Fool Proof Fitness – Building a Referral Network

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Personal trainers are an essential part of their clients’ healthcare team.

You get to see your clients multiple times a week, know the ins and outs of their physical health, and probably also have information and insight on their mental health and personal lives.

But you can’t know everything or handle every question that comes your way. Certain issues warrant attention from another healthcare professional.

In the medical field, the group of professionals who care for a client are termed the interdisciplinary team. Interdisciplinary means that each member of the team has specific knowledge, expertise, and experience in a different field and all the professionals work together to treat the client from a holistic point of view.

Depending on the needs of the client, the specialties of the team members will differ. An excellent interdisciplinary team is comprised of professionals that can help clients with care for both body and mind and empower them with education, information, and confidence so that they can live their fullest and most healthy lives.

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Being and staying educated as a personal trainer is of utmost importance. But you don’t have to have an answer for every question that comes up with your client. In fact, there are many issues on which you are not legally allowed to give your client advice. For these instances, let’s discuss a few must-have healthcare professionals whose contact information and/or business cards you should keep on hand.


Primary Care Provider

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A PCP is a general medical practitioner and can be a physician, physician’s assistant, nurse practitioner, or clinical nurse specialist. A PCP may also be called a family doctor or internist.

These practitioners provide and coordinate a client’s general medical care, and for healthy individuals the PCP is often the only doctor they need. Many people already have a PCP, but I have had an experience where a client came to me with questions about her blood pressure because she did not have a PCP.

If you are wondering – why would someone ask her personal trainer about her blood pressure? – it’s because we as trainers are seen as trusted, down to earth, and available. And although I am familiar with healthy ranges of blood pressure, it is certainly not in my scope of practice to give medical advice on that issue!

The best course of action is to refer the client to a primary care provider. Other general medical questions you may encounter are those about swelling or inflammation, gastrointestinal issues, or vitamin and mineral supplementation.

Even if you feel like you can answer the question, ask yourself if you should. It is always best to proceed with caution when it comes to clients’ medical issues.


Physical Therapist

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Having a qualified, smart, and available physical therapist for referrals is an absolute necessity. Many clients will present to their trainer with an ache or pain from time to time.

Trainers can certainly help by teaching mobility exercises and stretches for tight or sore muscles and by creating a great exercise program including clear instruction on form to strengthen weak muscles and prevent injury.

But if the pain is ongoing or recurring, the client may benefit from an assessment and treatment by a physical therapist. Physical therapists have advanced education in human anatomy, physiology, kinesiology, and neuroscience and are trained to help clients improve mobility and function.

Often just a few visits to a physical therapist will improve a client’s condition and manage their pain. Depending on the severity of the issue, the physical therapist can also refer to an orthopedist or sports medicine doctor if necessary.


Massage Therapist

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Almost as important as a physical therapist to a fitness enthusiast is a massage therapist. Training hard can leave muscles aching and tender, and sometimes stretching just doesn’t do the trick. Passive soft tissue therapy like massage or acupressure has been shown to reduce pain in people with trigger points and help to alleviate delayed onset muscle soreness.

But like any service provider, there are great massage therapists and there are mediocre ones. If you can find an excellent massage therapist, you can refer clients with confidence and they will recover better, have less pain, and ultimately feel great and keep coming back to you!


Other Personal Trainers and Coaches

Wait…what? Why in the world would you refer a client or potential client to a different trainer? There are actually plenty of reasons. For example, some female clients would prefer to work with a female trainer.

Let’s say you are a male trainer, and a potential client comes into your facility. You talk with her about her goals and needs and find out she is really not comfortable with a male trainer.

The best bet is to refer her to a great female trainer in your network.

Will you make money from that client? No.

Will you earn a reputation as a trainer who truly cares about clients as individual people, rather than just a source of income? YES.

The same situation could occur with a client who has a specific goal that you are not qualified to coach. If a potential client wants to train for a triathlon, but you know nothing about the subject, maybe there is a better coach for that client in your area.

Referring people does not mean you aren’t a great trainer. It just means you are not the right trainer for every single person out there.


Nutritionist

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The breadth of knowledge of each personal trainer varies quite a bit when it comes to nutrition, but most are comfortable with the topic to some degree. Trainers often give advice on caloric and nutrient intake as well as hydration needs.

Many of your clients will not need any more advanced coaching than what you can easily (and legally) offer. But it is important to remember the scope of practice of a personal trainer.

Guidelines vary from state to state, but trainers are typically not allowed to offer nutrition assessments, prescribe supplements, or write diet plans for clients.

Registered dieticians and licensed nutritionists are great resources and are especially helpful for clients with significant weight loss goals, those with issues like food allergies or diabetes, and pregnant or breastfeeding clients.

If your client has specific nutrition needs that are out of your comfort zone or scope of practice, refer them to a qualified professional.

The question of when to refer a client can be tricky. It is not always crystal clear that a client needs a referral, and oftentimes clients expect trainers to have all the answers when it comes to fitness, nutrition, and overall health.


When to Refer

The client might also be reluctant to pay another person, or just want a quick and simple answer to the question rather than having to make another appointment. Do not be pressured or flattered into giving a client an answer to a question that you are not qualified to give.


Here are a few key points to remember about when and how to refer clients:


1. Know What You Don’t Know

Never make up or guess an answer to a client’s question. It is better to say “I don’t know” or “I’m not sure, but I’ll do some research and find out” or “I can’t answer that, but your primary care provider can” than to just try to sound smart. It might be out of your scope of practice or downright dangerous to answer a question when you are not qualified to do so.

2. It’s Not A Competition

We can very easily get in the scarcity mindset and think that if we refer a client to another provider, then they won’t need us anymore. The truth is that there are plenty of clients for everyone, and it is always the right choice to do what is in the best interest of your client.

More times than not, your thoughtfulness and professionalism will keep your clients coming back (and recommending you to their friends).

3. Only Refer People to Professional YOU Would Go To

Don’t just search the internet and pick a random person. If you have not had experience with a nutritionist but your client needs one, ask your colleagues or even phone a few to get some insight before you make the referral.

4. Follow Up

Don’t just refer someone to another provider and then assume everything went well. Was the client able to get an appointment? If so, how did it go? Ask permission from the client to discuss his or her plan with the other professional, and then touch base with that person. Following up is perhaps the single most important aspect of interdisciplinary referrals, and one that is often forgotten.

5. When in Doubt, Refer Out

Referring people to another provider doesn’t tell them you are ignorant; it tells them you care about their well-being more than you do about your own ego or income.

Your referral network will be specific to you, your expertise, and your clientele.


Key Takeaways

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Besides the professionals we already discussed, other specialties like mental health counselors, acupuncturists, and chiropractors are a few great resources that come to mind. You may even have certain group fitness or yoga instructors that you recommend to people who want to take classes outside of training sessions.

It is in your and your clients’ best interest for you to become part of the network of reputable health care professionals in your area. Maybe there is a Facebook page for local fitness professionals. If you are a gym owner, it might be useful to join the local Chamber of Commerce or Small Business Association.

Make a point to introduce yourself to other trainers, therapists, and providers in your area. Make yourself known by getting involved in the community. Keep an eye out for Fitness Expos or Health Fairs and find out how to get involved. The more providers you meet, the more you can fine-tune your own preferred network.

And a marvelous perk of having a great referral network is that those providers will very often refer clients to you, too. Personal trainers are obligated to protect their clients’ health, safety, and wellbeing – in other words to do no harm.

Part of our responsibility is to educate and empower our clients. Another equally important piece is knowing when to refer a client and to whom. A knowledgeable, skilled, and compassionate interdisciplinary healthcare team is an asset that every person should have. And when all the professionals in the healthcare team work together, clients will thrive.

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