The importance of theory to professional practice
One thing I always try to emphasise when teaching is the importance of theory. For example, as a fitness professional, you need to know how an exercise or mode of training will impact on your client’s body. You need to know this to make your training safe, relevant, and to help clients address their needs and realise their goals. This is especially important when working with special populations or those with medical conditions.
Without this understanding, training may be uninformed and often becomes ineffective and inefficient. It might even be inappropriate and unsafe. If you are working with someone who has hypertension, for example, how does this condition manifest itself in the body and how does it develop over time? How do different modes and intensities of exercise impact on this condition? How does hypertensive medication affect the exercise response? What are the absolute and relative contraindications? Etc. What I’m trying to say is that giving such a person any old exercise, without understanding their underlying condition, would not necessarily be safe or appropriate.
One argument I often hear is, “But clients don’t want or need to know all this theory”. If you are being treated by a doctor for a chest infection, for example, you don’t want a detailed explanation of the biochemical processes underlying your condition, but you do expect the doctor to know this information so he or she can prescribe the correct treatment.
Another argument is, “I used to know it, but I don’t use it in my job, so I’ve forgotten it all”. Using the doctor analogy again – when you visit your doctor, you do not expect him or her to have forgotten everything they learned at medical school. Just like them, you are working with people’s fitness, health, and wellbeing, so you have the same obligation to your clients and patients to uphold your knowledge and skills.
What I am trying to underscore in this post is that you owe your clients and patients a duty of care – i.e., you have a moral and legal obligation to protect them from physical and/or emotional harm. A breach of this duty of care occurs when you to fail to live up to the professional standards and a client’s/patient’s wellbeing or welfare is harmed as a result. Any breach may potentially result in reputational or financial consequences. A defence of ignorance about this would not be entertained should someone hurt themselves as a direct consequence of any ill-informed actions.
What steps can you take to avoid breaching your duty of care? Keep your professional development and training records up to date. This doesn’t just mean doing more-and-more courses and qualifications, widening your scope of practice by offering an ever-increasing amount of training modalities. It also means that you do not forget what you have already studied; for example, by revisiting training manuals or reading relevant/reputable books and articles.