December 01, 2008

Athletic Trainers: Time To Take Your Own Advice?

Sorry dude, gotta go. Zumba class starts in 15 minutes.
Photo: Tom Clifton

Health and Fitness Guidelines, Who Really Follows 'Em?

So we all know there are various groups that publish health guidelines on diet and exercise. To some of you these guidelines may seem wimpy and insufficient; to others they may seem laugh-out-loud impossible, what with real life in the way and all.

One thing we know for sure: most of the U.S. population blows these recommendations off entirely.

But what about people whose job it is train athletes? A recent study of randomly selected Certified Athletic Trainers had some interesting findings about their health habits.

Are the readers of Cranky Fitness actually healthier than a bunch of Professional Trainers? Let's find out, shall we? In fact, let's see if we can kick some Certified Athletic Trainer Ass.

First off, an important question:

What the Heck is An Athletic Trainer?

Well, it isn't really defined in the study we're going to discuss, other than as a member of the National Association of Athletic Trainers.

So I had to go to their website and dig around a bit. What did I find out?

Well, 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 blah blah blah blah blappety blappety blah blah blah."

Are we all clear now? Hey, wake up!

Ah, don't worry, it wasn't just you, I also fell asleep before I made it through that paragraph. But from the photographic evidence, I'm now pretty sure that Athletic Trainers can wrap ace bandages around people's ankles!

But most importantly of all, an Athletic Trainer is not a Personal Trainer, and don't even think about confusing the two, buster.

Differences between an Athletic Trainer and a Personal Trainer

You can kind of tell this is a loaded question when you read NATA's introduction to the topic, in which they seem very sad that "the word 'trainer' has lost it's meaning" in this crazy mixed up world of ours. (Cue violins).

Anyway, for those who care, here are the differences between athletic trainers and personal trainers. Bottom line: AT's seem to be more doctory than PT's. They are also more likely to work with sports teams and less likely to hang around your gym looking fit and perky.

But for our purposes, here is the main relevant difference: NATA implies Athletic Trainers are More Educated About Health and Fitness than Personal Trainers. So, this means we should hold them to a higher standard, than the rest of us, right?

Heh heh heh heh... we'll see about that!

About the Athletic Trainer Questionnaire Study

You can real the full Journal of Athletic Training study here. For those of you momentarily impressed that I might be perusing scholarly journals with articles like "Research Methodology: Endocrinologic Measurements in Exercise Science and Sports Medicine," --um, yeah, right. Actually, I just swiped the story from Booster Shots, the L.A. Times Health Blog.

Anyway, the researchers asked 1,000 randomly selected Athletic Trainers from 6 states to fill out questionnaires (and a little less than a third responded). Note: this means the health data is self-reported, and therefore these folks are lying just like we would lie if someone asked us about our health habits. In fact, since it's part of an Athletic Trainer's job to be smart about health, let's just assume they are probably lying even more than we would so as not to look lame.

So you'd expect, like close to 100% healthy behavior, wouldn't you?

Er... not so much!

Athletic Trainers and Exercise

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends at least 30 minutes of moderately vigorous exercise (brisk walking), 5 or more days per week. Alternatively you can do 20 minutes of vigorous activity (jogging) 3 times a week.

How many of the Certified Athletic Trainers met ACSM recommendations?

Only 41%! And seven percent reported being sedentary (no physical activity) in a given week.

Um... wow.

(However, women were more likely to be active than men; only 39% of those meeting the fitness guidelines were male while 61% were female.)

Athletic Trainers and Diet

Nutrition looked, at first glance, even worse... none of the trainers surveyed met the USDA's recommended intake for all the individual food groups in a typical 7-day week.

However, the study listed these recommendations as: 4 servings of fruit, 5 servings of vegetables, 6 servings of grains, 2 servings of meat or beans, and 3 servings of dairy per day.

What??? I almost turned this post into "How did I not realize that the USDA guidelines are so freakish?"

Six servings of grains a day? That sounds like a lot! And what if you're allergic to dairy?

But I didn't have the patience to slog through the guidelines to find out if the study write-up misstated them, or whether I was looking in the wrong place, or whether the guidelines themselves were stupid and confusing. I did see something in there about three servings of whole grains a day, which sounded more reasonable. Whatever. Perhaps a subject for a future post.

So bottom line: I'm totally willing to cut the trainers some slack if they didn't meet dietary guidelines because they weren't eating 6 pieces of bread or whatever a day. I don't either.

But it's kinda funny that none of them met the guidelines, even the big muscleman types who presumably have lots of extra calories to throw around on gratuitous grains.

Cranky Fitness Readers, How do You Stack Up?

I was going to do a poll, but I decided I didn't like the nutrition recommendations, so I was just going to do an exercise one. And then I remembered we already did an exercise poll a couple of months ago!

The question wasn't identical, but asked whether readers did huffy-puffy, heavy breathing cardio "Pretty Religiously," "Every Now and Then," or not at all.

And a whopping Seventy Percent of you said "Pretty Religiously!"

Apples to Oranges? Maybe, but both apples and oranges are good for you! I'm personally satisfied that if it were a competition, the score would now be Cranky Fitness Readers: 1 Certified Athletic Trainers: 0.

So what do you folks think about Food and Exercise Guidelines? Do you follow them? Do you think athletic trainers should be role models for healthy behaviors?


  1. I guess I never really realized there was a difference between athletic trainers and personal trainers. Bad me.
    I think the guidelines for exercise are high, but there's no reason most people shouldn't be able to get 30 minutes, most days of the week. Even if it's just walking or taking stairs, that counts.
    PS I know how to wrap an ace bandage! I smell a second career coming on!

  2. Being old school, I was exercising before they invented personal trainers. Really, if most of these folks did what I do every day, they would need a doctor more than a trainer lol!!

  3. I have just started reading your blog...and it so happens that my dad is an athletic trainer. They are vastly different from personal trainers; generally, most athletic trainers have a master's degree. Athletic trainers diagnose injuries and do rehab on athletes. When you watch a basketball game and a player hurts their shoulder, the person running out onto the floor is an athletic trainer. So while they do tape ankles, they also diagnose and treat any sports-related injury. It's much more sports-medicine related. Personal trainers aren't required to have any sort of degree and are primarily there to work with healthy people in optimizing thier workouts--not what athletic trainers do at all.

  4. Im an athletic supporter.


    and also found this REALLY INFORMATIVE as, while I knew there was a difference, I didnt know all the details.

    and yes.

    we are all now prideful since we, the great unwashed cranky masses, are healthier than the trainers.

  5. I'm neither one, but I'm a group exercise instructor and I know a bunch of personal trainers. And they all seem to know different things (and subscribe to different fads), so you never really know whether the diet info they give you is real, or just the "latest" stuff.

    Well, as far as whole grains are concerned, I suppose it depends on what a serving is. Because one serving of Wonderbread is probably one slice, but I normally eat artisanal bread that's a lot larger per slice and more dense. So I'm thinking that a slice might actually be more than one serving of grains?

    I definitely don't eat three servings of dairy per day.

  6. I tend to come from the school of, if i eat proper portions and exercise to burn off some of those calories, those are my nutritional guidelines. I don't think we are in some sort of cookie cutter world that one size fits all.

    Take the USDA for instance, they used to have the food pyramid of 1992 but now they have the one from 2005. Does that mean that they got something wrong? Will there be a new pyramid for 2010 or later?

    To be simple, eat some, drink some, exercise some all in moderation, and you will live some.

  7. I was going to make some flippant comment like athletic trainers train athletes, while personal trainers train people. But Anon's comment was so sane and sensible that I was abashed and couldn't flip.

    What irks me is that the exercise guidelines are for maintenance not for weight loss. You have to do /more/ exercise than that if you want to be slim ... grumble...

  8. Great comments this morning!

    And welcome Meredith-- thanks so much for the information about athletic trainers! (A lot more helpful than just saying they're more "doctory" than personal trainers).

    Hope the post didn't offend you 'cause of your Dad, since I was making fun of the Athletic Trainer web site a bit. Didn't mean to make fun of the actual trainers themselves, though I do hope that the ones who aren't finding much time to exercise manage to figure that out a bit better!

  9. I do what appears to be right for me. I do about 30 minutes of exercise a day now and have for the past two months. I feel good and I eat well and not to excess. I haven't lost any of the weight I gained on beta blockers. But someday I'll do my pants up again.

  10. Thanks for clearing up the difference between athletic and personal trainers!

    The exercise guidelines seem ridiculously low to me. Like NeverSayDiet says, even just walking or taking stairs counts. And we really can't get in half an hour every day? When I think about how much time I spend procrastinating from doing school work by cruising the Internet or cleaning... yeah, half an hour is no time at all to squeeze in.

  11. Your blog is always so informative! Although I knew there was a difference between personal trainers and athletic trainers, I wasn't sure exactly what that difference was.

    Thanks for clearing that up.

    (Of course, I'm one of the Cranky Fitness readers who is going to screw up your chances of beating the athletic trainers hands

  12. Not offended at all! I've been working my way through the archives and only now got the nerve up to comment since it's a subject near and dear to my heart. :) However, my dad would be the first to admit that he needs to be better on the exercise front...I think part of the problem might be that since they spend so much time in the sports arena, the last thing they feel like doing in their "off" time is working out.

  13. I always get squinty-eyed when I see people in the health/exercise/medical field who aren't doing what they preach. I know, I know, I'm being judgmental.

    But nothing gets me more riled than driving past a hospital and seeing all the doctors and nurses on their smoke break! Ach!

  14. I am torn about the 'practice what you preach' mentality when it comes to personal or athletic trainers (or doctors or nutritionists). But just as I'd much less likely to listen to diet/nutrition advice from a grossly overweight dietitian, I would find it hard to take exercise advice from a trainer who didn't exercise.

  15. MizFit's comment cracks me up:) I agree those dietary guidelines sound ridic. That is just a ton of food, period. And hey, I've always thought that if the professionals can't even get it 'right' then no wonder there is so much confusion!!

  16. People do it all the time. It's always "do what I say, not as I do" kind of stuff. We get the message early as wee little ones with our parents. Should, could, etc.
    The thing is - you can still tell someone how to act and what will get them there without doing it yourself. I know lots of M.D.'s that smoke and are overweight, relationship specialists that have been divorced, etc. I personally rarely use my degree (psychology) to get ahead with being healthy and losing weight. It's silly, but it's a lot easier to tell others what to do than to identify things in yourself. Too bad, isn't it?

  17. 6 grains/day, huh? Who eats that much fiber? Amazing.

  18. i use the food and exercise guidelines now.........but this is the first time!

    I think the key for my family is to eat healthy most of the time, indulge 1 percent of the time and move every day in some way :)

  19. Tom, the new USDA pyramid is just silly. The companies didn't like the ranking of foods by good at the bottom to bad at the top, so they've tipped them all vertical, replaced them with colors, and labeled them in such tiny letters that you can't tell what's what. The one good thing to come out of it is that there's more of a focus on exercise, what with the cute running guy.

  20. Thank you so much for clearing that up! I think you wrote that you were an "AT" on my comments one day and I was too embarrassed to ask you what it was (I even googled it - LOL)! And we live right up the street from Scottie's Mkt - and you lived on a gorgous road! I DO hike up on that ridge - lots, but we were in Novato the other day on Mt. Burdell above San Marin Dr. Yes, you MUST be familiar with all these "spaces!" Lovely to have them, that's for sure! And again, great post, as always!

  21. I need my Activity Optimized!
    During the moving event I'm not even trying to walk. Carrying furniture and boxes hither and yon will have to do, although there's so little time I can be away that it really doesn't get me feeling exercised. I'm definitely doing the yoga every day, though, or I would stiffen into a statue.

    Mary Anne in Kentucky

  22. LJD--'Fraid it must have been someone else who put the "A.T." down, because the only thing I'm certified to train people in is whining! But I'm glad I discovered from your blog that I'm not the only fan of Open Space trails.

    and Mary Anne, schlepping moving boxes counts DOUBLE as exercise-- I'm sure the Official Guidelines just forgot to mention it.

  23. yeah athletic trainers are more first aid and sports specific based. So I guess it doesnt really suprise me- they arent really there to work out the athlete, they are there to make sure they are healthy and injury free. BUT if you are in an athletic feild of any kind, I would think you would be more health conscious than the avergae person. guess not.

    Kelly Turner

  24. Great post! I am seriously considering getting my ATC, but now I'm afraid that it will put me in this dark gray area of physically conscious ATC's! If the vicious club starts hazing me and I follow suit, it will only come back to you for turning me on to all these truths!

  25. Well Diana I do eat that many grains, but I think it's cause of my running.

    I thought an athletic trainer was a sports bra or a jock strap, so look what i learned today!

  26. Athletic trainer moment of the day.

    *It's a fiece game of a football code most of you wouldn't have heard of. A player lands badly from a jump and hurts his leg. Play is stoped. The teams athletic trainer runs to the injured players side, and his teammates make a wall around him. The athletic trainer from the other team has also run onto the ground to look at the injured player, so that he can report on his condition to the opposition coach. The fullback from the injured player's team spots the opposition AT trying to sticky beak, and pushes him away from the wall of players. The AT falls onto the ground and spends the next 5 minutes doing his impression of a turtle stuck on it's back. He remains on the ground until his assistant runs on and helps him up.*

  27. our hockey team had an at (okay, we had like four that rotated), so i definitely knew the difference between athletic and personal trainers.

    thinking about it, the ats that were in shape were typically the at students (the program at bu was actually one of the hardest in the country, iirc. of course, the university-wide grade deflation didn't help) while the ones that had been in the biz a while weren't in the greatest of shape.

    still, i would have (and, on rare occasions, did) trusted my body to any of them.

  28. It's my first time to drop by in your blog and I enjoy reading it. It's very informative. Keep up the good and hope to get more great posts from you.

  29. you actually have no real insight as to what ATC's do! why don't you tag along with an ATC working 65-75 hours a week with family duties and I'm sure you will see it differently! you might actually learn what it is that ATC's really do - most of you are getting ATC's mixed up with what personal trainers do.

  30. My goodness, comments on this topic definitely run the gamut... or perhaps I should say the gauntlet?

  31. I would think that anyone working in the athletic field would be health conscious, but alas I am also wrong... have you seen the KU football coach??

  32. I never really thought that athletic trainers took their own advice! Very interesting post and follow up comments.

  33. Hi there. Nice blog. If you would like to incorporate fitness videos single ones or related lists to support a topic of one of your posts or widgets for your side bar, please check out

  34. just to be clear... ATC's DO NOT DIAGNOSE...

    Reade Whitney, ATC

  35. Just want to mention that Athletic Trainers have to be with their designated team at all times. That means all practices, games, events, meets, rehabilitation sessions, whether they are traveling, at home, up at 5 AM, practicing until midnight and so on. Yes, perhaps ATs should "follow the guidelines" a bit more, but didn't the author of the article acknowledge that "real life" does indeed get in the way of the ridiculous guidelines? Now imagine that your life revolves around a team's schedule (and getting paid by said team)...when you work 60-70 hour weeks, your work becomes your life and you have little to no time to truly consider your own health.
    Believe it or not, I was not truly offended by this article, but I bet that anyone in the medical field can attest that the long hours they work often take precedence over their own health (just ask the nurses I see smoking outside of their hospitals).
    A little information never hurt anyone! :)

  36. I'm a Certified and Licensed Athletic Trainer. Let me first say that Athletic Trainers are healthcare professionals who are responsible for the prevention, assessment(not diagnosis...only a physician can diagnose), management, and conditioning (return to play/work)of physically active individuals...not just athletes (however, some states define in their laws that ATC's can only legally perform the duties of an ATC if they work in a athletic setting). I actually work for a large energy company in a state that allows me to function as an ATC outside of the sports realm. We are physician extenders (similar to nurses and physical therapists). There are many ATC's who do not take care of themselves like they should, which is a disgrace because you have to be in top shape to perform your daily duties. Time spent on the job is an obstacle but no excuse. I have only 4 hours of free time 6 out of 7 days of the week (like most working class people). I make the time to exercise and eat right and I expect my clients to do the same. I take into account evidence-based research in exercise physiology and nutrition, but exercise and nutrition should be result driven, not soley by relying on guidlines.


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