Physical Fitness Degree and Certification Program Information

In order to become certified in physical fitness, individuals must earn an associate's or bachelor's degree in physical fitness. Ahead, you can get information on the curriculum of these programs, course examples, common admissions requirements and certification details.

Essential Information

Physical fitness degree programs involve the study of exercise, fitness, health and nutrition. Degrees in physical fitness are commonly found at the associate's and bachelor's degree levels, through graduate programs are also available. Enrollment into these programs often requires a physical examination, a high school diploma and first aid certification.

Certification in the field - in specialty areas like group or individual exercise - is often required and can expand employment opportunities. Degree-holders might work in fitness centers or rehabilitation facilities as personal trainers or instructors, as well as salespersons or gym owners.

Associate's Degree in Physical Fitness

Associate's degree programs in physical fitness, sometimes called exercise science or health and fitness, provide students with introductory training in exercise theory. Students in these programs might learn principles of wellness and healthy behavior. Anatomy, psychology, nutrition and exercise courses provide a background for understanding how physical fitness is part of an overall healthy lifestyle. Hands-on, experiential learning that includes working with various types of fitness equipment, such as aerobic machines and free weights, is often included in the curriculum.

An Associate in Arts (AA) program in physical fitness can help prepare students for entry into a bachelor's degree program, while an Associate in Applied Science (AAS) program is more often designed to train students for employment upon graduation. However, there might be some overlap among the goals of these programs, with AA degree-holders eligible for fitness positions and AAS graduates sometimes continuing on to higher education.

Educational Prerequisites

Physical fitness degree programs at the associate's degree level are typically offered at 2-year community and technical colleges. Most schools require applicants to possess a high school diploma or the equivalent. Because of this program's emphasis on health and fitness, many schools require applicants to pass a physical exam.

Course Topics

Physical fitness programs at the associate's level cover the human body in relation to safe and effective exercise. Common courses might include the following:

  • Human anatomy and physiology
  • Fitness nutrition
  • Cardiovascular exercise
  • Preventing athletic injuries
  • First aid and CPR
  • Balance exercise
  • Resistance training

Popular Career Options

Graduates of an associate's degree program in physical fitness typically are prepared for careers in fitness training or fitness retail work. Common career opportunities include the following:

  • Weight training instructor
  • Aerobics teacher
  • Personal trainer
  • Fitness equipment salesperson
  • Fitness center owner

Bachelor of Science in Physical Fitness

Bachelor's degree programs in this field, often classified as exercise science or kinesiology, sometimes offer physical fitness concentrations. These programs provide instruction in physical fitness assessment as well as comprehensive training regarding sports, fitness and health. Students might learn to design programs that reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and improve general well-being. A bachelor's degree program in physical fitness can prepare students for careers in strength and conditioning coaching, corporate fitness training or athletics coaching.

Educational Prerequisites

Bachelor's degree programs in physical fitness are typically offered at 4-year colleges and universities. Applicants must possess a high school diploma or the equivalent. Many degree programs require ACT or SAT scores. Some programs require students to be trained in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and first aid.

Course Topics

Physical fitness bachelor's degree programs cover a variety topics related to overall health and exercise training. Courses usually include:

  • Sports psychology
  • Exercise physiology
  • Changing health behaviors
  • Motor skills
  • Weight training
  • Biomechanics

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that employment of fitness workers was expected to increase 29% from 2008-2018 ( According to the BLS, as of 2010, the annual median salary of fitness workers and aerobics instructors was $31,090, while the yearly median salary of athletic coaches was $28,340.

Certification and Continuing Education Information

Fitness trainers or instructors might want to become certified by the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA). The group exercise certification takes one day and requires applicants to have group teaching experience. The personal trainer certification takes three days and recommends prior weight training experience. For both certifications, current CPR certification and successful passing of written and practical exams is required.

Instructors or trainers who would like to expand their knowledge base might be interested in becoming certified teachers of Pilates, a popular form of exercise, through the Pilates Method Alliance (PMA). Applicants are required to have at least 720 hours of Pilates employment within the past year or complete a 450-hour Pilates teacher-training program. Aspiring instructors must pass a written exam. Every two years, PMA-Certified Pilates Teachers must become recertified.

Students interested in earning a graduate degree can enroll in a Master of Science in Kinesiology program focused in physical activity, health and wellness or a Master of Science focused in health and fitness. Some health and fitness organizations require employees to have a master's degree for specific positions. Moreover, bachelor's degree-holders might choose to pursue a professional degree in a field like occupational therapy.

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