Top 5 Exercise Science Careers and The Best Education Paths

Exercise Science Careers

Top 5 Exercise Science Careers and The Best Education Paths

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Watch Our Video: Best Exercise Science Careers – Are you considering an Exercise Science degree?

Are you considering an Exercise Science degree or asking yourself “what can you do with an exercise science degree?” to help plan for your future?

Whatever your stage in life — consideration, current Exercise Science student, or recent grad — this post is for you. 

Be sure to take our quiz too!

As a previous Exercise Science graduate, I can give you a little taste of the college route (as well as other education paths) and provide insight into the options for Exercise Science careers.

But first, let’s define what Exercise Science is.

What is Exercise Science?

Exercise Science describes the study of the body under the stress of exercise including acute and chronic adaptations like the effects on overall health parameters, pathologies, and its potential to reduce, or reverse, disease progression.

Some other areas of study within Exercise Science vertical that you might see at various educational institutes are:

  • Kinesiology
  • Fitness & Health
  • Exercise Physiology
  • Biomechanics
  • Exercise Nutrition

You can also expect a strong educational emphasis in the areas of anatomy, physiology, chemistry, biology, and oftentimes, physics.

What can You Do with an Exercise Science Degree?

If there is one thing I want to emphasize about studying Exercise Science is that the majority of careers in the field require additional graduate school coursework. Yes, that is worth repeating.

Exercise Science is a common prerequisite for graduate level programs in careers such as:

  • Doctor (MD)
  • Exercise Physiologist
  • Registered Dietician
  • Occupational Therapist
  • Physical Therapist
  • Physician Assistant

The important takeaway here is that for most, the bachelor’s degree in and of itself does not get them to the career that they want. Additionally, and as I will get into more below, the career you want might not require a four year college degree in Exercise Science.

However, if you are interested in some of the above careers that require education beyond a B.S. degree, by all means continue on the path that makes the most sense for you.

I emphasize this point because I have met many people who studied Exercise Science in college only to find that they either did not realize they needed additional education to get the career they wanted, or realized there were quicker, more affordable ways to get into the career they wanted.

That said, listed below are some careers that you can get without additional education after your Bachelor’s in Exercise Science degree, including:

  • Athletic Director
  • Community Program Director
  • Massage Therapist
  • Recreation and Sports Director
  • Sports Coach
  • Sports Facility Manager
  • Strength and Conditioning Coach

Provided below are the most popular career paths in Exercise Science, which may or may not include a college education, are below.

Top 5 Exercise Science Careers

Personal Trainer

By far, the most common career path chosen by people looking to have an Exercise Science career, as well as who are currently studying Exercise Science, is personal training.

The benefits of a career in personal training are numerous and can even be aligned with that of any of the other careers on this list.

For starters, you don’t need to get a bachelor’s degree to become a personal trainer. In fact, there are five separate ways you can become a personal trainer, ranging from certification from accredited companies, to vocational college, to university programs, to online options, and internal gym programs.

If your heart is set on becoming a personal trainer it certainly would be helpful for you to understand your options for certification beforehand.

Now, I am certainly not knocking university or college-based personal training certification options — I got my B.S. at a university and was a college instructor afterward — but I do understand that it may not be an option for everyone.

But what if you want a career that requires a college degree? Would it still be beneficial to consider a personal training certification?

Let’s say you choose any of the aforementioned education routes for your career in Exercise Science: college degree or not.

Either way, you can benefit from a personal training certification no matter what route you take. If you are wanting to have a career as a personal trainer, you can get certified in as little as two to five months and start making money right away.

If you are in college and are studying Exercise Science, it is still a good idea to get a personal training certification because you can begin gaining experience within your career immediately and can even pay for your education, through your personal training income.

For example, while I was in college I used my personal training certification to my advantage. I was able to train clients around my school schedule given the flexibility of the career. This provided me industry experience, but also allowed me to pay my way through college.

I also became certified as an Online Personal Trainer and trained clients through the internet, which gave me even more freedom to complete my studies and enjoy the college experience. 

Top 5 Reasons Personal Training is a Popular Exercise Science Career

So, no matter what your long-term goals are, getting a personal training certification can help in the following ways:

  1. Puts money in your pocket
  2. Allows you to gain experience in the Exercise Science field
  3. Helps pay for college (if you are shooting for a B.S., or advanced degree)
  4. Provides a strong foundation to further your exercise science studies

Top 3 Personal Training Certifications

Below are the best certification options to choose from:

  1. NASM
  2. Fitness Mentors
  3. ACE

Physical Therapist

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), a career in Physical Therapy has some very promising advantages.

For starters, the median pay approaches $90,000 per year, is expected to grow 28% by 2016 (which is much faster than average), and consistently ranks as one of the best jobs in healthcare for work-life balance.

Physical therapy jobs tend to require a doctoral degree (DPT), although some may accept a master’s degree. says that doctoral physical therapy degrees can cost $35,000 (such as the doctorate in physical therapy at the University of Illinois at Chicago), or much more for out-of-state students, such as The University of Delaware’s doctoral program which costs over $75,000. That is on top of the money you spend for your bachelors degree.

Athletic Trainer

Athletic trainers also rank high on this list as the profession is similar in scope to that of personal trainers, yet requires a formal bachelor’s degree in a specialized program and the passing of a state licensure exam. Athletic trainers have a median income of $46,630 per year according to the BLS, and have a rapid rate of employment at 23% when looking out to 2016.

One of the coolest things I find about athletic trainer careers is that they often work alongside athletes within educational settings such as colleges of universities.This often means these professionals are the ones who work hand-in-hand with some of the best up-and-coming athletic talent in the country.

They can also work with younger students, within hospitals, or even for professional sports teams.

Exercise Physiologist

With a median pay of just under $50,000 per year, and a faster than average job outlook, a career in exercise physiology is a popular choice for many looking to put their Exercise Science degree to work.

This type of career typically requires a Masters in Exercise Physiology, which on average takes 6 years of total college time as well as requires board certification through the American Society of Exercise Physiologists.

Another interesting aspect of this career is that about half of all exercise physiologists are self-employed. So if you have an entrepreneurial spirit and enjoy the freedom of owning your own business, you may be able to do well in this career.

PE Teacher

According to ZipRecruiter, PE teachers make about $42,500 per year. While this is the lowest salary on this list, you have to remember that these teachers tend to have summers off and benefit from all school holidays as well as teacher pensions.

Typical education requirements for this career include a bachelor’s degree in exercise science as well as a teaching credential or a masters in education. Often times a personal training certification will enhance the likelihood of employment as well.

We also can’t forget that PE teachers get to hang out in gym clothes all day, coach fun sports like kickball and dodgeball, and even be physical fitness role models for many of their students.

Granted there is some give and take for each of the professions on this list in terms of knocking off all the boxes of the most ideal career, but the daily life of the PE coach can be very rewarding.

Exercise Science Degrees and Educational Considerations

As we have learned above, not all careers within Exercise Science require a full-fledged bachelor’s degree. Similarly, we’ve learned that many sought after degrees within Exercise Science require advanced degrees such as master’s or doctoral degrees.

With that in mind below is a comprehensive list of the many careers and their educational obligations. Note that some of these careers may overlap in multiple categories.

Exercise Science Careers that don’t require Degrees

  • Personal Training
  • Aerobics Instructor
  • Fitness Coach
  • Gym Manager
  • Massage Therapist
  • Physical Therapy Assistant

Exercise Science Careers that require Bachelor’s Degrees

  • Athletic Director
  • Community Program Director
  • Kinesiologist
  • Massage Therapist
  • Athletic Trainer (ATC)
  • Physical Education Teacher
  • Recreation and Sports Director
  • Registered Nurse
  • Sports Coach
  • Sports Facility Manager
  • Strength and Conditioning Coach

Exercise Science Careers that require Master’s or Doctoral Degrees

  • Doctor (MD)
  • Exercise Physiologist
  • Chiropractor (DC)
  • Registered Dietician
  • Occupational Therapist
  • Physical Therapist (DPT)
  • Physician Assistant
  • Exercise Physiologist
  • Physical Rehabilitation

FAQs for Exercise Science Careers and The Best Education Paths

The most common way to make money with an Exercise Science career path is personal training. While personal training doesn’t require a degree, those who get certified are able to put money into their pockets quickly and build a strong foundation for further career advancement.

Exercise Science generally offers courses in Anatomy, Physiology, Kinesiology, and Nutrition. Jobs can range from personal trainers and strength and conditioning coaches to physical therapists and physician assistants – so Exercise Science can be lucrative.

Not quite. Kinesiology is a more broad study that focuses on human movement and its effects on an individual’s health. Exercise Science is a sub-field more fine-tuned into learning and influencing human responses to exercise.

Bachelor’s degrees will open you up to mid-level jobs in the fitness industry. Examples of these degrees include Bachelor’s in Sports Management, Health Sciences, Nutrition Science, or Health and Wellness. Graduate degrees, like master’s and doctorate, qualify for higher-level positions. These programs might include a master’s in Exercise Science and Wellness or Human Performance, an MBA in Health Care Management, a Ph.D. in Education for Sports Management, or a medical degree in Sports & Athletic Management. While personal training only requires a certification, you can also get an associate’s degree in Exercise Science, giving you a solid foundation to start personal training.


Closing Thoughts on Exercise Science Careers

You should now have a better idea of what you can do in the exciting field that is Exercise Science. For many, a bachelor’s degree at a college or university is the path that they will take to become educated in the many areas of movement and exercise. For others, the bachelor’s is just a stepping stone for a more advanced degree as in the case of physical therapy, physician’s assistant, or doctoral paths. Others may be surprised to learn there are many rewarding careers in Exercise Science that do not require a college degree, and the most popular career in this field, a certified personal trainer, demonstrates that.

When considering your education and career path, keep in mind the following:

  • The education required
  • The financial commitment
  • The time investment
  • The typical salary
  • Your passion for the career

With these considerations in mind, you should be able to paint a great picture of where you want your career to take you.

What is your experience with jobs and education in the Exercise Science niche? Is there any tip you wish you knew before you started your studies or career? Let us know in the comments.

Personal Trainer Career Roadmap

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8 Ways to Jumpstart Your Personal Training Career in 2022 (infographic)

8 Ways to Jumpstart Your Personal Training Career

8 Ways to Jumpstart Your Personal Training Career (infographic)

Use this simple guide to jumpstart your personal training career. Here are the steps needed to go from personal training weakling to personal training career beast mode in no time:

  1. Start at the Beginning

First things first, know that before you get into personal training you need to be 18 or older, have a high school diploma or GED and be CPR certified.

  1. Get Credentials

There are many personal training accreditation bodies. Find one that works for you and study for the test. Our personal favorite is the NASM. Study for the NASM-CPT.

  1. Extra Credentials

Extra credentials will set you apart from the pack and allow you hone in on the areas of personal fitness that you are most interested in.

  1. Build on Your Foundation

Most really successful personal trainers find a niche that they excel at. This can be yoga, buy xenical online discount power lifting or martial arts. Whatever yours is, become the best at it.

  1. Your Fitness Theory

This is what really defines you as a personal trainer. Your thoughts and feelings about health, how you promote it, the exercises you recommend and your nutritional habits all define your fitness theory.

  1. Personal Branding

You are a reflection of your product. Make sure your personal brand reflects someone who is strong, healthy and fit.

  1. Product Branding

This is where you tell your story and show the world what being a client of yours will bring to the table. It also incorporates branded exercises or fitness strategies unique to your name.

  1. Business Registration

While not necessarily the last item you should tick off this list, registering your business and making it all legal is a top priority.

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Personal Trainer Career Guide: Beyond Your CPT

Whether you work in a commercial facility, within a CrossFit-like gym, conduct group fitness classes outdoors or work in a private studio, this guide is for you.

No matter what type of personal training environment you are in, marketing yourself and your brand after you get your CPT is challenging. With the help of this guide, you will be able to learn about how to be a successful personal trainer based on your individual or company goals.

Keep in mind that some sections may or may not pertain to your career specifically so feel free to skip around the sections that do.

Beyond the PT Certification

Let’s assume that you already have your personal training certification with some central authority such as NASM, ACE, ACSM or the like. As you are likely aware, this is just the ticket to entry and does not really influence your potential clients’ decision in working with you or some other personal trainer. When was the last time someone approached you and asked you what personal trainer certification you had? Probably never.

That said, what really matters to potential clients and for your own personal advancement are your extra credentials beyond the standard PT certification. When we train personal trainers to get their NASM-CPT and start to talk about advancing their careers and gaining a competitive edge, we recommend that they stick within the NASM certification authority for two main reasons:

  1. They are already familiar with the accrediting authority;
  2. The additional certs transfer towards the continuing education credits (CEUs) needed to recertify.

Of course this train of thought – maintaining familiarity and working towards CE – can be applied to any authority, not just NASM.

In terms of picking additional credentials, you should consider them based on what is going to make you the most valuable to the type of clients you want to serve. In sticking with the NASM example, two of the most popular additional, or add-on, certifications are the Corrective Exercise Specialist (CES) and Fitness Nutrition Specialist (FNS) certifications. As mentioned above, these certifications, or at least variations of them, are available through most of the accreditation bodies. 

If your goals are to help clients overcome pain or help clients formulate diet plans along with fitness regimens, then the CES and FNS (or equivalent) certifications would be a good tool to have under your belt.

If you want to look like a real badass (who doesn’t?), consider getting a Mixed Martial Arts Specialist (MMAS) or Performance Enhancement Specialist (PES) certification (or equivalent) to showcase to your potential clients that you have sick ninja skills and that you can help them elevate their hoop dreams to a whole other level. Bottom line is get some certifications that help you improve your offerings as a professional and as a resource to your clients.

Selling Your Fitness Theory

What the @#$% is a “fitness theory” you ask? A fitness theory is your core belief about what true health really is. Think of a major brand like Coca-Cola for example. They aren’t selling deliciously (unhealthy) soda, they are selling happiness in a bottle. 

For the fitness professional, you aren’t selling sweat and muscles, you’re selling the confidence, self-esteem and attractiveness that comes with being in shape. Your fitness theory will define you as a trainer and at the same time become your sales pitch.

Maybe you can relate to my story; as I began my career in fitness I didn’t really know what my fitness theory was, I just sold someone else’s theory and was sort of this pawn. After I gained some confidence in my training style and approach I soon began to realize I didn’t really believe what I was selling, 

I was just piggybacking off what some other respectable trainers had done. Well screw that, you are your own brand and you have to believe in what you are promoting and selling otherwise your clients won’t.

Here are some questions to ask yourself to help you recognize your fitness theory:

  1. What is health to me?
  2. What is my daily routine to promote health?
  3. What are the best types of exercises I used to get in the best shape?
  4. What do I eat and why?
  5. What is the best way to create a new habit or behavior?

Take a moment to write down your answers to these questions. I’ll wait here, maybe do a pushup or two. All done? Great!

Do you believe in what you wrote down? You should, here’s why. You are the prime example your clients are looking at to give them an idea if your theory – albeit adapted – will work for them. If your idea of health is an alignment of physical, mental and nutritional wellbeing, do you think your clients can identify with that? 

Does your diet consist of lots of healthy proteins, fruits and vegetables and healthy fats? Great! Unlike the overweight doctor who tells his patients they need to “watch what they eat,” you are the end-result of your fitness theory and are the image your clients can emulate.

Documenting Your Fitness Theory

Now that you have identified clear and objectionable actions that can be emulated to live a life of fitness you should document your approach so that you can provide it to your clients.

It’s one thing to tell your clients a nutritional plan they should follow and then another to provide them with a nutrition document that outlines it for them. Other documents you should create to help you promote your fitness theory and keep your clients aligned with their goals can include:

  • Fitness programs
  • Meal plans
  • Behavioral change strategies
  • Exercise charts

Keep in mind that if you put enough time and effort in these documents you can sell them to your clients or the general public. You are in business to monetize yourself right? 

Base your documents on research, data and your expertise. They will form the template in which you train and help to keep you consistent – just xenical purchase like a Big Mac in Miami and a Big Mac in Spain. Not that you eat Big Mac’s.

Personal and Product Branding

Remember when you answered the question above “What is my daily routine to promote health?” This is essentially your own personal version of branding. 

Personal branding is a fairly easy concept to grasp but one that you should be conscious of and evoke in your day-to-day life. For example, people in your local community that see you at the grocery or health foods market will see the food choices you make. 

They’ll notice that you make healthy food choices and that McD’s isn’t part of your diet. They’ll also notice, if you’re anything like 90 percent of the personal trainers out there, that you are always wearing fitness clothes, probably because you just got out of the gym or engaged in some type of training. With all this healthy eating and training you are doing you are probably looking pretty good. 

You know what, people who look good get a lot of attention and your attractiveness has a lot to do with your personal brand. Extend your personal brand to your clients and encourage them to eat like you, workout like you and let their friends know what they are doing to live this great life of health and fitness.

Product Branding

Product branding is equally as important to personal branding but will take a bit more consideration and implementation. Above we mentioned that you’re selling the confidence, self-esteem and attractiveness that comes with being in shape in your personal brand. 

Let’s think about some ways that can translate into selling your product.

First, let’s consider what a personal trainer’s product could look like. Again, keeping in mind that what you are really selling is a lifestyle change, let’s look at what the tangible objects are that will get you there. What better place to look than what the 10 highest paid personal trainers are selling. 

Here’s some examples of what a few of these personal trainers “sell” to get the reputation they have (based on an article from

Bernardo Coppola– along with training celebrities, Coppola is known for challenging his clients to eat less sugar, processed foods, avoid caffeine, alcohol and sodium and has even developed a catering company and restaurant around this product.

Tracy Anderson– creator of the “Tracy Anderson Method,” a Pilates-style program that introduces members to new exercises, stretches and lots of reps.

David Buer– often recognized for selling his story of being bullied for being fat as a boy, Buer now has his own fitness blog in the Huffington Post. He is also known for helping clients with injuries and post-surgical rehab.

Can you see how these famous personal trainers sell not only their personal brands but also their own product based on their beliefs and expertise? How can you incorporate your interests, certifications and desires of your clients into a product brand that is targeted and desirable? 

Here are some tips to help you get started:

  • Define Your Brand
    • Use your fitness theory to clearly define what it is that can help make a difference in people’s fitness and health. Above, Coppola’s brand involved a clearly defined way of eating or put another way, not eating.
  • Define Your Audience
    • Who are the types of people who would benefit from your fitness theory? What demographic research can you find on them that is quantifiable? Address specific ages, incomes, occupations, personality types and any other data you can get your hands on to learn about who you will be appealing to.
  • Create Your Brand Name
    • Will it be like the “Tracy Anderson Method,” the “Booty Fit Club,” “Five Minute Abs” or some other type or personal name? Keep it simple and use your fitness theory as a basis.
  • Tell Your Story
    • Were you once a chubby little kid with an accent that got picked on like Buer? What is it that motivated you to create your product?
  • Create a Logo and Tagline
    • Keep it simple here too. Hire a professional graphic designer and pay attention to color schemes and psychology.
  • Create Your Image
    • Your branding should be consistent across all mediums so that you become instantly recognizable. Use the same color schemes, fonts and layouts whenever possible. In the design world this is called a “style guide.” Use a graphic designer who understands this.

Personal Trainer Career Guide Conclusion

Once you begin a career in personal training your certification is only the beginning. This really only makes you par for the course and doesn’t really distinguish you from the pack or help you market yourself. 

This is why advanced certifications are so important. When progressing your education and obtaining mandatory CEUs, you should consider the certifications that going to make you the most valuable to the type of clients you want to serve. Once you start to get some expertise in specific areas, the next thing you’ll want to think about investing in is your fitness theory or your core beliefs about what true health really is. 

You’ll be relating to this again and again as you build your personal and product brands and help your clients identify with your health and fitness beliefs. Your personal brand is showcased in how you live according to what you preach and your product brand by your promotion of very specific services. 

This could be your bodyweight exercise regimen or your personal training namesake, “Body’s by Jason.” Think about how some of the more well-known personal trainers have evolved their product brands and how much thinking they have put into telling their story, defining their audience and promoting their branding.

Using these tips will help you grow your business and meet your personal training career goals. Like turning a coach potato into a chiseled specimen of human, it will take time, dedication and perseverance, all things that you are ready for.

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