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Online Health and Fitness Degree Programs

Online health and fitness degree programs teach students how to promote healthy lifestyles, physical fitness, and proper exercise. Read on to find out what degree programs are available online, what you'll learn, how you'll take your online classes, and whether you'll need to be certified.

What Online Health and Fitness Degrees Can I Earn?

You can pursue associate's, bachelor's, and master's degrees in health and fitness through online study. You'll find health and fitness degrees available under many names, often with slight variations in their focus and coursework. Among the degrees you'll find offered online are those in applied health studies, exercise science, sports management, and health fitness specialist. Though many online health and fitness degrees are offered by for-profit schools, you can find public and non-profit schools with online programs. Some of these programs offer hybrid options that include a combination of online and on-campus coursework.

Degree AvailabilityAssociate's, bachelor's, and master's degrees in health and fitness are available online or on-campus
Common Undergraduate CoursesAnatomy and physiology, kinesiology, biology
Common Graduate CoursesBusiness management, marketing, leadership
Distance Learning RequirementsHigh-speed internet; some programs may require on-campus lab courses or residencies
CertificationEarned through the ASCM, AAPTE, NFPT, or other organizations accredited by the NCCA
Median Salary (2018)$39,820 (Fitness Trainers and Instructors)
Job Outlook (2016-2026)10% growth (Fitness Trainers and Instructors)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

What Will I Study?

Most undergraduate programs prepare you for a career as a fitness specialist, whether you choose to become a personal trainer, fitness instructor or athletic coach. These health and fitness associate's and bachelor's degree programs cover courses in human anatomy, physiology, kinesiology and biology. Fitness instruction courses teach you how to effectively lead classes or motivate individuals in a wide variety of sports and exercises. You may also study other aspects of health and fitness, including nutrition. Some programs require an externship or a research project, while others may allow you to earn industry certifications such as Resistance Training Specialist (RTS) and Muscle Activation Techniques (MAT).

Master's degree programs can include technical study of how the body functions and its responses to exercise. This often means a combination of lecture and laboratory-based coursework. These programs may require courses that help you prepare for managerial or leadership roles in coaching or with athletic organizations; you may take coursework in business management, marketing and leadership. Many programs also include internships in order to provide you with practical work experience in the health and fitness field.

How Are Online Programs Delivered?

Most of these programs utilize an online coursework delivery platform, such as Blackboard, through which you can watch lectures, complete exams and communicate with faculty. You can typically complete these programs from wherever you have access to a computer with a high-speed Internet connection. In some cases, you'll need to complete short residencies on campus in order to fulfill your laboratory requirements.

What Certification Will I Need?

While certification is not legally required in most health and fitness fields, it is preferred by many employers. A wide variety of organizations provide certification in this field, though you can ensure an organization is reputable by verifying if it's accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (www.ncca.org). Among the organizations that grant fitness trainer certification are the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), the Academy of Applied Personal Training Education (AAPTE) and the National Federation of Professional Trainers (NFPT).