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Exercise Physiologist Career Guide

A career as an exercise physiologist is one that offers lots of opportunities to work with different people, to become self-employed and for professional development. Exercise physiologists only need a bachelor’s degree in a related field, making it an accessible career for many. The employment of exercise physiologist is expected to increase over the coming years. However, due to the it being a relatively small industry and there being a growing number of individuals entering the field, it is expected to remain a fiercely competitive field.

Being in the private sector, my patients can vary drastically from hour to hour which provides my workplace with a dynamic, exciting and ever-changing landscape

Ben Southman

Exercise Physiologist Career Ratings

Income

Career
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Overview

What an exercise physiologist actually does

Exercise physiologists design exercise and rehabilitation programmes to help individuals get fitter and to avoid or recover from medical conditions such as obesity, arthritis, diabetes, cancer, osteoporosis, depression, asthma and cardiovascular diseases. Typical duties may include:

  • Counselling clients who are ill, in poor physical or mental health, and who may benefit from exercising more regularly
  • Advising individuals on the benefits of exercise on both physical and mental well-being
  • Devising, implementing and evaluating exercise programmes based on the needs of the client (either to improve illness or sports performance)
  • Delivering group workshops to improve coping strategies and mental skills, especially in sport

Why they are needed

Being overweight and obese is the fifth leading risk for global deaths, with at least 2.8 million adults dying worldwide each year as a result of being overweight or obese. On top of this, 44% of the diabetes burden, 23% of the coronary heart disease burden and between 7% to 41% of certain cancer burdens are attributable to being overweight or obese. Therefore, exercise physiologists are needed to help implement exercise and rehabilitation programmes to reduce the obesity risk and to help people live for longer.

Pros and cons of a career as an exercise physiologists:

Pros:

  • A career as an exercise physiologist offers a variety of exciting a diverse career paths, including in areas such as research or exercise therapy
  • Like all sports professions, a career as an exercise physiologist means that those who love sports get to spend all their days around their passion and inspiring other people to become passionate about it
  • It is a highly rewarding career as you will get to improve the health of patients and improve their patients quality of life
  • Exercise physiologists are often self-employed, meaning that there is the opportunity to build you own schedule around your own commitments

Cons:

  • It is a small industry with lots of talent professionals, meaning that it is a competitive industry to get into
  • Exercise physiologist may have to work unsociable hours, such as evenings or weekends
  • Although there is lots of opportunities within the industry, career progression can take time and be costly
  • There is a lot of responsibility as exercise physiologist, especially when working with patients who have chronic diseases

Employability

Job market

The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that the employment of exercise physiologist is projected to grow 10 percent from 2018 to 2028, which is faster than the average for all occupations. This increase in employment is thought to be due a growing understanding of the health related issues surrounding inactivity and the emphasize on exercise to help hospital patients recover from cardiovascular and pulmonary diseases and to improve their overall health.

It is important to note that because this is a small occupation, competition for available positions is expected to remain high over the coming years.

Career paths

Exercise physiologists need a bachelor’s degree in exercise physiology, exercise science, kinesiology or a related field. Although not a necessity, a masters degree in a related field, that includes clinical work, may help with employment opportunities and progression. Courses should be accredited by the relevant body and in 2017, about 60 programs in exercise physiology, exercise science and kinesiology were accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP).

Once graduated, in every state other than Louisiana, exercise physiologists can begin to practice and then later go on to get certified to demonstrate that they hold the correct qualifications. Exercise physiologists can decide whether they want to go more into the health route or the sports route and can later take courses to help them to be more specialist in one area.

Example Job Titles for Exercise Physiologist

Below is a list of common job titles in the Exercise Physiologist field. Click the links below for more information about these job titles, or view the next section for actual real-life job profiles.

Benefits & Conditions

Income and benefits

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for exercise physiologists in the United States was $49,170 in 2019. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $34,990 and the highest 10 percent earned more than $78,310. The highest paid industry of exercise physiologists was the government, where the median salary was $72,440, followed by hospitals where the median annual salary was $49,390.

Autonomy and Flexibility

Over half of exercise physiologists are self-employed, which gives them great control over their schedule and the work they do. Due to this, levels of autonomy are high among exercise physiologists as they get to make their own decisions. There is also a lot of flexibility as exercise physiologists who are self-employed get to make decisions on who they work with and what hours they decide to work.

Locations and commute

Exercise physiologists positions are available in every area, meaning that there should be jobs that have only a small commute. However, each state does not offer the same income or benefits to exercise physiologists. According to Zippa, the best states for exercise physiologists in the United States was Rhode Island, where the average annual salary is $75,185. This is closely followed by New Hampshire, where the average annual salary is $72,072 and then Connecticut, where the average annual salary is $73,813.

It is also important to remember that the job market is competitive, and there is no sign of this slowing down over the coming years. This could mean that in bigger cities, where there are more people and the pay and benefits are more attractive, there may be a large amount of competition for jobs.

Work environment

56 percent of exercise physiologists in the United States were self-employed, followed by 27% who work in hospitals. Most exercise physiologist work full time, but as over half of them are self-employed, they can control their own schedule.

Career Satisfaction

Common Matching Personality Types

Which personalities tend to succeed and thrive in Exercise Physiologist careers? Based on our research, there is a relatively strong positive correlation between the following personality types and Exercise Physiologist career satisfaction. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t many exceptions, of course, but if you fit into one of the following personality types then we suggest you give strong consideration to a career in Exercise Physiologist.

16 Types (Myers-Briggs)

  • None

Big Five (OCEAN)

  • None

DiSC

  • None

Enneagram

  • None

Holland Codes (RIASEC)

  • None

Personality types

There has been no exploration on the specific personality types that make a successful exercise physiologists. However, it can be assumed that someone who is a successful exercise physiologists will be highly conscientious as they will have to govern themselves and their work schedule when they are self employed. They are also likely to show extraverted qualities and be empathetic, understanding of the behaviour of others and have the natural desire to want to help others.

Accomplishment and mastery

As exercise physiologists get to put their skills into practice, there will be a great sense of accomplishment and mastery when the exercise and rehabilitation programs that they design produce the positive desired results.

Meaning and contribution

As mentioned previously, exercise physiologists help to reduce the levels of obesity by getting people to exercise. This work holds a lot of meaning and contribution as it will reduce the number of obesity related deaths and improve the quality of life of many people.

Life fit

Exercise physiologists do work full time and some may have to work antisocial hours to meet their clients needs. However, as exercise physiologists are often self-employed, they have control over their schedule which means they can make decisions about when they want to work and therefore can find a career as an exercise physiologists to have a great life fit.

Who will thrive in this career?

Firstly, those who have a genuine passion for exercise and the benefits of exercise are likely to thrive as an exercise physiologists as the role requires promoting and engaging individuals in exercise. Secondly, those who like to help others and want to work to improve their quality of life will thrive in this career, as it is focused on helping those who are ill to improve their symptoms through exercise and live more fulfilling lives. Finally, you will thrive as an exercise physiologist if you enjoy working by yourself and are good at motivating and directing yourself.

Who will struggle in this career?

Firstly, those who do not see the benefit of exercise will struggle in this career as they will not be able to motivate other people to see how exercise can benefit them. Those who prefer to be managed and directed by other people may struggle in this career, as over half of exercise physiologists are self-employed and in charge of their own work. Finally, those who lack empathy or compassion may struggle to see their patient or clients struggles and barriers, and will therefore find it hard to come up with solutions, meaning they won’t thrive as an exercise physiologist.

Requirements

Skills and talents

Exercise physiologist will need the following skills and talents:

  • Interpersonal skills, as exercise physiologist will need to gauge the reactions of their patients/clients and they will need to manage difficult situations
  • Communication skills, both written and verbal, as exercise physiologist will need to communicate their ideas to both their patients/clients and other physicians, healthcare professionals and the families of the athletes or patients
  • Attention to detail, as exercise physiologist must record detailed and accurate information about their patient/clients condition and their exercise or rehabilitation program
  • Problem solving skills, as whether working will those who are ill or with athletes, exercise physiologist will need to find solutions to all kinds of problems. For example, if they are struggling to adhere to their exercise program, exercise physiologist need to understand why
  • Compassion, as exercise physiologist may work with people in pain or discomfort and they therefore must be sympathetic whilst working with these people

Education

You will typically need a bachelor’s degree in a related field, such as exercise physiology, biology, kinesiology or a related field. A masters degree, accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs, is not a necessity but is helpful.

Certifications

Lousiana is the only state that requires exercise physiologists to be licensed. However, most exercise physiologists are required to have Basic Life Support (BLS) certification or Advanced Life Support (ACLS) certification.

Although not essential, the American Society of Exercise Physiologists (ASEP) offers the Exercise Physiologist Certified (EPC) certification, which physiologists can use to demonstrate their qualifications. In order to be eligible for this, you must pass the ASEP exam, hold an ASEP members, have a bachelor degree in a related field and have completed specific coursework requirements.

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) also offers certification for exercise physiologists. They offer the Certified Exercise Physiologist (EP-C) and the Certified Clinical Exercise Physiologist (CEP) credentials for candidates with a bachelors degree. They offer the Registered Clinical Exercise Physiologists (RCEP) for candidates with a masters degree or higher.

How to Become

Summary

A career as an exercise physiologist is one that offers lots of opportunities to work with different people, to become self-employed and for professional development. The employment of exercise physiologist is expected to increase over the coming years. However, due to the it being a relatively small industry and there being a growing number of individuals entering the field, it is expected to remain a fiercely competitive field.

Immediate action

If a career as an exercise physiologist sounds good to you, then we recommend considering research courses that are qualified by the relevant body. It is also advisable to gain some work experience in an exercise or health-related role, such as in gym instructing, rehabilitation or counselling.

Education and learning

You will typically need a bachelor’s degree in a related field, such as exercise physiology, biology, kinesiology or a related field. A masters degree, accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs, is not a necessity but is helpful.

Skill development

Exercise physiologist will learn some skills during their university education, such as the theoretical side of the benefits of exercise. However, exercise physiologists will learn a lot of their skills on the job, and can then get certifications to show that they are progression their professional knowledge.

FAQs

Ask a Question

Have a question about Exercise Physiologist careers? If so, our mentors would love to help! Just click on a mentor’s profile below and then fill out the “Ask a Question” form on that page. Your question will then be emailed to the mentor, who can then email you a reply.

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