From the minute we wake up we hear or see campaigns, adverts and posters about the increased likelihood of developing cardiovascular disease, lung disease or even cancer. We are reminded of the obesity epidemic and the ever increasing statistics for children and adults who are putting their health at risk.

Physical activity and exercise is now better understood and highlighted as a way to combat these growing statistics. There are initiatives being run all around the country aiming to improve the opportunity for all ages and abilities to engage in exercise that is suitable for them. This is fantastic but we are barely scratching the surface for reducing the prevalence of disease. This is a field which will be in constant demand and given a high priority for many years to come.

As exercise instructors we are trained to work safely and effectively with those classified as the ‘healthy population’. However, the tables have now turned and unfortunately more often than not you will be meeting clients that have co-morbidities which you need to cater for. We are about to explore 3 fundamental reasons for exercise referral and the need for qualified instructors.

1) Engagement

As an instructor you want to be able to engage ALL of your clients/participants. Not everyone will come to you with the same level of motivation, ability or readiness to exercise and you need to take this into consideration. As an example….most people that attend the gym on a regular basis on their own are self motivated and often considered part of the ‘healthier’ population. However, a larger percentage of the population are not in the gym on a regular basis either because psychologically they are not ready to or because they have a medical condition which in some way limits them.

From my experience, everyone can be active and exercise in some capacity. They just need to feel supported and develop confidence. Health professionals are the number one motivator for people to make the first decision to get active. Therefore, the exercise referral industry is ESSENTIAL. It gives people the opportunity to attend a venue with an experienced fitness professional who understands their medical condition, whether it is physiological or psychological and can adapt according to their needs. It also provides an opportunity for people to meet others in a similar situation to them in a comfortable environment as opposed to feeling out of place or intimidated. This is an ENGAGING environment. It doesn’t matter whether these sessions are in a gym, studio or community hall, it is about you as the instructor being able to offer a safe and inclusive service specific to improving their health and wellbeing….

2) Inclusivity

This brings me on to inclusivity. Exercise and physical activity should be inclusive for everyone and the fitness industry does not always achieve this. That is not meant as a negative comment about the industry, it is just a fact. There are many fitness trends and different styles of exercise available but step into the shoes of someone with high blood pressure, arthritis or back pain for example….participating in a high intensity interval resistance training classes, kettlebell classes or other popular and easily accessible forms of exercise is not likely to be suitable or appealing for them. There is a place in the industry for these classes and those that can participate in them will…fantastic. But there also needs to be the opportunity to engage in regular exercise for people that have certain medical conditions….and these sessions can be harder to find and access. I am not saying that people diagnosed with certain medical conditions wouldn’t be able to participate in these forms of exercise but for those that do not have the confidence to, or experience more limitations associated with the condition, then they need more available alternatives. Exercise referral schemes and exercise referral instructors who have the additional knowledge and ability to make exercise inclusive and safe are vital for helping to improve the health and wellbeing of our communities…

3) Safe Sessions

So now our sessions are engaging and inclusive to everyone – surely that is all we need in order to get people active? It is definitely the key to long term regular activity but ensuring the sessions are safe and suitable is the underlying principle. Whether you are a fitness instructor in a gym, a personal trainer in people’s homes or a Yoga/Pilates teacher….you are likely to meet people with medical conditions. You do not have to start running specific classes for those diagnosed with a condition but by understanding what the condition is, the associated medications, potential side effects and can recommended specific exercise guidelines for that condition then you are engaging people in safe exercise sessions. This extra knowledge will help you work alongside a diverse range of the population and can potentially improve your business overall.

Extra knowledge simply makes us all better instructors 🙂

I am just going to finish with my personal experience of working in the industry. During university I knew I wanted to work with cardiac patients…so I became a personal trainer and set up a business doing that. Then I qualified in Exercise Referral before specialising in Phase IV cardiac rehabilitation and cancer rehabilitation. I was doing the qualifications specifically for my intended job and interest; however, in the process of my fitness career I also applied this knowledge to personal training clients who had high blood pressure and arthritis and with circuit training participants I knew had diabetes. I don’t treat people differently, I just use my knowledge and adapt according to their needs whilst keeping the class inclusive for everyone.

I hope you have found that useful to understanding why exercise referral instructors are so important. I am going to leave you with a couple of things to think about:

1) Do you currently train anyone with a medical condition? If so, do you understand the condition and the potential side effects of their medications?…or do you just take it ‘steady’? There is no right or wrong answer here…just something to consider.

2) Do you know of exercise referral schemes that run in your local area so you can recommend them and support them?

If you would like to find out more information about studying the L3 Exercise Referral qualification then use the request information form to your right or read more about it here. If you wish to specialise in a particular area like me, such as Phase IV cardiac rehabilitation, back pain, mental health or respiratory conditions then you need the L3 Exercise Referral course as the pre-requisite for any L4 qualifications.

If you work in the industry we would love to hear your thoughts about the impact exercise referral can have.

Speak soon,

P.S Don’t forget to take advantage of our free download which gives you the tools you need to support and motivate your clients. Includes food diaries, activities logs and more…all customisable to your brand…