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Athletic Trainers are Professionals Too


Although athletic training has been around since the 1960s, many people still do not know anything about the profession.  However, in recent years, the profession has seen a growth in interest and in the pursuit of attaining an athletic training education.  While this is the track that we want the profession to keep going, a question to ask is, how can we continue to improve and grow our profession?  The current issue of advancing the athletic training profession by means of additional specializations and certifications will be discussed in this article.

There are many additional certifications, specializations, and educational opportunities that athletic trainers can benefit from learning.  Some of these include:  Graston technique, muscle energy, myofacial release, positional release, functional movement screen, certified personal trainer, corrective exercise specialist, certified/registered orthopedic technician, certified massage therapist, physical therapist assistant, and emergency medical technician.  Other learning opportunities also include doctorate of physical therapy, fellowships, teaching credential, master’s degree in administration or education, registered dietician, nutritionist, yoga or Pilates and testing techniques (i.e. hydration & weighing for wrestling).  Learning about ACL prevention programs such as Sportmetrics or the Prevent injury, Enhance Performance (PEP) program are also beneficial.

Several Certified Athletic Trainers from southern California were surveyed for their opinion of what were the top five specializations or certifications they thought were most important and they are, in order:  Performance enhancement specialist, certified strength and conditioning specialist, earning a teaching credential and/or becoming a first aid & CPR instructor, active release technique, and kinesio-taping.  These five specialties will be outlined further in this article.

The performance enhancement specialist (PES) certification can be earned from the National Academy of Sports Medicine.  It can also be obtained from a few educational programs.  The PES certification is great addition to ones skills because it allows health care professionals to learn cutting-edge information and pass it on to their athletes.  “The advanced techniques in the NASM PES will help performance enhancement professionals create highly individualized, integrated training programs that enrich training and enhance performance.1”  Athletes are now expected to perform at a higher level than ever and the PES certification is a great step that will allow athletes to learn proper biomechanics and sport specific techniques.

Even though the PES certification offers an extra skill set, the cost of the test and learning materials is slightly expensive.  The price for test-only and test-with- materials can range from $550 to $850.  Although the PES is highly recommended and is a good skill to have, the cost to take the test may detour some professionals from taking it.  New graduates and newly certified athletic trainers may be eager to add to their skill set but they will most likely not be able to afford to take the test right out of school.  The NASM PES is also pending in Board of Certification (BOC) approval for continuing education units (CEUs).  Once this is approved, it may give people another reason to choose the NASM PES certification.

The certification in strength and conditioning can be earned from the National Strength and Conditioning Association and is one of the most popular credentials to accompany the athletic training certification.  “Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialists (CSCSs) are professionals who apply scientific knowledge to train athletes for the primary goal of improving athletic performance. They conduct sport-specific testing sessions, design and implement safe and effective strength training and conditioning programs and provide guidance regarding nutrition and injury prevention.2”  In order to qualify for this certification, one must have at least a bachelor’s degree in a related field and have CPR and AED certifications.  Continuing education units are also available after completing and passing the exam.

Although the CSCS is a great resource, some athletic trainers may see it as a conflict of interest because you then get asked to do more weight training room activities than are in your job description.  The price is also a factor to consider for this certification.  The test ranges from $260 to $430 and the study material ranges from $77 to $411.

To become certified to teach first aid, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and automated external defibrillation (AED), you can go to the American Red Cross (ARC) and/or The American Heart Association and sign up for their instructor class.  The ARC class is 3 ½ days and costs $225.  The prerequisites include:  “(1) be at least 16 years of age, (2) Possess a current Fundamentals of Instructor Training (FIT) certificate and (3) Successfully complete any pre-course practical and written testing at the beginning of Instructor Course.3

First aid, CPR, and AED are essentials for athletic trainers and many other allied health care professionals to know.  As athletic trainers, we need to be prepared and know how to act in emergency situations.  The American Red Cross teaches first responders to (1) Check the scene (2) Call for EMS, and (3) Care for the individual until help arrives. Being able to teach first aid, CPR, and AED is a key component to add to ones resume because it not only shows you are interested and active in helping the profession but are also continually re-emphasizing the information for your own continued knowledge.

To learn active release and become certified you must attend a seminar by Dr. P. Michael Leahy who developed and patented the active release techniques (ART).  He teaches the ART protocol, treatment and the 500+ specific moves needed, all over the world.  “The basic premise is simple, just not easy. Shorten the tissue, apply a contact tension and lengthen the tissue or make it slide relative to the adjacent tissue.4”   Active release can be used on over-use injuries, acute conditions and microtrauma injuries.  The idea behind ART is to break up scar tissue and adhesions to allow the muscle to move more freely, thus allowing the athlete to increase their range of motion (ROM) and in turn, increase strength.

I personally observed the use of this technique on a collegiate basketball player who had sustained an acute injury to his biceps brachii muscle belly.  Active release was performed on him for several days and he reported decreased pain along with an increase in ROM and was more easily able to pass and shoot the basketball.

The seminar courses in active release technique are broken into lower extremity, upper extremity, spine, nerve entrapment and biomechanics classes.  In order to attend and participate in these seminars you must be a licensed health care provider (PT, CMT, OT, chiropractor, ATC, etc.) and have malpractice insurance.  The program also recommends that participants have an advanced knowledge of anatomy.  Although this skill set is a great way to improve your resume and knowledge base, it is very costly.  Seminars start at $995 for the spine course and go up to $2190 for the upper and lower extremity courses.  Recertification courses are $795 for each seminar.  For the health provider that does pay to take the course, CEUs are often given.

The kinesio-taping skill set can be obtained by attending a class or seminar.  Kinesio-taping is used for muscle relaxation, muscle facilitation, support, and pain relief.  Different corrective techniques are used to help promote correct joint and muscle function.  There are three different levels of kinesio-taping certification and they range in price from $449 to $699 each.  In order to qualify to become a Certified Kinesio Taping Practitioner (CKTP), the candidate must complete the seminars, and pass the online exam with an 80% or better.  As an alternative method, a home study program and online exam is also available.  Kinesio-taping completion also provides continuing education credits.

Kinesio-taping is still a somewhat debatable and controversial topic.  Some practitioners believe that the technique provides pain relief and lymphatic drainage.  Others believe that there is no scientific evidence that the technique works or does what it claims to do.  Still, others believe that whether or not they believe in the technique themselves, the athletes may buy into the idea and provide the “mental,” placebo treatment needed to heal.  No matter what you believe, it is recommended that you do some research on your own so that you can back up your beliefs.

In conclusion, to advance the profession of athletic training, it has been recommended that we as athletic trainers need to supplement our athletic training education with additional certifications and skill sets.  By doing so, we make ourselves more marketable and therefore we can be hired in many settings, for many different reasons, and for an increased salary.  Clinics tend to hire athletic trainers who also hold a PTA license, high schools like their athletic trainers to have a teaching credential and hospitals may like certifications such as orthopedic or emergency medical technicians.  As we attend classes and seminars to learn new skills, we often interact with other medical professionals, which is a great opportunity to teach them about our profession and sell ourselves as a qualified medical professionals.


1)  National Academy of Sports Medicine. (2010, February 25). The new nasm essentials of sports performance training. Retrieved from http://www.nasm.org/train/

2)  National Strength and Conditioning Association. (2010, February 25). Certified strength and conditioning specialist. Retrieved from http://www.nsca-cc.org/about/why_choose.html

3)  American Red Cross, Riverside County Chapter. (2010, February 25). Training classes: first aid, cpr, caregiving, aquatics. Retrieved from http://www.riversidecounty.redcross.org/

4)  Active Release Techniques A.R.T.. (2010, February 25). The Gold standard in soft tissue treatment. Retrieved from http://www.activerelease.com/

Jennifer Parker is a sports medicine professional working in a physical therapy clinic, and for a community college athletic department.   She also works as a high school and college softball coach.  She recently hired for an adjunct faculty position at the community college level.  She is a graduate student at the United States Sports Academy.  This article is an example of work being done by many Academy students.  For more information on the Academy, please go to http://ussa.edu.


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