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Expert Guidance on Personal Training Clients with Fibromyalgia

banner personal trainer for fibromyalgia image

As a personal trainer, fibromyalgia is one of the conditions that you may come across. Training someone with fibromyalgia can be complicated so we’ve got some guidance to help!

Before we start, one of the best things you can do is to enhance your knowledge with further personal trainer courses.

An exercise referral course like ours, in particular, will give you the practical skills you’ll need to help people with long term health conditions using exercise.  

You can find out more by clicking through the link above or downloading our free course prospectus, which has details of all of the qualifications we offer.

What a Personal Trainer Needs to Know About Fibromyalgia

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Before we get to our tips for working with those with fibromyalgia, as a personal trainer you’ll need to know the ins and outs of the condition itself.

So, what is fibromyalgia? It’s a long term health condition that the medical community still knows very little about in terms of causes or cures.

Research would suggest that it’s most commonly brought on by stress altering the brain chemistry long term. 

Though we’re still learning about the root cause, we do know about its symptoms that can affect people’s quality of life in a dramatic way.

The condition is characterised by several main symptoms which are:

  • Chronic pain
  • Sleep issues
  • Chronic fatigue

 

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The most important thing to be aware of when you’re a personal trainer for fibromyalgia patients is how their condition can affect their ability to exercise. 

If any or all of these symptoms are particularly aggravated it can become difficult, even dangerous, for clients to carry on with training.

Being a personal trainer for those with fibromyalgia means, first and foremost, knowing you can’t push them like you do your standard clients.

If someone has had a sleepless night, they’re particularly fatigued, or in pain, pushing through it isn’t an option in the same way as others. 

This is why it can take a long time to see results or complete a programme when you’re training someone with fibromyalgia.

There’s plenty of evidence however that suggests that exercise can hugely decrease symptoms and help people sustain a higher quality of life.

So, let’s look at some of these methods in more detail so your client can get the most out of your sessions and you can become a more successful personal trainer!

7 Tips on Being an Effective Personal Trainer for Fibromyalgia Patients

#1 Use Gradual Progression if You’re a Personal Trainer for Fibromyalgia Patients

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This is one of the most important things you can do if you’re a personal trainer for fibromyalgia patients.

You may normally spend three to six months building someone up to an ideal level of fitness and achieve some of their goals. This should be much more gradual when you’re training someone with fibromyalgia, needing six to twelve months, or even longer.

This is because flare ups and varying levels of pain can interrupt training, meaning it can be sporadic or vary dramatically in intensity and duration. So, though you should still motivate your PT clients, you don’t want to push them too far and aggravate their condition.

This is possible for light cardio and aerobic exercises too.

There’s plenty of health benefits of walking without any of the high impact risks. You can build this up in distance and speed slowly as your client progresses, tracking their symptoms steadily as you go.

The easiest way to avoid overtraining or pushing people too far is with a strength training programme for your fibromyalgia clients. This is because you can increase the weights incrementally, easily tracking progress and any strains across these small changes.

We’ll go through the benefits of strength training for this demographic in our next section.

#2 Include Strength Training for Fibromyalgia Patients

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There’s plenty of research being done by rheumatologists about how strength training can help those with fibromyalgia.

As we said earlier, you need to be aware of the intensity you set and the difficulty of the exercises you set.

As a personal trainer, you’ll have fibromyalgia clients who’ve gone through long periods of inactivity which can lead to decreased muscle strength and aggravated symptoms.

This is why resistance training for fibromyalgia clients is so effective because it doesn’t just strengthen muscles, it strengthens:

  • Ligaments
  • Connective tissues
  • Tendons

Strengthening these things will help support the joints and decrease the risk of injury. This, in turn, will help with:

When you’re designing a strength training programme for fibromyalgia clients make sure you have a mixture of different styles as they will add variety as well as helping in different ways.

Be aware too that there’s a higher risk of DOMS too so you should, at least at first, avoid overhead arm work and any exercises where limbs move away from the body. 

For example, you should avoid doing leg raises that include a hip abduction or arm raises with a shoulder abduction. As we mentioned earlier, don’t push your clients too hard and make sure you very steadily increase any difficulty or weights incrementally.

Using resistance bands and building up to weights is a great way to see results with clients whilst minimising the risk of doms and injury.

#3 You Should Schedule Rest if You’re a Fibromyalgia Personal Trainer

rest personal trainer for fibromyalgia graphic

You’ll already know about the importance of rest days and why you should include them if you’re designing a personal training programme for somebody.

This is even more important when you’re a personal trainer for those with fibromyalgia. 

As well as just looking out for signs of overtraining between sessions, if you include plenty of rest on exercise days this can help to prevent post-exertion fatigue in your clients.

It can take 48 hours for some of these symptoms of fatigue to show after a client has had a session with you but with the right amount of rest, and the right incremental bursts of exercise, this can be avoided.

This is great for you as well as your client because it means that you can work to retain some level of consistency, rather than having to stop and start training frequently because of symptom flare ups.

You can do this by having exercises done in short, low intensity bursts anywhere between 2 and 10 minutes long. 

Your role as a personal trainer with fibromyalgia patients extends to outside of your sessions too!

You can advise clients to have a hot bath with epsom salts between sessions to help reduce the risk of exertional fatigue and the pain associated with it.

If you’re finding this article helpful, check out our others on helping specialist populations:

#4 Boost Your Knowledge with Further Qualifications

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Another great way for you to better equip yourself to train people with fibromyalgia is with further personal trainer courses.

Getting further qualifications will give you more expertise and knowledge to deepen your practice and help you to help your clients more.

If you can offer a more well-rounded practice, this will not only help your clients but it will mean you can charge more for your services and attract more clients!

We’ll look at two of the main courses you can complete to inform your sessions when training someone with fibromyalgia.

Exercise Referral

The most important additional qualification you can get as a PT with fibromyalgia clients is Level 3 Exercise Referral.

This a process through which you get clients referred to you by healthcare professionals for a variety of reasons including:

  • Weight management
  • Management of a long term health condition
  • Rehabilitation following surgery or injury

 

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This will mean that not only will you gain a deeper understanding of different health conditions, once you’re established you’ll have your clients sent to you rather than having to source them directly yourself.

Dom Thorpe is a great example of why courses like ours are worth investing in. He’s a specialist personal trainer with fibromyalgia clients and those with other long term health conditions.

As you can see below, he advertises this qualification on his website as one of the reasons he’s equipped to train different specialist populations:

dom thorpe personal trainer for fibromyalgia image

You too could advertise yourself as a specialist, by developing a niche as a personal trainer for fibromyalgia clients and people with other conditions!

Advanced Sports Nutrition

If you’re a personal trainer for fibromyalgia clients you can enhance your sessions with a sports nutrition qualification.

Because a lot of the painful symptoms associated with fibromyalgia are due to inflammation in the body, diet is extremely important for those with the condition.

This is because a lot of food will increase inflammation in the body such as: 

  • Red meat
  • Refined carbohydrates such as white bread
  • Foods with a high sugar content 

When you’re working as a personal trainer with fibromyalgia clients, you can advise them which foods to avoid to optimise their performance and recovery time, as well as potentially relieving symptoms.

This scientific research from The Journal of Pain, even suggests a reduction in cortisol levels in female fibromyalgia patients when diet was improved. This is a physical indicator of reduced stress levels. 

This will mean that your client is less likely to suffer from a flare up and have to interrupt training to recover.

This will mean you see results quicker, as well as getting more personal trainer referrals from satisfied clients! 

A nutrition course like ours will deepen your knowledge and provide practical skills that you can use directly with your clients.

You’ll learn about micro and macro nutrients and the link between diet and disease, helping to inform your knowledge when you’re training people with fibromyalgia.

You’ll also learn about energy expenditure and using nutrients for different physical activities. This will mean you can advise clients on what they can eat before and after sessions to aid performance and recovery to try and avoid flare ups.

So, if you’re interested in becoming a sports nutritionist a course like ours will give you the soft and practical skills you’ll need. 

#5 Schedule Regular Check-ins When You’re Training Someone with Fibromyalgia

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You should set regular time aside with your clients to check in with them to assess the various factors that could interfere with training.

Obviously you want to foster an open dialogue in which your clients feel comfortable sharing if their pain levels are too high or they’re struggling with a particular exercise.

However, dedicating specific time for checking in with clients will help them as well as you as a personal trainer.

If their fibromyalgia is affecting their workout you can help them by seeing if any adjustments can be made. In turn, the more you know the better results you’ll get and the more you’ll get out of your client!

This is especially important when it comes to some of the mental and emotional effects of fibromyalgia.

Research linking mood to fibromyalgia is now being done more frequently with some suggesting that it’s dysfunction in the brain chemistry, resulting from stress, that causes rather than just triggers the condition.

This will mean that if you’re a personal trainer for someone with fibromyalgia you will have to make sure you’re sensitive and compassionate to their state of mind as well as the pain they’re in.

During check-ins you can check with clients regarding their: 

  • Pain levels
  • Fatigue levels
  • Anything they’ve struggled with
  • Anything they think they’re improving on/enjoying
  • Their mood

assessment personal trainer for fibromyalgia graphic

Obviously you need to remember your professional boundaries. You’re not a counsellor, you’re somebody’s personal trainer and those with fibromyalgia need to feel supported without you prying too much.

You just want to make sure that you keep dialogue open so that clients feel supported and you create an arena where they can share any barriers to training.

This will ultimately get better results as your clients will be more comfortable and you will be constantly adjusting the programme to be ideally suited to their needs.

#6 A Personal Trainer Fibromyalgia Clients Should Include Low Impact Cardio

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As we’ve already mentioned, there’s several symptoms of fibromyalgia that can make designing a programme difficult as a personal trainer.

For those with fibromyalgia, the inflammation in the body makes high impact cardio, and other exercises which put pressure on the joints, risky and dangerous.

However, you want to make sure that you mix cardio into your programmes so that your clients get variety and plenty of the mental benefits of exercise.

 If you include low impact cardio as well as strength training for your fibromyalgia clients, your clients will be able to maintain some consistency with their exercise and you’ll see better results! 

Including walking is great for maintaining weight loss as well raising the heart rate and easing clients into light cardio.

Studies have shown that being overweight can massively increase symptoms of fibromyalgia as the muscles are weaker and the increased body fat puts extra strain on the joints.

You can also use:

  • Swimming
  • The elliptical trainer
  • Water aerobics

#7 Include Plenty of Water Breaks When Training Someone with Fibromyalgia

water personal trainer for fibromyalgia graphic

Finally, as a fibromyalgia PT you need to make sure you include plenty of water breaks for your clients to rehydrate and protect themselves.

Obviously, it’s always important to stay hydrated during a workout, but there’s added risks for those with fibromyalgia.

This is because of something called orthostatic intolerance, which is when symptoms are exacerbated in a standing position.

There’s been scientific studies that suggest this is due to a decreased blood volume, so when patients stand, there’s less blood supply to the brain increasing fatigue, dizziness, and cognitive issues.

 

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Studies have also shown that increasing water intake can help with this as well as modifying positions.

You can increase water breaks to make sure that your clients are hydrated enough for any standing exercises you may do, without risking dizziness or other issues.

Before You Go! 

Hopefully now you feel better equipped as a personal trainer for if you have fibromyalgia clients!

Don’t forget to develop your skills further by completing OriGym’s exercise referral course so you can get more clients and provide bespoke advice.

Alternatively, download our full free course prospectus to learn about this and all of our other personal trainer courses!

Written by Jessie Florence Jones

Content Writer & Fitness Enthusiast

Jessie has a 1st class honours degree in English Literature from University of Leeds and an MA in English Literature from Durham University. Naturally Jessie has a real passion for writing especially about film, culture and wellbeing. Outside of writing she loves hiking, country walks and yoga, which she has been doing religiously over lockdown.

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