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How to Become an Exercise Physiologist

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Learning how to become an exercise physiologist can seem daunting at first, especially navigating the different qualifications you’ll need to practice.

Luckily we’ve compiled a guide made up of 4 simple steps, covering:

We’ll cover the essential qualifications needed in more detail in our first step, but you’ll need to secure a personal training diploma if you want to know how to become an exercise physiologist.

You can find out about this and all of our other courses if you download and browse through our course prospectus!

Step 1: How to Become a Certified Exercise Physiologist with the Right Qualifications

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If you’re wondering ‘how long does it take to become an exercise physiologist?’ you’ll need to consider what qualifications are needed.

Of course this can often mean retraining for a lot of people so that they get the required qualifications, including potentially another degree.

We’ll run through each qualification you’ll need and how to become an exercise physiologist with the right courses for you!

How to Become an Exercise Physiologist with a BACPR Qualification

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If you want to know how to become a certified exercise physiologist, you’ll want to secure a qualification from BACPR.

BACPR stands for British Association for Cardiovascular Prevention and Rehabilitation and their level 4 qualification will inform your exercise training.

Essentially this will deepen any existing knowledge and understanding regarding prevention of cardiovascular problems. 

For example, you might work as a PT with cardiac rehabilitation clients or want to train clients with high blood pressure before going into an explicit physiology role.

If you want to know how to become an exercise physiologist, this is one of the ways you can secure a stamp of approval to say you’re safe to work with particular styles of clients. 

Plenty of positions will ask you to be qualified with BACPR to level 4 as this confirms you’re experienced enough to work with individuals with complex conditions:

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As you can see, having this qualification assures the employer that you've got experience and the expertise to work with "clinical demographics".

This is because, as you know, if you want to know how to become a clinical exercise physiologist you’ll be using exercise and fitness as therapy or a preventative measure to support people’s health. 

This is why to obtain the BACPR, you have to have worked in the fitness industry and have completed vocational training in fitness.

We'll go into more detail about this now! 

How Do I Become an Exercise Physiologist with a Fitness Qualification? 

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You’ll need a level 3 exercise qualification in order to complete BACPR training:

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This is because you need to be qualified to work directly with individuals, in a fitness capacity, in order to have the existing expertise to take part in the course.

Even if you’ve completed a degree you have to have at least completed a level 2 fitness instructor course to determine your practical expertise rather than just your theoretical knowledge!

This is where a personal training diploma comes in, combining a level 2 fitness instructor course and a level 3 personal trainer course.

As well as being a requirment for BACPR training, these are the foundational qualifications needed to become a personal trainer and work one on one with clients, gaining valuable experience.

Some positions when you’re starting out may only require a personal training qualification:

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However, you open your options up a lot more when you gain these additional guarantors of your quality as an exercise physiologist!

With a course like ours you’ll learn about anatomy and physiology in detail so that you’re aware of exactly what happens to the body during exercise and the risks and benefits involved.

The reason this is essential for how to become an exercise physiologist is that it will allow you to apply your knowledge practically, designing exercise programmes and tracking progress.

You can combine this with a level 3 exercise referral course in order to work with those with particular medical concerns or conditions.

Let’s look at this course in more detail!

How to Become an Exercise Physiologist with a Level 3 Exercise Referral Qualification

It also states on the website that it's preferable for you to have a level 3 exercise referral qualification:

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This is because a level 3 exercise referral course will help you gain experience working with medical professionals. 

You'll be able to get clients referred to you by doctors and other medical experts and gain vital experience using exercise and fitness in a therapeutic fashion. 

You’re also much more likely to have experience working with clients with cardiovascular conditions when you become an exercise referral specialist, gaining valuable experience towards the course.

How Do You Become an Exercise Physiologist with the Right Degree?

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If you want to know how to become an exercise physiologist in the UK, an option for your next step is choosing to complete a degree in the right subject.

Much like becoming a strength and conditioning coach there’s a few holistic degree subjects you can take in order to become a certified exercise physiologist.

Though it’s not vital that you get a degree, there’s lots of jobs that will ask you to be qualified to degree level as well as having fitness industry experience.

As you can see from most job descriptions, a sports science degree that’s most commonly explicitly asked for:

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Most courses will be called ‘Sports and Exercise Science’ but some will have specific additional components such as a year in industry or nutrition!

As well as choosing the right subject you should also make sure you choose a course that’s registered and approved by BASES.

BASES stands for the British Association for Sport and Exercise Sciences and they act much like CIMSPA does for ourselves!

They’re an accreditation and regulation body, like CIMSPA is for vocational fitness qualifications, assuring the quality of a particular course.

They ensure that the contents of the courses are similar, meeting the same exact industry standards. 

You should make sure that you choose a course from their list as this will make it much easier for you to register yourself when you graduate.

 

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You’ll need to register yourself with BASES after you graduate and start looking for work as an exercise physiologist, which we’ll cover in more detail in ‘Step 3’!

This acts as a stamp of approval all the way from your education to the service you’re offering as you’ll be showing clients and potential employers that you’re offering quality advice and expertise.

You’ll also get discounts on membership when you graduate from one of the approved courses making your membership cheaper, which is great when you’re starting out!

You can find a complete list of the approved BASES courses here on their website! 

Step 2: How to Become an Exercise Physiologist by Gaining Practical Experiencepersonal trainer exercise referral how to become image

If you’re still wondering ‘how do you become an exercise physiologist’, one of the best things to do to support your career is to get some practical experience.

Gaining experience will give you the practice you need to work with individuals and design an effective programme for their needs, allowing you to apply your theoretical knowledge and develop your interpersonal skills!

This is also vital for securing sought after positions working as an exercise physiologist:how do you become an exercise physiologist image

As you can see, prospective employers will want you to have some experience applying the knowledge you’ve gained during your qualifications with individual clients.

As we mentioned earlier, this is why it’s so important to get the fitness qualifications on top of your degree as it will allow you to gain experience in industry, working with clients and applying your knowledge practically.

You can also keep your eyes open on the list of degree courses, when you’re choosing, for those that offer a year in industry.

Choosing a course that has the option to be in the field, gaining work experience, will give you the edge over other people when looking for positions!

If you’re finding this article helpful, check out some of our others that will help boost your fitness career:

Step 3: How Do You Become an Exercise Physiologist Who's Registered?

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Next up for how to become an exercise physiologist, once you’ve gained your qualifications and experience, is to get registered.

There’s several professional bodies you’ll need to look into depending on the kind of role you want to fulfill.

Whether you came to this article wondering how to become a clinical exercise physiologist, or you want to work in a sports setting, there’s several bodies you’ll want to register with.

In order to increase your employability and give you the chance to apply for different positions you should get registered with:

  • BASES (British Association for Sport and Exercise Sciences)
  • RCCP (Registration Council for Clinical Physiologists)

We’ll run through each of these briefly now to explain what they are and how they can help with how to become an exercise physiologist! 

BASES

BASES is the important body holistically and will assert your professionalism and expertise no matter what role you’re applying for.

As you can see from the position below, working for the NHS and other positions in the public health sector, will stipulate this in job adverts:

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Though they’re not stated as “essential”, remember that everyone applying will have the essential qualifications and so these extra registrations could be what gives you the edge over competitors. 

It’s also increasingly important that you’re registered with BASES if you want to work within sports:

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Some of the biggest institutions such as the Premier League and EIS (English Institute of Sport) increasingly only accept applications from those registered with BASES. 

Though obviously these positions or clients represent the upper end of what you can do within these roles, your potential will be uncapped if you have these registrations behind you!

RCCP 

If you want to know how to become a clinical exercise physiologist you should become registered with RCCP.

You will join a register which will be browsable and discoverable by potential employers and clients which will act as a guarantee you meet the highest clinical and industry standards.

Similar to BASES they act as a guarantor of members’ quality as well as an accreditation body for certain clinical courses.

Not only is this another way of asserting your clinical prowess, it can open doors to some of the more competitive roles.

Some more clinical exercise physiologist roles will need different qualifications and be different career paths, which we’ll touch on later, and these are often the ones that stipulate needing to be RCCP registered. 

However, it can still give you an edge and be a gateway to working with more prestigious clients because of this added guarantee of your expertise. 

Take Tom Cowan for instance. He holds regular clinics at the Centre for Health and Human Performance (CHHP), featured in prestigious magazines and on podcasts, and has worked with some impressive clients:

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As you can see, he’s worked with Chelsea Football Club and is registered with RCCP as well as BACPR who we mentioned earlier!

So, if you want to know how to become an exercise physiologist with as many options as possible, you should become registered with these professional bodies!

The REP membership here is linked to the fitness course you complete. 

Just as it’s easier, and cheaper, to register with BASES when you complete a qualification supported by them, you should choose a CIMSPA-endorsed course to gain membership with them when you qualify!

#Step 4: How to Then Become an Exercise Physiologist and Find the Right Role for Youinterview how long does it take to become an exercise physiologist image

Last but not least for how to become an exercise physiologist in the UK is to look for, and secure, the right position.

As we mentioned earlier, the best way to earn the most rewarding and highest paid fitness jobs is with the right qualifications and registrations.

However, this will also depend on the kind of position you want to go for.

If you want to know how to become a clinical exercise physiologist there’s some positions that will be open to you whereas others are limited to those who are qualified in a more strictly medical capacity.

For example, though there’s overlap between a cardiac physiologist and an exercise physiologist, in terms of assessing and helping with people’s cardiovascular fitness, this is a different role.

This is why you should be aware of the wide variety of job titles given for the role if you want to know how to become an exercise physiologist so you know exactly what you can apply for!

For example, the role may be called: 

  • Exercise Physiologist
  • Performance Physiologist
  • Wellness Physiologist
  • Health and Wellbeing Physiologist

 

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All of these roles cover a variety of subtly different positions that share the same overarching responsibilities.  

The varying names will depend on the setting in which you’re working most of the time, ranging from working in: 

  • A lab as a technician 
  • A clinic, hospital, or private medical environment
  • In the field with sports professionals and athletes 

Working in the field is obviously incredibly competitive and will usually involve doing so through a particular clinic or private medical facility. 

Working in a Lab

Working in a lab will usually involve the following responsibilities:

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Much like other scientific environments, working as a lab technician is a lower paid position but can be a great entry level role to get your foot in the door.

Working in a Clinic or Hospital

Working in this capacity will look like this, working to design specific programmes depending on clients’ needs and chronic conditions:

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As you can see you’d work with a ‘multidisciplinary team’ fulfilling a role within a wider programme of care.

The more experience you’ve got working with special conditions as a PT the better if you want to apply for this style of role.

This is because you’ll be able to demonstrate industry experience and expertise surrounding the specific needs of different chronic illnesses and conditions.

You can also keep your eye out, when you’re starting out, for graduate positions:

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These will often only be open to those who’ve recently graduated and will give you some of the industry experience specific to physiology you can use in tandem with any experience as a PT.

Before You Go!

That concludes our guide on how to become an exercise physiologist! Hopefully now you know what you need to get started with this exciting career in fitness and health!

Don’t forget, the most important thing is to secure the most prestigious qualifications and further education.

You can find details of our L3 PT Diploma, including all those we’ve mentioned in this article, by downloading our free course prospectus here!

Written by Jessie Florence Jones

Content Writer & Fitness Enthusiast

Jessie has a 1st class honours degree in English Literature from University of Leeds and an MA in English Literature from Durham University. Naturally Jessie has a real passion for writing especially about film, culture and wellbeing. Outside of writing she loves hiking, country walks and yoga, which she has been doing religiously over lockdown.

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