How to Become a Clinical Exercise Physiologist

How to Become a Clinical Exercise Physiologist

A Clinical Exercise Physiologist monitoring the progress of a patient.

Clinical exercise physiologists are trained to develop fitness and exercise regiments to promote cardiovascular strength, muscular endurance, flexibility, respiratory function or healthy body composition.

Clinical exercise physiologists work directly under physicians to prescribe physical activity regiments to patients, based on their understanding of exercise sciences and each individual patient situation.

Clinical exercise physiologists may work on a team with other health professionals, such as personal trainers, exercise science professionals, rehabilitation experts or other similar professionals.

Clinical exercise physiologists often work with patients who have been diagnosed with a serious metabolic, pulmonary, orthopedic, musculoskeletal, neuromuscular, cardiac or other conditions and diseases. Because of the serious nature of this career, in-depth education and certification is needed.

If you are interested in becoming a clinical exercise physiologist, you may want to consider:

  • Are you intrigued and captivated by health and fitness? Without a serious desire to work in the medical field, obtaining the higher education and certification necessary may prove too difficult and frustrating.
  • Are you able to read people well? The nature of a clinical exercise physiologist job will require you to constantly evaluate the progress, mentality and ability of your patient. Knowing when to push someone further and when to ease them up and slow things down is key in being a successful clinical exercise physiologist.
  • Do you enjoy helping people? Many patients in this field will not appreciate your work and may be difficult to work with. Your desire to better their lives (even if they don’t see it or desire it themselves) is important in your path as a clinical exercise physiologist. Without a serious desire to help others, you might find the day-to-day grind exhausting and discouraging.

Requirements and Education

In order to become a clinical exercise physiologist you will need to have a master’s degree. A bachelor’s degree in exercise physiology or a related field will allow you to work as a research assistant, personal trainer or rehabilitation therapist, but you won’t be able to teach or work in a clinical setting.

With a master’s degree and certification you will be able to become a clinical exercise physiologist. A doctorate in exercise physiology will allow you to teach at a university level.

Certification is required by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) to be a professional in this field. Two similar certifications currently exist—clinical exercise specialist (CES) or registered clinical exercise physiologist (RCEP).

To become a specialist, a bachelor’s degree and 600 hours of experience are required before taking the exam. To be certified as a RCEP, a master’s degree in exercise science, exercise physiology or kinesiology, 600 hours of supervised clinical experience and acceptance of RCEP application is required to sit for the exam.

Salary and Outlook

According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), exercise physiologists make an average salary of $47,610. The highest average salary for exercise physiologists is recorded in New York at $65,890.

Currently, the highest level of employment for exercise physiologists is a tie between Texas and North Carolina, where 540 exercise physiology professionals are employed and making an average salary of $46,330.

As with most health professions, the outlook for clinical exercise physiologist careers is good. Continued education and advancement in the public knowledge and concern for health and wellness will allow jobs in this field to grow and expand.

As athletes continue to need rehabilitation and patients with serious diseases need medical exercise regiments, the clinical exercise physiologist profession will thrive. A career in this area may be competitive, but with the right education and certification, getting a solid job as a clinical exercise physiologist is possible.


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