As a professional in the fitness industry, you might be asking yourself “what are the legal limitations of a personal trainer?” This is something that you need to make yourself aware of if you want to have a legitimate business in which you and your clients are protected.
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What Are Legal Limitations For Personal Trainers?
Legal limitations are simply actions that you take that are overstepping the line of your practice.
As a personal trainer, there is a limit on what kind of advice you give or action that you can take, so you need to stay within the scope of your practice to avoid any unwanted legal action or even making a mistake that can affect a clients health and wellbeing.
Even if you think you may “know” something, this doesn’t mean you have the legal right to distribute such information, particularly if this is an instruction.
That being said, below find 7 of the most important legal limitations of a personal trainer that you need to know so there are no blurred lines between what you should and shouldn’t do.
7 Key Legal Limitations Personal Trainers Need To Be Aware Of
#1 - Diagnosing & Treating Medical Conditions Is A Crucial PT Limitation
First and foremost, you’re not qualified to diagnose any of your clients as a personal trainer. This is something that only a medical professional can do, like doctors.
Even if you think that you know exactly what it is they’re describing as symptoms, you cannot diagnose your clients as they are not your patient.
You would have to refer your client to a professional if you think there is something alarming or concerning in their Par-q form that you think needs further clarification. For example, if one of their answers in the consultation process is that they have chest pain when they exercise, this is clearly a red flag that needs to be assessed by a doctor.
The thing to remember, is that although you may be self-educated to a particular degree, unless you’re licensed as a doctor you have no authority to diagnose.
Similarly, treating any conditions is also not something that you can do, though you might be able to improve their quality of life through exercise if you are an exercise referral specialist.
This is otherwise known as GP referral, in which you need a level 3 GP exercise referral qualification behind you to become. Remember that this is not a “treatment”, only medical professionals can prescribe treatment, but this isn’t to say that some symptoms caused by medical issues can’t be improved by regular, well planned exercise sessions.
#2 - You're Not Legally Allowed To Perform Diagnostic Tests As A Personal Trainer
Leading on from diagnosing, another one of the legal limitations of a personal trainer is performing diagnostic tests.
This is a holistic term, so the only thing you need to remember is that as far as tests go, a simple blood pressure reading and physical assessment is as much as you can do regarding diagnostic tests if you’re a personal trainer.
Things like cholesterol testing are out of your scope of practice and should not be performed. If you’re under the impression that your client needs diagnostic testing, then you can have a conversation perhaps in their PT check-in.
This is something that you cannot pry into, if they wish to share any problems they have been having they can, but ultimately any medical issues are between them and their doctor unless they tell you otherwise.
For some more useful resources on acing your career as a personal trainer, have a read at these articles below:
- 25 Best Personal Training Books to Improve Your Skills
- Why Should Informed Consent Be Obtained For Personal Training?
- How To Write An Effective Personal Training Contract For Your Clients
#3 - Level 3 Personal Trainers Cannot Give Specific Nutrition Advice
A big no no in the personal training industry is providing clients with specific nutritional advice.
Often, this can be a blurred line but unless you’re a licensed dietician, you have no authority to prescribe a meal plan or tell a client what to and not to eat.
Nonetheless, you cannot out-run a bad diet as the saying goes, thus, you can advise general nutritional information.
This is a really important part of being a good personal trainer, because you need to know on some level how your clients are eating because this is going to directly impact their progress that they see with you in the gym.
With that in mind, some general conversation and awareness can be beneficial to you and your client. Your priority should be trying to improve their relationship with food rather than choosing specific foods to have or not to have within their diet.
For example, asking questions like “how is your relationship with food?” can be extremely insightful for you as the PT since you’re able to see how they respond. You can look out for red flags like them feeling guilt after eating and other things that might suggest that they’re struggling with their diet.
You can give informed advice this way, essentially you can educate your clients without actually telling them what to eat. The last thing you should do is assume that they have an extensive knowledge on nutrition as more often than not, this is not the case.
Think of every client as an empty study book, you can advise ways to improve their diet without being specific. For example, if you know that they’re struggling with their sugar intake you can suggest to make some easy swaps, simple statements like:
“Have you tried the no-sugar version of that drink? I enjoy it, it might be worth a shot at trying out if you’re struggling to cut it out completely, these things can take time!”
Even if your client asks or seems comfortable with you handing off a meal plan to them and then following it, you will be operating out of your scope of practice and if anything were to happen to the client in relation to the diet, you could face some responsibility.
#4 - A Personal Trainer Shouldn't Recommend Dietary Supplements
Similarly, regarding dietary regulations, you shouldn’t be recommending and certainly not selling dietary supplements to your clients.
There is sometimes a grey area when it comes to this, since many supplement brands will utilise personal trainers as an affiliate in order to benefit the PT if they make a sale. This is something that can stay on the side of social media.
There is nothing wrong with a PT being affiliated with a supplement brand, in fact it is very popular but you being in the gym with a client and recommending the supplement to them with minimal knowledge of any allergies or problems they have could be dangerous.
In short, you could be legally liable for any problems or reactions that arise to the client as a result of them taking the supplements.
#5 - Personal Trainers Can't Offer Physical Therapy Without Proper Training
There is a huge difference between a physiotherapist and a personal trainer, one distinct difference is that a physiotherapist can diagnose a patient, and as you know by now, that is something you’re unable to do as a personal trainer with no licence as a medical professional.
If you offer physical therapy, you offer manual therapy. This is something that as a PT you cannot do, unless you have a degree and masters degree in physiotherapy and are an active physiotherapist.
The only people who can offer manual therapy are those who are licensed physiotherapists and have gone through the necessary education and training to achieve that status.
Though as a PT, you’re able to spot an exercise, if a problem were to arise from any exercises, it is not up to you to diagnose and treat any strains or injuries, this is for the physiotherapist.
#6 - PTs Can't Legally Provide Psychological & Mental Health Help
Another one of the important legal limitations of a personal trainer is interfering in your client’s psychological health.
Even if there is research out there suggesting that exercise can help in improving mood, this is simply research that you have read. It doesn’t provide you with the authority to tell your client’s that this is all they need to combat any mental health battles.
If your clients have shared any mental health struggles with you, you should direct them in the direction of a psychologist or GP who can help them with these problems.
You should not be diagnosing them or attempting to treat any conditions with exercise alone.
#7 - Administering Sports Massage Is A Personal Trainer Legal Limitation To Be Aware Of
Finally, another legal limitation as a personal trainer is that you cannot administer sports massage without having the correct accredited training and certification first.
You can become a sports massage therapist without a PT certification in fact, they are different careers yet work really well together if you’re a PT who wants to expand their knowledge and skills.
Because of that, often the only requirement is to be over 16 years old to enrol. Since these are completely different courses that have different modules, as a PT you’re operating out of your profession if you begin administering sports massage.
It is actually dangerous to perform sports massage with no training, you could actually hurt a client and make any issues worse than they were before.
If you are qualified as a PT only, then you’re going to have a problem on your hands if you’re not only un-qualified and thus not insured and injure a client who came to you in confidence that you know what you’re doing.
As a PT, spotting is as hands-on as it gets, if you begin manual therapy you’re out of your scope of practice!
Before You Go!
Much of this might seem straightforward to you, but it is a good idea to refresh your mind on what you can do and to halt any activity that you may have even accidently performing outside of your scope of practice.
If you’re looking to get qualified to start your career in the fitness industry or even advance to the next level, why not check out OriGym’s personal training courses? Find much more in our downloadable course prospectus here.
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