Fitness Degrees by Degree Program Level

Apr 24, 2020

Essential Information

Individuals interested in pursuing a fitness degree can enroll in programs at the associate, bachelor's, master's and doctoral degree levels. Many of these programs include hands-on internships and clinical training opportunities. Fields within this area include health, exercise science, physical education, sport, recreation and fitness management, and exercise physiology. Depending on education and work experience, graduates of a fitness degree program can often find work as personal trainers, coaches and fitness instructors.

Prerequisites for these programs may include a high school diploma or the equivalent, as well as current immunization, liability insurance, standardized test scores, first aid and CPR certification, and a related undergraduate degree or relevant work experience in the case of master's or doctoral programs.

Associate of Applied Science in Health or Physical Fitness Specialist

At the associate degree level, students gain foundational knowledge of fitness and its effects on the human body. They also learn about the human mind's response to physical exertion. Upon graduation, students are prepared for entry-level work in the field or for continuation toward a fitness-related bachelor's degree. Students in a 2-year fitness degree program are required to take general education classes. They take core classes in:

  • Anatomy
  • Physiology
  • Nutrition
  • Foundations in kinesiology
  • Resistance and endurance training

Bachelor of Arts in Science in Physical Education

Students enrolled in a physical education bachelor's degree program learn leadership skills and develop knowledge of fitness and sports activities. Specializations may be available in particular areas of fitness education, such as team sports, strength training, dance or water sports. Programs may or may not lead to teaching licensure. At the 4-year level, students usually complete a capstone project. Throughout the program, they take classes in:

  • Fitness and health management
  • Physical fitness for disabled students
  • Biomechanics
  • Recreational leadership
  • Fitness lessons for students of all ages

Bachelor of Science Degree in Health and Exercise Science

Fitness degrees at the bachelor's degree level lay a framework for understanding exercise, health and the general impact of fitness on the body. Much of the curriculum in fitness degree programs emphasizes practical applications. Graduates are typically prepared to take industry certification exams, such as the one offered by the National Strength and Conditioning Association. At the bachelor's degree level, students take core classes in fitness science and participate in internship experiences. They learn about:

  • Developing exercise programs
  • Sports training
  • Injury prevention
  • Fitness tests and measurements
  • First aid

Master of Science Degree in Sport, Recreation and Fitness Management

Graduate-level fitness degree programs prepare individuals to work in leadership positions within schools and corporate recreation programs. The Master of Science degree program in Sport, Recreation and Fitness Management covers advanced topics in the psychology and theory of modern recreation science. Students can often specialize in sports marketing, coaching or administration. Students must generally complete a graduate thesis or senior project and internships are usually required. Throughout the fitness program, they take courses in:

  • Leadership
  • Educational aspects of sports
  • Legalities involved in sports recreation
  • Handling stress
  • Statistics

Ph.D. in Exercise Physiology

Fitness degrees at the postgraduate level often cover advanced research in targeted areas of fitness science. Students enrolled in a Ph.D. program in exercise physiology develop in-depth knowledge of theories and practical applications in fitness training. They learn how the human body is affected by fitness, metabolism and obesity. Programs require over 85 credit hours of advanced research, seminars, teaching assistantships and clinical practicum. Students may be able to take 12-15 credits in a related field, such as psychology or molecular biology and may also specialize in a particular area of exercise physiology. Core fitness classes include:

  • Effects of fitness on the brain
  • Advanced nutrition
  • Issues in female health and fitness
  • Human lifecycle and fitness
  • Medications used in exercise professions

Popular Career Options

Graduates of an associate degree in physical fitness can work for exercise facilities, rehabilitation centers and industry manufacturers. Job titles may include:

  • Fitness equipment salesperson
  • Gym manager
  • Fitness instructor
  • Resort activity specialist
  • Recreation supervisor

Fitness bachelor's degree programs prepare students for careers in the health, wellness and fitness industries. Specific job titles can include:

  • Personal trainer
  • Health consultant
  • Fitness center administrator
  • Athletic trainer
  • Strength and conditioning coach

Graduates of a doctoral fitness degree program can work in government agencies, universities and corporations. Specific job titles often include:

  • Professor
  • Scholarly researcher and writer
  • Biomechanics professional
  • Health policy developer
  • Clinical fitness physiologist

Employment Outlook and Salary

Beginning in 2018 and continuing through 2028, employment of kindergarten and elementary teachers is predicted to rise 3%, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS, Secondary school teachers are projected to see a job growth of 4% that same decade. Additionally, elementary school teachers earned mean wages of $63,930, while secondary school teachers averaged $65,930 in May 2019.

From 2018-2028, employment of scouts and coaches is predicted to increase 11%, according to the BLS. The same government agency noted that in May 2019, these professionals earned a median salary of $34,840.

Fitness degrees can be pursued at the associate, bachelor's, master's, and doctoral level, depending on a student's career goals and interests. Potential careers for graduates can range from teaching positions and coaches, to health policy developers and personal trainers.

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