The Difference Between Trainers

What comes to mind when you hear the word "trainer?" Do you think of Burgess Meredith shouting at Sylvester Stallone in the corner of the boxing ring? Or perhaps "trainer" conjures an image of a person leading a dog obedience class. It could also be someone who trains you to use a computer. But most likely you think of a fitness professional– someone who works with individuals to lose weight or improve their strength and flexibility. Further, you might think "athletic trainer" and "trainer" are one in the same, but it's important to differentiate between the two.

When choosing the best professional to provide fitness or health care services for you or members of your family, it's important to recognize the significant differences between personal trainers and athletic trainers--both in terms of qualifications and practice.

Athletic training is practiced by athletic trainers, health care professionals who collaborate with physicians to optimize activity and participation of patients and clients. An athletic trainer meets the qualifications set by a state regulatory board and/or the Board of Certification.

Certified athletic trainers (ATCs):
  • Must have at least a bachelor's degree from an accredited athletic training education program. Entry-level athletic training education is competency-based in both classroom and clinical settings and mirrors the medical education model. 70 percent of ATCs have earned a master's degree or higher.
  • Must pass a rigorous and validated certification exam to earn the ATC credential.
  • Must keep their skills current by participating in lifetime continuing education; the current requirement is 75 contact hours per every three-year reporting period.
  • Must adhere to practice guidelines set by one national certifying agency.
The practice of athletic training includes:
  • The provision of physical medicine and rehabilitation services, serving as physician extenders.
  • Prevention, assessment and treatment acute and chronic injuries and illnesses.
  • Coordination of medical care with physicians and other allied health care providers.
  • Making return-to-activity/return-to-work decisions.
Athletic trainers work in a variety of settings, including schools, colleges, professional sports, clinics, hospitals, corporations, industry, performing arts venues, municipalities (e.g. fire and police departments) and the military.

A personal trainer formulates, instructs, monitors and changes an individual's specific exercise program in a fitness or sport setting.

Personal trainers:
  • May or may not have higher education in health sciences
  • May or may not be required to obtain certification
  • May become certified by any one of numerous agencies that set widely varying education and practice requirements
  • May or may not participate in continuing education
Daily duties:
  • Assess fitness needs and design appropriate exercise regimens
  • Work with clients to achieve fitness goals
  • Help educate the public about the importance of physical activity
Personal trainers work in health clubs, wellness centers and various other locations where fitness activities take place.

Knowing these differences will help you choose the best trainer for your fitness needs and enable you to reach you goals. Good luck!
Athletic trainers are health care professionals who collaborate with physicians to optimize activity and participation of patients and clients. Athletic training encompasses the prevention, diagnosis, and intervention of emergency, acute, and chronic medical conditions involving impairment, functional limitations and disabilities. The California Athletic Trainers Association represents and supports members of the athletic training profession through communication and education.

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