For those who are interested in health and fitness, and who have a passion for making people feel physically fit, there’s no better calling than a career in exercise science. The field offers tremendous variety, from serving as an instructor at a gym to helping patients recovering from injuries at a rehab center to overseeing an employee wellness program as a part of a corporate team.
These are all options available to people who pursue exercise science careers. Professional fields pertaining to exercise science run the gamut: hands-on training and coaching, exercise physiology, community outreach, corporate wellness program management, and sports and fitness equipment sales, to name a few.
Whichever career path an exercise science professional follows, the journey likely begins by earning a relevant degree, such as a Bachelor of Science in Exercise Science. This kind of program prepares graduates to take advantage of the diverse opportunities available in the growing field of exercise science. For example, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) forecasts that the number of athletic trainer jobs will increase by 19% between 2018 and 2028, which is much faster than the 5.3% average growth for all occupations.
Athletic trainers work with a wide variety of individuals and organizations, from top-tier professional athletes and sports teams to amateur fitness buffs and local gyms and companies. They prevent and treat injuries and rehabilitate clients who were injured in a sports setting or elsewhere. It should be noted that those interested in becoming an athletic trainer must successfully complete a National Athletic Trainer’s Association-accredited Masters of Athletic Training program and pass the organization’s Board of Certification exam.
The BLS states that the median annual salary for athletic trainers as of May 2018 was $47,510; athletic trainers who earn specialized certifications. The tremendous growth in athletic trainer jobs will be driven by increased awareness of the impact of sports-related injuries, an aging population, and advances in the detection and prevention of injuries. In addition, insurance companies and employers are increasingly aware of the benefits of promoting health to reduce workers’ compensation and other costs related to injuries and illness.
Strength and Fitness Instructors
Strength and fitness instructors occupy a different niche than athletic trainers. While athletic trainers focus on an individual’s injury treatment and rehab, strength and fitness instructors work with individuals who are looking to improve their fitness levels.
Personal trainers are fitness experts who create workout routines and exercise programs that are tailored to their individual clients. While personal trainers often work one-on-one with their clients, they also lead group exercise and training sessions. Some personal trainers are self-employed, while others work as employees of gyms, fitness centers, and other facilities.
The first step in devising a fitness program is to assess the client’s current fitness level. Personal trainers work with clients to set personal goals, improve their physical performance, and help them gain new skills. After teaching the personalized fitness programs, personal trainers monitor their clients’ progress to ensure they’re meeting their goals. Personal trainers may offer general fitness training, or they can be specialists. As noted above, these specializations may require additional education and certifications, especially the National Strength and Conditioning Association’s Certified Personal Trainer (NSCA-CPT) certification.
Strength and Conditioning Specialist
A strength and conditioning specialist typically works with serious athletes, from dedicated amateurs to high-level professionals. They develop strength training programs specifically geared to that athlete’s sport, with the goal of increasing overall performance. The NSCA’s Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) certification is considered the leading certification for those interested in specializing in strength and conditioning.
Tactical Strength Coach
Tactical strength coaches are similar to strength and conditioning specialists, but work with professionals in law enforcement, fire and rescue services, and other first response fields. Their focus is helping those professionals reach the levels of strength and overall fitness required by their professions.
The BLS forecasts that the number of jobs for fitness trainers and instructors will increase by 13% between 2018 and 2028, which is much faster than the average for all occupations. As of May 2018, the median annual wage for fitness trainers and instructors was $39,820, according to the BLS. The NSCA’s Tactical Strength and Conditioning Facilitator (TSAC-F) certification is essential for those looking to specialize in this area.
Health Educator/Community Health Worker
Never before has there been more focus on the vital role played by health educators and community health workers to ensure a vibrant and thriving environment for all inhabitants. Qualifying for a job as a health educator requires at least a bachelor’s degree, and many employers also require the National Commission for Health Education Credentialing’s Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES) credential.
The BLS expects the number of jobs for health educators and community health workers to increase by 11% between 2018 and 2028, which is much faster than the average growth for all occupations. The median annual salary for health educators as of May 2018 was $54,220, while the median wage for community health workers was $39,540.
Fitness/Wellness Center Manager
According to Statista, the U.S. has the highest rate of memberships in health and fitness clubs in the world, generating $30 billion in 2017. The role of fitness and wellness center managers is to oversee the day-to-day management of the clubs, including hiring personal trainers, training staff, and maintaining equipment and the facility in general. They are also responsible for increasing club membership, so they must be well informed about new exercise technologies and other industry trends.
According to April 2020 PayScale data, fitness center managers earn a median annual salary of about $41,000, which increases by 16% for mid career professionals and another 9% for those in their late career. Many fitness centers require a bachelor’s degree in a fitness- or health-related field to qualify for manager positions.
The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) describes the duties of clinical exercise physiologists as the treatment of healthy people as well as those suffering from acute or chronic illness via physical activity and exercise intervention. Exercise physiologists assess their clients’ health and fitness, prescribe an exercise regimen tailored to their needs, and monitor their progress, adjusting the program as necessary.
The BLS states that many employers require that exercise physiologists be certified in basic life support, advanced life support (ALS), and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). At present, only Louisiana mandates that exercise physiologists be licensed, although such regulations are pending in other states. Exercise physiologists must have at least a bachelor’s degree in exercise science, kinesiology, or a related field; certifications for exercise physiologists include the ACSM’s Certified Exercise Physiologist (EP-C) and Certified Clinical Exercise Physiologist (CEP), as well as the American Society of Exercise Physiologists’ Exercise Physiologist Certified (EPC) credential.
The BLS projects the number of jobs for exercise physiologists to increase by 10% between 2018 and 2028, which is faster than the average growth for all occupations. It estimates that the median annual salary for exercise physiologists as of May 2018 was $49,270.
Coaches and scouts play vital roles in the sports world. Coaches guide and direct teams of amateur and professional athletes, as well as individual athletes in some cases. They help athletes pursue their collective and individual goals. Scouts evaluate the skills of athletes to determine their likelihood of success at the college, amateur, or professional level.
Along with planning, organizing, and conducting practice sessions, coaches teach their athletes correct form, technique, skills, and stamina. They also teach good sportsmanship, encourage competitive spirit, and promote teamwork. Scouts identify talented athletes via their network of contacts in the sports world, as well as by following sports news. They interact with athletes and their coaches and serve as liaisons with athletes, their families, and potential schools and amateur and professional teams.
The BLS forecasts an 11% increase in the number of jobs for coaches and scouts between 2018 and 2028, which is much faster than the average growth for all occupations. However, competition is expected to be high for top jobs at the college and professional levels. The median annual salary for coaches and scouts as of May 2018 was $33,780, according to the BLS.
Corporate Wellness Program Manager
The primary responsibility of corporate wellness program managers is to promote a healthy workplace. These leaders encourage employees to exercise and follow a nutritious diet, as PayScale explains. Among the tasks corporate wellness program managers are charged with are developing healthy diets for workers and teaching them active lifestyle habits.
A bachelor’s degree in a health-related field is considered the minimum education requirement for corporate wellness program managers. They must stay informed on the latest health news and wellness techniques. Most corporate wellness program managers work a standard Monday-to-Friday day-shift schedule. According to April 2020 PayScale data, the median annual salary for wellness coordinators is around $47,000. Opportunities for corporate wellness program managers are considerable; a 2019 Rand Corporation report noted that 80% of US companies employing more than 50 people offered their employees some form of corporate wellness benefit.
A Degree That Lays the Foundation for a Career in Exercise Science
The wide-ranging curriculum of Maryville University’s online Bachelor of Science in Exercise Science degree program prepares students for the many career options for exercise science professionals. Students can choose one of two concentrations: Wellness Management or Strength and Conditioning. In addition to standard coursework, Maryville’s online Exercise Science students are able to study human movement and performance remotely via Maryville University’s state-of-the-art Human Performance Lab.
Learn more about the benefits of the Maryville University online Bachelor of Science in Exercise Science for diverse careers in exercise science.
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Behind the Scenes in Sports: Skills Needed for Sports Marketing
A Guide to Corporate Wellness Programs: Why Employee Health Matters
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American College of Sports Medicine, Careers in Exercise Science
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EXOS, EXOS Fitness Specialist Certification
EXOS, EXOS Performance Specialist Certification
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PayScale, Average Wellness Coordinator Salary
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Statista, “Health & Fitness Clubs — Statistics & Facts”
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U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, Coaches and Scouts
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, Exercise Physiologists
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, Fitness Trainers and Instructors
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, Health Educators and Community Health Workers
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, Physical Therapists