Exercise Physiologist: Job Description and Career Information

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

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Exercise physiology is a subset of kinesiology where exercise is the point of focus. These professionals create fitness and exercise programs, usually for athletes and rehab facilities. An undergraduate degree in an exercise-related major is required for this job, but higher education can allow for more career options.

Essential Information

Exercise physiologists work in a variety of careers, from athletic training to rehabilitation. The career options depend on an individual's education level and the type of exercise physiology training that they receive. Educational programs include coursework and hands-on training in several related types of fields.

Required Education Bachelor's degree
Certification Voluntary Exercise Physiologist Certified (EPC) credential
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 11% (faster than average)
Average Salary (2015)* $49,740 per year

Source:*U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Exercise Physiologist Job Description

According to the American Society of Exercise Physiologists (ASEP), exercise physiology includes the study, assessment and improvement of human biomechanical movement ( Unlike personal trainers, who can work without a license or degree, exercise physiologists typically need a degree and professional certification. While some of these professionals create training programs for athletes, they could also work for companies or universities. Exercise physiologists typically need to understand nutrition and movement systems.

Career Options

There are two major concentrations of exercise physiology, clinical and applied. Applied exercise physiology relates to careers in athletic development, such as employee fitness directors and athletic trainers. Clinical exercise physiology professionals can work in rehabilitation and other therapeutic programs under the supervision of a physician. Individuals who hold a doctorate in either concentration could instruct or perform research at the university level.

Find schools that offer these popular programs

  • Kinesiology and Exercise Science
  • Physical Education and Health
  • Sport and Fitness Management
  • Sports Medicine

Info and Education for an Exercise Physiologist Career

Bachelor's Degree Options

Students interested in becoming an exercise physiologist could start by enrolling in a bachelor's degree program in exercise physiology, exercise science or a related major. Many programs require a course that leads to certification in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). Curricula also commonly cover topics in kinesiology, nutrition and fitness concepts. The capstone requirement for graduation may be a full-time clinical internship in a branch of the student's choosing.

Master's Degrees

Master's degree programs in exercise physiology include research and coursework in statistics. Topics that delve into major body mechanisms, such as the neuromuscular and cardiopulmonary systems, are typically required among core curricula. Some programs give students the option of completing a thesis or internship for graduation, while others require a comprehensive exam. Master's degree programs specific to either applied or clinical exercise physiology are available.

Doctoral Degree Programs

Individuals interested in research or teaching could consider earning a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree. Doctoral programs usually specialize in the practice of exercise physiology within certain populations, such as obese, elderly and pediatric subjects. Many Ph.D. programs include advanced coursework and labs in clinical and applied exercise physiology.

Board Certification

Exercise physiologists interested in advancing their careers can consider earning the Exercise Physiologist Certified (EPC) title conferred by the AESP. To be eligible, individuals must have appropriate education and meet experience requirements. Applicants need to pass written and applied exams that test them on subjects like kinesiology and biomechanics. Once certified, the EPC is valid for five years.

Salary Information

As of May 2015, the BLS reported that exercise physiologists earned an average annual salary of $49,740. Those employed by the federal government and colleges and universities had the potential to earn the highest salaries.

To work in this field, a minimum of a bachelor's degree in a relevant field is needed. Exercise physiologists can work with athletes or physically impaired or injured patients, implementing rehabilitation or fitness programs. Certification isn't required, but it may increase job potential.

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