How to Become an Exercise Physiologist in 5 Steps
Research what it takes to become an exercise physiologist. Learn about education requirements, job duties, average wages and job outlook to find out if this is the career for you.
What Is an Exercise Physiologist?
Exercise physiologists are health professionals who use exercise to delay, prevent and/or alleviate disease. As an exercise physiologist, you can accomplish this by evaluating a patient's health and designing exercise programs targeted to that patient's fitness level and health concerns. More than a physical trainer, you will use exercise as medicine to treat illnesses like heart disease, diabetes, cancer, arthritis and emphysema. You will need to monitor important health indicators and adjust exercise programs as needed. Exercise physiologists also ensure patient safety in clinical trials, and will often work with physicians to provide the best overall care possible. Consider the information in the following table to determine if a career as an exercise physiologist is right for you.
|Degree Required||Bachelor's degree minimum|
|Education Field of Study||Biology, anatomy, physiology, and nutrition|
|Key Skills||Compassion, decision making and interpersonal skills|
|Job Growth (2018-2028)||10% for all exercise physiologists*|
|Median Salary (2018)||$49,270 for all exercise physiologists*|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Step 1: Research the Exercise Physiology Career Options
When you work as an exercise physiologist, you can work in hospitals, fitness facilities, physical therapy centers, cardiac rehabilitation clinics or wellness centers. Where you wish to work will determine what kind of education you need. Typically a master's degree in exercise physiology is required, but you may only need an undergraduate degree in physical education, exercise science, health science or nutrition to work for a community organization. If you prefer to work in a health setting, additional training in physical therapy and kinesiology may be beneficial. If you would like to take the academic or research route, you will need a Ph.D.
Step 2: Decide on an Undergraduate Program
When looking to begin your exercise physiology education, the American Society of Exercise Physiologists (ASEP) recommends you look for an accredited program. Accredited programs are evaluated and continually improved; this helps prepare you for the ASEP certification exam as well as actual work. Accreditation also signals to your potential employers that you are a competent professional who has received an approved education. Some exercise physiology programs are designed to lead to graduate school rather than to immediate employment, so you may need to know what your plans are to find the right college.
Step 3: Complete a Degree Program
In an exercise physiology program, you will study basic science and exercise topics, such as athletic training, nutrition, exercise science, physiology, kinesiology, physics of movement, motor development and psychology. Clinical training will give you hands-on experience in the science, technology and interpersonal and motivational components of the profession. Basic life support, CPR and cardiac care certifications are also required for work in hospitals.
Step 4: Decide on a Graduate School or Professional Focus
Once you have completed a bachelor's degree, some programs offer a fifth-year master's degree option. Master's programs prepare you for the board certification exam and allow you to gain more specific knowledge for whichever field you choose to work. During your master's program, you may participate in an internship for more hands-on experience.
Step 5: Become Board Certified
The American Society of Exercise Physiologists administers an Exercise Physiologist Certification exam composed of a written test and a hands-on component. As a Board Certified Exercise Physiologist (EPC), you must follow a code of ethics and practices and promote high standards in the profession. Getting board certified may also help you advance in your career.
What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?
A similar career that requires a bachelor's degree is an athletic trainer. Athletic trainers work to prevent injury in their patients, who are typically athletes. They will also diagnose and treat various injuries and illnesses of the muscles and bones. Occupational therapists and physician assistants are additional related careers that require a master's degree. Occupational therapists work with patients that have different kinds of disabilities that prevent them from working or performing daily tasks. These therapists work to improve mobility and develop the skills needed for these activities. Physician assistants work under the supervision of a physician and are qualified to perform a variety of medical procedures to help treat patients.