Individuals who enjoy exercise and nutrition should 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. Graduates of 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.
How to Choose the Right Sports and Fitness Degree
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. Additionally, employers may expect their fitness trainers and instructors to obtain certification as a requirement of their employment. Online degrees in sports and fitness can help prepare students to meet these barriers and excel in entry-level positions within the field.
Potential candidates for sports and fitness degrees should possess excellent motivational skills and maintain a certain level of physical fitness with their own body. Successful fitness trainers and instructors also exhibit good customer service, communication, and listening skills. Degree programs in the field can help future fitness trainers learn to assess a client's individual needs and design a custom workout regimen that suits their fitness goals.
Educational requirements for fitness trainers and instructors vary by the type of fitness training that is being done and the individual facility where the trainer is seeking employment. Listed in the chart below are some of the degree programs that are available in the field, along with potential career outcomes for each:
Length of Completion
Personal Trainer Certificate
Typically less than one year
Fitness Trainer or Instructor
Associate in Sports and Fitness Management
Associate degrees typically take up to two years of full-time study to complete.
Fitness Trainer or Instructor
Associate in Physical Therapy Assisting
These programs usually take up to two years of full-time study to complete
Physical Therapy Assistant
Bachelor's in Sports and Fitness Management
A bachelor's degree typically takes four years of full-time study to complete.
Fitness Trainer or Instructor, Fitness Center Director
Bachelor's in Exercise Physiology
These programs take up to four years of full-time study to complete
Master's in Athletic Training
Master's degrees typically take up to two years of full-time study after completion of a bachelor's degree.
Doctor of Physical Therapy Degree
These programs take three to four years of study after earning a bachelor's degree. A master's degree may be a prerequisite to enrollment.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of employers who prefer hiring candidates with at least an undergraduate degree in sports and fitness is increasing. Although educational requirements vary by job and employer, many facilities also require their employees to be certified in their particular area of expertise. This is especially true for personal trainer and management positions.
What to Expect in a Sports and Fitness Program
Sports and fitness degree programs help students obtain a working knowledge of the human body and how it relates to an individual's overall health. Potential students can find online degrees in sports and fitness that are designed to meet a specific style of fitness training, or they can pursue a more well-rounded sports and fitness education.
Because of the wide variety of fitness training methods available, the curriculum offered by each program will vary. Keeping that in mind, most sports and fitness programs provide a certain number of core courses that apply to almost any fitness training style. Below is a list of courses found in many sports and fitness degree programs:
- Intro to Anatomy and Physiology
- Fundamentals of Health and Wellness
- Fundamentals of Sports and Fitness Management
- Stress Management
- Community Health
- College Mathematics
- Intro to Accounting
- Exercise Physiology
In order to become a fitness trainer or instructor, students must be able to demonstrate a practical knowledge of fitness concepts along with the physical practices and techniques needed to properly train clients. As with traditional on-campus programs, online degrees in sports and fitness typically require students to complete practicum assignments prior to graduation. This practical training allows students to get hands-on experience in a real-world situation. Additionally, students may be able to make valuable professional contacts as they prepare to enter the workforce.
Sports and Fitness Degree Specializations
As mentioned above, there are many different types and styles of fitness training. Certification programs tend to focus on individual types, while sports and fitness degree programs generally focus more on overall health and fitness concepts. Students may be able to specialize or find work in one or more of the following disciplines:
- Certified Personal Trainer
- Group Fitness Instructor
- Yoga or Pilates Instructor
- Athletic Conditioning
- Corrective Exercise Trainer
- Gym or Fitness Center Director
- Rehabilitation Center Manager
- Recreation Facilities Manager
Students who plan to specialize may be limited by the school and type of degree program they choose. However, online degrees in sports and fitness can help prepare students for careers in many of these areas, regardless of whether or not specializations are available during their studies. To specialize in certain types of fitness training, certifications and experience may be required.
Benefits of an Online Degree in Sports and Fitness
While it may seem obvious that successful fitness trainers and instructors must possess certain physical skills required for their position, 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. Online degrees in sports and fitness can help students gain an understanding of human anatomy and physiology which will guide them through the process.
Students pursuing online degrees in sports and fitness can take advantage of many benefits offered through traditional on-campus experiences, all while enjoying the flexibility that an online environment provides. Relationships with classmates and professors can be made and developed through the use of social media, video chat, message boards, and other online tools.
An advantage of online education is clearly the flexibility it provides to students. Lectures and other course materials can typically be accessed at any time of day, making it easy for students to create a study schedule that fits into their already busy lives. Because of this flexibility, students can often continue meeting their current family and work commitments while furthering their education. This makes online degree programs a great fit for adult learners or young students with job or family responsibilities.
Careers in Sports and Fitness
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 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics:
Projected Job Growth 2014-2024
Mean Annual Wage in 2014
Fitness Trainers and Instructors
Physical Therapist Assistants
By selecting a degree program that aligns with their career goals, future trainers can gain the knowledge and experience needed to pursue a success career in the fitness industry. To learn more about specific online degrees in sports and fitness, request information from any of the schools listed below.
Athletic Trainers, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/athletic-trainers.htm
Exercise Physiologists, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/exercise-physiologists.htm
Fitness Trainers and Instructors, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/personal-care-and-service/fitness-trainers-and-instructors.htm
May 2014 National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_nat.htm
Physical Therapists, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/physical-therapists.htm
Physical Therapist Assistants and Aides, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/physical-therapist-assistants-and-aides.htm