Exercise physiologists, also called kinesiotherapists, design fitness programs that aid in patient recovery from illness and injury. More specifically, they work with patients to improve a number of physiological functions. Most patients who receive care from exercise physiologists need to follow specific regimens that decrease symptoms from chronic illnesses (cardiovascular disease, pulmonary disease, diabetes, etc.) and improve overall health (mobility, body composition, vital signs, etc.).
Why Become An Exercise Physiologist
Contrary to physical therapists or trainers, exercise physiologists are experts in creating unique plans for individual patients based on their medical histories. They not only create exercise regimens, but they maintain medical records by recording vital signs, performing various assessments (i.e. stress tests), and educating their patients about holistic health habits.
To be an effective exercise physiologist, one must inhabit specific qualities and expert knowledge:
Excellent communication skills
Critical problem solving skills
Deep knowledge of physiology (body functions)
Exercise Physiologist Work Environment
Exercise physiologists are akin to other healthcare professionals who work in a clinical environment, such as cardiovascular rehabilitation clinics, fitness and wellness centers, and physical therapy facilities. They work in a variety of settings, mostly in hospitals and practitioners’ offices. Nearly half work independently as self-employed healthcare practitioners. Exercise physiologists typically work fulltime during normal business hours.
Exercise Physiologist Salary
According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, exercise physiologists can expect to earn a median annual salary of $47,010. The salary range for this occupation is from $31,540 to $73,840, which depends upon experience, training, and employment.
Due to evolving medical practices and perspectives, the outlook for a career as an exercise physiologist is positive. This occupation is expected to see an 11-percent growth in the next decade, mostly due to an increasing focus on preventative and holistic healthcare practices. Although there is a growing need for medical professionals to help patients in this capacity, the employment field is small; therefore, the competition for a job will be strong. In addition, licensure and other safe practice standards are diverse and non-standardized. As the profession grows so will parameters and open positions.
Exercise Physiologist Degree
Exercise physiologists must have at least a bachelor’s degree to practice with patients. Some licensure may be required and certification will lead to more gainful employment. Research and teaching positions require a Ph.D.
Step 1: Obtain a bachelor’s degree. It is important for aspiring exercise physiologists to obtain a degree from an accredited program. The Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) offers approximately 50 accredited programs at various facilities throughout the U.S. Ultimately, a program should prepare students to pass the American Society of Exercise Physiologists (ASEP) certification examination. Most programs include exercise science courses, such as anatomy, nutrition, physiology, physics of movement, kinesiology, motor development, psychology, and athletic training. Students should also be sure to take courses to improve technological and communication skills, provide hands-on experience, and acquire life saving skills (CPR, First Aid, cardiac care, and life support).
Note: Although only a bachelor’s degree is required, many employers prefer individuals with a master’s degree. Many programs offer a pathway toward a graduate degree to run congruent with completing an undergraduate program. This option typically takes an additional year of study.
Step 2: Become board certified (optional). Due to strong competition within the field, many practitioners will seek ASEP board certification. Certification requires at least a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field, passing the ASEP examination, and continuing education. Other certifications exist, such as the Certified Clinical Exercise Physiologist (CEP) credential and the Registered Clinical Exercise Physiologist (RCEP) credential. The CEP requires a bachelor’s degree and the completion of 400 supervised clinical hours, while the RCEP requires a master’s degree and the completion of 600 supervised clinical hours. Individuals must pass an exam to earn these certifications.
Note: To date, the state of Louisiana is the only state that requires state licensure of its exercise physiologists.