What is exercise science?
While the first thing many people think of when they hear the word "exercise" is "sports," the field of exercise science is a broad discipline that address the fitness and health needs of the population as a whole and is not limited only to athletes. It is a field of study that focuses on movement and the way it impacts function and adapts to change in the body. Exercise science encompasses the underlying principles of exercise, response to exercise, and adjustment in the face of injury. It also involves the study of multiple aspects of exercise and fitness including anatomy, physiology, kinesiology (the study of movement), the principles of strengthening and muscle training, and the impact of nutrition on the body. Many programs include courses to teach a holistic view of health, including normal aging and disease and injury prevention. Exercise scientists are also the recognized experts in biomechanics and performing fitness assessments.
What does an exercise scientist do?
Exercise scientists have many opportunities in the field of health, wellness, fitness training and rehabilitation. People with a degree in exercise science can become fitness or personal trainers, instructors in athletic enhancement programs, or instructors in wellness programs in a variety of settings. Exercise science graduates have a sophisticated understanding of the body and how it responds to exercises in the healthy population, and their contribution to successful health and fitness is significant. Environments that specialize in exercise or rehabilitation are in need of professionals with this particular knowledge, and more frequently industries that are not traditionally related to health care are beginning to appreciate the benefit of overall health and fitness and are seeking the professional input of these graduates.
What opportunities do I have for advancing my career?
A degree in exercise science can be a pathway to many other career opportunities. Degrees in exercise science are available at the associate's, bachelor's and master's level, and the degree will determine what opportunities a candidate is eligible for. An initial degree in exercise science paves the way for more advanced education in the areas of exercise physiology, biomechanics, physical or occupational therapy, or sports nutrition. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) offers advanced clinical certifications for students who have received bachelor's or master's degrees in the exercise science field, including Clinical Exercise Specialist and Clinical Exercise Physiologist. Some individuals with an exercise science degree go on to study medicine, often choosing to become physiatrists, doctors who specialize in rehabilitative medicine. A master's degree can also qualify a graduate to pursue specialty certification as a cardiopulmonary rehabilitation specialist. An occupational physiologist or ergonomic specialist is a professional who analyzes work settings and conditions and teaches optimal body mechanics for injury prevention, and a master's degree in exercises science can ultimately lead to this career as well.
Do I need a license or certification to work in the field of exercise science?
Many jobs in the industry of health and fitness can be enhanced with specialty certifications, including personal training and group exercise instruction, although few states require a license to work in these areas. A variety of certifications are offered through the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and other organizations. The education requirements for these vary, with some requiring only associate's degrees, and some requiring more advanced education up to and including master's degrees. Requirements for education-based certifications through the ACSM also require attendance at college or university programs that have been accredited by the Committee on the Accreditation for the Exercise Sciences. Careers in industries that require more advanced educations often have both license and certification requirements.
Who regulates the industry of exercise science?
Exercise science is not specifically regulated or overseen by any one agency. The profession is recognized by the American Medical Association as part of the allied health industry, so recommendations are made for curriculum and internships. The American College of Sports Medicine issues certifications for those who want to pursue jobs where an employer seeks evidence of certain qualifications. The Committee of Accreditation for the Exercise Sciences is one agency that accredits college and university programs, and some specialty credentials require that students have degrees from accredited learning institutions. Graduates from exercise science programs who use their degrees to move into more specialized programs, like physical or occupational therapy, or cardiopulmonary rehabilitation, will find that criteria for employment includes passing national examinations and state licensure.
How do I decide what route is best for me?
The best thing to do when considering a career in an area that offers a wide variety of choices is to do some personal research. Talk to exercise specialists in your area, ranging from the trainers at the local health club, to the sports medicine specialists in a rehabilitation center. Ask them what they enjoy most about their jobs, and ask them how they were qualified to do it. What level of education did they get, and how do they keep their knowledge base current? If possible, volunteer at a local center to get a feel for how the workday goes and what kinds of clients are seen. Your research should include learning about the eligibility criteria for your long-term exercise science career goals, including accreditation requirements, state licensure and certification guidelines.