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Athletic Training, Personal Training and Physical Therapy: What’s the Difference?

In a day and age when many of us are on the move and exercise programs can be found online with the click of a button, it’s important to understand the differences between a certified athletic trainer, a personal trainer and a physical therapist. Below, we outline the education requirements, daily activities and care, and work settings for each profession.

Education Requirements

Athletic Training: According to the National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA), a student must graduate with a master’s degree from an accredited professional athletic training education program and pass a comprehensive test administered by the Board of Certification (BOC) in order to become a certified athletic trainer and obtain licensure in most states. Additionally, athletic trainers must meet ongoing continuing education requirements to remain certified.

Logan’s Master’s in Athletic Training program, for example, includes six trimesters of online and face-to-face instruction. Coursework covers emergency care, orthopedic assessment, therapeutic interventions, psychology, pharmacology, research, leadership, administration and more.

Personal Training: “The education and training required for fitness trainers and instructors varies by type of specialty, and employers prefer to hire those with certification,” according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Trainers can become certified through the National Academy of Sports Medicine, National Federation of Personal Trainers, National Council on Strength and Fitness, and American Council on Exercise, to name a few.

Physical Therapy: According to the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), “to practice as a physical therapist in the U.S., you must earn a doctor of physical therapy (DPT) degree from a Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education-accredited physical therapist education program and pass a state licensure exam.

The length of professional DPT programs is typically three years. Primary content areas in the curriculum may include biology/anatomy, exercise physiology, biomechanics, kinesiology, neuroscience, clinical reasoning, evidence-based practice and more.


Daily Activities & Care

Athletic Training: Athletic trainers provide evidence-based health care for people who need to perform at their personal best, including elite athletes and those working in physically demanding industrial careers. According to the NATA, duties of a certified athletic trainer include:

  • Provide physical medicine and rehabilitation services
  • Prevent, diagnose, treat and rehabilitate injuries (acute and chronic)
  • Coordinate care with physicians and other allied health professionals
  • Work in schools, colleges, professional sports, clinics, hospitals, corporations, industry and military

Personal Training: According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “fitness trainers and instructors lead, instruct, and motivate individuals or groups in exercise activities, including cardiovascular exercises (exercises for the heart and blood circulation), strength training, and stretching. They work with people of all ages and skill levels.” Duties include:

  • Demonstrate or explain how to perform various exercises and routines to minimize injuries and improve fitness
  • Observe clients exercising to ensure they are using the correct techniques
  • Provide alternative exercises for different levels of fitness and skill
  • Monitor clients’ progress and adapt programs as needed
  • Explain and enforce safety rules and regulations for sports, recreational activities and the use of exercise equipment
  • Give clients information or resources about nutrition, weight control and lifestyle issues
  • Administer emergency first aid if needed

Physical Therapy: The APTA defines physical therapists as “movement experts who improve quality of life through prescribed exercise, hands-on care, and patient education.” According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, duties include:

  • Review patients’ medical history and referrals or notes from doctors, surgeons or other health care workers
  • Diagnose patients’ functions and movements by observing them standing or walking and by listening to their concerns
  • Develop individualized plans of care for patients, outlining goals and expected outcomes
  • Use exercises, stretching maneuvers, hands-on therapy and equipment to ease patients’ pain, help them increase their mobility, prevent further pain or injury and facilitate health and wellness
  • Evaluate and record a patients’ progress, modifying the plan of care and trying new treatments as needed
  • Educate patients and their families about what to expect from the recovery process and how to cope with associated challenges


Work Settings

Athletic Training: Athletic trainers work in a variety of settings, including professional and collegiate-level sports programs, hospitals and health care facilities, military and law enforcement, occupational and industrial work environments, sports medicine and physician clinics, secondary schools and performing arts. In fact, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the athletic training field is projected to grow 21 percent between 2014 and 2024.

Personal Training: Personal trainers may work in club gyms and fitness studios, private training studios, a client’s home, outdoors at a public park or beach, community centers, corporate settings, remotely by phone and internet, sports complexes, and more.

Physical Therapy: The APTA states: “Physical therapists practice in a wide range of settings, including hospitals, outpatient clinics, people’s homes, schools, sports and fitness facilities, workplaces, and nursing homes.”


While there are certainly similarities between athletic training, personal training and physical therapy, and professionals may work with one another as part of a patient’s overall care team, each profession has its own distinct career paths and responsibilities. If athletic training seems like a fit for you, get in touch with our admissions team and learn more about how you can become part of Logan’s first cohort of athletic training students, now enrolling for the fall 2021 trimester!


Logan University is currently seeking accreditation for their new athletic training program and is not accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education (CAATE). The institution will be submitting a self-study to begin the accreditation process on July 1, 2022. Submission of the self-study and completion of an onsite review does not guarantee that the program will become accredited. Students who graduate from the program prior to accreditation WILL NOT be eligible to sit for the credentialing examination for athletic trainers and will not be eligible for licensure in most states.