Online Physical Fitness Degrees: Program Overviews by Level

Get information about online physical fitness degree programs. Read about program details and requirements, course descriptions, as well as career options.

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Essential Information

Online degree programs in exercise science are available at the associate's degree level. Interested students can also earn a bachelor's degree in fitness and wellness or a master's degree in kinesiology. Many programs are offered completely via distance learning, but some are offered in a hybrid format in which attendance at campus-based sessions may be required. The education and professional credentialing required for careers in physical fitness varies by job title, employer, and state.

Associate's Degrees in Exercise Science

Individuals who earn an Associate of Applied Science or Associate of Science in Exercise Science can find employment in physical fitness and training industries. Students learn about the fundamentals of general health and wellness, basics of exercise safety, effective training, and proper nutrition. Personal trainers and coaches work with individuals and groups to build muscle flexibility, strength, and endurance. Their efforts also help develop healthy workout habits and establish good nutrition as a lifestyle choice.

Program Information and Requirements

An associate's degree program typically takes two years to complete. Some programs may be completed fully online, while others require minimal on-campus attendance. Instructors use a course management system, online presentations, and e-mail to communicate with students. All enrollees need a computer with high-speed Internet access and current operating system.

List of Common Exercise Science Courses

Along with core general education courses, such as English, mathematics and history, students take focused courses in physical fitness. Courses at the associate's level give students a basic knowledge, understanding and vocabulary of physical fitness and prepare them for further education.

Beginning Physical Fitness

Students look at a career in physical fitness from a public and private standpoint. Special topics include the evaluation of fitness facilities, daily operations, client options, human resources issues, legal issues and successful administration.

Physical Fitness for Special Groups

This class focuses on developing and administering fitness regimens for seniors, children and individuals with special needs. The course stresses appropriate, yet challenging, activity selection and restriction accommodation.

Prescriptions and Exercise

Students use fitness-related data to assess current physical fitness and form personalized exercise programs. Topics of special interest include exercise habits, risk avoidance, fitness-related technology, cardio-related benefits, flexibility, endurance and muscle building.

Bachelor's Degrees in Fitness and Wellness

Students interested in a physical fitness career will find a Bachelor of Science in Fitness and Wellness extremely beneficial. Such programs provide a comprehensive and working knowledge of healthy exercise and living from a physical and emotional standpoint. The curriculum focuses on physical fitness related to such subjects as basic human anatomy, best exercise practices, proper nutrition, and the psychology of exercise. Graduates with a bachelor's degree will generally find employment easier than with an associate's degree.

Program Information and Requirements

Bachelor's degree programs in fitness and wellness, which are usually completed in four years, are available completely online. Distance learners need an up-to-date computer with an Internet connection. Additional requirements include an e-mail address as well as audio and video streaming software. Students engage in class activity by accessing course management systems, such as Blackboard, and viewing online presentations.

List of Common Fitness and Wellness Courses

Fitness and wellness majors take introductory and advanced classes in basic health and wellness, physical fitness and disease prevention. They also complete general education requirements.

Human Anatomy

Students get an overview of human anatomy and how this knowledge applies to physical fitness. Systems, such as the respiratory, circulatory, muscular and skeletal, are topics of special interest. This course may contain a laboratory component

Injury Prevention

This course gives students knowledge on how to prevent injuries related to physical fitness. Students cover relevant topics, such as facility safety, proper supervision, injury recognition, appropriate response and follow-up.

Psychology of Exercise

Enrollees explore the mental aspects of exercise. Students look at how exercise is tied to psychological and physical well-being, as well as mental tactics, including motivation, rewarded behavior and exercise adherence.

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Master's Degrees in Kinesiology

A Master of Science in Kinesiology may be an advantage, but not a necessity, for individuals seeking jobs as coaches, trainers, athletes, or physical fitness teachers. Certain master's programs allow concentrations within kinesiology, such as coaching or physical education. Students take advanced courses covering issues related to the human body and motion. They look at exercise and sports from a physiological, biological and psychological standpoint.

Program Information and Requirements

A master's degree program can usually be completed in 2-3 years. Some master's degree programs require an on-campus visit at some point in the course sequence. Online students require a computer and Internet access. Instructors create a virtual learning environment by combining traditional texts with online media and course management systems. Communication with instructors and fellow classmates is conducted via e-mail.

List of Common Courses in Kinesiology

A kinesiology curriculum comprises almost entirely of courses in the field of health science and exercise and typically culminates in a thesis or research project. Students continue to build upon the principles of physical fitness and education, health and wellness learned at the undergraduate level.

Basic Administration in Sports

This course examines the policies, challenges and procedures in sports administration. Students focus on critical issues, such as staff and self-evaluation the social development and emotional growth of athletes, effective contest management, human resources, financial responsibilities, legal issues, risk management procedures and facility safety..

Injury Prevention and Sport Safety

This course takes into consideration the well being of athletes. Students look at preventative measures, injury assessment and management, good nutrition and environmental safety, along with other administrative issues.

Coaching Psychology

Students learn about concepts and principles of sport psychology, such as leadership, motivation, group dynamics, aggression, discipline and diversity. They look at sports psychology from the viewpoints of the student, athlete, coach, teacher and parents.

Career Information

Graduates with an associate's degree in exercise science may be able to find employment as personal trainers. Such professionals have the flexibility to work on a freelance basis or be employed at a number of places, such as hotels and gyms. Further certification, such as in CPR, may be required. As of October 2016, reported that most personal trainers earned an annual salary ranging from $20,764 to $85,484.

A variety of career options are open to bachelor's degree holders, such as personal trainer, fitness director, physical education teacher, athlete or coach. Certifications for certain positions may be required. As of 2014, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that 58% of all personal trainers worked in fitness and recreational sports centers ( The BLS also projected an 8% increase, which is average for all occupations, in employment for fitness workers over the 2014-2024 decade, as increased awareness of the life-changing benefits and participation in physical fitness grows.

Kinesiology graduates go on to hold jobs as athletic coaches and trainers, physical therapists and physical education teachers, among other positions. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary among coaches and scouts as of 2015 was $31,000.

Online undergraduate and graduate degree programs that cover physical fitness tend to be highly interdisciplinary, combining scientific coursework in human anatomy and physiology with classes in athletic training and nutritional strategies, as well as explorations of wellness- and sports-related psychology and motivation. Graduates can pursue a variety of careers, such as coaches, trainers or sports administrators.

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