Why Physical Therapy and Personal Training go hand-in-hand

I’m a HUGE proponent of interdisciplinary collaboration because I think there is value to be had. And while I do feel that our healthcare system has too many “specific” specialties that lead to too much overlap (i.e. DC vs outpatient DPT vs LMT that uses NKT etc… these could all be just 1 professional field since the 3 professions I listed essentially practice the same way), I do think that Physical Therapy and Personal Training go hand-in-hand. Though I should clarify that with the way I practice, I really should say NKT and personal training go hand-in-hand since NKT is practiced by many clinicians of all backgrounds including DPT, DC, LMT, ATC, personal trainers etc…

Regardless of semantics, physical therapy and personal training complement each other SO well! Especially with more and more Americans focusing on trying to be healthy. More and more people, each year, are starting to dive into different diets, signing up for gym memberships, and trying new activities such as running. However, many times individuals have no idea where to start; they just pick a random starting point. For example, with dieting, many will only research the most popular plans that align with their goals and try it out for a few weeks to a few months. With exercising, many will sign up for a gym membership, start looking up workouts online, and test them out in the gym without having a clue what they’re doing. In most cases, people abandon the diet(s) because they don’t realize that the first and most important step to a healthy diet is to just eat whole, minimally processed foods (I know, SHOCKER! Though nutrition is a post for another day) and many will stop lifting weights because they got hurt and will try to find an alternative to losing weight.

Personal trainers are an AMAZING asset and create GREAT programs to help their clients meet their fitness goals. However, if there is an underlying muscular efficiency issue, the client may be lifting weights with no forward progress and that can become frustrating to both the client and the trainer.

But that is EXACTLY why I feel that physical therapists and personal trainers should work more closely together. Many clients that I share with personal trainers at the gym where I treat out of require some sort of modification in some or many exercises. Modifications aren’t bad, especially if the initial problem is a strength issue and you need to modify to allow the client’s body time to adapt and build muscle. But when modifications are prolonged … say, more than 2 months with no progression in the exercise itself, that’s when I’d say there are also muscular efficiency issues underlying their strength issues.

I propose a process (and hope one day this is implemented with every gym that truly wants to help their members get to a healthier place) where someone who seeks out a personal trainer for, say, weight loss (or any fitness goal, really. This would work with performance and even pure strength gains) also be evaluated by a physical therapist to create a plan that addresses their muscular efficiency deficits prior to strengthening in the gym. Why? Because you CAN’T train efficiently if there is an underlying compensation pattern.

I have 2 (out of many) success stories to share that highlight how my collaboration with personal trainers have benefited both us as the therapist/trainer AND the client in a way that many clients would not have thought possible; they would not have sought out a physical therapist concurrently with a personal trainer.

The first is a female in her 60’s who had been training at the gym for ~3 years prior to her first appointment with me. She wanted to work on balance and had never been able to balance on one foot, no matter how hard she tried when working out with her personal trainer. Her balance never got better or worst in the 3 year time span. Turns out, she had several injuries from 20+ years ago that were still contributing to her poor balance. Within 3 visits, she was able to balance on 1 foot with no external support (consistently too!), and her trainer was able to progress to more dynamic exercises, and she continues to CRUSH IT every day she comes to the gym. We worked together for 8 total visits to work on improving her balance in dynamic positions as well as another body part unrelated to her balance concerns.

View this post on Instagram

Repost with @get_repost I love being able to collaborate and share clients with @christine_h2i and the trainers at @anytimefitness_quincy (@moorelifefitness and @morgancox37) to help clients move better and feel better! ・・・ Want to know what progress looks like? Meet Mary! Two months ago, Mary told Coach @christine_h2i that she wanted to work on balance. Back then, she couldn’t stand on one foot for more than 5-10 seconds. Between her sessions with Christine, and physical therapy with @notyouraveragephysio, Mary is making LEAPS and BOUNDS in the balance and stability department. Way to go, Mary! Let’s hear it for her, team! #positivity#anytimefitness #bleedpurple #afq #strongaf #g2hp #makehealthyhappen . . . . . #fitness #myzone #fit #fitfam #motivation #workout #muscle #gymlife #health #fitnessaddict #fitnesslife #lifestyle #training #fitnessjourney #fitspo #instafit #shredded #fitnesslifestyle #eatclean #gymmotivation

A post shared by Dr. James Chen PT, DPT, Pn1 (@notyouraveragephysio) on

The second is another female, former college athlete, who had been working out at the gym for about 3-4 months when I first met her. She originally came to me for some knee pain and we worked together for 7 total sessions. Around session 3 she stated she would get shoulder pain during push ups (regular high plank position) and can only do them on her knees. She reported that she hasn’t been able to do a high plank push up for the past 7 years due to tendinitis in her shoulder, but that the modification of her doing them on her knees doesn’t challenge her (could do 30 without breaking a sweat). Finding the source of her muscular inefficiency, she not only did her FIRST high plank push up in 7 years that very session, she was able to do sets of 10, 4 weeks later (thanks to her AMAZING personal trainer who created programs that strengthened her)!

**All videos were posted with client’s consent**

These stories aren’t me tooting my own horn. I’m sure every physical therapist has several success stories throughout their career. But rather, these stories illustrate how collaborating with personal trainers can benefit EVERYONE, and most importantly THE CLIENT! In the first example, she had been working on her balance tirelessly for 3 years. But due to hip/core/ankle inefficiencies, there was 0 progress with her workouts, which frustrated her and her personal trainer. All it took was 3 sessions to pinpoint the source of the problem, and IMMEDIATELY she began FEELING the difference while standing on 1 leg; she was also able to progress to much more challenging exercises in her workouts. She could have continued to practice her single leg balance till the cows came home with no forward progress. The same could be said of the second client, who had a key muscular facilitation/inhibition pattern that, once addressed, unlocked her full potential in her shoulder.

My point in saying all of this is, if we could get EVERY personal training client a few sessions with a highly skilled** physical therapist to address any RELEVANT compensations that would hinder them from reaching their fitness goals (i.e. weight loss, muscle gain, sports performance etc…), we’d see clients reaching their goals not only faster, but efficiently; meaning with less injuries along the way. Many times dysfunctional muscular compensation patterns – if lingering past their expiration date – will lead to pain (not a matter of IF, but a matter of WHEN). But WHAT IF this process could avoid clients from ever getting to that point? Wouldn’t it be worth it to have a system in place that gets EVERYONE to a healthier place?

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: