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What’s The Difference Between A Personal Trainer And A Physiotherapist?

what's the difference between a physiotherapist and a personal trainer

If you’re unsure of whether a career as a personal trainer or Physiotherapist is best for you, we’re about to compare the most important variables to consider when making this decision. 

We will cover:

Before we get straight into the difference between the two, if you want to find out more about getting qualified, why not enquire about a personal training course? Or, find advancement courses and more within our downloadable course prospectus.

How Are The Roles & Responsibilities Of A PT And A Physiotherapist Different?

personal trainer or physiotherapist

To start our comparison of the differences between a physiotherapist and personal trainer, we’ve laid out 3 of the most important roles and responsibilities of each and discussed how they contrast from the other.

Roles & Responsibilities of a Personal Trainer 

First, let’s take a look at what you would expect your schedule to look like if you became a personal trainer.

Create & Deliver Tailor Made Plans for Specific Exercise Goals

personal trainer physiotherapist

The main role of a personal trainer is to create an exercise plan tailored to the needs and goals of an individual client. 

Creating a tailored training plan as a PT starts with a personal training consultation, which will see you finding out key information that will determine the type of training plan you create. Those factors include:

  • Whether they have any health issues 
  • How fit or active they are
  • Their daily lifestyle habits

With this information, a PT will then ask their client about their exercise goals, before using their knowledge and expertise to design and implement a tailored training plan.

In comparison, a patient would show up to a physiotherapy session with a specific issue or condition, which the Physiotherapist would then provide advice and /or therapy for.

A key difference between the types of plans created by PTs vs Physiotherapists, is that personal training programmes are an unlimited commitment - clients might train for a set period of time or choose to continue with their PT long term, even once they’ve achieved their initial goals. 

On the other hand, the physiotherapy process is more of a patient to healthcare professional exchange, and the plan will only last as long as is needed depending on the severity of the injury or condition. 

Provide Informed Advice on Nutrition & A Healthy Lifestyle

physiotherapist personal trainer

Whilst a visit to a Physiotherapist is usually prompted by needing help to overcome a specific condition or injury, a personal training client usually decides they want to make a lifestyle change and chooses to hire a personal trainer voluntarily.

Offering nutrition advice is just one way that a personal trainer can help clients to make positive lifestyle changes.

This is why personal trainer courses include a nutrition module, which covers the key principles of nutrition and exactly how foods interact with the exercise so that PTs can consider this in programmes they build. 

Though they can’t act as though they’re a dietician or prescribe set meal plans for individuals- they can suggest lifestyle changes and recommend types of food to incorporate into a balanced diet.

If you want more clarity on what you can or cannot offer to introduce healthy lifestyle changes, find out if personal trainers give nutritional advice here.

Assess Client Progress and Measure Success

can a physiotherapist be a personal trainer

As a PT, you will be the sole person responsible for measuring, recording, and encouraging your clients progress. 

In order to fulfil this responsibility, you’ll need to complete tasks outside of just exercise and nutrition guidance. For example, you’ll find yourself creating client progress reports, which will require you to: 

  • Measure and record client progress at set intervals 
  • Compile this data into an easy-to-read report
  • Use the information to show clients how far they have come

Depending on the clients goals, measuring or recording progress could involve:

  • Regular weigh-ins
  • Taking progress pictures
  • Keeping a record of a personal best for a specific exercise
  • Taking measurements 
  • Conducting body fat composition assessments

can physiotherapists be a personal trainer

Whatever it is, a personal trainer has the job of ensuring that all progress reports are taken care of and are in great detail. 

Though the purpose of working with a Physiotherapist is still to improve, they aren't selling a product, so they don’t need to present client progress in a way that encourages the client to keep coming back.

Another key difference is whilst this whole task is the sole responsibility of a PT, most UK Physiotherapists work for the NHS, and are therefore likely to work with other healthcare professionals on tasks like checking and recording progress.

Roles & Responsibilities of a Physiotherapist

Whilst there are some similarities with personal training, working as a Physiotherapist is rather different, mainly with how they carry out their roles and interact with clients. 

Here are the main responsibilities that you should expect to be doing as a Physiotherapist.

Diagnose Patients with Injuries or Illnesses

difference between physiotherapist and personal trainer

One main difference between the roles of a Physiotherapist and a personal trainer is that a Physiotherapist has the ability to diagnose patients and treat conditions.

This is largely due to the extensive knowledge and education needed to work as a Physiotherapist, which means you can assess patients and not only find out the cause of their problem, but also treat it yourself.

Depending on how and where you work, these patients will come to you through the NHS or contact you privately.

According to the NHS, Physiotherapists could help a client with areas such as:

  • Bones, joints and soft tissue
  • Brain or nervous system
  • Heart and circulation
  • Lungs and breathing

These are things that can become problematic for somebody who suffers from issues that can create complications in these specific areas. For example, bones or joints could become painful due to arthritis and similarly, the brain or nervous system could suffer after somebody has had a stroke. 

The list is endless, but these are the kinds of issues that you could diagnose and treat as a Physiotherapist.

Conduct Manual Therapy on the Patient

personal trainer and physiotherapist

Another thing that can't be done by a personal trainer but can be by a Physiotherapist, is performing manual therapy on a patient. 

Though personal trainers can help clients during exercises like spotting or helping with exercises, they can’t do anything about a muscle strain or any injuries. 

However, a Physiotherapist can diagnose the problem and then get to work on improving the symptoms. 

For example, if a patient is struggling with their range of motion due to painful or stiff joints and bones they could benefit from a range of motion exercises performed by the Physiotherapist themselves on the patient. 

Some exercises can be done by the patient, meaning that they can be prescribed for the patient to do at home in their own time, while others are done by the professional to ensure the correct place is getting the specific care it needs.

Provide Informed Advice or Prescriptions Tailored to the Patient

physiotherapist become personal trainer

Though a Physiotherapist can manually treat a client and perform stretches and treatments, they can also provide informed advice if the problems aren’t so severe that they need immediate attention. 

This could be advice on how they can make lifestyle changes. For example, if somebody has back problems and works a 9-5 in an office, a Physiotherapist could provide advice to take regular breaks, to walk or invest in a new office chair. 

Similarly, there are some Physiotherapists that can prescribe supplements or advice on lifestyle changes. 

Supplementary prescribing rights were given to licensed Physiotherapists in 2005 and this means that there is a voluntary partnership between a doctor and a supplementary prescriber to prescribe within a user-specific clinical management plan also known as CMP.

Qualification Differences Between A Physiotherapist & A Personal Trainer

physiotherapist and personal trainer

There are stark differences between the qualifications needed to be a Physiotherapist vs a personal trainer, mainly regarding the time it takes to get qualified, the costs, and the actual contents of the course. Let’s take a look at the differences between the two.

Qualifications Needed to Become a Physiotherapist

personal trainer to physiotherapist

Both career paths require a recognised qualification. To be a Physiotherapist, you need to start with a Bachelor's degree. Specifically, you’ll need a BSc in Physiotherapy.

Meanwhile, you can get qualified as a PT by completing a vocational personal training course.

A BSc in Physiotherapy will typically last 3 years studying full time, and costs around £9250 per year -  which is vastly more expensive and time consuming than a vocational PT course. 

This qualification requires this amount of time due to the sheer responsibility a job requires when you’re working in the healthcare industry and the amount you have to learn. 

Entry Requirements to Become a Physiotherapist 

Typical entry requirements for a BSc course are:

  • A-Levels results of A,A & B
  • A minimum of five GCSEs including Maths, English & Science at grade 9-5 (A*-B)

Alternatively, you could get onto a course with one of the following prerequisites:

  • A specified amount of credits from a HE Diploma
  • A BTEC, HND or HNC (with biological science)
  • NVQ (only relevant studies)
  • An access course (only science based courses)

switch from a personal trainer to physiotherapist

If you already have a bachelor's degree, you could enrol onto a masters course (MSc Physiotherapy), which would give you the necessary knowledge and qualification without having to complete another 3 year undergraduate degree. 

Entry requirements vary greatly depending on the course and the prestige of the university itself. For example, a red brick university is almost always going to ask for higher grades.

Once you have your qualifications, you would then need to register on the HCPC (the health and care professionals council) before you start practising. 

This is greatly differentiating from the process of becoming a personal trainer, which can be completed in as little as 4 weeks! The stark difference of qualifications needed and time taken between the two job roles is simply because they’re so different.

In a nutshell, it doesn’t take a university degree time span to teach what needs to be taught to become a personal trainer.

Qualifications Needed to Become a Personal Trainer

physiotherapy personal training

The main qualifications needed to be ready for the world of work as a personal trainer are:

You must complete the Level 2 in fitness instructing before you can enrol on to a Level 3 certificate in personal training.

Luckily, the process of completing both of these qualifications is a lot easier if you complete a diploma in personal training, which merges the two qualifications and is usually a much cheaper route to qualification than buying the two courses separately.

This course teaches the fundamentals of being a professional PT and gives you all the skills, experience, and knowledge needed to go out and work as a PT at a gym or on a self-employed basis.

In terms of how long it takes to get qualified, it really is up to you.

should i be a personal trainer or physiotherapist

You can choose your pace thanks to the range of study methods available, which is just one of the ways in which PT courses offer a lot more freedom and flexibility than the qualifications needed to be a Physiotherapist.

You have 3 choices when deciding how you study to be a PT. Those are:

  • Full time course (which take 4 weeks)
  • Part-time course (8 week average course length)
  • Online courses (12 week average course length)

We say average as these can be done at your convenience.

In terms of entry requirements, the only prerequisite is that you need to be at least 16 years of age to enrol onto a PT course.

Other than that, there are no prior qualifications needed, which is perfect for those who want to change career paths or are young learners that don’t want to go to university.

Where A Physiotherapist Works VS Where A Personal Trainer Works

become a personal trainer or a physiotherapist

When choosing whether to become a Physiotherapist or a personal trainer, you should think about where you will be working, the setting that you want to be in and how much control you will have over your role.

As a Physiotherapist you can either work:

  • In a private facility
  • Independently / on a self-employed basis 
  • For the NHS

Nonetheless, all of these are clinical settings, you will typically work with patients who have been referred to you or have self-referred.

Below, you can see the comparison between the two and how they differ greatly from one another.

Where Physiotherapists Work: 

  • Hospitals
  • Community health centres or clinics
  • Private health care clinics
  • GP surgeries
  • Sports clubs

personal trainer or a physiotherapist

Where Personal Trainers Work:

Personal Trainers have the option of working:

  • As an employee of a gym or health facility
  • For a gym or health facility on a freelance basis
  • As a self-employed personal trainer

Freelancing is a hugely popular approach to a career in personal training. There are heaps of benefits and the fact that you can work in a gym all the while being freelance is a great option that many people start out in.

So, if you want to become either a personal trainer or a Physiotherapist, you will be able to have a successful career no matter what you choose and you’re never simply limited to one place; the freedom of where you can work and what you do in both roles are widely varied and either route is a great option.

Difference Between Personal Trainer and Physiotherapist Salaries

personal trainer and a physiotherapist jobs compared

If you’re considering a career of either physiotherapy or personal training, you’re probably wondering how the salaries differ. What we can say is that both careers offer a healthy salary.

However, exactly how much you earn depends on factors such as where and how you work, which we’ll be sure to consider in this comparison. 

The Salary of a Personal Trainer

As mentioned above, personal trainers can work as an employee or on a freelance basis. 

First, the salary of a freelance personal trainer is arguably the most attractive as the amount you could earn is uncapped. 

The world is your oyster when it comes to freelancing as a personal trainer, you could:

Take a look at this job advertisement below, where you can see how though they mention the fact that earnings are uncapped, they do lay out an example to help you understand how much you could make.

personal trainer or physiotherapist jobs

This shows how you’re able to maximise your income with the help of a gym giant like Anytime Fitness. Most, if not all, gyms will typically help you grow your business as a freelancer as often they have business structures in place so that you can maximise your income and bring in clients.

You will have to pay rent to the gym where you work, but often you may get discounts or even the first month free so you have time to actually build up your clients base without being in a deficit. 

On the example, they work on a basis of 3.5 sessions a day, 6 days a week but, since you have complete control over your business you can actually increase this as you please. Plus, when you progress and become more in-demand, you can raise your prices even more, in fact £35 a session is typically a minimum price and you could even raise them up to £50+.

Similarly you have the option to work as a hired personal trainer. This is a comfortable option that ensures job security and a regular income, which is why it's a popular option among those who are new to the industry.

The salary is similar, but the business models may be different. For example, Virgin Active have a structure that allows for hired personal trainers to climb the ladder in their business and thus, their pay raises with their skill set. 

You can see below how they explain this on a job advertisement:

personal trainer or physiotherapist

personal trainer or physiotherapist

We’ve highlighted the most important and attractive benefits of working as a hired PT with Virgin Active, but, structures are different everywhere - particularly if you’re working in private gyms as there is no set structure that they must adhere to.

You should find out each business structure and what will benefit you most in the future. Look out for places that take you into consideration and invest into you becoming the best PT you can be.

Now you know what you could be earning when personal training, let's compare that with the salary of a physiotherapy practitioner.

The Salary of a Physiotherapist

First, one of the most comfortable job roles for Physiotherapists in the UK are through healthcare providers - like the NHS and private healthcare companies. 

Since the NHS is a popular place to start, let’s take a look at how they’re paid so you can decide if you want to become a personal trainer or Physiotherapist.

The NHS states that Physiotherapists start on band 5 of their pay scale.

personal trainer or physiotherapist

As you can see, band 5 is on the Agenda for Change pay system, so what is that exactly?

This essentially is a transparent look at the starting wages for particular healthcare professionals working for the NHS that updates every year. So, if you’re starting on band 5, you would typically start at a wage of £25,655 a year.

personal trainer or physiotherapist roles

As you can see, it does go off experience too so this can be different for everybody depending on their background. Plus, the more you climb the ladder in your practice, for example up to a head of service practitioner, you can expect to climb the bands too.

On the other hand, you can work for the private healthcare sector, making the salary even higher but, more often than not you will have to have experience behind you and an exceptional education. 

Your experience is important when it comes to private health care as they won’t have the same structure as the NHS with the band system. The range becomes a lot more wide spread, with some starting at around £35,000 per year all the way up to £100,000 a year depending on background. 

HeathJobs state that some collective data suggests the pay range that you can see below for the private sector:

differences between personal trainers and physiotherapists

This is still higher than the NHS pay bracket, but working in the private sector means that you’re able to negotiate and there isn’t a strong cap like there is on the NHS. To be able to earn this kind of money though, you’re going to need a very good education and lots of experience behind you to climb the ladder.

Before You Go…

By now, we hope that we’ve made your decision between the two a little easier. 

Both have starkly different routes of education, so picking the best commitment for you is key. If you do want to take a vocational route and get qualified in as little as 4 weeks, a personal training course with us is the best option.

If you want to find advancement courses and other health and fitness related education routes, find our course prospectus here.

 



 

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Written by Kimberley Mitchell

Editor

Having gained a B.A Hons degree in Media, Culture and Communications, Kimberley has gained experience in areas of web journalism, website production and marketing.

Alongside this, Kim expanded her knowledge and passion for fitness, by becoming a fully qualified fitness instructuor and personal trainer. Kim has also gained specialist qualifications in yoga, nutriton, spin and many more.

After working in the industry as a PT, Kimberley went on to study an MA in Digital Marketing and continues to expand her knowledge in the industry. Her main focus is to keep up with current trends and communications with a focus around health & fitness, writing and being creative.

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