How do You Become an Exercise Physiologist?

As there are so many different career options for an exercise physiologist, training programs vary. Although few states have mandatory licensing requirements, most employers prefer that exercise physiologists have some sort of formal training or certification. Careers working with the general public as a personal trainer or fitness consultant may only require certification through some form of continuing education and examination, but most clinical positions, work with professional athletes, or involvement in rehabilitation or work with the physically challenged normally requires more extensive training.

Basic Requirements

Although exercise physiologists can range from fitness experts with certificates to people with advanced degrees such as PhD or M.D. degrees, all of these diverse professionals start with either a high school diploma or equivalent such as a GED. Another important prerequisite to most forms of fitness certification and many careers in exercise physiology is certification in CPR and use of automated external defibrillators.


Numerous types of certification are offered in the field of exercise physiology. Some certificates, such as those offered by the American Council on Exercise focus on demonstrating that you are an effective fitness or weight loss trainer, understanding how to design programs and exercise sessions that are safe and effective. The National Strength and Conditioning Association offers basic certification as a personal trainer, requiring a high school diploma and CPR/AED certification, as well as more advanced certificates in areas such as military fitness training, special populations, and athletic training for people who hold bachelor’s degrees in exercise physiology or related fields.

Another important organization offering certification ranging from personal training through advanced clinical specialties is the American College of Sports Medicine. Prerequisites for basic certification as a personal trainer are a high school diploma or equivalent and CPR/AED certification, while more advanced or specialized certifications such as ACSM Registered Clinical Exercise Physiologist or ACSM/ACS Certified Cancer Exercise Trainer may require a BA or MA degree and extensive clinical experience. The process for obtaining certification usually involves:

  • completing CPR/AED or other prerequisite certification
  • obtaining an official copy of required diplomas or transcripts
  • paying a fee to the certifying agency
  • reviewing provided training materials
  • taking an exam which may include written and/or practical components

College and University Degrees

Degrees in exercise science, exercise physiology, and kinesiology are offered at the associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral levels. All three names may be used by programs with relatively similar content. These degree programs can lead to careers in a wide range of roles including athletic training, fitness and wellness programs, clinical programs, public health positions, and academic positions.

In general, working with special populations such as people with various illnesses, injuries, or special needs requires more advanced training than working with healthy adults. People with undergraduate degrees in exercise physiology can also pursue graduate training in areas such as physical or occupational therapy.

Conclusion: Career Opportunities

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment outlook for exercise physiologists is better than average, with a projected annual growth rate of 11 percent. Roughly half of exercise physiologists are self employed or working as contractors and the majority of others are employed in healthcare facilities.