Exercise Physiologist: Educational Requirements and Career Summary

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become an exercise physiologist. Get an overview of the requirements--such as job duties, degree programs and certification--to find out if this career is right for you.

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Exercise physiologists are often required to hold at least a bachelor's degree but graduate degrees are fairly common in the industry. Read on to learn more about the educational requirements and a career summary of this profession.

Essential Information

Exercise physiologists develop exercise regimens for clients who are looking to improve their athletic performance or overcome a serious injury. Prospective exercise physiologists usually need a bachelor's degree at minimum. They might earn professional certifications that enhance their chances of finding employment.

Required Education Bachelor's degree; master's degrees are common
Other Requirements Voluntary board certification through American Society of Exercise Physiologists
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 11%
Average Salary (2015)* $49,740

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Educational Requirements for an Exercise Physiologist

Undergraduate Education

Prospective exercise physiologists might be able to find work with a bachelor's degree. The curricula of bachelor's degree programs in exercise physiology may include prerequisite science coursework in chemistry, physics and biology. Courses specific to exercise physiology might include exercise methods, such as exercise management and sports conditioning. Additional courses in medical terminology, nutrition and gross anatomy may also be required.

Bachelor's degree programs incorporate hands-on learning through lab sessions and field experience. Laboratory sessions allow students to practice the exercise techniques and procedures learned in lectures. During field experience, students work with experienced exercise physiologists and receive evaluations on their performance.

Graduate Education

Positions in exercise physiology may require a master's degree, according to the Florida Health Careers website (www.flahec.org). Some schools give students the option of choosing either a clinical or thesis track, both of which include coursework in statistics and research design. Clinical tracks focus on the practice of exercise physiology and include significant clinical experience. Thesis tracks focus on advanced research and may be more appropriate for students who plan to earn a doctorate.

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) programs may be required for individuals who wish to teach or conduct research at the university level. These programs typically allow students some flexibility in designing their curricula to focus on specific areas in exercise physiology, such as neuromuscular efficiency and metabolic responses to exercise. Required coursework may include topics in kinesiology or exercise science. Ph.D. students often teach undergraduates and have to pass comprehensive exam requirements.

Certifications

The American Society of Exercise Physiologists (ASEP) offers the Exercise Physiologist Certified (EPC) exam, which leads to board certification (www.asep.org). The EPC exam is made up of two parts, a written section and an applied section. During the applied section, individuals are tested on their applied knowledge through simulations and procedures using equipment. To be eligible for this exam, applicants must meet educational requirements that include contact hours. Once certified, individuals must meet continuing education standards.

Employers may prefer to hire those with other professional certifications. The American College of Sports Medicine offers the Registered Clinical Exercise Physiologist credential, which requires applicants to have a master's degree and 600 hours of clinical experience (www.acsm.org). Certifications through the National Academy of Sports Medicine or the National Strength and Conditioning Association may be preferred by some employers.

Career Information for an Exercise Physiologist

The ASEP defines exercise physiology as the treatment and rehabilitation of the physiological mechanisms that facilitate physical activity. Exercise physiologists may apply these principles to working with a range of clientele, from athletes to individuals suffering from serious illnesses. These professionals work in a variety of settings, including rehabilitation clinics, professional or college organizations or a private practice. According to the Health Professions Network, exercise physiologists may work as equipment industry researchers or as supervisors for lifestyle or wellness programs (www.healthpronet.org).

O*Net Online indicates that exercise physiologists may conduct a variety of tests that measure body fat percentage, oxygen consumption and other variables (www.onetonline.org). They may use these and other tests to track the results of an individual on a prescribed exercise program. O*Net states that exercise physiologists may demonstrate proper form or how to use exercise equipment to a patient. They may work with other health professionals, such as physical therapists or dietitians.

Career Outlook and Salary Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment opportunities for exercise physiologists were expected to increase 11 percent from 2014-2024. While opportunities may vary for exercise physiologists, jobs will be created by the increasing population and the need for research in exercise science. In May 2015, the BLS reported that exercise physiologists earned an average salary of $49,740 per year.

Opportunities for aspiring exercise physiologist are projected to grow throughout the decade. Be sure to carefully review education requirements, career info and salary statistics before deciding if this is the career for you.

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