9 Tips For Personal Training Disabled Clients

personal training disabled clients

Whether you’re a qualified PT wanting to specialise in training disabled clients, or a complete beginner looking to get into the fitness industry, we’ve got you covered!

Our expert guide to personal training disabled clients includes:

Before we start, help clients with disabilities not only become more active but improve their nutrition knowledge with our Level 4 Sports Nutrition CourseEnquire today, or download our free course prospectus for more information about our range of industry-leading fitness courses. 

What Is A Disability?

training disabled clients 4

Before we get into how our tips for personal training disabled clients, let’s first define exactly what we mean by ‘disabled’. 

According to the 2010 Equality Act, you are disabled if: 

you have a physical or mental impairment that that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ negative effect on your ability to do normal daily activities

It’s also important to note that disabilities can be both physical and mental, and some disabilities are more visible than others. For example, the term disabled can also cover learning difficulties such as dyslexia and autism. 

So, for the purposes of this article, when we refer to ‘disabled clients’ or ‘clients with disabilities’, we will have this definition in mind. 

9 Tips For Personal Training Disabled Clients

Even if you have already been a personal trainer for some time, there are many additional things to consider when you start working with clients with disabilities.

#1 - Treat Disabled Clients Like Any Other Clients

training disabled clients 5

There are certainly differences to consider when personal training disabled clients- which we will explain in this article. 

But at the same time, you should always try to treat a disabled client as you would any other client- like a human being! 

In other words, although a client may have a disability, it should not define them or alter how you treat them on a personal level. It may sound obvious, but with so many other things to consider, it is something that many PTs forget when working with clients with disabilities. 

Here are some simple but often overlooked points to keep in mind when training disabeld clients:

  • Look them in the eye. Avoid looking at any medical equipment or assistance such as a wheelchair when you are speaking to them. 
  • Directly address them. If your client has another person with them (such as a carer), address the client directly, not the other person. 
  • Engage in small talk. Although you should ask some questions about their disability at first (as we will explore in point #2), don’t make their disability the only topic of conversation! This shows that you respect and are interested in all of the other aspects of their life, and don’t see their disability as defining or limiting. 

Check out our guide to building rapport as a personal trainer for more tips!

Establishing a good relationship with your disabled clients early on will make your client much more engaged in their training. This will in turn increase your client retention rate, as a client is much more likely to stay with you if you have a good relationship! 

#2 - Understand Your Client’s Disability 

working with clients with disabilities 2

If you have just taken on a disbaled client, one of the first things you should do is find out as much as you can about their disability. 

The more you understand their disability, the more you can create a tailored program for their specific needs. 

The best way to do this is to simply ask the client themselves. After all, they are the ones living with the disability every day, so only they will know exactly how it affects them and what they can or cannot do.

Some questions you could ask a disabled client are:

  • What is the name of your disability? 
  • How long have you been living with a disability? 
  • How does your disability affect your movement?
  • Is there anything I can do to make our sessions feel safer/more comfortable for you?

Whilst it is good to show an interest in your client’s disability, it is also important not to overwhelm them with questions or push them to tell you anything they don’t want to. Respect their privacy and how much they want to tell you. 

Avoid asking invasive questions, such as ‘what’s wrong with you?’, or ‘what happened to you?’. As a rule of thumb, if you would not ask it to an able-bodied person, it isn’t appropriate. 

It is also a good idea to take the time to do your own research into your client’s disability, either online or by reading books. 

However, this research shouldn’t stop when you start training them. You should keep asking questions and learning about your client throughout the program! This will ensure that you are always giving them the best service for their individual needs. 

#3 - Find Out the Goals of Your Disabled Clients

personal training disabled clients 5

As part of understanding their disability, you should find out your client’s goals for getting a personal trainer. 

This is part of training any kind of client, but is particularly important when training disabled clients, as their goals may be more specific, or related to their disability. 

For example, some common goals for non-disabled clients are losing weight or toning up. Whilst these are still common goals for disabled clients, they may also have other goals that are more specific to their disability. 

The goals of disabled clients may also be more focused around a functional goal, rather than purely aesthetic. 

For example, someone in a wheelchair with a lower body injury, may want to improve their upper body strength so that they can lift and move things around their house independently. 

Similarly, someone with a mental health condition such as anxiety or depression may want to simply start to do regular exercise to improve their mood. 

Just as you would with your other clients, using the SMART goals criteria is a good way to keep clients motivated and on-track. 


Develop Your Expertise With Level 4 Courses!

Help clients with disabilities at a deeper level with our Level 4 Sports Nutrition Course.

#4 - Choose a Suitable Space for Training Disabled Clients

personal trainer disabled clients 3

Another key thing to consider before you even start personal training disabeld clients is where you will hold your sessions. 

Even if you train most of your other clients in the gym, this is not always the best place to train your disabled clients. 

For example, if your client is in a wheelchair, they may find it difficult and stressful to navigate a busy gym floor in peak hours. 

Similarly, a busy gym may also be an unsuitable training location for a client with a mental health condition such as anxiety. 

With this in mind, if you want to get into personal training disabled clients, you may have to adapt where you hold your sessions. 

Some examples of appropriate spaces to train your disabled clients might include:

  • A gym at off-peak times
  • A smaller gym on the outskirts of a town, rather than a city-centre commercial gym
  • Hiring a private fitness studio 
  • Outside e.g. in a park

You may also want to consider training disabled clients in their homes, as a mobile personal trainer. This means that you can still train clients who, for physical or mental reasons, may prefer to train in the comfort of their own home. 

By expanding into mobile personal training, you will open yourself up to a much wider potential client base, therefore increasing your potential earnings! 

Check out our guide to mobile personal training for more information on this potential way of working with clients with disabilities. 

When deciding where to train your clients, the best thing to do is to ask them in your initial consultation session where they feel most comfortable training. If your client feels comfortable in their environment, they are much more likely to enjoy training with you and reach their goals! 

#5 - Use Positive Language When Personal Training Disabled Clients 

working with clients with disabilities 4

One of the main things to remember when personal training disabled clients is to focus on what they can do, rather than what they cannot. And the best way to convey this is through the type of language you use with them. 

If you are constantly using negative language around your client, this attitude will start to rub off on them and bring their confidence down. But part of your role as a personal trainer is to increase their confidence! 

For example, say you are training a client who uses a wheelchair. Instead of focusing on how they can’t do lower body exercise such as squats and lunges, focus on all the other exercises they can do, such as upper body, core and even some gentle lower body exercises. 

#6 - Consider Flexibility Training With Disabled Clients 

working with clients with disabilities 5

There are many benefits of flexibility training for everyone, but particularly for clients with physical disabilities.

Including flexibility training when personal training disabled clients can help them:

  • Improve range of motion in the joints around an injury 
  • Reduce pain 
  • Reduce stiffness in joints
  • Prevent further injury 
  • Improve posture  

Flexibility training is therefore a great option for clients with mobility issues, as it is a great low-impact alternative to strength training that will still get them moving. 

For example, if your client uses a wheelchair or has limited lower body mobility, many yoga poses and stretches can be performed seated, such as a seated forward fold, or a torso twist. 

#7 - Don’t Neglect Cardio When Training Disabled Clients 

training disabled clients 2

When training clients with physical disabilities, particularly those with a physical injury or limited mobility, it can be easy to assume cardio is out of the question. 

But cardio is actually still accessible for most clients with disabilities. In fact, the benefits of aerobic and cardiovascular exercise are arguably particularly important for disabled clients, such as:

  • Improving mental wellbeing
  • Improving circulation and heart health
  • Lowering blood pressure
  • Helping to reduce chronic pain 

When incorporating cardio into your training program with a disabled client, you will simply have to think outside of the box. 

You may be used to giving your clients cardio exercises such as the treadmill, rowing machine or cross trainer, which may not always be accessible for disabled clients. However, remember that cardio is simply anything that raises the heart rate!

For example, someone who uses a wheelchair will not be able to run or cycle. Instead, you will simply need to think of a cardiovascular exercise that doesn’t use the legs, such as a fast-paced upper body circuit with lots of reps, as this will still raise their heart rate. 

Enjoying this article so far? Here’s 3 more we think you’ll love:

#8 - Use Equipment to Modify Exercises for Disabled Clients

personal training disabled clients 3

When personal training disabled clients- particularly those with physical disabilities, you may need to modify exercises according to their mobility. One of the best ways to do this is by using equipment. 

For example, say you are training a client in a wheelchair and want to include a chest exercise in their workout. Where you may normally have clients do a chest press on a bench, this is not always possible if your client is a wheelchair user.  

Instead of simply not training the chest, you could use a resistance band instead. You could circle the band around the back of the wheelchair seat, and have your client stretch the band out in front of them with both hands, and repeat. This will still work the chest muscles as much as a chest press on a bench!  

A variety of different strength resistance bands are a great tool to invest in if you are looking to get into training disabled clients. They are a highly versatile piece of equipment for strength training for those with limited mobility, as well as being portable if you are travelling to clients’ homes. 

As well as resistance bands, there are lots of other pieces of equipment that can be particularly useful when training clients with disabilities, such as:

  • Dumbbells 
  • Ankle weights
  • Grip strengtheners 
  • Medicine balls 

The equipment you use will of course depend on the nature of your client’s disability and their individual needs. But in general, you may need to ‘think outside the box’ when it comes to modifying exercises for your disabled clients, which may involve using different equipment than you may be used to! 

#9 - Remember Disabled Clients Aren't Necessarily Beginners

working with clients with disabilities

Many personal trainers for disabled clients make the mistake of assuming that just because a client has a disability, they have a beginner level of fitness. 

It is a huge myth in the fitness industry that disabled clients are less ‘fit’ than able-bodied clients. But in fact, the opposite can be the case! 

Assuming that a disabled client is a beginner not only means that you are limiting their potential, but that you are not respecting them as an individual.

With this in mind, when you start personal training a disabled client, here are some questions you can ask to show that you understand this:

  • How regularly do you normally exercise?
  • What kind of exercise do you normally do?
  • Has your fitness routine changed since your disability and if so, in what way?
  • Do you play/ have you played a particular sport?
  • What is your diet like at the moment, and has it been affected by your disability? 

Just as you would with any other client, it is also a good idea to conduct an initial fitness assessment in your first session with them. This will help to give you a good idea of their current fitness level, so that you can then create a suitable program for their ability level. 

After all, as a personal trainer, your role is to create a tailored program that is specific to each client’s individual needs - and personal training disabled clients is no exception! 

As we have said, using different equipment can be a great way to modify exercises to make them more suitable for your disabled clients. But again, this does not mean that they are ‘easier’ or ‘beginner’ exercises. 

Whilst modifications can certainly be used to make exercises more accessible for beginners, this is not always the case. For example, doing a shoulder press with a strong resistance band will work the shoulder muscles just as effectively as using dumbbells or a barbell.

Skills Needed To Be A Personal Trainer For Disabled Clients

So, now that you have some practical tips for personal training disabled clients, there are also some more holistic skills that you will need to succeed.

A lot of the general skills required to be a personal trainer apply, but there are some which are particularly important- which we will outline below!

#1 - You Need Patience When Working With Clients With Disabilities 

training disabled clients

One of the main skills you will need when personal training disabled clients is patience. 

Disabled clients may be nervous or apprehensive about your sessions- more so than able-bodied clients. For example, it may be the first time that they are exercising since an injury.

This may mean that it will take longer to understand and learn how to do certain exercises.

With this in mind, you may want to allocate more time than you would normally for certain exercises when you are planning your sessions with disabled clients. 

For example, you may normally spend 15 minutes on squats with your able-bodied clients. But when training a disabled client, you may want to dedicate 20 or 25 minutes to the same exercise.

This allows your client plenty of time to do the exercise safely and with correct form, as well as giving time for any extra time you may need to spend teaching them how to do the exercise. 

Plus, it means that your client doesn’t feel rushed or under pressure to complete an exercise quickly, which could then lead to improper form and injury. 

You should also be prepared for smaller achievements and perhaps slower progress than you would with able-bodied clients. 

Again, this requires patience, but also requires you to leave behind your ego! Remember that small steps of progress are just as important as big transformations! 


Develop Your Expertise With Level 4 Courses!

Help clients with disabilities at a deeper level with our Level 4 Sports Nutrition Course.

#2 - You Need Compassion & Empathy for Personal Training Disabled Clients

working with clients with disabilities 3

Empathy is the ability to understand the feelings and experience of another by imaging what it is like to be in their situation. It is an important communication skill for any personal trainer to have, but it is particularly important if you are a personal trainer for disabled clients. 

This is because being able to empathise with your disabled client shows that you are aware of their disability and are taking it into consideration. 

However, there is a fine line between empathy and sympathy! 

Empathy is about compassion and understanding, whilst sympathy involves feelings of pity or ‘feeling sorry for’ someone- and this is not the attitude that you should have towards your disabled clients!

Although you can never truly understand your client’s specific situation and experience, showing empathy will benefit your trainer-client relationship. If they feel like you understand their disability, they will feel more confident in your ability to train them safely. 


If you're enjoying this article, why don't you read these resources?

#3 - Show Respect When Personal Training Disabled Clients 

personal trainer disabled clients

As we mentioned earlier in this article, there is a misconception surrounding disabled clients that they are ‘less able’, weaker or slower. This can sometimes lead personal trainers to underestimate the ability of their disabled clients, and treat them differently to other clients.

Instead, when personal training disabled clients, treat them with the same respect you would with any other client - despite their disability. 

For example, a client with a mental disability may be struggling to understand your instructions for how to do a particular exercise.

Rather than raising your voice or using a patronising tone of voice, you should simply continue explaining the exercise to them like you would with any other client.

This shows that you respect them as a human being, rather than seeing them as ‘less’ because of their disability. 

Remember that as a personal trainer, you are there to build confidence and motivate your clients, not bring them down!

#4 - Be a Motivational Personal Trainer for Disabled Clients 

working with clients with disabilities 6

Being a motivating role model is always a key role of a personal trainer, but it is particularly important when it comes to personal training disabled clients.

You may find that disabled clients are lacking confidence, particularly if they have not exercised since an injury, for example. As their PT, it is therefore up to you to give them the confidence boost they need!

The best way to do this is simply by giving them words of encouragement throughout the sessions. Giving them positive feedback after an exercise is also a good way to reassure them and increase their confidence. 

As well as making them feel confident and comfortable, don’t forget to challenge them! Setting challenges and goals, whether for the session or the whole program, is highly motivating. 

For example, at the start of a session, you could set them the challenge of doing 8 reps of bicep curls. By giving them a definitive target to work towards, this will motivate them throughout the session.

Tracking their progress is also important when working with clients with disabilities. 

This could mean tracking their physical progress (e.g. body measurements, weight, before and after photos), or whether they have experienced any mental benefits (e.g. checking in with how they are feeling). 

All of these methods help your client see their progress, which will motivate them to carry on and stay interested in training. 

Check out our ways to motivate your clients for some more inspiration! 

#5 - You Need to be Willing to Learn When Working with Clients with Disabilities

personal trainer disabled clients 4

As a personal trainer, you may be used to being the one who teaches your clients. But when working with clients with disabilities, you need to be willing to learn too!

As we have said in tip #1, when you first take on a disabled client, you should take the time to educate yourself about their disability as much as possible. However, this learning process shouldn’t stop there!

Throughout your sessions, you should have an open attitude and be willing to learn even more from your client about their disability. You can do this by:

  • Asking for feedback after sessions
  • Continuing to ask them questions about their experience
  • Continuing to do your own research 

Continuing the learning process is important as it means that you can make any changes needed, ensuring that you are always delivering a program that is tailored to their specific needs. 

How To Start A Career Personal Training Disabled Clients

If you aren’t already a qualified PT and want to get into personal training disabled clients, this next section is for you!

Qualifications Required to be a Personal Trainer for Disabled Clients

personal training disabled clients 4

If you’re wondering how to start working with clients with disabilities and make money as a personal trainer, the first thing you will need to do is get qualified as a personal trainer. 

We have a whole article detailing how to become a personal trainer here

But in short, you will firstly need to complete your Level 2 Gym Instructing Course. This qualifies you to work as a fitness instructor in a gym, leisure centre or fitness facility. 

Once you’ve completed your Level 2 course, you can then go on to take in your Level 3 Personal Training course. Upon qualifying, you’ll have a deep understanding of human anatomy, fitness and nutrition, and be qualified to deliver one-to-one sessions with clients. 

Here at OriGym, we also offer a Personal Training Diploma, which gives you both of these qualifications in as little as 4 weeks! 

Once you have these qualifications, we recommend that you start by working as a personal trainer in a gym for at least a few months. This allows you to gain experience working with clients in general, with the financial stability of being employed by a gym. 

You could then start to take on one or two disabled clients at the gym you are working at, before starting to work as a freelance personal trainer and finding your own clients.

You can technically start training disabled clients once you have your Level 3 personal training qualification. But if you are serious about specialising in disbaled clients, we recommend taking some additional qualifications to give you a stronger foundation of knowledge and skills to work with these kinds of clients. 

For example, OriGym offers a Level 3 GP Referral course, which qualifies you to train clients who have been referred to you by their GP due to a physical injury or illness. You’ll learn how to create programmes for and train clients with specific physical needs and disabilities. 

Although not technically a disability, we also offer courses that qualify you to train clients with specific medical needs. For example, our Level 4 Obesity Control and Weight Management Course allows you to specialise in this particular client base. 

As we will discuss when we cover career progression for training disabled clients, the more qualifications you have, the more you can specialise in a particular demographic- and the more you can increase your earning potential! 

Benefits of Personal Training Disabled Clients

If you’re not already convinced, here are 3 great benefits of becoming a personal trainer for disabled clients.

#1 - Personal Training Disabled Clients is a Lucrative Career 

personal trainer disabled clients 2

One of the main benefits of training disabled clients is that it has the potential to be a highly lucrative personal training niche to specialise in. 

The latest Family Resources Survey found that 19% of the adult population are living with a disability, which is around 14.1 million people. However, despite this considerable percentage of the population living with a disability, there is surprisingly still a lack of PTs who specialise in training disabled clients. 

This therefore presents a gap in the market that you can take advantage of! 

In other words, by specialising in personal training disabled clients, you can therefore expand your clientbase to include these 14.1 million more people that you would not have otherwise been able to train. 

As a personal trainer, becoming a specialist in a particular demographic- such as disabled clients, is one of the best ways to increase your earnings. 


Develop Your Expertise With Level 4 Courses!

Help clients with disabilities at a deeper level with our Level 4 Sports Nutrition Course.

This is because you can market yourself as a ‘specialist’ in a particular niche, meaning that you can justify charging more for your services.

Considering that the average personal trainer salary in the UK is £20.81 per hour, this will only increase the more you specialise. This is because you are essentially providing a more tailored and high-level of service, making you more sought-after and therefore more valuable.   

This demand for PTs who specialise in disabled clients, combined with a gap in the market, is what makes this one of the most lucrative career paths in the fitness industry! 

#2 - There is Good Opportunity for Career Progression Within Disabled Fitness 

personal training disabled clients 2

As well as being a lucrative niche to get into, personal training disabled clients also comes with lots of opportunities for career progression. 

Here are some of the most popular career paths within the fitness industry and working with clients with disabilities:

Specialise in Training Clients with a Specific Disability

Once you have gained experience working with a range of disabilities, you may then want to specialise in a particular disability. 

With so many different types of disabilities that exist, by pinpointing your niche even further, you can become a real expert in a particular demographic. This makes your services even more valuable, meaning you can up your rates even further!

For example, this personal trainer specialises in a small selection of disabilities. 

By specialising in one or a few disabilities like this, you will have more of a clear focus for your personal trainer business plan.

For example, it will help you with things like your marketing strategy, as you will have a clear target audience in mind when creating marketing materials.

Go into Online Personal Training for Disabled Clients

If you want to reach an even wider range of disabled clients, you may want to consider getting into online personal training. 

personal trainer disabled clients 5

This is because many people with disabilities may not be able to or feel comfortable leaving their home. This could be because of limited physical mobility, or a mental health condition such as anxiety. 

Offering sessions online is therefore a great way to provide your services to these clients from the comfort of their own homes. This could be via live or pre-recorded sessions, using software such as Zoom. 

Check out our guide to online personal training for more information about how to get started personal training disabled clients online. 

Work with Disabled Athletes

Another great career path for a personal trainer with a disability is training disabled professional athletes. As you gain more experience working with more high-profile athletes, this could then even lead to training athletes for events such as the Paralympic games! 

#3 - Working with Clients with Disabilities is Highly Rewarding 

personal training disabled clients

Aside from exciting career prospects, one of the best benefits of becoming a personal trainer in general is that it is a hugely rewarding career- and this is particularly true for working with clients with disabilities. 

By helping disabled clients achieve their fitness goals, you are ultimately using your passion for fitness to help change their life for the better.

This could be on a physical level, by helping a client recover from an injury or get more mobile despite using a wheelchair, for example. 

It could also be on a mental level, which is arguably even more rewarding. For example, a disbaled client may be lacking confidence to exercise after an injury, or be experiencing low mood or even depression because of their disability. 

As their personal trainer, you can therefore play a role in using exercise to help them gain confidence and feel more positive, which will have a huge impact on the rest of their lives!

Before You Go!

Now our top tips for personal training disabled clients have left you feeling confident to help people with disabilities reach their fitness goals, why not continue expanding your health & fitness knowledge with our Level 4 Sports Nutrition Course.

Enquire today or download our free course prospectus here for more information.

Written by Alice Williams

Content Editor & Yoga Teacher

Alice graduated with a First-Class degree in French and Linguistics from the University of Leeds in 2019. As part of her degree, she spent a year living in France where she worked for a lifestyle blog, gaining professional experience in both translation and content writing. 

Alice is also a qualifiied yoga teacher, allowing her write from a place of expertise when it comes to yoga!

When she’s not writing or practicing yoga, she also loves running, cooking and music! 

Recommended Posts

Personal Training Older Clients: Tips, Exercises and Skills

Personal Training Older Clients: Tips, Exercises and Skills 

The older generation are an often-neglected target audience when it comes to personal training. But in fact, personal training older adults …
How To Find Your Personal Trainer Niche

How To Find Your Personal Trainer Niche 

The fitness industry is incredibly competitive, but one of the best ways to stand out from the crowd is finding your personal trainer niche. …
How To Make Money As A Personal Trainer

How To Make Money As A Personal Trainer 

Just like any other job, making money as a personal trainer can be a tricky thing to start and even more tricky to optimise. That&rsq …

12 Ways You Can Boost Your PT Income!

Image of a kettlebell

12 Ways You Can Boost Your PT Income!

Image of a kettlebell