Fitness educators, also called health and fitness specialists, assist individuals and groups in adopting healthy lifestyles through appropriate exercise regimens. These professionals also work with athletes, developing training programs designed to enhance workouts and performance levels. Certifications, associate's degrees, and bachelor's degree programs are all options for training to become a fitness educator. In these programs students learn about physiology, nutrition, sports psychology, and public health. Specializations in areas such as sports medicine or physical therapy are possible as well. Professional certification may be required for some specializations. Those who have sufficient experience and educational credentials may qualify for professional certifications by passing competency test and demonstrating skills.
For certification a high school diploma or GED is usually required. Applicants usually need CPR and automated external defibrillator (AED) certification as well. Experience in the field may be required for admission to a bachelor's program. Preparatory coursework in anatomy and medical terminology might be required too. Schools that offer practical experience with an affiliated institution or organization could require students to establish health and liability insurance, become bonded or submit to a background check.
Certification Programs in Fitness Education
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) stated that certification was a major consideration for most fitness workers. Several organizations offer many types of certifications; however, the BLS advised fitness educators to seek those accredited by the National Committee for Certifying Agencies to ensure a credential is professionally recognized (www.bls.gov). Credential maintenance varies and typically requires re-certification fees or testing.
Certification candidates can prepare for examinations in a variety of methods, utilizing both work experience and study materials. Topics of study that might be included in a certification tests include:
- Exercise sciences
- Health and nutrition
- Risk assessment
- Teaching techniques
Associate's Degree in Fitness Education
Individuals who enjoy helping others get and stay physically fit could pursue an associate's degree in health fitness. These degree programs are offered both on-campus and online and can be completed in approximately two years.
Associate's degree curricula concentrate on both health and business-related topics. Students often participate in internships or field work during or immediately following completion of the required coursework. Course topics often include:
- Group education
- First aid and CPR training
Bachelor's Degree in Fitness Education
A bachelor's degree in health and fitness offers a science-based curriculum along with in-depth management and administrative courses and typically takes four years to complete. Certain health sciences degree programs can include preparation for students planning to attain certification. Some degree programs also allow students to count previous certification, or work experience, as credit toward the degree. According to the BLS, more employers hire trainers with a bachelor's degree in a related field. For working professionals, part-time enrollment options are available. A few schools also offer online courses for health-related fields, such as physical therapy.
Health and fitness students participate in diverse curricula that prepare them for the workforce. Healthcare-intensive programs generally require an individual project at the end of the program, and most programs include an internship opportunity. Courses might include the following topics:
- Psychology of sports
- Public health
- Promotion and management
- Public speaking
Graduates of an associate's degree program have various employment options in private fitness, healthcare, and related industries. Some schools offer career placement assistance to help graduates find jobs. Job possibilities might include:
- Fitness trainer
- Exercise class instructor
- Youth sports coach
- Physical therapy aide
Graduates of a bachelor's degree programs usually qualify to work in many facets of the fitness industry. Job possibilities might include:
- Fitness club owner
- Athletic coach
- Personal trainer
- Rehabilitation assistant
According to the BLS, the increase in personal health concerns was expected to increase the employment of fitness trainers and instructors 15% between 2019 and 2029. In addition, mean annual wages reported by the BLS for fitness trainers and aerobics instructors as of May 2020 were $45,650.
Students intent on a career in sports management or physical therapy can earn master's degrees in these fields. Graduate programs can be found on-campus or online. Master's degree-holders qualify for positions as managers of private or corporate fitness facilities, professional athlete trainers, or physical therapists.
For students interested in pursuing a career in fitness education, obtaining the proper credentials through certificate, associate's, and bachelor's degree programs will likely increase employment options and provide the necessary skills to be successful in the field.