Blog Post: December 13th, 2021

By Certified Athletic Trainer, Kelly Leeper

My name is Kelly Leeper, and I’m a certified Athletic Trainer (ATC) at 21st Century Rehab in Knoxville. At times, there is confusion around what an athletic trainer actually is and what we do. Sometimes people tend to hear the word “trainer” and think of personal training or strength and conditioning. Some athletic trainers do have education that allows them to provide either personal training and/or strength and conditioning expertise and services.

While athletic trainers typically work with athletes of various competitive levels, the fact is that athletic trainers work with active individuals in a variety of settings and ages. Our education and certification allow us to work in various settings in addition to the athletic setting, such as industrial/occupational settings (workplaces), performance settings (theater/dance troupes/movie sets, etc.), educational settings as professors and educators, and military branches, just to name a few. Over the past twenty years or so, athletic training has been branching out into populations besides athletics, because active individuals exist in our world outside of organized athletics.

So, what IS the difference between Personal Training, Strength and Conditioning, and Athletic Training anyway? Let’s delve in to learn the difference between each of these professions.  

  • Personal Training involves someone who works one-on-one to help someone attain health and exercise goals in their everyday life. Most of the time this involves helping people with basic knowledge and assistance in achieving their health and exercise goals. 
  • Strength and Conditioning tends to work more often with athletes in order to help them maximize their strength and conditioning levels. This typically relates to helping an athlete continuously improve their performance for competition on the court, field, etc. I like to think of Strength and Conditioning as what will help an athlete be competitive with their peer opponents and can help give athletes an edge with strength, agility, vertical jump height, etc. 
  • Athletic Training pertains to an allied health care professional who is educated and certified to assist active individuals with several different aspects of life and sport. An athletic trainer has been trained to deal with:
    • emergency situations (CPR, spineboarding, etc.)
    • assess injuries and develop rehabilitative exercises to improve injury outcomes
    • prevent injuries or emergencies (e.g., preventing and dealing with heat illnesses) and the referral of individuals to proper professionals for the care of conditions / injuries beyond the scope of care of an ATC (referring an athlete to the proper professional for eating disorders, or the rehabilitation of an injury that a physical or occupational therapist has more experience dealing with to name a few examples)
    • evaluate for concussions and educate people on the proper recovery of concussions
    • document injury assessments and the progress of those injuries
    • communicating with the health care team of individuals with regard to an active individual’s injury / health well-being in order to provide best care (for example, parents, coaches, activities directors, school administrators, physicians, teachers, physical / occupational therapists, school nurse, etc.)
    • continue our education throughout the course of our careers to stay on top of advancing health care of injuries using best practices and evidence-based research to guide our care as well as constant preparation to make sure that things go smoothly and that we are ready for whatever happens 

What are some typical injuries that an athletic trainer may see?  Most athletic trainers would probably say that ankle sprains are injury we see most often. On any given day, we could see a gamut of injuries or issues arise that could include: fractures or broken bones, dislocated joints, concussions, torn ACL’s in knees, asthma issues, attending to seizures or performing CPR, contacting EMS for and assisting athletes suffering from heat exhaustion, working with those that suffer from eating disorders or improper fueling for athletic performance, athletes that have become pregnant while in-season, anxiety and panic attacks, the list goes on. And in the case that it is outside of our scope of care, we are equipped to refer a person to someone with the appropriate expertise.

Athletic trainers truly prepare for anything. Preparation is the foundation of what athletic trainers are and what we do. Athletic trainers on the sidelines prepare for competitions by making sure that they have their supplies ready to go, know who to contact in case of a true emergency on the field (or even in the bleachers), practice how to deal with emergency situations, and how to direct bystanders to assist in that emergency.  We prepare so that we are ready to expect the unexpected. Athletic trainers need to be effective at communicating, developing relationships as well as patient education, which helps provide the best care possible. For more information on athletic training, visit our services page here.