Healthy North Coast

Exercise Physiologist

The difference between physiotherapists, exercise physiologists and personal trainers

By Alex Lawrence, Exercise Physiologist and Sport Scientist

I am often asked to explain the difference between physiotherapists and exercise physiologists, so I thought I’d try to clarify the differences in this article.  I also thought it would be good to talk about personal Trainers as I feel they have an important role to play.

Distinguishing between the two professions isn’t easy, as they are not mutually exclusive. Both physiotherapists and exercise physiologists can work within a broad scope of practice, providing that they are appropriately trained. As a result, there is an overlap, so it is understandable that confusion exists within the community.


A physiotherapist is a university trained professional (four years) that is also part of the “Allied Health” group. Generally, physiotherapists are specialists in the area of musculoskeletal disorders; prevention, treatment and management. The reason I say generally, is because they can also be specialists in an area such as cardiovascular, pulmonary and neurological rehabilitation. Physiotherapists are known to use a variety of methods such as acupuncture, therapeutic exercise, massage, joint mobilisation and manipulation. While physiotherapists are well trained in all musculoskeletal injuries, some will specialise in specific areas, such as paediatric or sport physiotherapy.

Exercise Physiology

Compared to physiotherapy, exercise physiology is a relatively new profession in. Also University trained (four years) and part of the Allied Health group, Exercise Physiologists, sometimes referred to as EPs, use exercise for injury and chronic disease prevention and management.   Exercise Physiologists have a broad knowledge in all health related aspects of working with injury and chronic disease.

Working in public and private health sectors, EPs will also address lifestyle and behaviour modification. Like physiotherapists, exercise physiologists often specialise in specific areas according to their strengths, so when seeking out the services of an EP it is preferable to find one that specialises in your target area to assure optimum treatment results. Both EPs and physiotherapists are required to complete continued education to stay accredited.

Personal training

In order to become a personal trainer it is usual to complete a TAFE or RTO course. These courses are designed to give the trainer the skills to train the general population in a safe and effective manner. A good trainer will continue to improve their skill set by completing established accredited courses or going on to further tertiary education (Certificate III, IV and Diplomas in Personal Training are often used as a stepping stone into University). Unfortunately, the fitness industry is loosely regulated and there are a lot of bogus and fad courses. If you don’t suffer from any medical conditions, do not let that turn you off seeking advice from a personal trainer – there are a lot of highly qualified trainers that are doing their industry justice. However, I would advise that you check the qualifications of your personal trainer before proceeding with them in order to protect your own health and safety.

Alex Lawrence is the owner and founder of Alex Lawrence Rehabilitation in Nambucca Heads.

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