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What's the Difference Between Personal Trainers and Athletic Trainers?

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What's the Difference Between Personal Trainers and Athletic Trainers?

Apr 09, 2015
Though they sound very similar, there are big differences between the training and basic job duties of athletic trainers and personal trainers. Sports medicine specialist Dr. Amy Powell and Dr. Kirtly Parker Jones discuss the differences and similarities between the two. Although their jobs differ, the focus of each is to help others be healthy, happy and safe.

Episode Transcript

Dr. Jones: Personal trainer, athletic trainer, what is the difference and who do I want for me or my daughter? This is Dr. Kirtly Jones from Obstetrics and Gynecology at University of Utah Health Care, fitness and athletic trainers on The Scope.

Recording: Medical news and research from University of Utah physicians and specialist you can use for a happier and healthier life. You're listening to The Scope.

Dr. Jones: We're told we should move more. Women as they age are told they should get some weight training as well as cardio, all these shoulds. But who can be get to help us older ladies push those weights and adolescent girls are performing at increasing levels of athleticism on high school and college teams. Who should be directing their training to make them strong but keep them safe? Today in The Scope studio we're talking with Dr. Amy Powell, a sports medicine specialist at University of Utah Orthopedics Hospital about trainers.
Who trains them, how are they license, and who's the right person for you and your daughter the jock on the college team, or the ski team, or the basketball team, or the track team, maybe not the chess team but maybe? Welcome to The Scope, Dr. Powell.

Dr. Powell: Thank you.

Dr. Jones: So I thought personal trainers were for one person and athletic trainers are for a team but maybe that's too simplistic. So what's the difference between personal trainers and an athletic trainer?

Dr. Powell: I think the biggest difference is that athletic trainers truly are health care professionals and I think a personal trainers are more as coaches, people that can help to make you stronger, make you faster, perform better at your sport or keep you in shape as you age. But athletic trainers are truly health care professionals. They're trained in injury triage, injury management, concussion management, concussion prevention and we use them to help our athletes both stay safe on the courts and the fields and everywhere else and stay healthy.

Dr. Jones: Oh, and how about licensing? Are they licensed differently?

Dr. Powell: They are. The license requirements vary state by state but the state of Utah does have licensed athletic trainers and athletic trainers sit at the end of their four-year undergraduate degree for a board examination that's a national exam, so they're both board certified and licensed by state.

Dr. Jones: I never thought of trainers, well, of personal trainers as being have to triage injury but that's a really big deal for an athletic trainer for a team who should be continuing to get on the court and who should stay off the court.

Dr. Powell: Right. Our athletic trainers here at the University of Utah are really, really important people to help with the initial injury evaluate and we as team physicians fill in for where they need our help.

Dr. Jones: Right. What about practicing jobs? Let's say you've been thinking you're young person and you love sports and you want this to be your career. What are the differences in jobs? Let's say where does the athletic trainer get a job?

Dr. Powell: Yeah. Athletic trainers function at multiple different levels so the classic athletic trainer spot would be with a team at a university, a Division I institution. There are athletic trainers with professional teams. There are athletic trainers with ballet companies and other performing arts like Cirque du Soleil has their own athletic training staff.

Dr. Jones: Oh yeah. How cool is that!

Dr. Powell: We would love to see an athletic trainer at every high school in the state of Utah. That has not happened yet but hopefully it will at some point. Athletic trainers function as a physician extenders in some clinical settings too. So for instance at the University Orthopedic Center we have three or four athletic trainers on staff that help with initial evaluation of injured patients.

Dr. Jones: Oh, oh, maybe one of those are my husband who's kind of a single older athlete with an injury, how cool. So we at Utah are fortunate to have a program in athletic training education here in the College of Health, so how long is it?

Dr. Powell: It is actually a fairly competitive undergraduate program so it's a four-year degree.

Dr. Jones: Whoa.

Dr. Powell: And we also have a graduate program which is a master's degree and a good portion of institutions like ours. Pretty much every athletic trainer that works with our student athletes has a master's level degree.

Dr. Jones: Wow, okay, it's a career.

Dr. Powell: It's a career.

Dr. Jones: Right. So that sports teams for the girls college basketball should have a certified athletic trainer but how about of us older ladies who need help in the gym to show up and push a weight or something, who should we have?

Dr. Powell: I think on that situation a personal trainer will be a really great fit. So personal trainers have different certificates that are given by different governing bodies. One of them are commonly known ones as the American College Sports Medicine and there are different levels of personal trainer’s certifications. You can be a certified strength coach. You can be a certified personal trainer, those don't typically require a four-year degree, some do some don't. And so the level of training is a little bit more variable than the athletic trainers who go through a four-year full degree program and have a very set curriculum regardless of where you train.

Dr. Jones: Great. Now the chess team. There's a growing body of evidence that vigorous exercise makes the brain work better, for science, problem solving, and probably chess and this is true for six-year olds and 60-year olds. So maybe the chess team needs an athletic trainer? Dr. Powell, what are your thoughts on that?

Dr. Powell: Or maybe we should just send the chess team out to run a few laps before their big competitions.

Dr. Jones: Right.

Dr. Powell: That would be my suggestion first.

Dr. Jones: Okay. Stay strong, stay safe, and stay smarter and thanks for joining us on The Scope.

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