Central Athlete prides itself on being the most holistic fitness facility in Central Texas, providing clients with personalized plans for training, nutrition, and lifestyle behaviors in a top-notch space that includes a recovery center. One of the keys to doing this successfully for 7+ years is for Central Athlete coaches to be both generalists and specialists. This means that they have very deep knowledge about strength and conditioning, program design, nutrition, and how lifestyle impacts health, as well as broad knowledge about anatomy and movement. They also know when something is out of their scope and when they need to refer out to another professional in our network.
Imagine strength and conditioning coaches digging into various parts of clients’ bodies with their thumbs, trying to eliminate pain, their “knowledge” based on an article or weekend course they took. Maybe they feel inclined because they have been in the business for almost a decade. However, this is akin to a chiropractor dishing out training programs and nutritional protocols for their patients to hit a personal best clean and jerk and gain five pounds of lean muscle mass. Without proper background or formal education in the designated field, neither professional is fully equipped to venture into another professional arena.
For the purpose of this article, I will categorize professionals as “healthcare practitioners” (orthopedists, chiropractors, and physical therapists) or “trainers” (massage therapists, coaches, and personal trainers.)
When trainers become a one-stop-shop for their clients, they lose the ability to provide exceptional value in their respective field. This often extends the time it takes for clients to see specific results and at times creates legal and liability issues. Dr. Kyler Brown, DC, founder of WellSport says, “I worry that most coaches do not understand the risks they may be putting their clients in. An underlying medical issue not properly screened for, before aggressive bodywork, could cause significant unforeseen serious medical issues, as well as open up the coach, trainer or therapist to malpractice liability.”
The solution to this is simple; create a network of subject matter experts that share your philosophy about health and wellness, complement your business, and provide added value for your clients.
For example, if clients are experiencing pain that cannot be eliminated through proper strength, balance, and stability protocols, the client should be referred out to someone who has years of experience and background in that particular field. More importantly, that professional should have a relationship with the trainer to ensure that the client can be properly transitioned back into an intelligent training program that supports the work of the healthcare practitioner.
This model is a win for clients and a win for both businesses. Let's assume that a client has experienced a non-traumatic overuse injury and the client’s shoulder is painful when they raise their arm above 90 degrees.
Step 1: The trainer should remove any exercises that trigger pain/dysfunction and implement correctives. Additionally, after an assessment, they should integrate exercises that will promote structural integrity.
Step 2: After 4-8 weeks of no improvement, it is time to refer out to a healthcare practitioner, specifically an entity like WellSport—doctors who know how to test and screen, and who can order required imaging if needed, AND who also understand the coaches’ expertise and what the coach is attempting to do through strength and conditioning training.
Step 3: Once the client is cleared to return to training, keep open lines of communication with the healthcare practitioner. If there are exercises to avoid or correctives that would help prevent this issue from arising again, the trainer needs to be aware.
If you want to supercharge these relationships, create a system in which both the trainer and the healthcare practitioner communicate regarding the client (compliant with HIPAA regulations). By integrating the knowledge of both experts, you will fast-track the client’s success. For example, the healthcare practitioner may suggest avoiding particular exercises and integrating a series of correctives. The trainer can add extreme value if they can now take the lead on monitoring the competency and compliance with the client actually adhering to this protocol.
While this sounds like the perfect solution, there can be some gray area or overlap between trainers and healthcare practitioners. For example, WellSports’s clinicians hold one of the most reputable strength and conditioning certifications—the CSCS. This does not mean they should be advising clients on specific exercise and nutrition protocols. While these certifications allow the practitioners to speak a consistent language with trainers, their practice is not built around the deliverable of strength and conditioning programs. On the other side, a good trainer who understands anatomy and functional screening can better inform the healthcare practitioner on the underlying issue (without attempting to solve it themselves through physical therapy methods).
Over the past 13 years—even before he founded Central Athlete and was working in various aspects of the fitness arena—Jesse O’Brien has created a strong relationship with the sports doctors of WellSport. This allows Central Athlete coaches to have a collaborative approach while programming for our clients. We leave the chiropractic and myofascial release techniques to them and they leave the program design to the coaches of Central Athlete.
Another important reason that this relationship works so successfully is that we share a philosophy of solving underlying problems and challenges for clients so they can move forward and continue to progress sustainably for years to come.
WellSport is a sports chiropractic clinic that focuses on results using a wide array of joint, muscle and corrective exercise techniques to get their patients out of pain quickly so they can enjoy their lives and regular activities. They believe that once rehabilitation is complete, programs that maintain strength and mobility are integral in overall health and wellness. Like Central Athlete, they have unique and targeted protocols for each individual.
According to Dr. Brown, “My patients’ trust is the most important thing to me. When they ask me for a coach or trainer recommendation, it is vital that I help them find a coach who will do everything in his or her power to PREVENT re-injury. Central Athlete has proven over the years that they have the humility to work side-by-side with us to develop intelligent programming to help my patients continue to improve, without pushing them too far.”
For the Coaches out there, don’t stop creating networks once you have partnered with a sports therapist; also consider mental health practitioners, functional medicine doctors, and any other specialists in fields that can complement your practices. Not only will this improve your clients’ experience, but it will also help grow your business in an authentic and ethical manner. A network of highly-qualified specialists will help everyone do a much better job of delivering a stellar experience to clients. Eventually, fitness businesses that incorporate such intelligent and integrated practices will build a solid reputation and flourish.