What Is an Exercise Physiologist?

Female exercise physiologist examines female patient in office

When someone struggles with a chronic illness that limits their mobility, they may consider visiting an exercise physiologist to improve their health and mobility. People often visit professional exercise physiologists to receive help for serious ailments such as cardiovascular or lung disease — or just to meet their personal health goals. If this career blending exercise and medicine sounds appealing, you might consider becoming an exercise physiologist.

What Does an Exercise Physiologist Do?

Exercise physiologists help their patients recover from chronic diseases by generating exercise regimens tailored to their unique needs. They may also:

  • Review medical histories
  • Determine their patients’ exercise risk
  • Test their patients’ fitness
  • Analyze the results of their tests
  • Measure their patients’ oxygen usage, blood pressure, heart rhythm and other signs of strong or poor health
  • Develop exercise plans for the patient

Exercise physiologists work to improve the overall health and wellbeing of their patients, especially those with chronic diseases. In some cases, a primary care physician would prescribe an exercise regimen to a patient and refer them to an exercise physiologist to create an individual treatment plan.1

How To Become an Exercise Physiologist

You typically need a bachelor’s degree to enter the field of exercise physiology. You may consider earning a degree in exercise science, exercise physiology, kinesiology or another related field.

You may also consider earning a graduate degree, such as a master's, in a health-related discipline. You will want to look for programs that are accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP). Graduate education is not required to become an exercise physiologist, but it may be beneficial.

Most states do not require exercise physiologists to have certifications, but many employers do. There are a few licensures and certifications you should look into if you wish to become an exercise physiologist. These may include:

  • Basic Life Support (BLS) certification or the Advanced Life Support (ALS) certification
  • Exercise Physiologists Certified (EPC) certification
  • Certified Exercise Physiologist (EP-C) or Clinical Exercise Physiologist (CEP)
  • Registered Clinical Exercise Physiologist (RCEP) certifications

Differences Between Exercise Physiology and Other Careers

Exercise physiologists help patients with chronic diseases by providing them with an exercise regimen designed to improve their overall health. This may appear similar to the job descriptions of other careers, such as that of a personal trainer or athletic trainer. What sets an exercise physiologist apart from a personal trainer or athletic trainer?

Personal Trainer

Personal trainers create fitness regimens that improve a patient’s overall health. These patients usually do not have chronic illnesses; instead, they work with personal trainers to reach their fitness goals. Personal trainers may also provide nutritional advice and demonstrate exercises so their patients can understand the regimen.

Many fitness trainers do not have a postsecondary education, but they may be certified. They may work in fitness centers or educational institutions, or they may be self-employed.2 This is different from an exercise physiology career. Personal trainers help anyone reach their fitness goals, whereas exercise physiologists primarily help people struggling with an illness. Exercise physiologists also usually work in hospitals or clinics, rather than in fitness centers.

Athletic Trainers

Athletic trainers are healthcare providers who work with people who participate in physical exercise. They may:

  • Create programs to prevent injuries
  • Work with physicians to diagnose injuries, provide immediate care and rehabilitate injuries
  • Keep up on records and reports
  • Meet with administrators to implement policies and manage the budget

Athletic trainers often have either a bachelor’s or master’s degree, and all must be certified. Most work in hospitals, educational institutions, fitness centers and physician’s offices, whereas others are self-employed. Athletic trainers may also be required to work or travel on weekends.

This career is different from that of an exercise physiologist, as they do not work exclusively with those who participate in physical activity. They instead work with people who already have illnesses and develop treatment plans to help them.3

Skills and Traits of an Exercise Physiologist

Some traits that are desirable for an exercise physiologist include compassion, attention to detail and confidence in decision-making and interpersonal skills. These professionals should be sympathetic to patients struggling with pain or other forms of discomfort. They must also communicate well with physicians, patients and their families. Effective communication is important for this career because retrieving detailed information about a patient's condition helps the exercise physiologist generate effective treatment plans for them.1

You can get started on a rewarding career as an exercise physiologist by earning a degree at Grand Canyon University. The College of Science, Engineering and Technology offers the Bachelor of Science in Exercise Science with an Emphasis in Sports Performance degree program for aspiring exercise physiologists and other exercise science-related careers. This degree will prepare you for a career in exercise science through courses in physiology, nutrition, sports performance and more. Click on the Request Info button above to learn more. 


Retrieved From:

1 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Exercise Physiologists in July 2022.

2 BestAccreditedColleges, Difference Between Exercise Physiologist and Personal Trainer in July 2022.

3 Truity, Athletic Trainer or Exercise Physiologist in August 2022. 

Approved by an Assistant Professor for the College of Science, Engineering and Technology on Sept. 29, 2022.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.