Exercise physiologists analyze their patients’ fitness in order to help them improve their health or maintain good health. They help patients with heart disease and other chronic conditions, like diabetes or pulmonary (lung) disease, to regain their health. They also work with both amateur and professional athletes who are hoping to boost their performance.
Using stress tests and other evaluation tools, the exercise physiologist evaluates a patient’s cardiovascular function and metabolism and then designs a fitness plan that will meet the patient’s goals and/or needs, including building endurance and strength and increasing fitness and flexibility. A certified exercise physiologist is trained to:
- Administer exercise stress tests in healthy and unhealthy populations
- Evaluate a person’s overall health, with special attention to cardiovascular function and metabolism
- Develop individualized exercise prescriptions to increase physical fitness, strength, endurance, and flexibility
- Design customized exercise programs to meet health care needs and athletic performance goals
Sports medicine and athletic training facilities employ 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. You may also meet exercise physiologists who work as clinicians, sports directors, coaches or trainers, wellness directors, exercise managers, program coordinators, rehabilitation specialists or several other titles.
An exercise physiologist is not the same as a personal trainer. An exercise physiologist is a health care professional who has completed a degree in exercise physiology and/or has been certified by the American Society of Exercise Physiologists.
Exercise physiologists work in:
- Athletic training programs at colleges and universities
- Corporate wellness programs
- Fitness facilities
- Military training centers
- Rehabilitation clinics
Salary Range and Outlook
Salaries for exercise physiologists vary by location, certification and experience. The median base salary is $46,270, with a range between $30,700 and $73,000.
While many employers hire exercise physiologists with a bachelor’s degree, those who wish to work in cardiac rehabilitation are likely to need a master’s degree. The academic coursework in exercise physiology should include:
- Cardiac rehabilitation
- ECG interpretation
- Exercise physiology
- Exercise physiology research
- Exercise testing and prescription
- Kinesiology (functional anatomy)
- Sports nutrition
Internships provide hands-on experience developing and monitoring exercise programs.
To become board certified, you must pass an examination administered by ASEP. The examination tests both academic knowledge and laboratory and practical skills. In addition, exercise physiologists are expected to sustain their professional membership and complete continuing education courses throughout their careers.