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Physical Therapy or Personal Training?

The difference explained.


A common question we hear is:

“What is the difference between Physical

Therapy and Personal Training?"

Often my short answer is, Physical therapy is much like your dentist- when something is wrong, we are able to diagnose and treat the problem. When things are going well, the hygienist is much like your personal trainer- they continue to challenge you and make sure no cavities or ailments pop up along the way. Here at Dynamic, it is our belief that these two should always work as a team ever helping you no matter where you are on your health and wellness journey.

When looking at the long answer of this question we need to take a deeper look at the focus, education, and licensure of each profession to help you determine what is the best route for you.


A complicated question:

Everyone is at a different point in their health journey. If we look at this as a spectrum above, we see on the far left an individual who is in need of medical attention (Cancer, cardiac disease, bone fracture etc.). Their care is often directed and handled by their primary care physician. Whereas on the other side of the spectrum when someone is healthy and looking to enhance their performance this is often directed by their coach and /or personal trainer.


Physical Therapy

Physical therapy then sits in the middle often working with individuals who are in or exiting the medical side of things and working to get back into fitness. Physical therapists will prescribe specific exercises complimented with hands on treatments (Dry needling, Cupping, Massage, manipulation, etc.) to restore their baseline health. The ultimate goal is to get the individual back to their personal wellness and performance goals.


On the other side of the spectrum, Physical Therapists also work with an individual who has

injured themselves working out, training or in everyday activities. Here, Physical therapists often determine if further medical attention is needed. For example- rule out a bony fracture, determine if the ailment or injury is non-musculoskeletal in nature such as cancer, or if there is a potential underlying disease developing.


So, at the end of the day whether you are at the beginning of your health journey, recovering from a medical ailment, or looking to enhance your fitness, a physical therapist can help point you in the right direction to carry your plan forward. On the other hand, personal trainers often help someone who is healthy and looking to enhance their fitness and performance. They often can help carry forward a physical therapy plan but may not have the tool set to determine if something needs further medical attention or not, or what may be the underlying cause of an individual’s impairments based on their educational training.



This is the “why” behind the differences in Physical Therapy and Personal Training. Let's take a look at how these two differ:

Physical Therapists

Personal Trainers

Educational Minimal Requirements:

Entry Level bachelor’s degree AND a Doctor of Physical Therapy Degree from an accredited program.

Variable- Can be a weekend certification to a 4-year bachelor’s degree. Recommend seeking someone who has a base 4-year bachelor's degree in exercise science, strength and conditioning or other like degrees.


Physical therapy programs are accredited by an external agency called the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE) to ensure all programs teach a common curriculum.

There are many different governing bodies of certified personal trainers (CPT’s); There are some certifications that are held higher than others based on what is needed to become certified with a certain program. These can vary significantly based on the program's focus.

Ongoing Education

Must maintain licensure requirements of at least 60 hours every 2 years. This will vary by state but is the current requirement in Wisconsin

Must obtain continuing education credits every 2 to 3 years to maintain certification if they hold one (varies based on certification)

Advanced Training

Additional training options for physical therapists include 12-36 months of specialty training through residency training and/or an additional 12-36 months of Advanced education through Fellowship training. These programs include additional Board examinations and mentorship through an accredited program.

Some therapists may hold individual certifications from continuing education courses they attend.

None- May hold individual certifications from continuing education courses they attend.



To become a licensed Physical Therapist in Wisconsin, you must obtain a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree from an accredited school. Schools must be accredited through CAPTE (Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education.) Physical Therapists must pass the National Physical Therapy Exam, which is administered by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy. Licensure is required in order to practice as a PT or work as a PTA. Licensure is managed by individual state regulatory boards. You will know that an individual has completed all these requirements as only physical therapists can use the credentials PT, and PTA is reserved for physical therapy assistant.

The minimum requirements to become a personal trainer in Wisconsin are a high school diploma, knowledge of exercise and fitness, and CPR/AED certification. A certification is not required. Before starting with a personal trainer, best practice would to be look at their background and certifications held (Look for NSCA CPT or CSCS or NASM CPT). If seeking a trainer through a health or wellness facility, most employers prefer to hire personal trainers who are certified through one of many national fitness agencies.

Closing Remarks:

When trying to decide who you should see first, think of the Physical Therapist as your Dentist. They can help you rule out that your general aches and pains are not growing “cavities.” If they are a growing “cavity,” help you understand how to best treat them and return them back to their shiny white selves. In doing so, also point you in the direction of some great personal trainers who can keep them shiny and pearly where you can smile proudly.

Reach out to one of our Dynamic Physical Therapist’s today so we can connect you with some of our great personal training and coaching partners based around your needs and goals!

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