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What is Exercise Physiology?
Exercise physiology is a field of study within kinesiology that focuses on the effect of exercise on the human body and how individuals adapt to physical exercise over time. Students studying exercise physiology will be exposed to the scientific and practical aspects of exercise. The degree utilizes a cross section of scientific disciplines to impart the knowledge necessary to work in a variety of fields involving exercise, nutrition, fitness, and health.
Exercise physiologists can assist a wide variety of individuals reach their best physical selves. Examples of work performed by an exercise physiologist include:
- Rehabilitating a person suffering from chronic pain
- Helping athletes perform at their peak levels
- Improving overall health through targeted exercise programs
- Establishing a plan to help an individual lose weight
- Assisting an individual to be more flexible and resilient through age
Individuals pursuing a degree in exercise physiology will need to obtain a bachelor's degree. Students that go on to earn a master's degree in physiology or a doctorate degree in exercise physiology will have additional career opportunities to consider.
How are Exercise Physiology and Exercise Science Different?
In many cases, exercise science and exercise physiology are used interchangeable. Both are utilized to describe acute responses to exercise, physical activity, sport, and chronic responses to exercise. However, in academia the difference between the two disciplines are often defined by their required curricula.
Exercise science degree programs will often have curricula that vary from university to university. The focus on an exercise science major can vary widely from one school to another. In fact, you can find degree programs in exercise science that range from human performance to physical education and from health to nutrition. On the other hand, a degree in exercise physiology will frequently adhere to a traditional, standardized physiology-focused set of curriculum.
Exercise Physiology Degree Requirements
Curricular requirements for exercise physiologists and exercise science majors will be different from university to university. The number of credits required to earn a degree and the electives offered will vary from school to school. However, you can expect a common set of core curricula across most accredited degree programs. Below you will find a list of popular courses that we found overlap from top colleges and universities.
- Anatomy & Physiology
- Human Biochemistry
- Cognitive and Motor Learning
- Strength and Conditioning
- Exercise Physiology for Special Populations
- Exercise Program Management
- Math & Statistics
- Exercise Leadership
- Nutrition & Exercise Performance
- Fitness and Conditioning
How to Become an Exercise Physiologist
As of the time of this publication, there are no nationally standardized academic requirements to become an exercise physiologist (EP). Despite the emergence of this vital career track, the profession remains largely unregulated. To become an exercise physiologist you will need to first earn a degree and then earn a nationally recognized certification.
Earning a Degree in Exercise Physiology
To work at most corporations and institutions, you will need to earn a bachelors degree in exercise physiology, kinesiology, exercise science, or equivalent degree program. The most popular EP tracks you will find at accredited colleges and universities include: clinical (applied or research), pre-health, and human performance. If your goal is to work in a hospital or healthcare facility, you may need to earn a master's degree in exercise physiology depending on their requirements.
Earning Your EP Certification
The certification you pursue will wholly depend on your career goals coupled with the industry demands in your state. Three of the most popular EP organizations include the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), and the American Society of Exercise Physiologists (ASEP).
The ACSM offers three levels of certifications for EP's that include: Exercise Physiologist (EP-C), Clinical Exercise Physiologist (CEP), and the Registered Clinical EP (RCEP). ASEP offers students the EPC board certified examination to ensure an EP has the knowledge, skills, and ability to work in this challenging arena. Meanwhile, the NASM offers certifications in a variety of areas of specialization. Examples include the following:
- Personal Training
- Weight Loss
- Senior Fitness
- MMA Conditioning
- Women's Fitness
- Group Fitness
- Youth Fitness
- Fitness Nutrition
- Golf Fitness
- Corrective Exercise
- Behavior Change
- Performance Enhancement
Exercise Physiology Careers
Careers in exercise physiology often involve the physiologist working alongside other professionals. Professional work together to assist in producing a regime that will allow for growth in strength, improved sleep, increased energy, and better health. A degree in exercise physiology opens doors to various positions, with bachelor degree holders working primarily in fitness through gyms, personal training, or public programs.
Master degree holders will have increased options, including careers in physical therapy, which may require additional courses in order to meet state-based licensure requirements. A doctoral degree will allow individuals to pursue research and teaching opportunities at the post-secondary level.
Career paths in exercise physiology can be parsed into two primary categories: non-clinical and clinical. An exercise physiologist that works in a non-clinical setting will work with moderately healthy patients to help enhance their overall fitness levels and optimize weight loss. On the other hand, a clinical exercise physiologist will work closely to supervise the physical activities with chronic illnesses such as cancer, lung disease, and heart disease.
Possible careers for exercise physiology degree holders include:
- Sport Program Director
- Pharmacy Technician
- Fitness Instructor
- Physical Therapy
- Occupational Therapy Assistant
- Professor (with a PhD)
- Sports Management
- Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor
- Wellness Supervisor
- Nutrition Coordinator
- Physician Assistant
- Occupational Therapist
- Sports Medicine
Exercise Physiologist Jobs
Jobs involving exercise physiology are expected to increase much faster than average due to an increased interest in fitness coupled quality research plus an aging population. According to the BLS, the rate of job growth in this sector will be 13% which is double the national average for all occupations. Due to the increased demand, job opportunities are expected to increase, as will self employment, resulting in limited competition among graduates. Specializations in the field include corporate wellness, college professors, various government agencies, and cardiac rehabilitations specialists.
Exercise Physiologist Salary
The average salary for exercise physiologists is approximately $49,909 per year with increased earning potential coming from higher levels of education and select geographic locations. Salaries will vary from coast to coast with the highest paid exercise physiologists residing in California. The top 10% of professionals in this sector make $78,410 a year with the bottom ten percent averaging over thirty-four thousand dollars annually. Individuals interested in exercise physiology may also be interested in physical therapy, cardiovascular science, and cell physiology.
Industries Employing the Most Exercise Physiologists
- Medical and Surgical Hospitals
- Health Practitioners
- Federal Executive Branch
- Outpatient Care Centers
Top 5 Best Paying States for Exercise Physiology
- California $68,190
- Arizona $67,230
- New York $65,680
- Massachusetts $63,420
- Arkansas $60,670
Exercise Physiology Resources
For more information about Exercise Physiology, read our Complete Career Guide in Exercise Science on our blog. Additionally, you can research national and regional associations to learn more about this exciting vocation.
Quality organizations that may be worth researching further include the American Society of Exercise Physiologists (ASEP), Clinical Exercise Physiology Association (CEPA), and the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). Associations focused on physiology help promote wellness, enhance the profession, and provide research to expand the body of knowledge of working professionals in this industry.