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Blogs / What exactly is a Specialist Exercise Professional?

Recently I acquired a new GP who asked me this question on my first visit! This is not the first time I have been asked this question and due to the lack of understanding and education within the general public and Heath Care Professionals, I have decided to address this question and allay any misconceptions that surround my role.

Let me go back 20 years plus, to the era of the “aerobics teacher”. He or she was quite often and quite wrongly misconceived as the “dumb blond” who was good at sport and exercise, but not necessarily good at teaching it or working with music. Said “dumb blond” may or may not have taken a qualification and the general public never thought to ask him/her what qualifications they had to teach the class.

As health & safety regulations took their hold on ALL aspects of health, governing bodies realised the importance of evidence-based exercise qualifications and governing bodies with registers started to emerge.

One such governing body “Register of Exercise Professionals” set the benchmark for regulating a plethora of exercise qualifications. To be a member on their register, requires the “Exercise Professional” (no longer the “dumb blond”) to attain certain standards of qualifications and CPD points, every year, to ensure he/she does not become “stagnant”. All REP’s courses are themselves approved & audited by external governing bodies.

Level 2

So, now we have an Exercise Professional, a Level 2, on the register. Level 2 qualifications are generally the first step for someone wanting to become an exercise Instructor - Exercise to Music, Step, Aqua aerobics & circuits, to name but a few.

Level 3

For those Instructors wishing to continue their career, to the next level, Level 3, he/she can qualify as a personal trainer, GP referrals (*1), Pilates or Yoga Instructor. Level 3 qualifications require the Instructor to study the physiology of the body to a higher level, case studies are required along with written exams and a practical assessment.

Level 4

Once the Exercise professional has attained at least one Level 3 qualification, he/she can then continue to study a Level 4 qualification. These include, Cardiac Rehabilitation, Exercise after Stroke, Neurological conditions, Falls Prevention, Back pain, Diabetes, Nutrition & Obesity, etc…

Such qualifications are now termed “Specialist” as they specialise in more complex and chronic medical conditions. These qualifications are equivalent to physiotherapy modules and are quite often attended by physios and instructors in equal proportions. In depth knowledge of each medical condition is studied along with case studies, written & practical exams.

Generally speaking, a client/patient attending one of these classes, must be referred(*2).

According to FitPro (Fitness Professionals magazine) once the Specialist Professional has completed his/her qualification in Neurological conditions,

"The individual will know more about exercise for PD, Stroke & MS, than the vast majority of GP’s, Neurologists, OT’s and Physios (notwithstanding neuros)"

Personally, I would not have believed this, until last year, when a client with CHD (Coronary Heart Disease) attended her annual checkup with the Cardiac Consultant. He was not aware of classic no-go exercises, such as keeping the head above the heart, or not keeping arms above the shoulders for extended periods of time (think: hanging curtains or clipping a high hedge).


If you are unsure as to the qualifications of your Exercise Professional, ask to see their certificates or check online with their register. Never assume your Instructor has the required qualifications. Would you attend a quack dentist if you had tooth ache?

(*1) GP referrals Level 3 are for low risk medical problems such as OA, high blood pressure (but not CHD), aching back, musculoskeletal problems, osteopenia (early signs of osteoporosis).

(*2) GP referrals Level 4 are for medium to high risk medical problems and chronic illnesses, such as Stroke, CHD, MS, Chronic back pain, Parkinson’s disease (PD), osteoporosis.