Personal Training People with Chronic Illnesses and Disabilities


As a personal trainer, it is essential to understand how to modify exercise prescription to meet the needs of clients with disabilities and chronic illnesses. People with disabilities or chronic illnesses may require adjustments in their exercise routine to ensure their safety and optimal health outcomes. In this article, we will explore the considerations a personal trainer should make when prescribing exercise for clients with disabilities and chronic illnesses.

The Training Process

First, it is important to have a thorough understanding of the client’s medical history, including any current medications, previous injuries, surgeries, and overall health status. This information will provide a baseline for developing an exercise prescription that meets the client’s unique needs. Additionally, it is important to communicate with other healthcare professionals involved in the client’s care before beginning any exercise programme. 

Once the client’s medical history is established, the personal trainer should assess their physical abilities and limitations. This assessment may include measuring their range of motion, balance, strength, and cardiovascular fitness. There are a range of submaximal tests to choose from, but avoid all forms of maximal testing. Based on the results of the assessments, the personal trainer can develop an exercise plan that is tailored to the client’s abilities and goals.

When prescribing exercises for disabled people or people with a chronic illness, the personal trainer should consider the following:


Safety should be the top priority when designing an exercise programme for clients with disabilities or chronic illnesses. Exercises should be chosen with care and executed with proper form to minimise the risk of injury. Remember that recovery is often impaired so start slow and ask for feedback in the days following a session before increasing intensity.


Depending on the client’s physical abilities and limitations, modifications may need to be made to traditional exercises. For example, individuals with limited mobility may need to perform exercises in a seated or lying position. Additionally, resistance can be adjusted to meet the client’s strength level.


As the client’s fitness level improves, the personal trainer should gradually increase the intensity and duration of their workouts. It is important to monitor the client’s progress closely to ensure they are not overexerting themselves.


Individuals with disabilities or chronic illnesses may face unique challenges that can impact their motivation to exercise. The personal trainer should provide encouragement and support throughout the exercise programme, focusing on the client’s strengths and successes. Be understanding when the client is having a bad day as many conditions are prone to flare-ups such as arthritis and fibromyalgia.

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) provides guidelines for exercise prescription for individuals with disabilities and chronic illnesses. These guidelines suggest that a combination of aerobic and resistance training can improve overall health and fitness in this population (Rimmer et al., 2012). Additionally, ACSM recommends using the Borg Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE) scale to monitor exercise intensity (ACSM, 2018).


In conclusion, when prescribing exercise for clients with disabilities or chronic illnesses, the personal trainer should prioritise safety, consider modifications, monitor progression, and provide motivation and support. By taking a thoughtful and individualised approach, personal trainers can help clients with disabilities or chronic illnesses achieve their fitness goals while improving their overall health and well-being.

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  1. American College of Sports Medicine. (2018). ACSM’s Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription. Wolters Kluwer.

  2. Rimmer, J. H., Chen, M. D., Hsieh, K., & Ajuwon, P. M. (2012). Use of the ICF in identifying factors that impact participation in physical activity/rehabilitation among people with disabilities. Disability and rehabilitation.

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