Difference Between Personal Trainer & Exercise Physiologist

Personal trainers and exercise physiologists both work with people to improve their overall physical health, but their work environment and functions differ. A look at the educational requirements, job duties, and job outlook will help you to choose which career is right for you.

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Comparing Personal Trainers to Exercise Physiologists

Careers as personal trainers and exercise physiologists are suitable for those who like helping others. The key differences between these two physical, activity-centered professions are outlined below.

Job Title Education Requirements Median Salary (2016)* Job Growth (2014-2024)*
Personal Trainer High School Diploma or Equivalent $38,160 (Fitness Trainers & Aerobics Instructors) 8% ((Fitness Trainers & Aerobics Instructors)
Exercise Physiologist Bachelor's Degree $47,340 11%

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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  • Kinesiology and Exercise Science
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Responsibilities of Personal Trainers vs. Exercise Physiologists

Both of these careers are dedicated to the health and well-being of the people they work with, but a personal trainer works with their clients to establish and achieve personal fitness goals. In contrast, exercise physiologists work with patients who suffer from chronic conditions and focus on better managing those conditions through physical activity.

Personal Trainers

As a personal trainer, you have the flexibility to choose your work environment. You could work in a gym or health resort, or work independently and visit clients in their homes. Personal trainers typically work with clients on a one-on-one basis, but may decide to train clients in a small group. You will conduct a needs assessment with clients, determining what they would like to improve through physical activity, establish an individualized plan for them, and meet regularly with clients to achieve their goals. Personal trainers will need a high school diploma; however, a bachelor's degree and certification is often desirable. For those who wish to become certified in physical fitness, you will likely need to obtain certification in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and the use of automated external defibrillators.

Job responsibilities of a personal trainer include:

  • Modeling the correct form and use of various fitness equipment
  • Observing clients perform exercises using machines
  • Providing clients with guidance on how to live a healthier lifestyle through diet and exercise
  • Administering first aid services in the event of an emergency

Exercise Physiologist

Exercise physiologists specialize in utilizing physical activity to improve their patients' quality of life, many of whom have heart or lung conditions. As an exercise physiologist, you may work independently, at a hospital or in private practice. You will utilize patients' medical history and basic medical tests to develop tailored treatment plans for them. As an exercise physiologist, you will need a bachelor's degree, with many in the field choosing to pursue a master's degree. Some in the field choose to become certified through either the American Society of Exercise Physiologists or the American College of Sports Medicine.

Job responsibilities of an exercise physiologist include:

  • Administering fitness and stress tests to determine a patient's current condition
  • Collaborating with primary care providers on patients who would benefit from their services
  • Taking and keeping a record of patients' vitals, such as heart rhythm, blood pressure, and oxygen levels
  • Ensuring their patients' safety during clinical testing

Related Careers

If you would like to become a personal trainer, consider a job as an athletic trainer, as both careers involve working with clients on physical fitness. Those interested in a position as an exercise physiologist may be interested in a job as an occupational therapist, as both jobs focus on working with patients to recover from illness or injury.

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