Physical Fitness Degrees: Bachelors, Certification & Online Course Info

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Certification and bachelor's degrees in physical fitness may lead to careers in the physical fitness industry. Get the truth about the requirements, courses and career options. Find out what you can do with your physical fitness certification or degree.
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Studying Physical Fitness: At a Glance

As baby boomers age and more emphasis is placed on a healthier lifestyle, the health and fitness industry is expected to see an increase in the number of fitness instructors and other wellness jobs. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), job growth in this area is expected to increase faster than the average for all other occupation through 2020 ( Exercise training professionals will be needed not only for fitness clubs and gyms, but for community centers, assisted living facilities and other places. More athletic coaches will be needed, too.

To become a physical fitness trainer, you'll need to gain certification by a professional industry association. You may obtain your training by completing a certificate or bachelor's degree program in physical fitness, which may also be known as kinesiology.

Certification Bachelor's
Who is this degree for? - Individuals interested in entry-level jobs in exercise instruction
- Health care individuals who seek additional training
- Individuals seeking coaching and athletic trainer positions
- Individuals seeking fitness management positions
Common Career Paths (with median annual salary) - Personal fitness trainers ($31,000)*
- Group fitness instructors ($31,000)*
- Yoga instructors ($31,000)*
- Coaches and scouts ($28,000)*
- Athletic trainers ($42,000)*
- Wellness managers ($77,000)**
Time to Completion Exam 4-5 years (full time)
Prerequisites - High school diploma
- CPR certification
High school diploma or associate's degree in physical fitness or kinesiology
Online Availability Yes Yes

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011), **O*NET OnLine, (May 2011 salary for education administrators).

Certification in Physical Fitness

Physical fitness certification qualifies you for entry-level work in fitness instruction. It also allows health care workers such as nutritionists to add exercise science to their expertise. Through physical fitness certification, you'll demonstrate your competency, knowledge and skills in this field. Certification is available from professional associations and organizations, including the American Council on Exercise, the International Sports Sciences Association, the American Fitness Professionals and Associates, the National Federation of Professional Trainers and the National Academy of Sports Medicine.

You may also gain certification in specific areas of physical fitness, such as yoga, Pilates and Zumba. Some schools offer courses specifically designed to help you prepare for certification. Coursework may be based on materials designed by the certifying organization.

Pros and Cons


  • Certification programs may be completed in a short period of time*
  • Jobs available in government, private industry and other segments developing fitness programs*
  • Employment for fitness instructors is expected to increase by 24% between 2010 and 2020*


  • You'll need to select the certification and certifying organization that suits your career goals
  • Many personal trainers work nights, weekends and holidays to accommodate client schedules*
  • More employers are requiring fitness instructors to possess a degree*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2010)

Courses and Requirements

To qualify for certification, you'll need to obtain training through a certificate or degree program in physical fitness. Program courses may vary by the length and type of instruction you're seeking. Programs range from sports psychology to health and fitness. Business courses may also be required. Courses may include:

  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Exercise testing
  • Injury prevention
  • Weight training
  • Exercise physiology
  • Biomechanics

Physical fitness programs may also require you obtain practical experience through an internship or other on-the-job training. For example, some yoga programs require 200 hours of training, which may not be required in personal training certification programs. Most programs require that you be certified in CPR.


You'll find online certificate programs available in physical fitness that will help you prepare for certification examinations. These programs are similar to traditional certificate programs and may include an optional internship. Your core courses may include exercise science, exercise prescriptions and health profiles. You'll learn techniques for working with various groups of people. You may also take a business course that provides instruction in finance, marketing and business plan development.

Getting Ahead with this Certification

If you want to stand out as a physical fitness trainer, you'll need non-technical skills to help you in your profession. These include strong communication skills and an understanding of the needs of various demographic groups you'll work with.

  • Become a client. By working with a fitness trainer, you'll understand how to work with clients.
  • Develop good communication skills, including listening to the concerns of your clients and learning how to provide motivation.
  • Interact with special populations. You may want to gain experience working with various demographic groups.
  • You'll need to be comfortable training in settings such as a spas, local community centers or private gyms.

Bachelor's Degree in Physical Fitness

A bachelor's degree in physical fitness, also known as kinesiology or exercise science, prepares you for a career as an athletic or physical fitness trainer, physical education instructor, coach, sports scout or a fitness instructor manager. Athletic trainers work with individuals to help overcome injury or illness, while some kinesiology programs offer a concentration in athletic training or physical education. As a head coach, you may work for a school or for extracurricular athletic organizations such as youth athletic programs. A bachelor's degree in physical fitness may also prepare you for graduate studies in related fields such as athletic training, physical therapy or occupational therapy.

Pros and Cons


  • Employment of athletic trainers is expected to grow by 30% by 2020*
  • There are expanding opportunities in girls and women's sports*
  • More demand by employers and businesses to offer fitness incentives to employees*


  • Employers may prefer candidates who have playing and coaching experience*
  • In most states athletic trainers, coaches and physical education instructors need certification, a license or both*
  • High schools may prefer to hire teachers who can also coach, which may limit your job opportunities

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

Courses and Requirements

Bachelor's degree programs in physical fitness or kinesiology prepare you for careers in sports medicine, athletic training, teaching and physical education. They teach you about how the body moves and responds to exercise. Your courses will depend on your concentration. Some programs require you complete core courses in human anatomy and communication, as well as gain intermediate or advanced experience in a sport activity, such as golf, tennis or swimming.

Elective courses give you an opportunity to gain specialization in fields such as nutrition or special populations. These programs also prepare you for certification examinations. Program courses may include:

  • Anatomy and Physiology
  • Sports psychology
  • Motor behavior
  • Fitness measurement and assessment
  • Exercise leadership
  • Athletic facilities, equipment and budgets

Online Degree Options

There are bachelor's degree programs in physical fitness or kinesiology available online. Some offer training entirely online, while others are hybrid programs that allow students to take a mix of courses in class and via online. Some online degree programs mirror traditional programs, while others have different prerequisites, such as requiring students to possess an associate's degree. Online programs also prepare students for certification, as well as for graduate training.

Getting Ahead with this Degree

While pursuing your degree, you may want to build skills that help you stand out as an athletic trainer. Some ways to do this is to ensure you're prepared for licensing and certification following your training, as well as to develop leadership and communication skills that are useful from the first day on the job.

  • Prepare for licensing or certification. Each state has their own requirements for licensing and certification of athletic trainers. Some require them for physical education instructors and coaches.
  • Develop leadership skills. Coaches and teachers need to encourage and motivate athletes and students. Consider gaining leadership skills through athletic organizations.
  • Learn to work with different demographic groups. You may want to take courses in gerontology, where you can learn about the special needs of senior citizens, a growing population that will need more fitness instructors in the future.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Grand Canyon University

    Program Options

      • BS in Sports Management
      • BS in Health Sciences: Professional Development & Advanced Patient Care
      • B.S. in Health Sciences
      • BS in Health Care Administration
      • Bachelor of Science in Behavioral Health Science with an Emphasis in Trauma
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Post University

    Program Options

      • B.S. in Sport Management
  • Online Programs Available
    3. Purdue University Global

    Program Options

      • Bachelor: Nutrition Science
  • Athens, GA

    University of Georgia

  • Gainesville, FL

    University of Florida

  • Knoxville, TN

    The University of Tennessee

  • Louisville, KY

    University of Louisville

  • Campus and Online Programs
    8. Full Sail University

    Program Options

      • BS - Sportscasting
      • B.S. - Sports Marketing and Media

Featured Schools

Grand Canyon University

  • BS in Sports Management
  • BS in Health Sciences: Professional Development & Advanced Patient Care
  • B.S. in Health Sciences

What is your highest level of education?

Post University

  • B.S. in Sport Management

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Purdue University Global

  • Bachelor: Nutrition Science

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Full Sail University

  • BS - Sportscasting
  • B.S. - Sports Marketing and Media

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