Exercise Management Degrees: Associate, Bachelor & Online Class Info

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Associate and bachelor's degrees in exercise management can lead to careers a fitness trainer and fitness facility manager. Get the truth about the requirements, courses and career options, and find out what you can do with your degree.
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Studying Exercise Management: Degrees at a Glance

Degrees in the field of exercise management are usually known as 'fitness' degrees. Some fitness degree programs concentrate in physical training, and others prepare you for the business aspect of managing a fitness facility or club. Degree titles may contain the words 'sport,' 'exercise,' and 'fitness' combined with 'science' or 'management.'

From 2010-2020, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has released a job outlook of 24% for fitness trainers and instructors, which is fast growth compared to the average for all occupations. Jobs for athletic trainers have a much faster growth of 30%. Businesses increasingly tend to promote better health and fitness for their employees, which is one reason for the projected job growth in the field.

Associate Bachelor's
Who Is This Degree For? Individuals interested in fitness instruction and fitness facility management People who want to enter the fitness management field at a higher position and possibly higher salary
Common Career Paths (with approximate median annual salary) - Personal Trainer ($34,000)*
- Fitness trainer ($31,000)**
- Aerobics instructor ($31,000)**
- Athletic trainer ($42,000)**
- General manager of fitness club ($40,000)*
- Fitness center manager ($37,000)*
- Fitness club manager ($31,000)*
Time to Completion 21 months to two years full-time 3-4 years full-time
Common Graduation Requirements - Practicum
- Certification as personal trainer
- Internship
- Hold liability insurance
- Externship
Prerequisites High school diploma or GED - High school diploma or GED
- SAT or ACT scores
Online Availability Yes Yes

Sources: *Payscale.com (May 2011 statistics), **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Associate Degree in Exercise Management

Some associate degree programs specifically prepare you for taking a personal trainer certification exam through an accredited organization, such as the National Council on Strength and Fitness. You may find this kind of program beneficial because many employers prefer fitness trainers to be certified. With an associate degree you may earn a more advanced certification than someone with no education in the field.

Personal trainers and fitness instructors may work with groups of people or with one individual. This may happen in a recreation center, private gym, studio or a client's home. You might also find employment at a fitness facility as a director and work with scheduling classes and training sessions, ordering fitness equipment and being involved in administration.

Pros and Cons


  • After only two years of study, you may enter the field of exercise management
  • Some programs have specific courses that prepare you for certain personal trainer certification exams
  • Your associate degree may make you more competitive for a job compared to others applying with only certification and no secondary education


  • In addition to earning your associate degree, you might need certification for some jobs
  • Management positions might not be available to you because preference is given to those with bachelor's degrees
  • You may need strong customer service skills when working with clients and may come across attitudes that are challenging to deal with

Courses and Training Requirements

Each program has a different percentage of business courses and courses directly related to fitness. Programs attempt to give you a basic knowledge of health and of how the human body functions and responds to different physical activities. Practicums are important hands-on experiences because the field requires you to determine the best way to change people's bodies to be more fit and healthy.

Examples of common courses:

  • Anatomy and physiology
  • First aid and CPR
  • Health, general wellness and nutrition
  • Injury care and prevention
  • Kinesiology
  • Psychology and sociology
  • Sport, fitness and exercise management
  • Yoga, Tai Chi and meditation

Online Degree Options

Some schools provide an online option for their associate degree programs in fitness. This may be a good choice for you if you need to work at the same time or have an otherwise busy schedule. Delivery methods may include online presentations and webinars by faculty and fitness trainers. Keep in mind that hands-on internships are likely components for which you will have to be plan on being physically present.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

As with many careers, technology plays a role in exercise management. You may use computer programs for administration and scheduling or heart rate monitors on certain fitness equipment. Some programs have courses in relevant technology available for you. Practicums, internships and other hands-on experiences may also give you the chance to gain experience with the technology used in the field.

If you are looking to move up, experience is key. After working at an entry-level position for a while, you might be promoted to director or coordinator. You might also make yourself eligible for a higher position by taking advantage of entrepreneurial knowledge you might have gained through your degree program and start you own business by opening a studio where you can hire and manage other fitness trainers.

Bachelor's Degree in Exercise Management

With a bachelor's degree in exercise management or similar field, you may find work as an athletic trainer. Athletic trainers have a great knowledge of the human body and how to care for and prevent injuries. You may work under medical professionals and carry out plans of injury prevention and rehabilitation. The business side of your career might include administrative work and meeting with medical professionals and patients to develop and schedule a treatment plan. It is important to note that most states require athletic trainers to be both certified and licensed before they are allowed to practice.

Depending on the focus of your program, you may also be qualified for jobs as a fitness club manager, wellness or conditioning coach, and fitness instructor or consultant. Much of what those with associate degrees in the field can do, you can do also.

Pros and Cons


  • Entry-level positions are likely to have higher pay compared to entry-level for an associate degree in the field*
  • Employers prefer to give management jobs to people with bachelor's degrees over people with associate degrees
  • You may be involved in the rehabilitation of groups of people special to you, such as children or soldiers


  • In addition to completing your degree, you might need to become certified and licensed in order to work
  • You might have to work in inclement weather if employed by a sports team
  • Weekend and evening hours might be required

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011)

Common Courses and Requirements

Bachelor's degree programs in this field usually require science courses such as chemistry, biology and physics. You might have a choice of one or the other, and they might also have a laboratory co-requisite. If you have not taken advanced math classes, you will probably have to take college-level math to go along with the science courses.

Knowing how the human body works and how it responds to physical activity and injuries is important to the field. Related courses may include anatomy, physiology, biomechanics, kinesiology and nutrition.

Required business courses might be general or specific to fitness and sports. Facility and event management, marketing, finance, and administration are common courses.

Internships or other hands-on experiences may also be required. You may also need to be covered by liability insurance before participating in certain internships.

Online Degree Options

You may find online bachelor's degrees in the field of exercise or fitness. Schools with this option attempt to give their online students the best education this delivery method is capable of. Some programs emphasize presentations from top fitness authorities. Note that if the program has an internship requirement, you must plan to schedule your actual presence at the internship location.

Stand Out with This Degree

Having knowledge of technology relevant to your field is important to stay ahead in your chosen career. Technology in the field of fitness and sports might include the computer programs used for administration or scheduling purposes. Some degree programs include at least one course in computer applications. If it's not included, you might find a similar course that will count for general education or elective requirements. If you are able to find an entry-level job in the field while still completing you degree, this might be to your advantage, because you can get a head start in earning the experience that employers like to see on your resume.

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