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Physical Fitness Degree and Certification Program Information

Undergraduate programs in physical fitness provide students with training in exercise theory, wellness and healthy behavior. Anatomy, psychology, nutrition and exercise courses help students understand how physical fitness is part of a healthy lifestyle.

Essential Information

Physical fitness degree programs involve the study of exercise, fitness, health and nutrition. Programs at the associate's degree level cover the human body in relation to safe and effective exercise. Bachelor's degree programs provide more-advanced instruction in physical fitness assessment and comprehensive training regarding sports, fitness and health. Certification in the field 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 salespeople or gym owners.

  • Program Levels in Physical Fitness: Associate's degree, bachelor's degree, master's degree
  • Physical Fitness Program Fields: Exercise science, kinesiology, and physical fitness
  • Prerequisites: High school diploma or equivalent; fitness exam; first aid certification
  • Additional Requirements: Hands-on learning with exercise equipment

Associate's Degree in Physical Fitness

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 moving on to higher education. Common courses might include the following:

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

Bachelor of Science in Exercise Science or Kinesiology

Bachelor's degree programs in this field, often classified as exercise science or kinesiology, sometimes offer physical fitness concentrations. Students might learn to design programs that reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and improve general well-being. 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

Popular Career Options

A bachelor's degree program in physical fitness can prepare students for careers in strength and conditioning coaching, corporate fitness training or athletics coaching. 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

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that employment of fitness trainers and instructors was expected to increase 13% from 2012-2022 (www.bls.gov). According to the BLS, as of 2014, the annual median salary of fitness workers and aerobics instructors was $34,980.

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 passing written and practical exams are 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 such as occupational therapy.

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