PT on the Net Research

Corrective Exercise: Bridging the Gap between Physical Therapy and Personal Training

Learning Objectives:

  1. To learn the difference between physical therapists and corrective exercise specialists
  2. To learn how corrective exercise is bridging the gap in client care between physical therapy and personal training
  3. To learn how staying within your scope of practice as a corrective exercise specialist can benefit your business and lead to more quality client referrals

As the field of corrective exercise continues to thrive, clients plagued by musculoskeletal pain and dysfunction increasingly request therapeutic exercise strategies from personal trainers. Meeting this client demand requires trainers to have the ability to competently and successfully integrate corrective exercise strategies into client exercise programs. Trainers who possess these types of skills are called corrective exercise specialists and they have typically completed a specialty certification in the area of corrective exercise.  Corrective exercise specialists are in high demand as professionals with valuable skills in a steadily growing area of the fitness industry.

The Difference between Physical Therapists and Corrective Exercise Specialists

Both physical therapists and corrective exercise specialists help clients alleviate muscle/joint pain and improve their movement capabilities. However, the manner in which these professionals enter a client’s health and fitness journey is very different, and the procedures employed when working with clients are often dissimilar. Physical therapists are licensed health care professionals whose services are typically used by clients to treat a medical diagnosis, physical trauma, or specific injury (e.g., Achilles tendinitis, plantar fasciitis, rotator cuff tear, post-surgery rehabilitation, etc.). Physical therapy is also prescribed as an alternative means to orthopedic surgery, with therapists teaching patients how to prevent or manage their medical condition(s), often lessening the need for prescription drugs and painkillers (APTA, 2018). The job of a corrective exercise specialist is quite different. These types of professionals do not (and should never) diagnose and/or treat a medical condition. Instead, their specialty skills consist of assessing and evaluating a client’s musculoskeletal system for soft tissue and movement restrictions, imbalances, habitual patterns, and muscle dysfunction that may affect that person’s ability to move well, exercise effectively and/or perform daily activities (e.g., restriction of the lumbar erector muscles accompanying an anterior pelvic tilt, prolonged seated postures promoting excessive thoracic kyphosis, etc.). This specialized knowledge regarding the musculoskeletal system helps corrective exercise specialists design and implement corrective exercise programs to assist clients in beginning, resuming and/or continuing a fitness program without experiencing muscle and joint pain or movement limitations (Price, 2018). When a client’s musculoskeletal issues are not able to be addressed solely with appropriate exercises, or fall beyond a corrective exercise specialist trainer’s scope of practice, the client is referred out to medical experts for treatment.

Bridging the Gap between Physical Therapy and Personal Training

People successfully released from physical therapy are normally excited by their reduction in painful symptoms and often look to increase their activity levels and/or take up a program of regular exercise. This commonly involves seeking out the help of a personal trainer to assist with their endeavors. However, while a person’s symptoms of pain may have subsided as a result of their physical therapy sessions, their bodies often break down once they begin more dynamic forms of exercise (typical of most personal training/gym environments) as underlying musculoskeletal issues are compounded. In fact, research indicates that almost 90% of personal training clients report recurring aches, pains and movement dysfunction that affect their ability to exercise without limitations (IDEA, 2013). This is where the role of a corrective exercise specialist is extremely important. These professionals bridge this gap in care between physical therapy and classic personal training/fitness programs by identifying and correcting underlying musculoskeletal imbalances before they become problematic and/or are exacerbated by robust forms of exercise. This is precisely why many personal trainers are also becoming qualified corrective exercise specialists — to ensure their programs are safe and effective for all client abilities, and to prevent clients dropping out due to musculoskeletal pain and/or injury.

Corrective Exercise Specialists Are Not Physical Therapists

As you and your business adapt to meet peoples’ musculoskeletal and movement reintegration needs, clients may begin to ask if your services are the same as a physical therapist’s. It is important that you clarify your role with clients from the outset with regard to assisting them with their musculoskeletal health and not step beyond your professional bounds as a corrective exercise fitness professional. In addition to laws dictating that any professional must remain within their bounds of experience, education, training, and demonstrated competencies, confusing your role with that of a physical therapist, and working outside your scope of practice, can harm your standing with clients and reputation within the fitness industry (Howley and Thompson, 2016).

Aside from it being a requirement, the primary benefit of working within your boundaries as a corrective exercise fitness professional is that it enables you to practice, perfect and promote the unique talents you have with regard to evaluating the musculoskeletal system for imbalances, and assessing and correcting a client’s movements during physical exercise and activities.

Increased Referrals as a Corrective Exercise Specialist

Doctors, physical therapists and other licensed health practitioners are always looking for qualified fitness professionals to whom they can refer patients that need guidance with exercise (DiNubile and Patrick, 2005). According to recent research, two out of the top three reasons patients visit their doctor is for assistance with conditions that could be greatly improved by participation in a program of regular exercise (Huffington Post, 2013). Unfortunately, these medical professionals are often reluctant to refer patients with musculoskeletal conditions out of a concern that their clients’ problems might be made worse by an unskillful personal trainer. However, when you have specialty qualifications and knowledge in musculoskeletal assessment and corrective exercise, and work within your scope of practice, medical professionals will feel confident in your abilities, which provides an opportunity for you to build strong networking and referral relationships with them (Bryant and Green, 2010).

As you begin incorporating corrective exercise procedures more regularly into client programs, it is highly recommended that you obtain a Corrective Exercise Specialist (CES) credential from a recognized and approved provider. This will advance your skills and can also result in more referrals from medical professionals. As your business network grows, you will also find that holding a reputable CES qualification makes it easier to refer clients to other specialists when their condition lies beyond your scope of practice.

The Future of Fitness

Personal trainers qualified as corrective exercise specialists know how musculoskeletal malalignments and imbalances of any kind can create pain, injury, and dysfunction throughout the body. They also know how to use the results of individual consultations and assessments to pinpoint clients’ exercise needs so they can start or return to a regular fitness program successfully. In short, knowledgeable and qualified corrective exercise specialists have the skills to competently meet clients’ musculoskeletal restoration needs, and represent perfectly the fitness professional of the future.


American Physical Therapy Association. (2018). Who are physical therapists. Retrieved from:

Bryant, C.X., & Green, D.J. .  (2010). ACE personal trainer manual: The ultimate resource for fitness professionals (4th ed.). San Diego, CA: American Council on Exercise.

Huffington Post. (2013). Most common reasons for seeing a doctor revealed in new study. Retrieved from:

Howley, E.T., & Thompson, D.L.  (2016). Fitness professional's handbook (7th ed.). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

IDEA. (2013). IDEA fitness programs and equipment trends report. San Diego, CA: IDEA Health & Fitness Association.

DiNubile, N.A., & Patrick, W. Patrick. (2005). FrameWork: Your 7-step program for healthy muscles, bones, and joints. New York: Rodale.

Price, J. (2018). The BioMechanics method for corrective exercise. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.