Online Degrees in Sports and Fitness

It may seem obvious that successful fitness trainers and instructors must possess certain physical skills required for their position, however, sports and fitness management professionals must also have a solid understanding of how the human body works. This knowledge is put to practical use when developing exercise routines to meet an individual client’s needs.

Individuals who enjoy exercise and nutrition may consider a career in sports and fitness management. Fitness trainers and instructors combine their love for staying in shape with a strong desire to help others live a healthier lifestyle. Online sports and fitness degree programs can help students gain an understanding of human anatomy and physiology along with training methodologies which can help future fitness trainers learn to assess a client’s individual needs and design a custom workout regimen that suits their fitness goals.

Graduates of online sports and fitness degree programs might find employment in any number of different businesses, including fitness facilities, recreational centers, yoga or Pilates studios, and private personal training practices. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the number of employers who prefer hiring candidates with at least an undergraduate degree in sports and fitness is increasing.

Individuals with an interest in sports and fitness management may end up pursuing any number of different career paths. While online sports and fitness degrees generally focus on fitness training, they could also lead students to consider other professions. In the chart below, we’ve listed some of the most popular sports and fitness related careers, along with wage and employment data from the BLS:

Those interested in a career in the business behind sports may want to consider online sports and fitness management degree programs. Have a look at our sports management page for more information including our picks for the top schools for sport and fitness management online.

Career
Employment
Median Salary
Projected Job Growth
Physical Therapist Assistants96,840$58,52027.1%
Physical Therapist Aides49,270$29,18022.8%
Physical Therapists258,200$91,01018%
Athletic Trainers32,100$49,86016%
Exercise Trainers and Group Fitness Instructors325,500$4,11012.8%

Source: 2020 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2019-29 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS.gov.

Fitness trainers and instructors help people reach their fitness goals through personal or group exercise activities. They may recommend cardiovascular exercises (exercises for the heart and blood circulation), strength training, and stretching depending on individual abilities and needs. Some fitness trainers may specialize in one or more forms of exercise, like yoga or Pilates for example, and provide guidance in those while others may choose more general forms of exercise that promote overall health. They may demonstrate the techniques needed to perform recommended exercises safely and supervise their clients while they carry them out. Additionally, they may also give their clients advice on diet and nutrition.

The following steps outline one way to become a fitness trainer.

  1. Play a sport in high school and work as an assistant coach on a little league or middle school team.
  2. Take biology classes.
  3. Build your communication skills through English lessons, speech and drama.
  4. Research the top schools for sport and fitness degree programs.
  5. Enroll in a program of your choice.
  6. Learn CPR and obtain CPR certification.
  7. See if you can choose a specialization in an area of your interest.
  8. On graduation, obtain a professional certification.
  9. Look for a job as a fitness instructor – you can look beyond health clubs – try looking at cruise ships, spas, and even hospitals or wellness centers.
  10. Market yourself well and you may even consider setting up your own business.

To qualify for entry-level employment as a fitness trainer, most positions require at least a high school diploma. Although academic requirements vary by position, many employers want their personal trainers to hold an associate or bachelor’s degree in sports and fitness or a closely related field. Online sports and fitness degree programs can help prepare students to meet these barriers and excel in entry-level positions within the field. Master’s degree programs may allow students to advance their careers and be eligible for supervisory positions. With experience, entrepreneurial individuals may also open their own fitness facilities. Doctoral degrees may allow you to conduct independent research.

What could I expect to learn in an online associate degree program?

Online kinesiology and exercise science degree programs at the associate level can help students grasp the basics behind sports and fitness instruction. Students can learn how to promote healthy lifestyles, motivational techniques, as well as how to conduct group and individual fitness sessions.

Typical duration: Two years of full-time study

General prerequisites: High school diploma or equivalent

Typical coursework: Topics usually cover anatomy, injury prevention and evaluation techniques. Some courses you may take include:

  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Cardiorespiratory and flexibility programming
  • Client intake and assessment
  • Concepts of physical fitness
  • Nutrition fundamentals

Some associate degree programs may be hybrid courses during which students may need to attend a few classes on campus.

What kind of jobs could I pursue after earning an associate degree in sports and fitness?

Graduates of online sports and fitness degree programs may find employment in gyms and fitness facilities, corporate fitness centers and rehabilitation centers to name a few. Some examples of job titles include:

  • Personal Trainer
  • Gym Staff Member
  • Nutrition/Supplement Store Associate
  • Fitness/Wellness Coordinator
  • Group Exercise Instructor

What could I expect to learn in an online bachelor’s degree program?

Students of online exercise and fitness bachelor’s degree programs can learn how to design personalized exercise plans for their clients, coaching techniques, and gain an introduction to the business behind the fitness industry.

Typical duration: Four years of full-time study

General prerequisites: High school diploma or equivalent

Typical coursework: Curricula can cover topics like anatomy, biomechanics, and strength conditioning methods along with instruction and coaching practices for people with different needs like cardiac and pulmonary patients or the elderly, for example. Some examples of courses you may take are:

  • Body systems
  • Exercise testing and prescription
  • Human movement sciences
  • Sales and ethics for fitness professionals
  • Sports law

What kinds of jobs could I pursue after earning a bachelor’s in sports and fitness?

The BLS reports that employers are increasingly demanding that candidates hold bachelor’s degrees. In fact O*Net reports that a whopping 20 percent of fitness and aerobics instructors they surveyed already had bachelor’s degrees. Some job titles that can go with a bachelor’s degree are:

  • Exercise director/club manager
  • Exercise physiologist
  • Fitness educator
  • Personal trainer for specialty populations
  • Sports performance coach
  • Strength and conditioning specialist

What could I expect to learn in an online master’s degree program?

Students of online exercise science and wellness degree programs at the master’s level may be able to orient their education toward a specific style of fitness training, or they may pursue a more well-rounded sports and fitness education. Students can expect to study advanced topics in the field of exercise, wellness and nutrition along with business topics related to the field.

Typical duration: Two years of full-time study

General prerequisites: Bachelor’s degree in exercise science or related field

Typical coursework: Curricula can vary depending on the specialization you choose. Additionally, you may also study research methodologies. Core topics may include:

  • Advanced exercise physiology
  • Business and entrepreneurship in the fitness industry
  • Fitness assessment and programming
  • Nutrition for peak performance
  • Research in wellness and fitness

What kinds of jobs could I pursue  after earning a master’s in sports and fitness?

Individuals with a master’s degree in exercise science, nutrition and wellness may be eligible for a number of different careers depending on their specialization. They may be able to work with people recovering from serious illnesses, with disabilities or even professional athletes. Some potential job titles include:

  • Corporate, university, commercial, or resort fitness trainer
  • Gym owner
  • Human performance specialist
  • Medical fitness specialist
  • Nutrition and exercise specialist
  • Wellness coach

Online graduate certificates in sports and fitness can help bachelor’s degree holders gain some graduate education without having to spend the time and finances necessary for a master’s degree. They may also help such individuals focus their graduate education in an area of exercise science that interests them. Choosing a focus may help such individuals advance in their careers or change their focus entirely.

Typical duration: One to two years of part-time study

General prerequisites: Bachelor’s degree in exercise science or related field

Typical coursework: Curricula can vary depending on the focus of the certificate program. Some examples of courses you may take include:

  • Advanced strength and conditioning theory
  • Cardiopulmonary physiology
  • Exercise prescription for individuals with chronic diseases and health conditions
  • Principles of sports performance training
  • Program design in corrective exercise training

What could I expect to learn in an online doctoral degree program?

Doctoral degrees can help students gain the skills they need to conduct leading research in the field or pursue leadership roles in the industry. They may learn how to conduct studies, design exercise regimens and study the latest trends in the industry.

Typical duration: Three to five years of part-time study

General prerequisites: Master’s degree in exercise science or related field

Typical coursework: Topics may cover health promotion, exercise science, kinesiology, and human performance along with research and statistical methods. Some examples of courses include:

  • Advanced sports medicine techniques
  • Health promotion and disease prevention
  • Leadership in wellness education and professional practice
  • Neuromuscular responses to exercise
  • Obesity across the lifespan

What kinds of jobs could I pursue after earning a doctorate in sports and fitness?

A doctorate in sports and fitness can pave the way for leadership roles in the industry. Graduates may also be able enter the fields of research and academia. Some career prospects are:

  • Biomechanics specialist
  • Exercise physiology research scientist
  • Exercise science educator
  • Physical health policy advocate
  • Research scientist
  • University professor

Accreditation

Accreditation is a voluntary process schools undergo to demonstrate their educational offerings meet the high standards of quality necessary in the professional world. Employers may prefer hiring candidates from accredited schools over others. Attending an accredited program can play an important role while applying for federal financial aid as well as for the transfer of credits.

The Committee on Accreditation for the Exercise Sciences (CoAES) programmatically accredits exercise science programs on behalf of the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP). The Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education (CAATE) accredits athletic trainer programs.

Specializations in Sports and Fitness

There are many different types and styles of fitness training. Students of online sports and fitness degree programs may be able to specialize or find work in one or more of the following disciplines:

  • Applied sport science
  • Group fitness leadership
  • Nutrition
  • Performance enhancement and injury prevention
  • Rehabilitation science
  • Sport psychology
  • Wellness coaching

Certifications in Sports and Fitness

The BLS reports that personal trainers may need certification before starting work with clients. Although certifications may not be mandatory for group instructors, the BLS states that employers may expect their fitness trainers and instructors to obtain certification as a requirement of their employment. Apart from boosting employment prospects, professional certifications can reassure your clients of your proficiency in your field. Some examples of certifications are:

A list of certifying organizations can be found on the The National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) website. Apart from professional certifications, most instructors and personal trainers need cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and automated external defibrillators (AED) certifications.

In terms of licensure, the BLS reports that Louisiana is the only state that requires exercise physiologists to be licensed. Those individuals who want to coach in schools may need a teaching license.

Employment Statistics

Fitness Trainers and Aerobics Instructors

Industries with the highest concentration of employment
  • Other Amusement and Recreation Industries
  • Civic and Social Organizations
  • Other Schools and Instruction
  • Other Personal Services
  • Offices of Other Health Practitioners
States with the highest level of employment
  • California
  • New York
  • Texas
  • Illinois
  • Florida
Top-paying metropolitan areas
  • Cumberland, MD-WV
  • New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA
  • San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA
  • Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura, CA
  • Ithaca, NY

Physical Therapists

Industries with the highest concentration of employment
  • Offices of Other Health Practitioners
  • Specialty (except Psychiatric and Substance Abuse) Hospitals
  • Home Health Care Services
  • General Medical and Surgical Hospitals
  • Nursing Care Facilities (Skilled Nursing Facilities)
States with the highest level of employment
  • California
  • New York
  • Texas
  • Florida
  • Pennsylvania
Top-paying metropolitan areas
  • Ames, IA
  • Great Falls, MT
  • Las Vegas-Henderson-Paradise, NV
  • Yuma,AZ
  • Bakersfield, CA

Source: 2016 Occupational Employment Statistics, Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS.gov.

You may find that there are plenty of scholarships available for eligible students enrolled in online sports and fitness degree programs. They may cover some or all of your tuition, depending on the program. Scholarships may be offered by professional bodies, educational foundations or schools themselves. Some scholarships to help you get started on your search are:

Professional Organizations and Resources for Fitness Trainers

 

Sources

  • 9-9031.00 – Fitness Trainers and Aerobics Instructors, O*NET OnLine, National Center for O*NET Development, www.onetonline.org/link/summary/39-9031.00, accessed January 2020
  • Associate Degree in Applied Exercise and Fitness, Bryan University, https://bryanuniversity.edu/programs/undergraduate/associate-degree-applied-exercise-and-fitness/, accessed January 2020
  • Athletic Trainers, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/athletic-trainers.htm, accessed January 2020
  • B.S. Exercise Science, Franklin University, https://www.franklin.edu/degrees/bachelors/exercise-science, accessed January 2020
  • Bachelor of Science in Professional Fitness Training and Exercise Science, Bryan University, https://bryanuniversity.edu/programs/undergraduate/bachelor-science-professional-fitness-training-exercise-science/, accessed January 2020
  • Exercise Physiologists, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/exercise-physiologists.htm, accessed January 2020
  • Exercise Science, Northeastern University, https://www.northeastern.edu/graduate/program/graduate-certificate-in-exercise-science-17129/, accessed January 2020
  • Fitness Trainers and Instructors, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/personal-care-and-service/fitness-trainers-and-instructors.htm, accessed January 2020
  • Health Science And Exercise Leadership, California University of Pennsylvania, https://www.calu.edu/academics/graduate/doctoral/health-science/index.aspx, accessed January 2020
  • Kinesiology & Exercise Science, Houston Community College, https://www.hccs.edu/programs/areas-of-study/liberal-arts-humanities — education/kinesiology — exercise-science/, accessed January 2020
  • Master of Science in Exercise Science and Wellness, Liberty University, https://www.liberty.edu/online/health-sciences/masters/exercise-science-and-wellness/, accessed January 2020
  • Online Exercise Science Graduate Certificate Programs, Concordia University Chicago, https://exsci.cuchicago.edu/graduate-certificates/, accessed January 2020
  • Online Graduate Program in Exercise Prescription, University of Connecticut, https://exerciseprescription.uconn.edu/#, accessed January 2020
  • Online Master Of Science (M.S.) In Exercise Science And Health Promotion, California University of Pennsylvania, https://www.calu.edu/academics/graduate/masters/exercise-science/wellness-fitness/index.aspx, accessed January 2020
  • Ph.D. in Exercise Science and Nutrition, North Dakota State University, https://www.ndsu.edu/hnes/graduate_programs/phd_in_exercise_science_and_nutrition/, accessed January 2020
  • PhD in Leadership – Health & Human Performance, Concordia University Chicago, https://exsci.cuchicago.edu/phd-health-human-performance/#1506617501418-60e60a92-833bdb0a-f4e4429c-4273, accessed January 2020
 
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