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Exercise Physiologists

At a Glance

  • Develop exercise programs for individuals
  • Use muscles for long periods of time
  • Have at least a bachelor's degree
  • May have a certificate

Career summary

Exercise physiologists use physical activity to treat people who are ill. They also help healthy people improve or maintain their fitness or performance.

#3/5/19 lh

The field of exercise physiology has two areas of specialization, fitness and rehabilitation.


Exercise physiologists who specialize in fitness focus on:

Human performance specialists educate and train athletes. They work with athletes to improve their stamina, lower performance times, and decrease recovery time after competitions.

Biomechanics specialists help clients improve their sports performance.

Exercise physiologists who specialize in athletic training prevent and care for athletic injuries. They also work with clients who are trying to get in shape.


Exercise physiologists who specialize in rehabilitation are called clinical exercise physiologists. They work with patients who are ill or recovering from injuries or dealing with chronic conditions, such as arthritis or lower back pain.

Physiologists conduct fitness tests on new patients to assess their physical condition and prescribe appropriate exercises. They demonstrate and explain the purpose of each exercise. They monitor their patients' progress and write detailed reports describing their fitness level.

Exercise physiologists usually work in health, fitness, wellness, and rehabilitation centers or clinics. They may also work at universities and human performance laboratories.

Related careers

This career is part of the Health Science cluster of careers.

Related careers include:

Job duties

Task list

The following list of tasks is specific to exercise physiologists.

Common work activities

Exercise physiologists perform the following tasks. These tasks are common to many careers.

Work requirements

Working conditions

In a typical work setting, exercise physiologists:

Interpersonal relationships

Physical work conditions

Work performance


Physical demands

Exercise physiologists frequently:

It is important for exercise physiologists to be able to:

It is not as important, but still necessary, for exercise physiologists to be able to:

Skills and abilities

Exercise physiologists need to:


Reason and problem solve

Manage oneself, people, time, and things

Work with people

Education and training

Educational programs

The programs of study listed below will help you prepare for the occupation or career cluster you are exploring.

Programs of study directly related to this occupation

Other programs of study to consider


To work as an exercise physiologist, you typically need to:

Education after high school

The education requirements vary depending on employment. A bachelor's degree in exercise physiology or exercise science is the minimum requirement. A master's degree is necessary for certain types of employment, such as in hospitals. Practical experience gained through an internship or part-time employment is highly recommended. For an academic career in research and teaching, a PhD is required.

The field of exercise physiology is rapidly evolving as researchers learn more about the effects of physical activity on the human body, so continuing education is a necessity. Independent professional organizations provide ongoing education and training for exercise physiologists.

On-the-job training

A significant part of studying to become an exercise physiologist is spending time in clinical settings. During this period students work directly with patients and clients.

Helpful high school courses

In high school, take classes that prepare you for college. A college preparatory curriculum (external link) may be different from your state's graduation requirements (external link).

You should also consider taking some advanced courses in high school. This includes Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) courses if they are available in your school. If you do well in these courses, you may receive college credit for them. Advanced courses can also strengthen your college application.

Helpful electives to take in high school that prepare you for this career include:

Many exercise physiologists are self-employed. If you want to run your own business some day, you should consider taking these courses as well:

The courses listed above are meant to help you create your high school plan. If you have not already done so, talk to a school counselor or parent about the courses you are considering taking.

You should also check with a teacher or counselor to see if work-based learning opportunities are available in your school and community. These might include field trips, job shadowing, internships, and actual work experience. The goal of these activities is to help you connect your school experiences with real-life work.

Join some groups, try some hobbies, or volunteer with an organization that interests you. By participating in activities you can have fun, make new friends, and learn about yourself. Maybe one of them will help direct you to a future career. Here are examples of activities and groups (PDF file) that may be available in your high school or community.

Things to know

Employers look for applicants who have at least a bachelor's degree. Employers prefer to hire physiologists who get along well with people and communicate clearly. A caring, helpful attitude is also an advantage in this occupation. Exercise physiologists must also be competent researchers and maintain a high level of physical fitness.


Currently no states require exercise physiologists to be licensed.

Optional certification and registration are available. Clinical exercise physiologists may register with the American College of Sports Medicine. To register, you must:

The organization also certifies physiologists as exercise specialists. To become certified, you must:

The American Society of Exercise Physiologists offers an exercise physiologist certificate. This is for workers who have at least a bachelor’s degree in the field and pass an exam. To keep their certification, exercise physiologists must take continuing education classes.

For more information about certification and registration, go to:
American College of Sports Medicine (external link)

For more information about certification, go to:
American Society of Exercise Physiologists (ASEP) (external link)

#Made changes to registration and cert requirements 4/5/16 cj. Added doctorate degree to registered cert; rest ok 3/27/18 cj. secure urls 3/5/19 lh


Exercise Physiologists (SOC 29-1128)

Pay Period
Washington Hourly $14.58 $18.59 $22.94 $28.00 $31.75
Monthly $2,527 $3,222 $3,976 $4,852 $5,502
Yearly $30,340 $38,670 $47,710 $58,230 $66,040
    Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue Hourly $13.56 $17.54 $22.49 $28.38 $32.76
Monthly $2,350 $3,040 $3,898 $4,918 $5,677
Yearly $28,216 $36,491 $46,798 $59,022 $68,133
    Vancouver Hourly $20.58 $22.11 $24.67 $29.69 $34.44
Monthly $3,567 $3,832 $4,275 $5,145 $5,968
Yearly $42,814 $45,989 $51,318 $61,752 $71,643
United States Hourly $16.54 $19.60 $23.69 $29.78 $37.89
Monthly $2,866 $3,397 $4,105 $5,161 $6,566
Yearly $34,410 $40,770 $49,270 $61,950 $78,810

Wages vary depending on the education and experience of the exercise physiologist. Wages also vary by employer.

Full-time exercise physiologists often receive benefits. These usually include paid vacation, sick leave, and health insurance. Self-employed exercise physiologists must provide their own insurance.

Employment and outlook

Washington outlook


The table below provides information about the number of workers in this career in various regions. It also provides information about the expected growth rate and future job openings.

Therapists, All Other (SOC 29-1128)

Location Current employment Growth over 10 years Annual openings
Washington 84 28.6% 16.1% 10
    Clallam, Jefferson, and Kitsap Counties 11 18.2% 11.9% 1
    King County 39 25.6% 19.6% 4
    Spokane County 10 20.0% 13.9% 1
United States 15,800 9.5% 5.2% 1,100

National employment

About 56% of exercise physiologists are self-employed.

Major employers:

National outlook

Demand for this occupation is growing, however, it is a very small occupation and not many new jobs will be created. Demand will grow as doctors and hospitals recognize the importance of exercise and preventative measures to fight chronic diseases.

Competition for jobs is very strong.

Other resources

American College of Sports Medicine (external link)
401 West Michigan Street
Indianapolis, IN 46202
American Counsel on Exercise (external link)
4851 Paramount Drive
San Diego, CA 92123
American Fitness Professionals and Associates (external link)
PO Box 214
Ship Bottom, NJ 08008
American Kinesiology Association (external link)
1900 Association Drive
Reston, VA 20191


Career cluster

Career path

O*Net (external link) occupation

O*Net job zone (external link)

DOT occupation

Holland occupational cluster