On many occasions, students and professionals may have confusion with the scope and role of health fitness professionals (i.e., personal trainers and group exercise instructors) and clinical exercise physiologists. In addition, it is not always an easy decision to determine which certification is the best option for a person’s career goals. This column aims to give a general overview of the differences in the professional scope and role of the health fitness professional and clinical exercise physiologist, to highlight available certifications for each profession through ACSM, and to provide an update on salary and job forecasts (1).
In addition to education, general certification demonstrates that a person has met the minimum competencies for entry-level employment as determined by ACSM’s job task analysis for each certification (2). Although some of the certifications require a high school diploma as a minimum qualification, each candidate should consider formal educational training and the completion of a certificate and/or minimum of an associate’s degree. Depending on the career goal, the timing to complete a certification may assist with enhanced work/internship opportunities. For example, an individual studying to become a clinical exercise physiologist may benefit from taking a health fitness certification that will result in employment ahead of graduation or greater hands-on opportunities at an internship that can provide experience with managing clients. Each section below will go into detail regarding the different roles of each professional and the appropriate ACSM certification within each role.
SCOPE AND ROLE OF A HEALTH FITNESS PROFESSIONAL
According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook, the health fitness professional’s role is to conduct client consultations and goal setting, fitness assessments, and exercise programming for the health-related components of fitness (3), as well as motivate the client through individual or group training sessions (1). The clientele of the health fitness professional includes people of all ages and fitness levels who are healthy or have medically controlled chronic disease. The U.S. Department of Labor includes personal “fitness” trainers and group fitness instructors in this category and describes their work setting as being health clubs, fitness/recreation centers, gyms, and group fitness studios (1).
It is projected that between the years 2016 and 2026, there will be a 10% growth for health fitness professionals because of increased population health needs that can be controlled with physical activity and exercise. This equates to an additional 30,000 jobs during this time, described by the U.S. Department of Labor as a profession growing “faster than average” (1).
It is projected that between the years 2016 and 2026, there will be a 10% growth for health fitness professionals because of increased population health needs that can be controlled with physical activity and exercise. This equates to an additional 30,000 jobs during this time, described by the U.S. Department of Labor as a profession growing “faster than average” (1). The median salary for this profession is $39,820, with typical entry-level education being a high school diploma or equivalency and at least one recognized certification.
ACSM has three health fitness certifications with different eligibility requirements as described in the Table (2). The ACSM Certified Personal Trainer® (ACSM-CPT) allows qualified individuals to execute the general scope of practice in a one-on-one training setting with healthy and medically cleared clients. An ACSM-CPT also may provide programming for motor skill-related components of fitness (3) such as balance, agility, and coordination. ACSM Certified Group Exercise Instructors® (ACSM-GEI) are able to lead group exercise sessions with apparently healthy and medically cleared individuals, and those with disability and disease who can exercise independently. The ACSM-GEI is proficient in group exercise techniques, designing and leading class sessions, and motivating clients toward positive behavior change for a healthy lifestyle. The more advanced ACSM health fitness credential is the ACSM Certified Exercise Physiologist® (ACSM-EP). The ACSM-EP certified professional is able to work with clients who have medically controlled diseases or disabilities. The ACSM-EP is skilled to perform preparticipation screening and risk assessment, administer exercise assessments, and provide client education to help promote behavior modification and healthy lifestyles.
SCOPE AND ROLE OF A CLINICAL EXERCISE PHYSIOLOGIST
The clinical exercise physiologist is an allied health care professional who typically works full-time in hospitals and outpatient clinics, alongside other health care providers, and can be self-employed (1). According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook, the clinical exercise physiologist is able to administer exercise tests and develop fitness programs that assist patients in the recovery and current management of chronic disease and disabilities (1). These conditions include, but are not limited to cardiovascular, pulmonary, metabolic, orthopedic, and musculoskeletal diseases. A clinical exercise physiologist also can provide education and programming to help with the prevention of disease (primary) and management of risk factors associated with disease (secondary) in people of all populations and ages (2). Clinical exercise physiologists typically have entry-level education of a bachelor’s degree in exercise science or kinesiology and clinical experience (1). The U.S. Department of Labor forecasts a 13% growth between the years 2016 and 2026, resulting in an additional 2,000 clinical jobs (1). The median pay for the clinical exercise physiologist is $49,270, with salary being slightly higher for those professionals who have a graduate degree (1).
As one of the most widely recognized certifications, ACSM offers the Certified Clinical Exercise Physiologist® (ACSM-CEP) credential that indicates entry-level competencies to deliver the scope of the clinical exercise physiologist (2). The Table discusses the differences in eligibility criteria for those individuals who have a bachelor’s versus master’s degree (2). Regardless of the level of education, an exam candidate is required to complete an application and provide documentation of clinical experience (2). All ACSM-CEPs also are encouraged to become members of the Clinical Exercise Physiology Association (CEPA) where they will be eligible to apply to the Clinical Exercise Physiologist Registry (4). The CEPA Registry is the only national registry that promotes and advocates for the advancement of ACSM-CEPs. It affords employers and other health care professionals a tool to find qualified clinical exercise physiologists for referral by searching in geographic regions. For more information on CEPA and the national registry, please visit www.acsm-cepa.org.
With an increasing demand for health and physical activity promotion and recognition that exercise can help with disease prevention and management, there is a blatant need for qualified health fitness professionals and clinical exercise physiologists. Understanding the scope and general requirements of each professional is important as the field continues to grow and we advocate for our scope of practice in health fitness and health care. In addition to choosing the correct academic program, the different ACSM certifications need to be considered along with each individual’s career goals and aspirations.
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1. U.S. Department of Labor. Occupational Outlook Handbook
. 2019 [cited 2019 September 1]. Available from: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/
2. American College of Sports Medicine. ACSM Get Certified. 2019 [cited 2019 September 1]. Available from: https://www.acsm.org/get-stay-certified/get-certified
3. ACSM. ACSM’s Guidelines to Exercise Testing and Prescription
. 10th ed. Philadelphia (PA): Wolters Kluwer Health; 2018. p. 2.
4. Clinical Exercise Physiology Association. Registry [Internet]. 2019 [cited 2019 September 4]. Available from: https://www.acsm-cepa.org/content.aspx?page_id=22&club_id=324409&module_id=319786