What Is Exercise Physiology

I can’t tell you how many times I get asked about what Exercise Physiology is, what Exercise Physiology involves or what an Exercise Physiologist does. If I said 5 times per day I’d probably be lying, but it would be a dozen times per week. The interesting thing to me is that whilst my industry is growing it isn’t just members of the public that ask me this question, it is other Allied Health Professionals as well. As part of my job in building relationships with other clinicians I will often hit the phones and call a practice to speak to a General Practitioner, Physiotherapist, Chiropractor, Occupational Therapist, Dietitian or Podiatrist and the question that I often get asked, aside from how my day is going, is, ‘so I know a little bit about Exercise Physiology, but what is Exercise Physiology and what do you do’?

Some Exercise Physiologists find this a little insulting. I can understand that – we are a Nationally recognised Allied Health Profession with full Medicare benefits and registration with all Private Health Providers – and we do have to attend university for a minimum of 4 years, participating in a minimum of 500 hours of practical experience (every good Exercise Physiologist that I know did a lot more than that). So to have such little understanding of what Exercise Physiology is can be frustrating, especially when I speak to General Practitioner only to have them reply that they love the idea of having their patients perform some structured and supervised exercise covered by Medicare but that most of their clients have used their 5 sessions already!

But back to the original question – what is Exercise Physiology? It isn’t a very straight forward answer but I will try to be as succinct as possible. As mentioned we are university qualified and trained Allied Health Professionals. The minimum university course is 4 years full-time and there is a requirement to complete at least 500 hours of practical work experience before graduating. Exercise Physiology was created as a profession, I believe, to bridge a small gap in the rehabilitation process in the Work Cover and Return to Work sectors. If I use a typical Work Cover scenario as an example, if an individual is injured at work they will immediately be placed on leave or reduced duties and their wage will be covered for a period of time by an insurance company. They then enter the Work Cover system and their situation will be analysed by a Case Manager/Rehabilitation Consultant who will liaise with the client’s General Practitioner, Physiotherapist, Occupational Therapist and possibly other Allied Health Professionals.

Many years ago, before Exercise Physiology existed, the entire rehabilitation process was handled by their Physiotherapist. The system worked well, by and large, however the phase of treatment from acute to sub-acute – or returning to work – saw many Physiotherapists having to work outside their scope of practice. Physiotherapists are trained to manage the acute phase of an injury, meaning the stages immediately after the injury first occurs. They will perform manual therapy, massage and other manipulative techniques to produce a response in the area to promote recovery typically in a passive manner – meaning that the client is not actively moving the injured area, the area is being moved by the Physiotherapist. This phase of treatment can last anywhere from one week to up to four weeks. At this stage the client is able to actively move the injured area, weight bear and perform some level of functional movement. This is where a strength and conditioning program is implemented and this is the speciality of an Exercise Physiologist. As a general rule, Physiotherapists are not trained in how to design and implement strength and conditioning or ‘Return to Work’ programs so that was the gap that existed several years ago. An exercise professional was needed to step in and oversee this later stage process of ensuring that the injured person could return to work at close enough to full capacity, so we saw the birth of the Exercise Physiologist.

Our scope has, excitingly, expanded quite significantly since the early days, however, and this is why I believe that we have the best job of all Allied Health Professionals. Now you will see Exercise Physiologists in hospitals, workplaces, commercial gyms and fitness facilities, insurance companies, wellness organizations, disability work places and many more. Our specialisation has moved away from solely Work Cover to involve virtually any part of health management that you can think of. Now, we are involved in the National Disability Support Scheme (NDIS), get the same level of coverage through Medicare and bulk billing that other Allied Health Professionals receive, are the only profession that Life Insurers will refer to and are involved in countless community programs. You will often see us in commercial gyms because as a part of our education we are trained in strength and conditioning, weight loss, fitness and general health and wellness as well. We are not solely rehabilitation professionals and can help you with almost any part of your health and you can think of us in a similar way that you’d think of a Personal Trainer, only with a lot more formal training.

I hope that helps to clear up some of the confusion with regards to what an Exercise Physiologist is and what we do. If you’d like a free consultation with one of our team, please head to the home page and click on the ‘free consultation’ tab and we’d love to explain to you in person a little more about how we can help you to live your best life and be better all round!

Yours in Health.