There are two types of athletic trainers that are commonly found in the health and fitness industry. One type of trainer helps his or her clients increase their fitness levels, lose weight, gain strength or otherwise develop physically. The other type of athletic trainer focuses on helping athletes prevent or recover from injuries. Both types might have roles that overlap somewhat, but the requirements for becoming each type can vary greatly.
Some athletic trainers are part of the allied health profession and focus on injury prevention and recovery. To become this type of trainer, a person typically must earn a college degree in athletic training or a related medical field and pass a certification exam. These trainers often work in sports medicine clinics, for schools or for professional sports teams.
A trainer of this type tends to work alongside other medical professionals, such as doctors who specialize in sports medicine. When athletes are injured, the trainer helps carry out any plans and methods for healing their injuries with the goal of helping the athletes to continue competing or to resume competing as soon as possible. Depending on the injury, the trainer might help bandage, tape or apply ice to the injured body part. The trainer might also help athletes do rehabilitative exercises and then assess them for the ability to return to competition.
Evaluation and Education
Another role of an athletic trainer might be to evaluate exercises, movements, techniques or the sport itself to make sure that injuries are kept to a minimum. Just as an occupational therapist might help sort out the most ergonomic ways for people to complete repetitive work, the trainer can evaluate the athletes' techniques and movements to determine whether there is a risk of injury. Working with coaches, a trainer might develop safe exercise regimens or better techniques for athletes. The trainer also can educate athletes on avoiding certain activities that might result in injuries.
Other Job Requirements
When an athletic trainer works for a sports team or a school, he or she usually is present at sporting events, which can make traveling a part of the job. The trainer also will maintain supplies of basic first-aid equipment and any rehabilitative equipment that might be needed. When an athlete is injured during competition, the trainer might work like a case manager, contacting all medical providers that the athlete will need to see, such as doctors, physical therapists, chiropractors or orthopedic specialists. The trainer also might need to maintain records of athletes’ injuries and rehabilitation.
An athletic trainer who focuses on fitness — more commonly referred to as a personal trainer — might work in a health club or gym, independently or for a school or professional sports team. He or she typically puts together exercise regimens for his or her clients that are based on the clients' goals. For example, a client who wants to lose weight might be put on a regimen that is different from one for a client who wants to build muscle or train for a certain competition. The trainer also might give his or her clients specific diets to follow and might recommend certain vitamins or supplements.
A person usually does not need a college degree to become a personal trainer, although a degree in physical education might be beneficial. Many of these types of trainers are people who are concerned about their own physical fitness and want to share their expertise and experience with others. Some fitness organizations offer accreditation for trainers, who usually must pass an examination and perhaps even demonstrate their own fitness in order to become certified. A certified trainer can use this accreditation as proof of his or her qualifications while seeking new clients.