Exercise Physiologist

Applied Exercise Physiologist, Bariatric Weight Loss Clinic Manager and Counselor   More Names
Cardiac Exercise Physiologist, Cardiac Exercise Specialist, Cardiac Rehabilitation Exercise Physiologist, Cardiac Rehabilitation Program Director, Clinical Coordinator, Heart Failure Cardiac Rehabilitation, Clinical Exercise Physiologist, Clinical Exercise Specialist, Coordinator Cardiopulmonary Services, Director of Cardiac Rehabilitation, Director of Rehabilitation and Wellness, Electrophysiology Technician, Exercise Physiologist, Exercise Physiologist Certified (EPC), Exercise Physiologist, Lifestyle and Weight Management Consultant, Exercise Physiologists, Exercise Specialist, Kinesiotherapist, Medical Exercise Physiologist, Personal Trainer, Registered Clinical Exercise Physiologist, Research Exercise Physiologist, Sports Physiologist

Develop and carryout physical exercise programs for individuals or groups to enhance fitness and health. May work in clinical settings to design and conduct exercise programs to help patients with rehabilitation therapy. Also may conduct scientifically-based research on physical exercise fitness and patient rehabilitation.

Direct scientifically-based exercise programs for overall health maintenance and cardiac risk reduction. Use knowledge of muscular activity in exercise to assist patients with rehabilitation therapy programs.

Engage in consultation and implementation of preventive medicine and wellness programs on behalf of individuals and groups, such as employees of a business or members of an organization. Conduct controlled investigations of responses and adaptations to muscular activity.

Exercise physiologists are charged with understanding the body's acute and chronic physical responses and adaptations to exercise. There are a number of specialized careers that allow exercise physiologists to practice and apply this knowledge, with the three most common being applied exercise physiologist, clinical exercise physiologist, and research exercise physiologist. Regardless of the professional track one chooses, all exercise physiologists work toward the goal of improving and maintaining health.

Applied exercise physiologists, also known as personal trainers, work with individuals to assess functional capacity and then develop and implement exercise programs for enhancing physical fitness and health. These are generally individual or small-group sessions (two to five clients) which typically occur in the client's home, the personal trainer's studio or a fitness facility. Applied exercise physiologists also may help individuals in one-on-one sessions with health and fitness objectives to develop and implement an exercise program fitted to their needs. Such needs might include weight loss or weight maintenance as well as overall physical conditioning. Personal trainers benefit from having a strong academic background in exercise physiology, biomechanics, fitness assessment, exercise prescription, and exercise leadership.

Clinical exercise physiologists are certified health professionals who use scientific rationale to design, implement and supervise exercise programming for those with chronic diseases, conditions and/or physical shortcomings. They also assess the results of outcomes related to exercise services provided to those individuals. Clinical exercise physiologists provide services that focus on the improvement of physical capabilities for the purpose of: (1) chronic disease management; (2) reducing risks for early development or recurrence of chronic diseases; (3) creating lifestyle habits that promote enhancement of health; (4) facilitating the elimination of barriers to habitual lifestyle changes through goal-setting and prioritizing; (5) improving the ease of daily living activities; (6) and increasing the likelihood of long-term physical, social and economic independence. Clinical exercise physiologists work in settings that generally include hospitals, outpatient clinics, and medically supervised fitness centers.

Research exercise physiologists primarily focus on conducting research which may be basic research - investigating cellular and molecular questions such as how organ systems work, adapt, and respond to various factors - or applied research - investigating practical questions such as ways to increase athletic performance or improve health and reduce disease. Research exercise physiologists typically work for four-year colleges and universities, with some choosing alternatively to work for independent research centers.

As these career descriptions show, exercise physiologists may work in a variety of settings. Within healthcare, they may be found in hospitals or physical therapy offices where they provide rehabilitative treatments or offer consultations to physicians, therapists, or their patients. They also may work with clinics, community organizations, and businesses on preventive medicine and wellness programs.

Some exercise physiologists - especially applied exercise physiologists - work closely with sports medicine clinics and athletic teams on conditioning programs to help prevent or heal injuries. In these cases, they will use their knowledge of the effects of exercise to analyze each sport and design an exercise program tailored to the athletes' needs in that sport.

Sports medicine and athletic training facilities employ exercise physiologists - including clinical and research exercise physiologists - to create programs that help athletes reduce the number of injuries and recover faster from them. Makers of athletic equipment hire exercise physiologists to design sports gear. Exercise physiologists also run their own businesses as sports or athletic performance consultants.

In a hospital or physical therapy office, exercise physiologists - especially clinical exercise physiologists - may help cardiac patients develop stronger hearts, emphysema patients build healthier lungs, and arthritic patients make free movements. Patients with heart disease, lung disease, arthritis, as well as diabetes, cancer, and a number of other conditions can all benefit from such physical activity. However, while some activities are good for certain types of patients, these same activities can be dangerous for people with other medical conditions. Exercise physiologists prescribe exercise programs for each patient, monitor patients while they exercise, and track each person's progress.

When a patient first comes to a hospital rehabilitation center, a clinical exercise physiologist usually will conduct a fitness test to assess the patient's physical condition. This often involves having a patient walk or run on a treadmill, after connecting them to an EKG machine, to track heart rate and rhythm; a pulse meter, to track oxygen in the blood; and a blood pressure cuff, to gauge the pressure exerted by the heart in pumping blood throughout the body. The fitness assessment also may involve using weights and other instruments to measure a patient's strength and flexibility. Based on the results of these various tests, the exercise physiologist will then prescribe appropriate exercises.

In designing activity prescriptions, exercise physiologists use their understanding of how exercise affects the body to fit the exercise to the patient. For example, when working with a patient who has lung disease that causes shortness of breath, they often will recommend low-intensity exercises that don't deplete too much oxygen in the blood. Over time, the difficulty of activities normally will increase to strengthen lung function. In addition to showing a patient how to correctly do an exercise, they also explain the purpose of each activity and monitor patients as they workout.

Exercise physiologists stay alert for patient difficulties and are prepared to handle emergencies. They stand ready to assist patients who have heart attacks, fainting spells, allergic reactions, or other crises. At the same time, they offer continual encouragement to patients, using such means as progress reports that show improving fitness capacity.

Each specialty within the overall field of exercise physiology has its own internal career pathway. Within this broad field, an overall progression from applied exercise physiologist to clinical exercise physiologist to research exercise physiologist can also be found. In general such a progression usually is accomplished through a combination of graduate degree education coupled with work experience.

Credentials Needed: Clinical exercise physiologists are required to be licensed in the state of Louisiana, but not in other states at this time. Several state legislatures are considering whether clinical exercise physiologists, or other exercise physiologist career specialties, should be required to be licensed or registered in order to practice. The Clinical Exercise Physiology Association (CEPA) includes state updates on its website for this licensure issue. There are several voluntary industry-based, skill certifications that support the of exercise physiologist. For example, the American Society of Exercise Physiologists (ASEP) offers the Exercise Physiologist Certified credential for those who have a bachelor's degree in the field and who pass an exam.

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) also sponsors over a half-dozen certifications for the different specific careers within exercise physiology. For the applied exercise physiologist (personal trainer), the ACSM provides two levels of certification to support the personal training profession. The Certified Personal Trainer (CPT) certification is the foundation certification for those entering the profession. The Health Fitness Specialist Certification (HFSC) is a more advanced certification requiring more knowledge of special populations and facility management. This certification requires a minimum of a Bachelor's degree in exercise physiology, exercise science or the equivalent.

For clinical exercise physiologists, the Certified Clinical Exercise Specialist (CCES) is usually the minimal-level certification necessary to work in clinical programs such as those in cardiopulmonary or diabetes rehabilitation. The CCES has an educational requirement of a minimum of a bachelor's degree in exercise science, exercise physiology or the equivalent. At a more advanced level, the Registered Clinical Exercise Physiologist (RCEP) typically works with individuals who are referred by, or are currently under the care of, a physician. A master's or doctorate degree in exercise physiology, exercise science, or kinesiology, plus 600 hours of clinical experience are among the prerequisite requirements needed to take the RCEP certification examination.

For research exercise physiologists a Ph.D, or other terminal degree, typically is required and involves at least four to five years of schooling beyond the undergraduate level.

More information on these and other ACSM certifications is available on their website under ACSM - Certification.

Professional registration and certification increases exercise physiologists' employment and promotion opportunities.

Some Key Things to Remember: Exercise physiologists use knowledge of muscular activity in exercise to assist patients with preventive medicine and rehabilitation therapy programs such as in cardiac, respiratory, and physical therapies. They prescribe exercise programs for each patient, monitor them during exercise, and track each person's progress. Most exercise physiologists have at least a bachelor's degree in exercise science or exercise physiology. One state currently requires exercise physiologists to be licensed, while obtaining a voluntary industry-based skill certification is viewed as an advantage in seeking employment or promotion throughout the nation.

Exercise physiologists may work in health care and athletic training settings in colleges and universities, athletic programs, fitness facilities, corporate wellness programs, military training centers, rehabilitation clinics and hospitals. They may obtain employment as clinicians, sports directors, coaches or trainers, wellness directors, exercise managers, program coordinators, or rehabilitation specialists. There are a number of specialized careers that allow exercise physiologists to practice and apply their knowledge, with the three most common being applied exercise physiologist, clinical exercise physiologist, and research exercise physiologist.

Reviewed for content and accuracy by Richard T. Cotton, M.A., National Director of Certification, American College of Sports Medicine, January 26 and 27, 2012.

More Details
Job Growth and Wages
Percent Job Growth:  
11% - Average
Typical Wages (National):  
Annual: $38,270 - $59,500    Hourly: $18 - $29
Physical/Medical/Health Requirements

No specifc requirement is identified at this time.

Legal Requirements

Career Snapshot

Typical Education:

Master's and Above (High School + 6 or more Years)
Find Programs

Percent Job Growth:

11% - Average
Find Jobs

Typical Wages:

Annual: $38,270 - $59,500

Hourly: $18 - $29