Differences between Physical Therapists and Personal Trainers
Personal trainers and physical therapists
differ mostly based on who they work with.
Personal Trainers are involved in exercise
prescription and instruction. They motivate
clients with goal setting and accountability.
Their training is often related to strength
building, performance enhancement, or weight
loss. Education on wellness, exercise, and
general health is part of a personal trainer’s
responsibility and in the case of older adults
helping them to maintain their independence.
Physical therapists usually work in a
medical setting and are involved with evaluation
and treatment. They help patients rehabilitate from a disability, injury, or disease and help older adults gain back their independence.
Licensing: Physical therapists are state board licensed health care professionals in the state in which they
Education: Physical therapists graduate from an accredited college or university, most with Doctorate of
Physical Therapy degree. It is a 3-year program that follows undergraduate prerequisites.
Settings: Physical therapists work in a medical setting – often private practices and hospitals, and in short and
long-term care settings. Physical therapists can evaluate a patient with or without a physician’s
referral (a.k.a. Direct Access).
Area of expertise: Evaluation, treatment, and prevention of disability, injury, and disease are physical
therapists’ specialties. They are skilled at a variety of techniques including exercise,
manual techniques, and modalities to assist in the healing process. Physical therapists
undergo significant coursework on anatomy and physiology of the human body.
How would a physical therapist utilize a personal trainer?
- A physical therapist will often refer a patient to a personal trainer after that patient has successfully completed physical therapy following an injury or post-operative care. A Personal Trainer can guide clients to move their health forward and to create better performance in chosen activities.
Licensing: Personal trainers are not licensed. They hold a national certification. Examples of the gold standard
of certification for Personal trainers are NASM (National Academy of Sports Medicine), ACSM
(American College of Sports Medicine).
Education: Many personal trainers have a degree in exercise physiology; however a degree is not required.
Settings: Many personal trainers work in health club settings or are available for one-on-one exercise training
or enhancement sessions, or run their own businesses.
Areas of expertise: A personal trainer is a fitness professional involved in exercise prescription and instruction.
They motivate clients with goal setting, feedback, and hold clients accountable to their
goals with measurements. Their training is often related to strength building, performance
enhancement, or weight loss. Education on wellness, exercise, and general health is part of
a personal trainer’s responsibility to their clients.
How would a personal trainer utilize a physical therapist?
- When a personal trainer sees an injury or pain that prevents full participation in an exercise program, then the personal trainer would refer that client to a physical therapist for diagnosis, rehabilitation and treatment of the injury. A personal trainer will also recommend a physical therapist for a client planning for post-operative rehabilitation.