The Most Effective Method of Learning Anatomy as a Personal Trainer

Learning Anatomy Through Movement

Have you ever struggled with learning anatomy?  You’re not alone.  As students, many trainers and coaches struggle with learning anatomy.

Many variables contribute to student success, and every student is unique, bringing their distinct backgrounds, perspectives, and learning styles.  However, some commonalities within human anatomy and physiology classrooms make it especially difficult for instructors to guide students toward success. 

As explained by Vitali et al. (2020), “the study of human anatomy requires significant intellectual effort to identify the diverse structures and their internal organization, as well as comprehension of their relationships with other structures of the body” (p. 289).  This often makes students intimidated by what is often seen as one of the most challenging courses within their curriculum. 

If students do not have a strong science background and have had a negative previous experience in biosciences, they can become “science-phobic.”1  For students such as this, the challenging areas of human anatomy and physiology need to be presented in a manner that helps students overcome anxiety and support repetition/memorization learning and the conceptual understanding required 1.

The need for students to be able to critically apply a large volume of information in human anatomy and physiology courses creates a paradox for many due to improper learning strategies.  Due to the large amount of content, many students have the misconception that they must focus on memorization over reasoning skills. 

Put another way, students often misconstrue memorization for understanding 2.  However, it has been argued that undergraduate students need to have a paradigm shift away from surface learning approaches emphasizing memorization toward deeper learning strategies “characterized by a drive to understand underlying principles and concepts by grappling meaningfully with content”  3. 

The diverse background of students within a typical undergraduate anatomy and physiology class (e.g., major, socioeconomic, preparedness for university, etc.) often leads to students with different challenges that the instructor must be able to address 4,5.  

Why Anatomy Education is Important for Personal Trainers

Fitness professionals need to have a good grasp of musculoskeletal anatomy so as to best design and instruct their clients and athletes on the safest and most effective workouts possible.  This post is the first in a series of articles to teach musculoskeletal anatomy in a very practical, user-friendly way.

The key in this series is to MOVE.  To learn the anatomy of movement (i.e., the musculoskeletal systems), making kinesthetic connections to our own movement makes sense.  When you read a section on a particular joint and the muscles that move it, we highly encourage you to move those joints on yourself and think about the muscles in your body creating that movement.

I often joke with my PFT students that they need to be super-trainers in that they need X-ray vision to “see” what is happening inside their clients’ bodies.  I also feel that to learn musculoskeletal anatomy well, the first body you need to be able to “see” inside of is your own.

How to Study Anatomy Effectively

So, to start this process, we will begin with the upper extremity – specifically the shoulder complex.  Think about all the various movements you can create with your shoulder joint (i.e., the glenohumeral joint is the most mobile joint in the body).  Think about WHY this joint is so mobile.  Also, notice how the shoulder blade (scapula) and collar bone (clavicle) will also move with the arm bone (humerus).  What we find is that the “shoulder” is really the “shoulder complex,” made up of three bones and four primary joints that work together to allow us to put our hand wherever we need it to be, to push, pull, throw, reach, etc.

Where Can You Learn More?

Be on the lookout for future articles about more ways to get an endless stream of clients for your training or coaching business. You will also want to search through the archives of our blog because there are many other articles that go into great depth about dozens of other ways to get clients.

There is always something exciting about earning a new training or coaching certification and applying that new knowledge of how you train your clients. This also helps you hit the reset button.

NESTA and Spencer Institute has been helping people like you since 1992. To date, over 65,000 people from around the world have benefited from our various certifications, programs, continuing education courses and business development systems. We are here for you now and in the future. Feel confident in your decision to work with us as you advance your knowledge and career. We are here for you each step of the way.

Click this link to see our complete list of programs (all of which qualify for CEUs for our programs and others).

That’s it for now.

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  1. Johnston, A. N. B. et al. Student learning styles in anatomy and physiology courses: Meeting the needs of nursing students.  Nurse Educ. Pract. 15, 415–420 (2015).
  2. Miller, S. A., Perrotti, W., Silverthorn, D. U., Dalley, A. F. & Rarey, K. E. From college to clinic: Reasoning over memorization is key for understanding anatomy.  Anat. Rec. 269, 69–80 (2002).
  3. McLean, S., Attardi, S. M., Faden, L. & Goldszmidt, M. Flipped classrooms and student learning: Not just surface gains.  Adv. Physiol.  Educ. 40, 47–55 (2016).
  4. Higgins-Opitz, S. B. & Tufts, M. Performance of first-year health sciences students in a large, diverse, multidisciplinary, first-semester, physiology service module.  Adv. Physiol.  Educ. 38, 161–169 (2015).
  5. Anderton, R. S. et al. Student Perceptions to Teaching Undergraduate Anatomy in Health Sciences.  Int. J. High.  Educ. 5, 201–216 (2016).