Sports Physiology: Career and Salary Facts

Explore the career requirements for sports physiologists. Get the facts about education and licensure requirements, salary and potential job growth to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Kinesiology & Sport Science degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is Sports Physiology?

Sports physiology is the study of how physical activity affects the body. It is a broad field that can lead to several different career paths including coach, fitness trainer, health educator, physical education teacher, athletic trainer and exercise physiologist, just to name a few. These positions may use sports, games and other physical activities to help promote healthy living, recover from injury, prevent injury and more. Some positions focus on teaching people the proper techniques for a particular sport. Professionals working in sports physiology can work in a variety of places, such as schools, clinics and gyms. See the table below for more information about some of these career options.

CoachFitness TrainerExercise Physiologist
Degree RequiredBachelor's degreeHigh school diploma or equivalent; postsecondary education preferredBachelor's degree
Key ResponsibilitiesMentor athletes,
coach sports teams
Perform client fitness assessments,
design personalized fitness programs
Instruct patients in use of exercise equipment,
perform rehabilitation services,
counsel and educate patients
Licensure/CertificationCertification required for most public school coachesCertification preferredVoluntary certification
Job Growth (2014-2024)6%*8%*11%*
Mean Salary (2015)$40,050*$40,970*$49,740*

Source:*U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Education Do I Need?

The education requirements for this field depend on which career path you choose. For example, undergraduate degree programs in exercise science, kinesiology, physiology or sports medicine prepare you for a career as a coach, athletic trainer or fitness director, although the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that most athletic trainers have a master's degree ( If you would like to become a health or physical education teacher in an elementary or high school, you'll need to earn a bachelor's or master's degree in teaching and then secure a state teaching license; teaching positions at the college level often require a Ph.D.

What about Certification?

Not surprisingly, there are several organizations that offer certification programs for professionals in the sports and fitness industry. Certification is usually voluntary, although you may be required to obtain a license for certain jobs, such as athletic training. If you are looking at becoming an exercise specialist or personal trainer, who help individuals strengthen their bodies, the National Strength and Conditioning Association offers the Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and Certified Personal Trainer credential programs. Both certifications have specific education and work experience requirements, and require you to pass an exam. Most athletic trainers have to be licensed in states where they work, and licensing often requires certification from the Board of Certification Inc., according to the BLS. Other organizations that offer credential programs for jobs in sports physiology include the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Society of Exercise Physiology.

How Much Money Could I Earn?

The salary for this field also varies by job. For example, coaches earned a mean annual salary of $40,050 as of May 2015, while the mean salary for fitness trainers was $40,970, according to the BLS. The mean salary for exercise physiologists was $49,740. Your salary may also depend largely on your education and experience. Projected job growth from 2014 to 2024 was 6% for athletic coaches, 8% for fitness trainers, and 11% for exercise physiologists.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

One related option is a recreation worker. These workers need a high school diploma or equivalent to work with various groups of people and lead them in recreational activities, such as arts and crafts, sports or camping. Along these lines are also recreational therapists. These professionals need a bachelor's degree. They lead many of the same activities as recreation workers, but with groups of people recovering from or coping with illness, injury or disability. They use the activities as therapy to promote social, emotional and physical health. Another related position is an athletic trainer. Athletic trainers need at least a bachelor's degree. They focus on preventing injuries in athletes.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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