Exercise physiologists use their expert scientific knowledge to help athletes improve their performance. “How the heck do they do that?” I hear you cry. Well, they conduct fitness tests on them and assess the capability of their different body systems during exercise, i.e. their respiratory, skeletal, muscular, cardiovascular, and nervous systems.
During this assessment process, exercise physiologists use state-of-the-art equipment, such as ergometers, ECGs, osmometers and brachial analysers.
Based on these assessments and their analysis of the data collected, exercise physiologists make recommendations to athletes and their coaches to help improve performance. For instance, they might implement a strict diet regime, create a brand new training plan for them to follow, or give them advice on how to rehydrate and recover more quickly. They will then continue to monitor their performance on a regular basis in order to track their progress.
Exercise physiologists don’t necessarily only work with sportspeople; they can also work in a clinical environment and use their expertise to help people with serious conditions, such as heart disease, hypertension, diabetes and peripheral vascular disease.
Salary & benefits
Entry-level exercise physiologists tend to earn between £20,000 and £27,500 per annum. Fully-qualified professionals with a few years of experience, however, can earn up to £35,000 a year.
Some highly-experienced exercise physiologists who work for prominent sports clubs can earn considerably more – sometimes up to £110,000 a year.
The nature of exercise physiology means that you will regularly be required to work at the weekends and in the evenings, especially if you work directly with a sports team.
You may also be required to travel, both domestically and internationally, on a regular basis.
To enter this line of work, you will need an undergraduate degree in sports science, exercise science or another similar subject. A whole bunch of universities offer courses in this niche area. Check out our Courses section for more details.
If you don’t have an applicable undergraduate degree, it would be advisable to complete a relevant postgraduate qualification.
Another way to boost your employability is to get relevant work experience. Volunteer with a university sports club, get involved with coaching, or get a temp job at a fitness centre. If anything, this will enable you to build up a network of useful contacts.
All exercise physiologists must undergo a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check before they can work with young people.
Training & progression
The majority of your training will be done whilst on the job under the supervision of a senior exercise physiologist. You will also have the opportunity to attend in-house training sessions from time to time.
Typically, it is also essential for an exercise physiologist to become an accredited member of the British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences (BASES).
If you decide to specialise in a particular area of exercise physiology, you might be required to complete additional courses and qualifications with organisations such as the UK Strength and Conditioning Association.
Many people start their career at assistant level. However, once you have gained a decent amount of experience, you may be able to secure a job with a sports club, research centre or medical facility as a senior exercise physiologist.
Many people opt to work on a freelance basis. Alternatively, you could always give something back to the exercise physiology community by working as a university lecturer and teaching the next generation of exercise physiologists.