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A HFE personal trainer guiding a client through an exercise using suspension bands.
A HFE personal trainer guiding a client through an exercise using suspension bands.

Specialist Personal Training Roles

11 minute read

If you’re starting out in personal training, you might not have given much thought to what specialist route you’d like to take.

In fact, you might not even know right now what we actually mean by specialising, let alone the different routes open to you.

In this article, we’re going to explore some of the more popular specialist routes personal trainers take, although you should know that there are plenty of other options available also.

What makes a specialist personal trainer? 

A specialist personal trainer is essentially a qualified PT with extra knowledge, skills, qualifications, and expertise, and these are usually over and above the entry-level qualifications that are needed to practice.

A lot of the time, this knowledge and expertise is focused on the needs of a particular type or group of clients, like pregnant women, older adults, or body transformation coaching for example. This can give the trainer a particular of focus when looking at a selling point, and can really make them stand out from the crowd.

The key thing about becoming a specialist trainer, regardless of what the actual specialism is, is that you must be committed to developing a much broader and deeper understanding of the specialist area. Alongside your qualifications, you need to be able to demonstrate that you have the necessary knowledge and skills to support these clients.

How to become a specialist? 

To become a real specialist, you need to develop an extraordinary level of knowledge and skills in your chosen area.

This may be acquired through ongoing technical reading, training, formal education and professional development workshops, or CPD as this is more commonly known. There are also plenty of different exercise specialist courses available, which we will go onto discuss in more detail

What’s important to underline at this stage is that any literature or training must be evidence-based. So, reading health and fitness articles, articles and other web-based content generally won’t be appropriate unless it is research focused.

To become a specialist trainer, you need to create a gap between yourself and the everyday personal trainer in terms what you know and can do in your specialist area, and this gap needs to be glaringly obvious to everyone. Not only will you be able to charge more for your expertise and service, but you’ll also have clients coming from far and wide to see you.

What specialist services can you offer? 

So now we know what a specialist PT is and what needs to be done to become one, let’s take a look at a few popular ways in which you can specialise.

Pre and Postnatal clients:

Perhaps one of the most popular routes PTs take is that focusing on supporting pregnant women, or those that have recently given birth. In this scenario, the PT would initially complete an additional level 3 qualification, like the Level 3 Award in Adapting Exercise for Pre and Postnatal Clients for example.

This qualification will educate trainers on all the anatomical and physiological adaptations that will affect women during pregnancy and beyond, and how to create safe, effective and restorative exercise programmes to meet the client’s needs.

Once this qualification has been achieved, they’d then continue to undertake further reading and CPD training to broaden and deepen their understanding of what pre and postnatal women need. They may choose to find suitable literature and training designed for midwives, obstetricians and others involved in providing care for pre and postnatal ladies.

Qualifications are clearly important to demonstrate to clients, employers and insurers alike that you have the necessary knowledge and skills to provide a service like this.

However, to become a true specialist, you also need to stay up to date with topical conversations that are taking place, and key changes that might be afoot around evidence and guidelines.

Working with older adults:

The normal ageing process brings about a series of complex changes which affect older people in a variety of ways and at different stages of their lives. A physically active lifestyle is known to improve the physical and mental health of adults of all ages, but especially so in the ageing population.

On the whole, people are living longer than ever before and by staying physically active, they get to enjoy their senior years more and be independent. For older adults, their fitness training very often needs to focus more on functional fitness, and less on other aesthetic factors like a slim waist or a six pack.

The goal for personal trainers working with older adults is usually to design a programme that allows them to better perform daily activities with ease, such as tying shoelaces, lifting and carrying heavy shopping bags, or getting out of a deep chair.

PT’s that want to specialise in training older adults will first need to consider whether this is the right pathway for them. They’ll definitely need to be patient, empathetic, and enjoy being around older people. That’s a given!

From a qualification standpoint, they’ll need to initially complete a Level 3 Award in Exercise for Older Adults, but they may want to complete other training and professional development designed for supporting this population. Charities like Age UK are often great place to source this.

Other qualifications that would also benefit those wanting to work with older adults would be a Diploma in Exercise Referral or a Managing Long-Term Health Conditions programme.

Many older people live with health conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, low back pain, and arthritis among others. Very often, they are also taking multiple medications which may affect the safety and suitability of some exercises.

Having an understanding of these conditions and how the medications effect a person’s physiology, exercise capacity and tolerance, would be of great benefit to anyone wanting to work with older people.

Older or retired people usually have a lot more time to spare, making them much easier clients to find during the day when everyone else is working. As a group, they also tend to have more disposable income than their younger counterparts, because they’re often clear of those expensive living costs like mortgages and childcare for example.

So, if you like being around older people and you wanted to specialise, they represent a really attractive and rewarding group of people to work with.

Long term health conditions and exercise referral:

Working with people with long-term health conditions like obesity, low back pain or arthritis is also a fulfilling way for personal trainers to specialise. Usually, this is done through some form of exercise referral or wellness programme, as opposed to PTs working independently with clients that have been diagnosed with these conditions.

Care is usually provided via a multi-disciplinary team, which may include physiotherapists, community nurses, GP’s, dieticians, and of course, personal trainers that hold an exercise referral or long-term health conditions qualification.

The effects of exercise and physical activity are substantial in terms of the health and wellbeing benefits that they offer. Many common long-term health conditions can be dramatically improved by performing an appropriate level and type of exercise alongside other sensible diet and lifestyle changes,his is the essence of exercise referral.

In a scheme like this, the nurse and GP will take care of the medical side of the condition, including managing medications and the dietician will provide nutritional support if it is required.

The personal trainer with a recognised exercise referral qualification will typically design and deliver an appropriate exercise and physical activity programme, and support with other simple lifestyle changes that can be made.

Alongside the medical, nutrition and exercise services provided by an exercise referral scheme, there may be other types of therapy open to patients also, including talking therapies like cognitive behavioural therapy or counselling.

There may also be help for patients with smoking cessation, weight management and alcohol reduction, and personal trainers working in exercise referral schemes will have the opportunity to get involved in such programmes also.

Exercise referral is as much about changing habits and behaviours as it is about exercise, and PT’s will play an important role in supporting patients with this. Most exercise referral schemes are operated by local authorities, although a good number of them have also been contracted out to private and charitable organisations also.

If you’re a PT who is keen to work with clients that really need your help, and who present with more complex and challenging situations than your everyday exerciser, then exercise referral could definitely be for you.

Strength and conditioning:

The final specialist route we’re going to explore in this article is the strength and conditioning pathway.

Strength and conditioning training is the design and implementation of specialist training programmes with the purpose of improving athletic performance.

This performance may be for specific types of athletes, like swimmers, sprinters, football or rugby players, or it could be simply for recreational participants that are keen to develop a higher level of physical fitness.

While strength and conditioning may have its roots in professional sports, it is as popular now with amateur and recreational participants as it is in a professional setting. With the rise in popularity of mass performance events like Tough Mudder, triathlons and marathons, more and more people need the specialist coaching and programming to achieve peak physical performance that will allow them to complete these events.

Cross Fit is another movement that has helped to accelerate the popularity of strength and conditioning. There are now a number of similar functional training gyms and studios across the country that embrace the principles of strength and conditioning.

To become a strength and conditioning coach, personal trainers would normally need to complete a Level 4 Certificate in Strength and Conditioning or equivalent. Organisations like the UK Strength and Conditioning Association, or UKSCA for short, also run their own workshops and accreditation programmes.

This accreditation programme can be quite overwhelming for personal trainers without academic qualifications, like a degree in sports science for example, which is why vocational routes like the level 4 qualification have been created.

The importance of strength and conditioning for athletes and sports participants of all levels is widely known, and so the opportunities for qualified S&C coaches stretch far and wide.

Athletic, triathlon and running clubs often have a need for qualified and experienced S+C coaches to help their members stay race fit and/or to recover safely from any injuries or niggles. In addition to this, many semi-professional and amateur football, rugby and hockey teams employ the services of an S&C coach for similar reasons.

There are also a lot of opportunities in professional sport, although it’s important to underline that the competition for these roles is usually quite fierce, meaning they aren’t as easy to come by as those in amateur and recreational sports. However, if this is where your goals lie, this is a great level to aim for and it gives you that all important why.

Body transformation coach

Body transformation coaches perform an interesting and somewhat controversial role in the fitness profession, depending on their approach to providing these services and commitment to ethical and sustainable practices.

Body transformation programmes are concerned with creating seismic changes in their client’s body composition, increasing muscularity and shredding body fat in  relatively short periods of time (e.g., 12-16 weeks). Transformation programmes require coaches to closely monitor their clients caloric and macronutrient protein, ensuring that what they eat on a daily basis is closely correlated with their needs. These programmes are often quite tasking, physically and mentally, so coaches need to develop an advanced level of knowledge and understanding about all the factors that affect muscle growth and fat loss, not just training and nutrition.

By their nature, transformation programmes are attractive to people who have an unhealthy relationship with their body image and/or food. As such, coaches must be suitably equipped to recognise these clients, and provide appropriate support and signposting along the way. A good transformation coach wouldn’t provide their services to a client who they suspected as having body dysmorphia, or an eating disorder. Unfortunately, this is where transformation programmes have come under much scrutiny.

Most transformation coaches work with clients on a one-to-one basis, although it’s also popular for coaches to run their services in blocks, using a course-intake structure over the transformation period. The group structure can certainly help to create a sense of camaraderie and team work, where participants can support and mentor each other when they start to find things are tough.

Transformation programmes can be effective for creating a reset scenario and delivering to clients a crash course in planning healthy meals, managing their caloric intake, and ensuring that they eat to consume the ratio of macronutrients that are needed to meet their needs. They aren’t really designed to be long-term programmes and it’s imperative that coaches underline this fact to their clients and potential clients when consulting with them.

If you are interested in becoming a specialist transformation coach, take a look at our body transformation coaching course designed specifically for qualified personal training professionals.


Like any of the other specialisms, having the qualifications is usually only part of the equation, meaning you need a passion and enthusiasm for continued learning, education and professional development in order to have success.

So, hopefully you found this information useful and you now have a better idea of how you can specialise as a personal trainer if you want to.


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