complete a Doctor of Physical Therapy program and pass the licensure exam.

This typically takes more time than the other way around, as the DPT program is 3 years, whereas the certification for personal training can be completed in 6 months or less.

Seeing Results with a Physical Therapist or a Personal Trainer

Results are not instant. It’s often difficult to know how long it will take to see results or how many times you will need to see your PT before you go in to see them

Discuss this aspect with your PT during your first few sessions. After conducting an assessment and as you come up with a plan together, they will have a better idea of your overall treatment timeline.

How Long Will It Take to Get Results with a PT?

Whether we are talking about a physical therapist or a personal trainer, the amount of time it will take to get results will vary greatly.

Here are some factors that can influence how long it can take to get results:

  • The severity of your condition
  • How you react to the treatment plan
  • Your current fitness level
  • Your participation or motivation to complete the established program
  • Your goals

How Many Times Will You Need to Visit a PT?

The number of times you need to see your physical therapist or personal trainer can’t be predicted. 

After meeting with you and assessing you, your PT will be able to give you an estimate. Don’t be afraid to ask them to give you an idea of the frequency of sessions to get a sense of direction.

Making an Informed Choice on Which PT

Deciding whether to see a physical therapist or a personal trainer will depend on your current health conditions and your goals. It’s also important to remember that it’s a possibility to do both at the same time.

When You Should See a Physical Therapist

In general, if you are trying to heal from an injury or are recovering from surgery, seeing a physical therapist is a good place to start.

Physical therapists can also help with managing chronic pain conditions or assessing you to prevent future injuries.

If a physical therapist thinks you should see a personal trainer instead or at the same time, they will be able to tell you when they find out more about your current condition.

When You Should See a Personal Trainer

If your current goal is to improve your fitness level, lose weight, gain strength, or improve your performance, personal training might be more appropriate for you.

A personal trainer should also be able to tell you if you need to see a physical therapist before or at the same time as undertaking a personal training program.

Final Words on PT vs PT

After reading this article, you should now have the tools to better understand the difference between a physical therapist and a personal trainer.

If you’re unsure about a PT’s qualifications, always check with online directories and do your research.

The key takeaway is that both PTs can help you with your health and well-being, although at different stages of your journey.

Book your free consultation with a personal trainer from Beyond the Gym today!

References:

  1. American Physical Therapy Association. (n.d.). Becoming a Physical Therapist. APTA. https://www.apta.org/your-career/careers-in-physical-therapy/becoming-a-pt
  2. Dahlhamer, J., Lucas, J., Zelaya, C., Nahin, R., Mackey, S., DeBar, L., Kerns, R., Von Korff, M., Porter, L., & Helmick, C. (2018). Prevalence of Chronic Pain and High-Impact Chronic Pain Among Adults – United States, 2016. MMWR. Morbidity and mortality weekly report67(36), 1001–1006. https://doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6736a2
  3. Kerr, Z. Y., Collins, C. L., & Comstock, R. D. (2010). Epidemiology of weight training-related injuries presenting to United States emergency departments, 1990 to 2007. The American journal of sports medicine, 38(4), 765–771. https://doi.org/10.1177/0363546509351560
  4. Mazzetti, S. A., Kraemer, W. J., Volek, J. S., Duncan, N. D., Ratamess, N. A., Gómez, A. L., Newton, R. U., Häkkinen, K., & Fleck, S. J. (2000). The influence of direct supervision of resistance training on strength performance. Medicine and science in sports and exercise32(6), 1175–1184. https://doi.org/10.1097/00005768-200006000-00023
  5. Melton, D. I., Katula, J. A., & Mustian, K. M. (2008). The current state of personal training: an industry perspective of personal trainers in a small Southeast community. Journal of strength and conditioning research22(3), 883–889. https://doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181660dab
  6. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd edition. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 2018.
  7. Waryasz, G. R., Daniels, A. H., Gil, J. A., Suric, V., & Eberson, C. P. (2016). Personal Trainer Demographics, Current Practice Trends and Common Trainee Injuries. Orthopedic reviews, 8(3), 6600. https://doi.org/10.4081/or.2016.6600

Author

  • April Edwards

    Meet April, a licensed physiotherapist with over 10 years of experience, who specializes in sports injuries and orthopedics. She is on a mission to help people stay active and regain their full potential through her physiotherapy practice. April is also a certified Yoga teacher and an avid runner. When she’s not practicing as a physio, you are sure to find her training for her next race or doing Yoga. She’s also passionate about sharing her knowledge through writing to help others live their healthiest lives.

    View all posts

Author

  • April Edwards

    Meet April, a licensed physiotherapist with over 10 years of experience, who specializes in sports injuries and orthopedics. She is on a mission to help people stay active and regain their full potential through her physiotherapy practice. April is also a certified Yoga teacher and an avid runner. When she’s not practicing as a physio, you are sure to find her training for her next race or doing Yoga. She’s also passionate about sharing her knowledge through writing to help others live their healthiest lives.

    View all posts
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