Exercise Science Degrees by Degree Program Level

Exercise science degree programs are available at both the undergraduate and graduate levels and prepare students for careers in physical training, fitness instruction, health promotion and more. Some graduates may choose to pursue further education.

Essential Information

Those interested in becoming a fitness instructor or personal trainer may pursue an associate's degree or bachelor's degree in exercise science. These programs cover the fundamentals of business, anatomy and physiology, medical terminology, exercise and nutrition. Bachelor's programs sometimes include specializations like strength training, and students usually complete internships. Master's degree programs in exercise science usually offer concentrations, such as coaching, sports psychology or health and wellness. The advanced fitness and health coursework and clinical components in these programs can lead to careers in fitness training, health promotion or rehabilitation. For associate's and bachelor's degree programs, students will need to hold a high school diploma or equivalent, while master's degree applicants will be required to have completed a bachelor's degree first.

Associate's Degree Programs in Exercise Science

An associate's degree program in exercise science prepares students for entry-level positions and certification as personal trainers or fitness instructors, among others. These programs cover topics in nutrition, fitness and wellness. Students learn medical terminology and business essentials and find out how to create specific training programs based on a client's needs. Courses in associate's degree programs include basics in biology and psychology and teach students about methods for working with clients who have ongoing health concerns. Classes include:

  • Anatomy
  • Exercise physiology
  • Fitness theory and assessment
  • Nutrition and diet therapy
  • Pharmacology
  • Exercise for special populations

Bachelor's Degree Programs

A bachelor's degree program in exercise science focuses on scientific aspects of health and wellness. Students learn about the injuries and illnesses that affect the body and about appropriate exercise and diet methods. Concepts covered in these programs can include nutrition, health psychology, human physiology, kinesiology and biomechanics. Most programs require real-life experience in the form of an internship. Some programs include courses focused on physical education activities or team sports. It's also possible to choose a concentration in some programs, and options can include strength training or outdoor adventures. Examples of courses include:

  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Physiology of exercise
  • Sports nutrition
  • Biochemistry
  • Resistance training

Master's Degree Programs

Master's degree programs in exercise science can help students prepare for advanced career opportunities in areas like health promotion, rehabilitation and fitness training. These programs offer a variety of concentrations, including health and wellness, strength training, sports psychology, injury prevention and coaching. Both thesis and non-thesis options are available to students. An advanced exercise degree program combines high-level courses with research opportunities. The curriculum focuses on in-depth research-based and clinical studies. Courses in this program include:

  • Epidemiology
  • Exercise testing
  • Health promotion
  • Movement science
  • Research methods and data analysis

Popular Career Options

Graduates with an exercise science degree are ready to perform fitness and health assessment and able to create nutritional and training regimens. Careers in fitness training and instruction usually require CPR and first aid training along with additional certification in these areas. Certification generally requires that applicants take a test, and an associate's degree could be required for advanced credentials, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Career opportunities include:

  • Personal trainer
  • Recreation specialist
  • Strength coach

Salary Info and Employment Outlook

The BLS reports that career opportunities for fitness trainers and aerobics instructors are going to increase 8% from 2014 through 2024. As health concerns grow among baby boomers and child obesity continues to rise, an emphasis is going to be placed on improving health and fitness levels. As of May 2015, the BLS salary report stated the median salary for aerobics instructors and fitness trainers was $36,160.

Continuing Education

Students interested in academic careers in this field can find Ph.D. programs in exercise science. These programs are generally research intensive and require that students complete dissertations. Coursework can include grant writing, epidemiology and research ethics.

Exercise science degree programs educate students about all aspects of health, fitness and wellness. After graduating these programs, students will work at varying levels in the field, from entry-level jobs as fitness instructors to more advanced positions as designing exercise and nutrition plans.

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