Exercise professionals can play a key role in supporting the physiotherapy profession to expand the exercise offer in rehabilitation pathways. These FAQs highlight points to consider when looking at working with exercise professionals.
What do we mean by exercise professional?
Exercise professionals are those with formal exercise qualifications that have also studied at BSc (e.g. sport and exercise science) or MSc level (e.g. clinical exercise physiology), with eligibility to join their professional and regulatory body and ability to independently manage a case load.
There are a number of different educational routes to qualifying as an exercise professional leading to different professional titles. Some examples are sport rehabilitator, sports therapist, clinical exercise physiologist and strength and conditioning coach. Whilst these may be their professional titles, their job role may have a different title e.g Exercise rehabilitator, MSK practitioner etc.
We also recognise that there are individuals trained to work in the health and fitness industry that can support exercise delivery, who may not have completed a degree programme, but have completed an exercise instructor course (s). Whilst individuals with these qualifications alone are not regulated, CIMPSA outlines employer-led standards for every job role in sport and physical activity. These individuals are a valuable part of the wider workforce who can support healthcare professionals by providing exercise options in the health and leisure sector to support prevention and self-management initiatives.
What roles are some exercise professionals doing?
Exercise professionals can effectively work alongside physiotherapists and the support workforce across all settings and specialities. The model of collaborative working could involve the exercise professionals:
- Working in the same team as physiotherapists and support workers, receiving referrals from physiotherapists to deliver exercise interventions to certain individuals, or groups.
- Working in the same team as physiotherapists with a distinct role where they independently manage their own case load and oversee a service users’ journey from start to finish.
- In a role available to either a physiotherapist or highly qualified exercise professional. This is an emerging model in MSK settings and is based on a competency-based recruitment process
- Exercise instructors working in leisure centres who can support community-based exercise (for example, following discharge from pulmonary rehab)_
What is the scope of practice of exercise professionals in a healthcare setting?
This will vary depending on the educational route, which exercise profession the individual aligns to, and the professional body they are registered with. You can read more about the scope of practice of some exercise professionals via their professional body:
The personal scope of practice of any professionals you are working with should also be considered.
What regulation is in place for exercise professionals?
Exercise professionals do not have statutory regulation like physiotherapists and titles are not protected. However, some exercise professionals have registration via their professional bodies who are accredited by the professional standards authority (PSA). This allows them to use the protected kitemark stating their registration and requires them to meet professional standards which often mirror those of the HCPC. Some professional bodies have well established fitness to practice processes in place. More information about registration for exercise professionals can be found at:
- BASRaT: Regulation for sport rehabilitation graduates and Fitness to practice
- CEP-UK: Regulation for clinical exercise physiologist
We recommend that exercise professionals employed within healthcare settings should hold registration with a body accredited with the PSA to provide patients and staff with quality assurance.
How do I know what type of exercise professional to recruit?
Understanding the different types of exercise professional as outlined by the relevant professional bodies, alongside clarity on your service and population needs , will help you to determine this. It is important to establish what level of autonomy is required in the role as this may determine the level of regulation that is advisable. This may also help you to determine whether you need an exercise professional or a higher-level support worker with exercise qualifications.
Robust and inclusive recruitment practices should be in place to ensure the role attracts the right candidates for the role. There should be clear job descriptions, so all parties are aware of the scope and expectations of the exercise professional. Person specifications should clearly outline any requirements for professional registration and level of regulation.
How do services know/decide how many exercise professionals to employ alongside physiotherapists to meet service needs?
This will depend on your service specification and the needs of your population – understanding this will help you determine what proportion of your population are likely to need exercise as their mainstay of treatment, their levels of complexity and other potential needs to help determine who is best placed to deliver what within your service. You should also consider the existing skill mix of your team.
Once I have recruited an exercise professional, what governance should I have in place to ensure safe and effective integration of exercise professionals in my team?
As with members of the physiotherapy workforce, exercise professionals should receive support, supervision and CPD opportunities which aligns to their level of practice and the needs of the service and population they are working with. This should include clinical competencies, personal development plans, and the opportunity to participate in local training opportunities where appropriate.