What Is an Exercise Physiologist?

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated November 3, 2022 | Published February 25, 2020

Updated November 3, 2022

Published February 25, 2020

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

For those who enjoy working with people and helping keep them healthy and physically fit, becoming an exercise physiologist may be an ideal career. Exercise physiologists provide their patients with expert recommendations that help them make changes to their habits and routines to boost their health. Learning the various aspects of this position can allow you to make the best choices for your career. In this article, we discuss what an exercise physiologist is, what the job entails and the steps you need to take to become one.

What is an exercise physiologist?

An exercise physiologist is a medical professional who helps people find actionable ways to improve their health. By analyzing the level of fitness of each patient, they are able to assess their health and find areas that would benefit from improvement. They help their patients develop personalized exercise regimens and other related programs. Exercise physiologists typically work with those who are suffering from chronic illnesses. They also often work with amateur and professional athletes to help them recover from injuries and other issues preventing them from performing to their best capabilities. Exercise physiologists help people perform exercises that boost flexibility, cardiovascular function and overall body composition.

The position of an exercise physiologist is similar to personal trainer, physical therapist and wellness coordinator however they do have differences as follows:

  • Personal trainer: While each of these positions uses exercises to help their clients improve their health and mobility, personal trainers do not typically have the same level of education as exercise physiologists. Additionally, a personal trainer is more focused on helping their clients lose weight and get fit, while an exercise physiologist is concerned with managing and eliminating diseases and their symptoms. Personal trainers typically work in fitness centers.

  • Physical therapist: Both physical therapists and exercise physiologists treat their patients using exercises and related equipment. However, physical therapists focus on restoring mobility, while exercise physiologists are concerned with relieving symptoms caused by diseases and other ailments. Physical therapists typically work in their own offices, but can also work in hospitals and may travel to meet their clients at home or in other locations.

  • Wellness coordinator: Wellness coordinators work for organizations to help employees achieve wellness in all areas of their lives. They promote nutritious diets and finding ways to be happier to help make employees more productive. Wellness coordinators typically work inside organizations and companies of all kinds.

What does an exercise physiologist do?

If you are interested in becoming an exercise physiologist, you will be responsible for most, if not all, of the following tasks:

  • Possessing vast fitness knowledge/education: Exercise physiologists are expected to stay current on all trends and developments in their field. They are also responsible for conveying this knowledge to their patients and educating them on cardiac and fitness rehabilitation.

  • Developing exercise programs: These professionals work with their patients to create customized exercise programs to help them achieve their full potential.

  • Assessing cardiovascular function: Exercise physiologists are responsible for regularly evaluating the cardiovascular fitness of their patients.

  • Administering cardiac stress tests: These professionals administer cardiac stress tests, analyze the results and explain the results to the patient.

  • Boosting patient health: No matter what methods they opt to use, an exercise physiologist is responsible for helping to improve their patient's overall health.

Exercise physiologist salary

An exercise physiologist's earnings vary based on experience level, employer and location. The average salary for an exercise physiologist in the United States is $50,062 per year, and some salaries range from $16,000 to $103,000 per year.

Related: Jobs That Pay Well

Skills for an exercise physiologist

If you are interested in becoming an exercise physiologist, you should develop the following skills:

  • Technical capacity: Due to the various types of software and equipment they work with, exercise physiologists are expected to be technically proficient.

  • Report-writing: Because exercise physiologists are responsible for presenting a variety of data and information, they must be skilled in writing reports.

  • Motivation: Since they often work alone, exercise physiologists should be able to stay motivated. Additionally, they must also be able to motivate their patients and keep them motivated throughout the process.

  • Collaboration: Exercise physiologists are often tasked with collaborating with other professionals, so they should be skilled in working with others.

  • Attention to detail: These professionals need to be highly detail-oriented, as many issues and conditions are hard to detect during their beginning stages. Moreover, given that they may also have a high volume of patients, they should be able to record and keep track of the specifics of every patient.

  • Interpersonal: In order to properly communicate and guide their patients, exercise physiologists need excellent interpersonal skills to build relationships.

  • Compassion: Exercise physiologists should possess a high level of compassion. They often interact with patients who are struggling, which requires compassion to make them feel more comfortable.

Related: Setting Goals to Improve Your Career

How to become an exercise physiologist

Given that the field is presently unregulated, there is no required path for those who wish to become exercise physiologists. This is because it is still a relatively new field within health care. However, if you are interested in becoming a reputable and respected exercise physiologist, the following is a list of steps you can take:

  1. Determine your career track: Since there are a variety of types of exercise physiologists, you should first research and take the time to decide which type is most in line with your professional goals and interests. Depending on if you wish to work in a hospital, physical therapy office, fitness center, well center or cardiac rehabilitation center, you will need to acquire different knowledge and skill sets.

  2. Choose an undergraduate program: Earning a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution is highly recommended. Exercise physiologists typically major in kinesiology, exercise science or other related fields. While earning your degree, study topics such as nutrition, exercise science, physics of movement, athletic training and motor development.

  3. Research graduate programs: Many exercise physiologists earn a master's degree. While not always necessary, this degree will help you get prepared for the certification exam and gain more experience, while also affording you with the chance to learn more about your chosen field. Becoming board-certified will make you more reputable and knowledgeable in your field and can even help you advance your career.

  4. Get certified: By taking the exercise physiologist certification exam with an organization such as the American Society of Exercise Physiologists, you will put yourself in a better position with regard to securing positions and being promoted to higher-paying jobs. The exam consists of a written test as well as a clinical portion. Additionally, certifications can also be obtained by attending programs in the American College of Sports Medicine or the National Academy of Sports Medicine. No matter which option you choose, these credentials can help you become established and begin to build your career as a professional exercise physiologist.

Explore more articles