America has a serious obesity problem. According to the Center for Disease Control, about 1/3 of adult Americans are obese. Obesity and the medical conditions that it causes (diabetes, high blood pressure) negatively affect the lives of millions of Americans each year.

As the government and private organizations try to reign in surging healthcare costs, prevention has emerged as the cheapest and best way to treat illnesses and conditions before they develop. While this can be difficult for hereditary genetic conditions, many people are obese and overweight primarily because of their lifestyle. Many Americans have very unhealthy diet and exercise habits. Fitness workers and exercise science students focus on the exercise side of that unhealthy equation (Read about Nutrition Science for information about dietitians and nutritionists).

Fitness workers, including group exercise coordinators, personal trainers, and Pilates and Yoga instructors are trained to organize, instruct, and assist individuals with a range of exercise techniques. They work out of fitness or recreational clubs, hospitals, nursing facilities, and in client's homes.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2008:

  • 69% of fitness workers were employed in amusement and recreational industries, mainly gyms and fitness clubs
  • 15% worked for civic and social organizations, like YMCA and YWCA nonprofits
  • 4% worked in other school and instructional organizations
  • 3% worked in local government organizations
  • 2% worked in hospitals
Where do fitness workers work? Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Related recreational workers share the same goal as fitness workers: helping people incorporate physical activity into their lifestyles. Recreational workers focus more on team sports and activities than fitness workers. Some highly trained recreational workers, called recreational therapists, work in hospitals and other healthcare facilities to provide nontraditional physical therapy to disabled, injured, or sick patients.

Exercise Science Career Opportunities

Related Careers: Fitness Workers, Pilates and Yoga Instructors, Recreation Workers

Job opportunities for fitness workers of all kinds are expected to be excellent from 2008 to 2018, as people are increasingly aware of the importance of an effective exercise regimen. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 261,100 working fitness workers in 2008. The BLS predicts a 29% growth rate, far higher than the 8.2% expected expansion of the greater civilian workforce. That strong growth rate will mean the addition of 76,800 new jobs over 10 years, for a 2018 total of 337,900.

Fitness workers are expected to experience a 29% occupational growth rate, much faster than the average for all jobs. Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Even that robust 29% growth rate, driven by continued growth in health and fitness clubs and for-profit gyms and an aging population increasingly aware of the benefits of exercise, is not representative of the opportunities that will be open to qualified fitness workers from 2008 to 2018. According to the Occupational Information Network, a project of the Department of Labor's Employment and Training Administration, there will be a total of 123,800 job openings over those 10 years. That figure includes both the 76,800 new jobs the BLS predicts, AND open positions vacated by retirement, career change, early termination, etc.

The BLS notes that those with formal fitness-related degrees, good work experience, and technological abilities will have the best job opportunities, as will those willing to initially work part-time.

Exercise Science Earnings

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, fitness workers made an annual median of $29,210 in 2008. The middle 50% of the field made between $19,610 and $44,420, while the bottom 10% earned less than $16,120 and the top 10% earned more than $60,760 a year. Fitness workers in public and private hospitals earned the most of any industry group: an annual median of $32,140.

Fitness workers earned median wages slightly less than the national median for all occupations in 2008. Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

About 40% of fitness workers in 2008 were part-time employees, so this annual wage information may not represent real earnings. Part-time fitness workers generally do not receive benefits.

Exercise Science Educational Benefit

To qualify for entry-level positions as fitness instructors, personal trainers, and group coordinators, fitness workers usually should be certified by National Commission for Certifying Agencies-approved certifying agencies.

Although a bachelor's degree in exercise science is generally not required for entry-level positions, employers increasingly prefer them whenever possible.

According to the Occupational Information Network, almost half (47%) of fitness workers aged 25 to 44 have a bachelor's degree or higher. 32% have some formal post-secondary education, including associate's degrees and certificates. The remaining 21% have a high school diploma or less.

Almost half of fitness workers have a bachelor's degree or higher. Source: Occupational Information Network

Exercise Science Degrees Online

Degrees Possible: Certificate, Bachelor's and Master's Degrees

Despite the physical nature of most fitness worker's jobs, there are a growing number of exercise science degrees offered online.

While the science background is easily taught online, exercise techniques generally are not. Most online bache lor's degrees focus on the foundational theories of exercise science, and theoretical application of them at various levels.

Generally, online exercise science programs are best for professional or amateur fitness trainers seeking to improve their credentials and add an academic dimension to their fitness arsenal.

The best online exercise science programs will provide a theoretical and scientific exercise science education as good as those offered at local ground schools, in a more flexible format that may be better suited to the working student.

As with any serious educational decision, do your research when picking an online exercise science program: is the school accredited? Will credits transfer? What is the school's job placement rate? What are people saying about this school in general and this program specifically? You'll be able to find the answers to many of these questions on this family of Web sites, but don't be afraid to ask your admissions counselor the tough questions.

Exercise Science Skills and Abilities

Fitness workers work extensively with the public. They should be outgoing, polite, and strong motivators capable of convincing even sedentary clients that they need to follow an appropriate exercise regimen.

Because they often personalize exercise programs for many different clients, fitness workers should be organized and responsible.

Fitness workers are generally in excellent shape; if they are not, it reflects poorly on themselves and the institutions for which they work. Many personal trainers at large exercise clubs must have good sales skills; their jobs often rely on their ability to convince potential clients to pay for their services.

Exercise Science Qualifications and Advancement

Though not normally required, completion of an exercise science degree will qualify graduates for entry-level and staff-level positions as Fitness Workers; including personal trainers, group exercise organizers, and Pilates and Yoga instructors (with appropriate training).

Master's degrees in exercise science can qualify graduates for advanced supervisorial positions like fitness directors and recreational therapists.

Additional Information

The National Strength and Conditioning Association maintains a Web site at http://www.nsca-lift.org.