How To Become An Exercise Referral Specialist

How To Become An Exercise Referral Specialist

If you want to know how to become an exercise referral specialist, then you’re in the right place. 

Below we’ve answered all of your burning questions, starting with ‘what is exercise referral?’, and then covering everything you need to know career wise.

Working in exercise referral is a really rewarding career so stick with us to learn about the qualifications you need, the roles and responsibilities of the job, and what you can expect in terms of salary. 

We’ll also talk a little about your opportunities for career progression. If you’re serious about being successful in this industry, you should definitely stick around for that!

If you’ve already decided that this is the job for you, then what are you waiting for? Go ahead and enquire to study a Level 3 Diploma in Exercise Referral with us here at OriGym or download your free prospectus here.

Also feel free to download your FREE Personal Training Business Plan:

What Is Exercise Referral? 

How to become a gp referral personal trainer image of doctor

An exercise referral, otherwise known as GP referral, is the process of a medical or health professional referring a patient to a fitness programme.  

The patient will usually have a specific medical condition or a long-term health problem, and will be referred by a medical professional (usually their GP or a private medical practitioner) on the basis that increased physical activity will benefit their health. 

This is more than just a recommendation to exercise more as a way to improve overall health and wellbeing. Exercise referral is a scheme in which an exercise programme is designed by a specialist based on the specific needs of an individual patient.

The overall aim of this scheme is to improve the patient’s health and well-being, and to encourage the patient to lead a more active lifestyle moving forwards.

How To Become An Exercise Referral Specialist

Now we’ve explained what exercise referral is, let’s focus on what really matters - how to become a GP referral personal trainer and what you can expect from a career in exercise referral.

We’re going to cover:

  • What Qualifications Do I Need?
  • Exercise Referral Specialist Salary 
  • The Role of An Exercise Referral Professional 
  • The Benefits Of Working in Exercise Referral 
  • Skills of An Exercise Referral Personal Trainer
  • Opportunities for Progression 

What Qualifications Do I Need to Become A GP Referral Personal Trainer?

As with any job, having the right qualifications is pretty much essential. 

If you want to work as a GP referral personal trainer, the most popular path to this career is by completing a GP Exercise Referral Course.

You can become an exercise referral specialist if you have a relevant degree, for example in a sport or health related discipline, but going to university and forking out thousands of pounds for tuition fees is not absolutely necessary.

Exercise referral salary UK graphic of graduate

A Level 3 GP exercise referral course is a much cheaper option and it will still give you the appropriate knowledge and a sufficient qualification to land you a role. 

GP Exercise Referral Course Entry Requirements 

If you choose to get qualified by completing a Level 3 GP exercise course, then you’ll need to hold a Level 2 Gym Instructor certification and you’ll need to be at least 16 years old.

If you’re already a qualified fitness instructor or personal trainer, then this won’t be a problem. However, if you’re just starting out with your career in the fitness industry, then you’ll need to get your Level 2 qualification before you can start with a Level 3 course.

You can enquire for more info about the Level 2 Gym Instructor course here.

Although having a Level 3 Personal Trainer qualification isn’t necessary to get onto a GP Referral course, some employers might still require that you hold both qualifications. 

For example, check out the requirements for this role advertised at future active:

Even though being a qualified personal trainer isn’t a requirement for all employers, you can only increase your opportunities for employability by having this qualification. 

Holding a PT qualification will add to your knowledge of anatomy & physiology, nutrition, and programming 1-1 sessions which will all help you to excel in your career as an exercise referral specialist.

Plus, if you’re qualified as a Level 3 personal trainer before you study exercise referral, you’ll be exempt from the theoretical exams during your exercise referral qualification - but more on that in a moment when we discuss the assessments.

You can never have too much knowledge, and there is no such thing as being overqualified for a role. Even if it isn’t a requirement for the specific role that you apply for, being a qualified PT and having your Level 3 Exercise Referral qualification will only increase your chances of getting the job.

Regulation and Accreditation 

Before you go ahead and sign up with the first exercise referral course you find on google, one thing to be aware of is that you’ll need to find a course that is accredited by REPs and CIMSPA, and regulated by Ofqual. 

Having an accredited qualification shows your potential employers and your clients that you’re trained to the right standard to carry out your job role.

Exercise referral wage awarding body logos

For that reason, a lot of employers will only accept candidates with accredited qualifications, so it’s definitely worth checking these details with your provider before you sign up for a course. 

If you look back to the example person specification above, you’ll see that one of the requirements is that applicants are ‘REPs registered’. You can’t register with REPs without having a REPs accredited qualification so be sure to look for the REPs logo on your course provider’s website.

Ofqual (Ofsted’s sister organisation) regulates NVQ and RQF qualifications, and set requirements for each level of qualification to ensure consistency between different course providers.

That means that as long as your course is regulated by Ofqual, the level 3 exercise referral qualification that you get from us here at OriGym, means the same thing and qualifies you for the same role, as an Ofqual regulated course that you would get from one of our competitors. 

Without a Level 3 Exercise Referral qualification that is regulated by Ofqual, you won't be an ‘exercise referral specialist’ and you’ll struggle to get a job in the industry because you have no way of demonstrating that you have the right level of knowledge for the role.

Confused about regualtion and accrediation? Head over to our blog post where we've explained everything you need to know about CIMSPA and REPs, including how the points system works, and how to become a member.

GP Exercise Referral Course Content

Exercise referral specialist salary stack of books graphic

In terms of the content of a Level 3 GP exercise referral course, you should expect to develop the necessary skills and knowledge to help individuals living with and recovering from long-term illnesses or chronic health issues.

You’ll learn about the ins and outs of what exactly the role involves, and you’ll gain an understanding of the UK healthcare system and how exercise referral fits into that system. 

The course will also provide you with a detailed understanding of a range of different medical conditions that your potential clients might be living with - all of which we’ll cover later when we explain who the exercise referral clients are.

From there, you will develop the necessary understanding to create exercise plans that are progressive, yet still suitable for individuals in special populations.

Any GP exercise referral qualification worth having will also encourage you to work on the core skills of any good fitness professional and develop skills that are specific to working in exercise referral. 

You should learn how to effectively motivate clients and encourage positive lifestyle changes, and develop the right skills to be able to set SMART goals and measure client success.

More specific to the role of a personal trainer in exercise referral, you’ll also learn about safeguarding, how to monitor for and manage risks for people in special populations, and how to provide support and guidance to those individuals who struggle with exercise as a result of their health.

Study Options

Here at OriGym, all learning on our Level 3 Exercise Referral course is online based. 

That means that there are no stressful coursework deadlines and you can take as little or as much time as you like to get through the course content.

This a really popular study option because you’ll have total flexibility to work your studies around your job, childcare, or any other commitments that you might have. 

How to become an exercise referral specialist juggling image

So, if you’re already working as a personal trainer, there’s no need to worry that your studies will get in the way of your existing business. You won’t have any face-to-face workshops that clash with your clients, instead you can choose exactly when and where you study.

Most people on our exercise referral course take around 6-8 weeks to get fully qualified, but again, because of the nature of this study option you can always take longer if you need to.

Online courses are a brilliant way to learn, you’ll have a range of different learning resources, such as e-books, recorded lectures, and telephone or email support from experienced fitness professionals. 

Nevertheless, studying online does require a certain level of motivation and self-discipline that means that this study option isn’t for everybody.

If you think that you would prefer a more structured study option, then it might be worth paying a little extra to study a blended learning or classroom based course from another course provider.

Level 3 GP Exercise Referral Assessments

Personal trainer GP referral graphic of A+ paper

As with pretty much any qualification, you’ll need to complete and pass an assessment before you receive your GP exercise referral qualification. 

Passing the course and assessments is very much manageable, with the standard of difficulty of the Level 3 course being around the same as an A-Level. 

Any course that is regulated by REPs or CIMSPA will have a similar structure for assessments, usually involving a mixture of coursework, open book exams, and one practical assessment. 

In the practical assessment, you will be asked to develop and deliver an exercise programme for an exercise referral client.

The coursework and exams will cover anatomy and physiology, and nutrition. If you already have a Level 3 PT qualification, then you might have already completed these assessments as part of that qualification. 

If that's the case then you might not need to complete all elements of the assessments, but worth checking this with your course provider before you get ahead of yourself.

Exercise Referral Specialist Salary  

Hopefully by now you’ve got a good idea of how to become an exercise referral specialist in terms of the qualifications that you’ll need to get started, and what to expect in the role, so what now?

You’re probably wondering what an exercise referral wage looks like, and we don’t blame you! 

GP referral personal trainer image of personal trainer with a bag of money

Obviously it's important to find a job that you enjoy, and we’re assuming you like the sound of working in exercise referral seeing as you’ve stuck with us beyond the roles and responsibilities.

However, at the end of the day the main purpose of any job is to earn an income, so it still makes sense to take salary into consideration when choosing a career path.

According to Glassdoor, the average exercise referral salary in the UK is £19,536.  

However, these figures are based on the average salary in 2018, so it’s fair to assume that today, the average salary is slightly higher, especially if you’re based in London.

Salaries vary depending on a number of factors, such as your experience, qualifications, and who you are employed by.

Doing a quick search on job boards like and leisurejobs, we can see that the starting exercise referral salary (UK) can be anywhere between £19,568 and £23,761.

For roles that require more experience, we found Manager positions in exercise referral offering upto £38,863. 

Freelance Exercise Referral Salary 

If you like the sound of having an uncapped earning potential, then you can take control of your income by becoming a freelance exercise referral professional.

You can set up partnerships with medical professionals, private health clubs, or the NHS, and find your referral own clients.

This would work best for those who are also qualified as a personal trainer, because you can maximise the amount of clients that you are qualified to work with and increase the services that you can offer to your existing client base.

Gp exercise referral course exercise refferal vs PT graphic

For example, you might currently have a regular PT client who suffers with non-specific back pain who you could also take on as a referral client. 

It works the other way around too, say you have an obese client signed up to an exercise referral programme, and they get good results and start to really enjoy exercise, you can offer your PT services so that they continue to train with you outside of the referral scheme. 

As long as you have a good personal trainer advertising strategy, this is a brilliant way to bring in a fairly sizeable income.


Become a Level 4 Nutrition Specialist

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The Role of An Exercise Referral Specialist

If you’re wondering what more about ‘what is a GP exercise referral consultant’, then you’re in the right place.

We’re about to cover what it’s actually like to work as an exercise referral professional, a GP referral personal trainer, a personal trainer GP referral, or whatever you choose to call it.

So before you go ahead skip straight to find out how you can progress in this career, have a read below where we’ve explained the roles and responsibilities of the job and the best things about choosing a career in exercise referral.

Roles and Responsibilities of a GP Referral Personal Trainer

Exercise Referral Specialist graphic of doctor

As an exercise referral professional, you’ll work in partnership with health professionals, usually taking referrals from GPs, the NHS, or private medical professionals.

These health professionals will refer their patients to yourself (if you’re a private exercise referral personal trainer) or to the facility that you work at. 

The overall aim of this role is to carry out the exercise referral scheme to improve the health and wellbeing of individuals suffering with chronic conditions and illnesses. 

You’ll do this by creating a tailored fitness programme for each individual referral client, which will then be carried out over a fixed period of either 8 or 12 weeks. 

In order to design and then carry out a programme that is suitable for the client, an exercise referral personal trainer is also required to:

  • Assess the health and fitness of the client and educate yourself on their condition or illness to manage and monitor any risks that could arise from exercise.
  • Identify appropriate short, medium, and long term exercise goals for each client.
  • Carry out regular exercise assessments to allow a progressive programme that is suitable for the client.

Within the scheme, the role of an exercise referral personal trainer includes providing specialised advice and support based on the clients individual needs and their current health condition. 

You will be required to guide the clients through each session by demonstrating how to do certain exercises and how to use the exercise machines, and recommend group classes or other physical activities that are suitable for the client to take part in.

Exercise referral personal trainer elderly PT client image

Similar to the role of a regular personal trainer, an exercise referral specialist also needs to be able to motivate clients. 

However, without the specific Level 3 exercise referral qualification, your PT insurance won’t cover you for working with clients with the conditions that exercise referral covers

As an exercise referral coordinator, you’ll need to be able to get clients motivated during the referral period, and also encourage those clients to continue their improved exercise habits outside of your training.

If you’re already working as a PT, you might not think that this is any different from what you do with your clients, but the difference for an exercise referral personal trainer is that it can be significantly more difficult to motivate referral clients. 

This increased challenge is the result of the fact that exercise referral clients are referred to you, whereas regular personal training clients come to you voluntarily.

Your average PT client will usually have their own goals in mind, and because they’re paying for the service, there’s a bigger incentive for them to commit to the programme and get the results. 

On the other hand, clients taking part in an exercise referral scheme are doing so because they have been advised to do so, not because they particularly want to. 

Some clients might be motivated to complete the programme for the benefit of their health, but for the most part you’ll be faced with clients who are uninterested in the programme. 

Not sure where to start with getting your clients motivated? Find out our favourite ways to motivate PT clients!

Personal trainer exercise referral man watching tv image

These clients can be difficult to train because they’re often unmotivated and in the habit of leading a physically inactive lifestyle. 

In addition to that, because an exercise referral scheme is usually funded by the local council or a private healthcare provider, they don’t have the financial investment in the programme that a regular PT client would.

Finally, as a GP referral personal trainer you are responsible for keeping your knowledge up to date with any changes or developments in the health and fitness industry, as well as ensuring that you do your background research into the medical conditions that your clients are dealing with.

Having the right qualifications is one thing, but continuing to do your research is just as important. 

You need to be fully informed on the medical conditions of all of your clients so that you can give appropriate advice and make referrals to a more appropriate professional if need be.

Exercise Referral: Who Are The Patients?

If you choose a career as an exercise referral specialist you can expect to work with a range of different patients with various chronic conditions and illnesses. 

That could include:

  • Diabetes (type 1 or type 2)
  • Asthma
  • Obesity
  • Arthritis 
  • Osteoporosis 
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Lower back pain (non-specific)
  • COPD

As well as these physical illnesses, exercise referral benefits individuals suffering mental health conditions, too. Most commonly, people dealing with depression and anxiety can be referred to an exercise referral scheme.

What is a gp exercise referral consultant doctor with prescription image

Because exercise referral patients are prescribed exercise by their doctor, the chances of them becoming a client is much higher compared to the conversion rate of enquiries you get for regular PT services.

That's because exercise referral clients need to exercise, whereas other PT clients enquire because they want to workout more.

Once referral clients have completed their initial programme, they’ll see significant differences and they’ll feel a lot healthier, which will encourage them to carry on training with you.

Where Does An Exercise Referral Personal Trainer Work?

Now that you know the kinds of roles and responsibilities you can expect to carry out if you choose a career as an exercise referral coordinator, we assume that your next question is about where an exercise referral specialist works.

In the UK, most exercise referrals are made by NHS professionals and are referred to exercise referral specialists based in community leisure centres or health clubs that are run by a local authority (normally the local council).

In other cases, exercise referral personal trainers can work on a freelance basis, or based at private health clubs, schools, colleges, or universities, or employed by a charity.

The Benefits Of Working in Exercise Referral 

Gp exercise referral qualification woman giving thumbs up

Obviously a good wage is one of the biggest benefits of any job, but there are also some non-financial benefits of choosing a career in exercise referral.

Don’t skip this section thinking that money is all that matters, because although pay is important, a decent wage is very rarely worth working in a job that you don’t enjoy. 

There's no doubt that the job can be challenging at times, with tasks like motivating clients and creating training programmes being significantly more difficult for GP referral compared to personal training in general. 

Nevertheless, working as an exercise referral personal trainer is a really rewarding career. You’ll help individuals to make significant lifestyle changes which will hugely impact their health and improve their overall quality of life.

Rather than having a client base made up of individuals with aesthetic based goals, you’ll be working with the people who need your help the most.

Exercise referral professional tensing muscles graphic

As we said above, your clients will be pretty inactive individuals who struggle to find the motivation for exercise, or don't really know where to start. But, that shouldn’t be something that puts you off this career choice.

No matter how cheesy it sounds, when you’re working with these kinds of clients you do genuinely get the opportunity to change somebody's life for the better. 

It will be hard work, but seeing the progression of your clients and helping them to live with their conditions will make it all worth it.

Outside of the fact that being an exercise referral personal trainer is really rewarding, another one of the benefits of exercise referral is that it gives you a niche in the fitness industry. 

By completing an exercise referral qualification, you’ll have a specific skill set which prepares you directly for the role.

Finally, one of the most relevant benefits of exercise referral for careers is that there are plenty of opportunities for progression. 

Opportunities for Progression 

Now that you know how to become a GP referral personal trainer, how can you maximise your earnings in this industry?

Exercise referral coordinator job description image of woman climbing ladder

Obviously you won’t be able to go into a management position straight after getting your qualifications. The highest paying fitness jobs like the one above usually require relevant experience in the industry. 

However, the higher salaries are definitely still within your reach for the near future.

The best way to boost your income and open up further opportunities for career progression is to complete additional qualifications.

It’s a good idea to regularly complete Continuing Professional Development (CPD) courses, for example a Taping and Strapping CPD course.

Not only is a requirement to maintain your REPs membership, but it will also benefit your knowledge of health and fitness, and it will ensure that you stay up to date with any trends or changes in the industry.

Following on from an exercise referral course, you could also choose to do a specialised Level 4 qualification.

The Level 3 Exercise referral qualification is a mandatory qualification that gives you a holistic overview into the area, but studying a Level course will allow you to work in a specialised area.

Level 4 is the highest level of qualification in the fitness industry so completing one of these courses is a brilliant way of demonstrating that you’re committed to your career.

There are a range of different Level 4 qualifications out there, but relevant to working as an exercise referral professional, it could be a good idea to study Level 4 Lower Back Pain Management or Level 4 Obesity & Diabetes Control.

Level 4 Lower Back Pain Management

Exercise referral coordinator man with back pain image

On this course, you’ll learn about different kinds of lower back pain, how these problems develop, and how to plan and deliver exercise programmes specifically for individuals suffering with lower back pain problems. 

This would allow you to progress into a more niche job role, specialising in offering lower back pain services, helping clients to deal with their pain, and showing them that they can continue to lead an active lifestyle despite their health problems.

Given lower back pain is a problem that is really prevalent in today's society, there is plenty of demand for fitness professionals who can specialise in this area.

Within a specialised role, you could expect to work for a local authority in the same way as an exercise referral coordinator, or you could even work for a private gym in a specialist PT role.

Level 4 Obesity & Diabetes Control and Weight Management 

Within this qualification, you’ll build on your existing knowledge from your GP referral course, focusing more specifically on how to work with clients who are obese or diabetic.

Once you’ve completed the course, you’ll be qualified to work with clients who have trouble losing weight and maintaining weight loss long term. 

Benefits of exercise referral for weight loss image

You’ll be taught how to create programmes that are based on long-term weight loss goals, and you’ll learn how to help clients make the necessary behavioural changes to improve their health.

In terms of finding a role, you could work specifically as an exercise referral PT specialising in obesity and diabetes, again either working for the NHS, a private healthcare company, or a private gym.

Some Other Areas That You Could Specialise In Could Include:

  • Level 4 Sports Injury Rehabilitation
  • Level 4 Cardiac Rehabilitation 
  • Level 4 Cancer Rehabilitation Through Physical Activity

The Skills Of A Good Exercise Referral Specialist 

What is exercise referral lightbulb graphic

Having the right qualifications might get you the job, but if you want to be successful in the role, then there are some key skills that you should have (or that you need to get working on) which aren’t necessarily on an exercise referral coordinator job description.

Want to know how these skills weigh up compared to those of PT? Read here to find out what makes a good persoanl trainer.

1. Patience

Working with special populations is by no means easy. Some referral clients won’t be eager to start their exercise programme and a lot of the time it will be a struggle to get your client motivated.

For that reason, patience is absolutely essential. Exercise referral schemes can have huge benefits for individuals living with chronic illnesses, so giving up on unmotivated clients is not an option.

You need the ability to be patient with people so that you can persevere through the programme and find a way of exercising that gets them more active. 

2. Listening & Communication 

These skills are essential to ensure that your clients are happy with the programme, and they allow you and the client to agree on, and work towards, exercise goals.

Any good exercise referral specialist will listen to their clients and communicate well with them to make sure that the referral client gets as much out of the scheme as possible.

3. Compassion 

Level 3 gp exercise referral course woman doing push up image

Because you’ll be working with people who have to live with long-term physical and mental conditions every single day, you need to be compassionate.

When you study for your qualification, you’ll learn a lot about the illnesses that your clients are living with, but unless you live with a chronic illness yourself then you won’t be able to fully understand the challenges your clients face

Of course you’ll need to push your clients so that you can provide a progressive exercise programme, but you also need to be compassionate in your approach when dealing with clients in special populations.

4. Teaching 

Personal training, and especially working as an exercise referral PT, involves much more than showing clients how to do exercises.

Because an exercise referral scheme is usually limited to a 12 week period, the ability to teach clients good exercise habits is essential. 

If all you do is show clients how to do exercises, instead of teaching them effective workouts or what exercise classes are suitable for them, the chances of them continuing to be active after the referral scheme is over are pretty slim.

5. Flexibility

This is true of most roles in the fitness industry, but the ability to be flexible and think of your feet is an essential part of being a good exercise referral coordinator. 

Some programmes just won't work for some individuals, even what worked for one client with a specific condition won't necessarily work for another person with the same condition. 

You’ll need to be able to notice when something isn't working, and be flexible enough to make changes to the routine if need be.

Before You Go!

Now that you know how to become an exercise referral specialist, what are you waiting for? Enquire for our Level 3 exercise referral specialist course and get qualified in as little as 8 weeks!

To learn more about the range of specialist fitness courses and qualifications that we offer, download the free OriGym course prospectus here.

Written by Abbie Watkins

Fitness Content Executive, OriGym

Join Abbie on Facebook at the OriGym Facebook Group

Holding an MA Marketing Communications and Branding as well as a BSc Psychology from the University of Liverpool, Abbie’s experience encompasses the retail, hospitality and fitness industries. Since joining OriGym, she has become a qualified Personal Trainer and gone on to complete a specialist qualification in advanced Sports Nutrition. Abbie’s main focuses cover staying up to speed with YouTube fitness influencers, identifying successful and innovative content formats. She has contributed to various publications, including the Daily Express. Beyond OriGym, she describes herself as a ‘work-hard, play-hard’ type going on scenic runs and upbeat exercise classes, and often found on the front row of a Saturday morning spin class. 

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