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Chiropractors as Personal Trainers?

Posted 10/4/2013

Chiropractors as Personal Trainers?


As I scan the internet and my online contacts I have become increasingly aware of a significant number of chiropractors who are also promoting themselves not just as chiropractors but also as personal trainers and fitness coaches.  At first I thought that these doctors were trying to supplement a fledgling or struggling practice with additional income.  But as I look closer I see that for many this is an emerging practice model for chiropractors:  the fitness/health coach model of care.

I have spent my career in chiropractic by treating patients in my office or hospital.  While I recommend programs of broad-based fitness, I do not typically follow my patients to the gym.

Good fitness advice is hard to come by, and if the trainers at two of the three gyms (don’t ask why I train at three gyms) at which I train are any indication, most personal trainers are offering dangerous advice and ill-conceived exercise programs.  I am constantly biting my lip when I see personal trainers have their clients perform some of the stupidest exercises imaginable:  trunk twisting with barbells or dumbbells, bent at the waist twisting with a barbell on the client’s back, deadlifting with a curled (flexed spine), sit-ups, clean and jerks with curled spines, and all sorts of bizarre renditions of exercise.

In contrast to the gyms with low-level trainers, one gym at which I train at has master degree level trainers who are Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialists (CSCS) certified trainers. These trainers are stellar, and I am inclined to seek advice from them and trust them with my patients.   There is a niche for well-informed and educated trainers with a leaning toward function (versus muscle isolation).

What are the Qualifications for Personal Trainers?

While there are varying credentials for Personal Trainers, some arduous, others not so difficult, the minimum requirements are relatively low: a high school diploma and a short vocational course of study, possibly a certificate, but not licensed.  I should note that some fitness employers require trainers to have a bachelor’s or even a master’s degree.  According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2010, the average wage for a personal trainer was $31,090/year.

Since the qualifications for a personal trainer are so much lower than for a chiropractor, I see the advantage for chiropractors to differentiate themselves from the trainer who has just a high school diploma and a short vocational course of study.  I also see a credibility disadvantage for any chiropractor equating their credentials with those of a personal trainer.  For this reason I recommend that if you are going to use this practice model, consider sitting for the CSCS examination.

Chiropractors are allowed to sit for the CSCS examination through the National Strength and Conditioning Association.  This certification is difficult, but the credential of CSCS will set the chiropractor/fitness trainer far above the certified personal trainers with minimal vocational training. Another professional level fitness certification is the Registered Clinical Exercise Physiologist credentialed through the American College of Sports Medicine. 


The Exercise Prescription Beats the Drug Prescription

Certainly the health effects of exercise are superior to virtually any drug on the market.   If a drug company could bottle the health effects of a sound fitness program, their stocks would go into the stratosphere.  But they cannot. 

Six of the ten leading causes of death are related to obesity and lack of exercise.  Chiropractors need to promote broad-based fitness to their patients if they want to maximize the health of their patients.  This does not mean that they need to personally supervise every workout in the gym.  If you choose to personally supervise patients in the gym, I recommend that you set your mark on the highest fitness credential that you can obtain.