Distinguishing Between Physical Therapists and Personal Trainers in New York State

This is a question that we are frequently asked: What is the difference between a physical therapist and a personal trainer? Both professions are passionate about health and wellness, however there are distinct differences between the two. The information below provides a side-by-side comparison of the two professions.

Please email me at apokorski@sptny.com if you have any questions about this.  It is important that people are seeking the appropriate service and advice for their goals and/or condition.

Physical Therapists:Licensing: Physical therapists are state board licensed health care professionals in the state in which they practice.

Education: Physical therapists graduate from an accredited college or university, most with Doctorate of Physical Therapy degree. It is a 3-year program that follows undergraduate prerequisites.

Settings: Physical therapists work in a medical setting – often private practices and hospitals, and in short and long-term care settings. Physical therapists can evaluate a patient with or without a physician’s referral (a.k.a. Direct Access).

Area of expertise: Evaluation, treatment, and prevention of disability, injury, and disease are physical therapists’ specialties. They are skilled at a variety of techniques including exercise, manual techniques, and modalities to assist in the healing process. Physical therapists undergo significant coursework on anatomy and physiology of the human body.

How would a physical therapist utilize a personal trainer? A physical therapist will often refer a patient to a personal trainer after that patient has successfully completed physical therapy following an injury or post-operative care. The personal trainer can guide the client through high-level, sport-specific training to create optimal performance in their chosen activities.

Personal Trainers:LicensingPersonal trainers are not licensed. They hold a national certification through NASM (National Academy of Sports Medicine), ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine) or ACE (the American Council on Exercise).

EducationMany personal trainers have a degree in exercise physiology, however a degree is not required.

SettingsMany personal trainers work in health club settings or are available for one-on-one exercise training or enhancement sessions.

Areas of expertise: A personal trainer is a fitness professional involved in exercise prescription and instruction. They motivate clients with goal setting, feedback, and hold clients accountable to their goals with measurements. Their training is often related to strength building, performance enhancement, or weight loss. Education on wellness, exercise, and general health is part of a personal trainer’s responsibility to their clients.

How would a personal trainer utilize a physical therapist? When a personal trainer sees an injury or pain that prevents full participation in an exercise program, then the personal trainer would refer that client to a physical therapist for diagnosis, rehabilitation and treatment of the injury. A personal trainer will also recommend a physical therapist for a client planning for post-operative rehabilitation.

Sports PT works with many health clubs across New York State to serve patients as they transition to daily fitness programs. Yesterday, we celebrated National Physical Therapy Month with our friends at The Buffalo Athletic Club in downtown Buffalo…

Earle, Roger (2004). NSCA’s Essentials of Personal Training. NSCA Certification Commission. pp. 162, 617. ISBN 0-7360-0015-1.

New York Physical Therapy Association. http://www.physical-therapist-requirements.com/state-requirements/new-york.

New York State Education Department. http://www.op.nysed.gov/prof/pt/article136.htm.

American College of Sports Medicine. http://certification.acsm.org/.