Exercise Science Professions: Educational Requirements

Oct 20, 2021

Exercise science professionals include exercise physiologists and athletic trainers. A bachelor's degree is required to enter these career fields. It's also an option to pursue professional certification and graduate studies in exercise science.

Essential Information

Aspiring exercise professionals may earn a Bachelor of Science in Exercise Science or related field in order to become more competitive in the job market. These 4-year education programs provide students with an understanding of the human body as it relates to exercise, nutrition and fitness.

Although most professions only require a bachelor's degree, graduate programs do exist. A Master of Science in Exercise Science is another viable option for those interested in exercise science professions. These degree programs can be completed in 1-2 years, and particularly ambitious students can pursue a PhD in Exercise Science or Physiology, the highest degree available in the field.

Career Exercise Physiologists Athletic Trainers
Education Requirements Bachelor's degree Bachelor's degree
Projected Job Growth (2019-2029)* 11% 16%
Median Salary (2020)* $54,020 $52,230

*Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Options

Education in exercise science provides students with the opportunity to become physical trainers, fitness directors or enter exercise research careers, among many more. A few popular careers are highlighted below, in addition to important certification information for graduates.

Athletic Trainers

Athletic trainers specialize in diagnosing injuries and helping athletes recover. Trainers can work independently, with a gym, and sometimes with athletic teams and clubs, and may be called upon to administer first aid or emergency care. From 2019-2029, athletic trainers can expect 16% employment growth; in 2020, the BLS reported an annual median salary of $49,860 for athletic trainers.

Exercise Physiologists

Exercise physiologists provide support and aid to patients recovering from diseases and injury. These professionals design and implement exercise and fitness programs that allow recovering patients to regain and improve their flexibility, body composition, and cardiovascular capabilities. Exercise physiologists can look forward to an 11% job growth increase from 2019-2029 and a median salary of $50,280 as of 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Professional Certification

Education requirements for exercise science professions vary depending on the career. Obtaining a professional certification through a fitness association is often the base level education for many entry-level exercise science careers. While there are a variety of certifying bodies, a few are generally accepted within the fitness and training industry. The professional associations that are commonly regarded as being among the better certifying bodies include:

  • American Council on Exercise (ACE)
  • International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA)
  • National Exercise and Sports Trainers Association (NESTA)
  • National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM)

Professional certification programs can generally be completed on an individual's own time frame. Students must pass an exam proving their knowledge in order to obtain certification. Once certified, they must also complete continuing education courses in order to maintain their credentials. These fitness certification organizations include instruction in a wide variety of health and fitness areas such as:

  • Anatomy
  • Exercise methods
  • Nutrition
  • Fitness training

With a bachelor's degree in exercise science, a career as an exercise physiologist or athletic trainer is possible. Athletic trainers diagnose athletes with injuries, provide care for the injury, and are commonly employed by athletic clubs, sports teams, or fitness centers. Exercise physiologists develop fitness plans to help those recovering from illness or injury regain their strength and abilities.

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