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How to Become an Exercise Physiologist – Training & Experience

how to become an exercise physiologist

Does your interest lie in helping people improve their overall health? In that case, it’s best to consider how to become an exercise physiologist.

This gratifying career involves working with clients one-on-one to create customized workout programs and providing education and guidance on living a healthy lifestyle. The information below will discuss the process necessary to become an exercise physiologist.

What is an Exercise Physiologist?

An exercise physiologist is a scientific and healthcare professional who studies human movement and its effects on overall health. They help patients of all ages improve their physical well-being through exercise, education, and lifestyle changes.

Exercise physiologists typically have a bachelor’s degree in exercise science, and some also hold a master’s or doctorate in exercise physiology. To become certified, they must pass an American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) exam.

Working as an exercise physiologist can be both rewarding and challenging. It is a demanding job requiring knowledge of anatomy, physiology, biomechanics, and other sciences. But it is gratifying to see patients improve their health and quality of life.

Exercise Physiologist Responsibilities

An exercise physiologist is a health and fitness professional who helps people understand how physical activity can impact their overall well-being. They work with patients of all ages, from children to older adults, and help them design individualized exercise programs to improve their health.

Exercise physiologists may work in various settings, including hospitals, clinics, community health centers, fitness facilities, and corporate wellness programs. They may also provide education and support to groups or individuals.

How to Become an Exercise Physiologist

1. Research Physiology Career Options

To become an exercise physiologist, the first thing to do is research some of the physiology career choices. There are many different types of physiology jobs. By narrowing down the list of potential positions, it’s easy to look into the education and training required for each option.

2. Choose an Undergraduate Program

As mentioned earlier, most exercise physiologists have a bachelor’s degree in Exercise Science, sometimes known as kinesiology. These programs commonly include coursework in anatomy, physiology, biomechanics, and other sciences. Some programs also offer internships or research opportunities to gain hands-on experience in the field.

3. Complete the Degree Program

After completing an exercise physiologist degree, it is mandatory to complete a clinical internship or residency program. This experience allows students to work with patients and learn how to apply the knowledge of physiology in a real-world setting. After completing the internship or residency, one must pass a national certification exam to practice as an exercise physiologist.

4. Pursue a Master’s Degree (Optional)

Some exercise physiologists pursue a master’s degree in Exercise Science or Kinesiology. With these majors, students can specialize in a particular area of interest and conduct research in the field. A master’s degree is not required to practice as an exercise physiologist. Still, it may give one advantage when searching for a job.

5. Get Certified

The American Society of Exercise Physiologists administers a certification exam for people who want to become exercise physiologists. The exam has both a written test and a hands-on component.

It is necessary to adhere to a code of ethics and standards while exercising as an EPC, promoting high professional standards. Obtaining board certification might also help a student to advance in their job.

Education Admission Requirements: Types of Online Programs

1. Associate’s Program

An associate’s degree in exercise physiology is the most common level of education for this career. These degree programs are typically completed in two years. However, some schools offer accelerated options that students can complete in as little as 18 months.

With an associate’s program, one can expect to learn about the following topics:

  • The human body and how its response to physical activity
  • Common injuries and how to prevent them
  • Exercise testing and prescription
  • Nutrition for athletes
  • Fundamental strength and conditioning principles

2. Bachelor’s Program

An exercise physiology major is the next level of education available. It can qualify one for more advanced positions in the field. In a typical online bachelor’s program, students complete general education courses and major-specific coursework. These programs typically take four years. However, some schools offer accelerated options that someone can complete in as little as three years.

Some of the things that a bachelor’s degree in physiology covers include:

  • Anatomy
  • Pharmacology
  • Molecular biology
  • Genetics
  • Biochemistry

Once students complete their online bachelor’s degree in exercise physiology, they will be eligible to sit for the Certified Exercise Physiologist (CEP) exam. The American Society of Exercise Physiologists (ASEP) administers this industry certification test. Passing the exam will allow one to work as an entry-level exercise physiologist. Students will likely be required to complete a clinical internship to gain real-world experience at the end of their program.

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3. Master’s Degree Program

The next level of education is a master’s degree in exercise physiology. It can qualify one for the most advanced positions in the field. In a typical online master’s program, one will complete major-specific coursework. These programs can often be finished in two years.

A master’s degree covers topics such as:

  • Respiration
  • Circulation
  • Digestion
  • Excretion
  • Neuroscience
  • Reproduction

4. Certificate Programs

There are also certificate programs available in exercise physiology. These programs are typically shorter than degree programs and can be completed in as little as six months. Certificate programs usually cover the same topics as degree programs but at a more surface level.

A few of the things featured in an online certificate program include:

  • The benefits of physical activity
  • How to assess risk factors for cardiovascular disease
  • How to design an exercise program
  • Common injuries and how to prevent them
  • Anatomy and physiology basics

Whether a student chooses an associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, or certificate, it’s essential to ensure that the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) has certified the program. This accreditation will ensure that one receives the highest quality education possible.

Earning an online degree in exercise physiology is a great way to start one’s career in this growing field. With many different program options available, finding a program that fits one’s needs and schedule is nearly assured.

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What to Look for When Selecting a Program

Accreditation

When looking for the right degree program, ensure that CAAHEP accredited it. The U.S. Department of Education identifies CAAHEP as a national accrediting agency for allied health education programs. Holding this distinction means that a program has met or exceeded standards set by CAAHEP.

There are many reasons why attending an accredited program is essential. For one, many employers will only hire applicants who have graduated from an accredited program. In addition, most states require licensure or certification for exercise physiologists. And to be eligible for licensure or certification, individuals must graduate from an accredited program. In addition, many insurance companies will only reimburse patients for services provided by exercise physiologists who have graduated from an accredited program.

Type of Program

As per the programs discussed above, there are many exercise physiology programs from which to choose. The type of program someone selects will likely depend on their career goals and the amount of time they dedicate to their education.

For example, suppose one is looking for a terminal degree to prepare them for a career in research or academia. In that case, a student will want to look into obtaining a Ph.D. in Exercise Physiology.

On the other hand, perhaps a student is interested in working as an exercise physiologist but doesn’t have the time or resources to attend a full-time program. Then an online master’s degree might be an ideal option.

Length of the Program

The length of the program also matters a lot. A Ph.D. program will take anywhere from four to seven years to complete. But students can obtain a master’s degree in two to three years.

Of course, the length of the program also depends on whether someone attends full-time or part-time. Students who complete a full-time schedule can expect to complete their degree in the shortest possible time.

However, if a student is working and attending school part-time, it will take longer to earn their degree.

Cost of the Program

One should also want to consider the program’s cost when deciding. Ph.D. programs are typically more expensive than master’s programs.

Scholarships and assistantships may be available to help offset the cost. In addition, online programs tend to be less expensive than traditional on-campus programs.

Courses

The courses offered in each type of program also differ. A bachelor’s degree program will primarily provide general education courses with a few exercise physiology courses.

A master’s degree program will offer more specialized coursework, while a Ph.D. program will offer even more specialized research-based coursework. When looking at programs, review the curriculum to ensure it meets one’s needs and interests. If one is interested in working with athletes, one should ensure the program offers sports science coursework. On the other hand, if interested in working with the elderly or those suffering from chronic diseases, one can want to ensure the program offers coursework in geriatrics or rehabilitation.

Exercise Physiologist Licensing and Certification

1. EPC | American Society of Exercise Physiologists

The Exercise Physiologist Certification (EPC) is the gold standard in the field. It is a voluntary professional certification demonstrating a commitment to quality patient care and lifelong learning. The EPC credential is recognized by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), and other organizations. To earn the EPC, students must have a bachelor’s degree in exercise, and they must also complete an accredited internship or supervised practicum and pass a rigorous exam.

2. EP, CEP, and RCEP | American College of Sports Medicine

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) provides three levels of certification for exercise physiologists:

  • Exercise Physiologist (EP)
  • Certified Exercise Physiologist (CEP)
  • Registered Clinical Exercise Physiologist (RCEP)

It is crucial to have a bachelor’s degree in exercise and pass a written exam to earn the EP credential. The CEP credential requires a bachelor’s degree, passing scores on both a written and practical exam, and two-plus years of full-time experience working as an exercise physiologist.

The RCEP credential is the highest level of certification offered by ACSM. To earn it, students must have a master’s degree in exercise physiology or similar, pass a written exam, and have at least four years of full-time experience.

3. CPT, CES, PES, and More | National Strength and Conditioning Association

The National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) offers several certifications for exercise physiologists, including:

  • Certified Personal Trainer (CPT)
  • Certified Exercise Specialist (CES)
  • Performance Enhancement Specialist (PES)
  • Strength and Conditioning Specialist (SCS)

It is mandatory to have a high school diploma or equivalent, complete an NSCA-approved personal training program, and pass a written exam to earn the CPT credential.

The CES credential requires a bachelor’s degree in exercise science or related field, completing an NSCA-approved exercise specialist program, and passing scores on written and practical exams.

The PES credential is designed for exercise physiologists who work with athletes. One must complete a bachelor’s in exercise science or related major and an NSCA-approved performance enhancement specialist program to earn it. Aspiring physiologists must also pass written and practical exams.

The SCS credential is the highest level of certification offered by the NSCA. To earn it, it’s a crucial requirement to have a master’s degree in exercise physiology or a course related to it. One must also complete an NSCA-approved strength and conditioning specialist program and pass scores on both a written and practical exam. Each of these certifications requires continuing education to maintain their credential.

National Academy of Sports Medicine Licensing Information

Main Requirements

The main requirement for becoming an exercise physiologist is a bachelor’s degree in exercise physiology, kinesiology, or similar. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) is certified. Some states must obtain an exercise physiologist license from the state Board of Physical Therapy Examiners.

Most entry-level jobs in exercise physiology require a bachelor’s degree. However, some employers may hire individuals with associate degrees or high school diplomas. Those with advanced degrees or certifications may qualify for higher-paying positions or jobs that offer more responsibility and independence.

Alternative Paths

While most exercise physiologists have a bachelor’s degree, some may have a master’s or doctorate. These advanced degrees are ideal for certain research positions, managerial roles, or jobs in clinical settings.

Some exercise physiologists may also become certified strength and conditioning coaches through the CSCCA. This certification can lead to job opportunities working with athletes of all levels, from amateur to professional.

Limitations Exam

In some states, the Board of Physical Therapy Examiners requires physical therapists to pass an examination before getting a license. Specific requirements vary by state, but the exam covers anatomy, physiology, and medical terminology.

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) also offers a certification exam for exercise physiologists. This exam is not required for licensure but may benefit those seeking employment in the fitness industry or other settings where ACSM-certified professionals are preferred.

Exercise Physiology Jobs

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median yearly exercise physiologist salary was $47,940 in May 2021. Part-time employees tend to make less income than full-time employees.

The employment of exercise physiologists is expected to increase by 13% over the next ten years, which is higher than the average for all jobs.

Exercise Physiologist FAQs

How Much Do Exercise Physiologists Make?

Exercise physiologists make between $47,940 and $63,119. As of June 2022. BLS estimates that the average Exercise Physiologist makes an average salary of $55,498.

Why Would Someone See an Exercise Physiologist?

There are many reasons someone might see an exercise physiologist. Some people might want to improve their overall fitness. Meanwhile, others might deal with chronic conditions such as heart disease or diabetes. Exercise physiologists can help people set realistic goals and develop an appropriate exercise plan.

Is It Worth Being an Exercise Physiologist?

Yes, being an exercise physiologist can be very rewarding. Exercise physiologists help people improve their overall health and quality of life. They have the enjoyment of knowing they are making a difference in the lives of others.

Additionally, exercise physiologists are primarily self-employed. Therefore, one can establish their working schedule based on their priorities.

What Do You Do as an Exercise Physiologist?

The main objective of a physiologist is to help people live healthier lifestyles through physical activity. They create individualized exercise programs based on a person’s health and fitness goals. They also provide education on the importance of regular physical activity and how it can improve one’s overall health.

Lastly, they monitor their clients’ progress and make necessary adjustments to their program. These changes could involve anything from altering the intensity of the workouts to adding new exercises altogether.

Is an Exercise Physiologist the Same as a Personal Trainer?

No. Both professions work with people to improve physical fitness. Exercise physiologists have more training and education and can work with people with chronic health conditions or special needs. Personal trainers typically work with healthy individuals looking to improve their fitness.

Online Exercise Physiology vs. Exercise Science

There are a few differences between these two types of courses. For one, online exercise physiology focuses on applying knowledge, while exercise science focuses more on research.

Additionally, online exercise physiology programs are typically shorter, completed in as little as two years.

On the other hand, exercise science programs tend to be four years or longer. Additionally, online exercise physiology programs typically don’t require students to complete an internship, while most exercise science programs do.

What Is an ACSM Exercise Physiologist Certification?

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) is the world’s largest sports medicine and exercise science organization. They offer a variety of certifications, one of which is for exercise physiologists.

A bachelor’s degree is mandatory to become certified. Students must also pass anatomy, kinesiology, and exercise prescription exams.

After earning the certification, one must renew their certification every three years by completing continuing education credits.

An ACSM certification can help advance their career and give one a competitive edge when applying for jobs and provide the knowledge and skills necessary to succeed in the field.

Get an Exercise Physiology Degree Today

GetEducated.com has a wide range of degrees on our database, including online master’s degrees in exercise physiology. These degrees can be completed in as little as two years and prepare one for a career in exercise physiology. In brief, there are many options from which to choose. First, browse the available options to determine the most appropriate degree for your needs.

Then, ensure that the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) has approved your program of interest. Certification guarantees a quality education to set one up for success in their chosen career.

Subsequently, look into what kind of job you desire after graduation. Research and ensure that opportunities are available in their area of interest. For example, consider what types of continuing education and certifications are needed to further a career.

Exercise physiology is a growing field. Moreover, now is the perfect time to start your degree. Luckily, GetEducated.com assists students in finding the right program to set them on the right path to success.

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