Exercise Science Jobs

Exercise science is a rapidly growing field involving more than just movement. Those who work in exercise science do so with the desire to improve the health and well-being of their clients, who may be at various ages and/or skill levels. An undergraduate degree is normally necessary in order to obtain a good job in exercise science, but some positions do require advanced degrees. Read on to discover what types of jobs one who possesses an exercise science degree can expect to find. View exercise science degree here.

Recreational Therapist

A recreational therapist helps clients who have illnesses, injuries or other disabilities and need therapy that is movement-based. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) of the U.S. Department of Labor, the average annual salary for recreational therapists in 2018 was $47,860. Between the years of 2018 to 2028, job opportunities for recreational therapists are expected to increase by seven percent, faster than the average of other occupations. Recreational therapists typically can be found working in hospitals, long-term care centers, and government recreation departments.

Recreational therapists need a minimum of a bachelor’s degree, but can earn higher salaries if they possess a graduate degree. They also can increase their marketability if they hold professional certifications, like:

  • Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist (CTRS) from the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification (NCTRC)
  • Specialty certifications are also available through the NCTRC in physical medicine and rehabilitation, geriatrics, developmental disabilities, community inclusion services, and behavioral health

As of 2019, only New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oklahoma, California, Washington and Utah require recreational therapists to be state licensed. Check with your state for its requirements, however, as new licensing regulations are constantly being put into place.

Fitness Trainer

Fitness trainers or fitness instructors may work within corporations, health and fitness centers, hospitals and long-term care facilities. Per the BLS, job opportunities for fitness trainers are expected to grow by 10 percent through 2026, as more organizations recognize the importance and benefit of health and fitness programs for their employees. The average yearly salary for fitness trainers as of 2018 was $39,820, with the opportunity for higher salaries with further education and experience.

A minimum of an associate degree and professional certification are necessary in order to get the best jobs as a fitness trainer. Popular certifications that fitness trainers can seek include:

Exercise Physiologist

An exercise physiologist is a highly trained professional who develops movement and exercise programs to help people recovering from chronic illness or disease. They typically work in hospitals and long-term care or rehabilitation facilities. The BLS says that the average annual salary for exercise physiologists in 2018 was $49,270. Job opportunities for exercise physiologists are expected to grow by 10 percent from 2018 to 2028.

A minimum of a bachelor’s degree is necessary in order to start working as an exercise physiologist, but holders of a graduate degree can command higher salaries and better jobs. As of 2012, only Louisiana requires state licensure for exercise physiologists. (Check with your state for its latest requirements, however, as licensure regulations are always in flux). Professional certification is also available, and recommended, such as:


You might not think of coaches as having exercise science education and experience, but they do. What better way to put that education and experience in exercise science into practice than to work with athletes, either individually or on a team? High schools, colleges and universities, as well as amateur and professional sports teams, hire coaches with exercise science degrees, knowing that they have the necessary expertise in nutrition, fitness, strength and performance. Coaches must also possess a wealth of knowledge about and experience with the game or sport in which they intend to work.

The BLS says that coaches and scouts earned an average yearly salary of $33,780 in 2018. Although a bachelor’s degree is the minimum education necessary, those holding graduate degrees can expect to earn higher wages.  Job opportunities for coaches and scouts are predicted to grow by 11 percent from 2018 through 2028.

Coaches may want to consider professional teaching certification in the state in which they wish to work, as this will open up job opportunities at secondary and post-secondary schools. Coaches who work as recruiting scouts might also want to join the Next College Student Athlete (NCSA), a college athlete recruiting network.