What is a Personal Training Degree?

Perhaps you have your own personal story to tell. Or perhaps you’ve always been healthy and physically active, and want to help others achieve their health and fitness goals while earning a living doing it. If this sounds like you, getting a degree in personal training may be the perfect fit. Seeing people become happy, confident, and comfortable in their own skin is one of the most satisfying things about becoming a personal trainer.

People will choose to hire a personal trainer for all sorts of reasons—to lose weight, to put on muscle, or to get faster, stronger, or healthier. A trainer may play multiple roles with a client, alternating between coach, mentor, teacher, cheerleader, or even drill sergeant—as the situation demands.

Knowledge in nutrition, human anatomy, and exercise physiology is essential. Degree options can be found at the associate, bachelor’s, and master’s degree levels.

Program Options

Personal Training Certification - Eight to Ten Weeks
There are many personal training certifications on the market today, therefore it is important to get certified from a legitimate certifying agency. A personal training certification is a faster approach than a degree, and individuals can complete it on their own with a textbook or on-line. Most personal trainer certifications do not require hands-on experience.

The best personal trainer certification programs are:

  • American Council on Exercise (ACE)
  • National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM)
  • International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA)
  • American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM)
  • National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA)
  • National Federation of Professional Trainers (NFPT)
  • American Fitness Professionals & Associates (AFPA)

Associate in Exercise Science - Two Year Duration
Associate in Kinesiology - Two Year Duration
Associate of Science in Physical Education - Two Year Duration

There is no associate degree linked to personal training, however there are three viable options—an Associate Degree in Exercise Science, an Associate Degree in Kinesiology, or an Associate of Science in Physical Education. Programs are available either on-campus or by distance learning—coursework is the same whether the student is in class or remote.

  • Exercise science degree programs delve into the study of fitness training and proper nutrition
  • Kinesiology degree programs focus more on the science of movement
  • Physical education degrees look at the science and principles behind exercise physiology and fitness training

Any of the three associate programs will benefit individuals wanting to become personal trainers. Associate degree credits can also be used towards a four-year bachelor’s degree if desired.

Bachelor’s in Exercise Science - Four Year Duration
Bachelor’s in Kinesiology - Four Year Duration
Bachelor of Science in Physical Education - Four Year Duration

Bachelor’s degrees in exercise science, kinesiology, or physical education provide an excellent foundation in wellness, the theory of exercise, sports and fitness nutrition, weight management, human anatomy, physical fitness, strength and conditioning, fitness and health analysis, and other health and fitness related subjects.

  • Bachelor’s Degree in Exercise Science classes include core subjects such as languages, mathematics and humanities, as well as health and wellness courses in: the biomechanics of movement, athletic training techniques, recreational management, care and prevention of athletic injuries, and activity for special populations.
  • Bachelor’s Degree in Kinesiology classes include many of the same subjects as exercise science degree programs, but with more of a focus on studying human motion, and on improving health through movement. Courses specific to kinesiology include: motor learning and control, exercise prescription, sports in America, and the philosophy of physical activity—programs in kinesiology may vary by area of specialty.
  • Bachelor of Science in Physical Education classes cover exercise psychology, anatomy physiology, kinesiology, injury prevention, nutrition, and motor skills development. Program also includes a student-teaching component which is especially helpful for those who would like to become physical education teachers (in elementary and secondary schools), or fitness instructors.

Master’s Degree in Exercise Science - Two to Three Year Duration
Master’s Degree in Kinesiology - Two to Three Year Duration
Master of Science in Physical Education - Two to Three Year Duration

  • Master’s Degree in Exercise Science classes delve into a deeper understanding of how the human body works and focus on teaching students how to work in areas such as performance enhancement, rehabilitation, sports and fitness, and injury prevention. It is not necessary for personal trainers to earn a graduate degree, however some personal trainers want to further their education so as to learn more about human movement and functional anatomy. Most programs require students to pick a specialty area. Coursework includes: exercise physiology, sport psychology, physical activity for the elderly, epidemiology, biostatistics, and applied kinesiology.
  • Master’s Degree in Kinesiology classes focus on human movement and how it relates to sports injuries, conditioning, nutrition, and training. Common topics of study are: psychology, ethics and laws, values, and sports-related administration. Some master’s degree programs in kinesiology also offer coaching or physical education specialty areas. Some personal trainers choose to graduate with a Master’s Degree in Kinesiology in order to expand on their athletic training or coaching career. Others move into management or executive positions in fitness centres, athletic departments, rehabilitation departments, destination resorts, or with professional sports teams.
  • Master of Science in Physical Education classes focus on the body, exercise, and nutrition. The curriculum also offers classes in: ethics, anatomy, physiology, coaching strategies, biomechanics, physical education assessment, and coaching strategies. Students can choose to specialize in pedagogy, health education, sports studies, and coaching. Most students that enter into this degree program are looking to teach physical education in either elementary or secondary schools, however, the education offered at this level can greatly benefit personal trainers.

Degrees Similar to Personal Training

Physical Education
Classes in physical education programs include kinesiology, health and wellness, and exercise physiology. Students will also take aerobics and similar sport-specific classes as well as courses specifically focused on teaching methods that are geared towards physical education classes. Most students will complete teaching internships as well.

A kinesiology degree focuses on the study of movement in the human body. Students study how physical movements can promote health and lessen the possibility of injury or illness. They also learn how to go about creating fitness or rehabilitation programs for clients, and may take part in hands-on learning as interns.

Exercise Science
An exercise science degree focuses on studying how exercise and physical movement is used to improve physical and mental well-being. Students learn how to teach others to improve their overall health through physical exercise. Classes include: the study of kinesiology, exercise physiology, and biomechanics.

Occupational Therapy
Some colleges and universities offer specific pre-occupational therapy undergraduate education tracks, but many students complete a bachelor’s program in a discipline like biology, kinesiology, health science, psychology, or sociology. Classes include: functional anatomy, neurobiology, kinesiology, foundations of occupational therapy, therapeutic communication skills, and statistics.

Sports Management
There are many program possibilities to consider when thinking about getting a sports management degree and many careers to choose from. For example, individuals can think about becoming an athletic trainer, a sports agent, a physical therapist, a coach, a public relations liaison, a sports statistical analyst, a sports facilities manager, a scout, or perhaps delve into sports law.

Exercise Physiology
An exercise physiology degree program focuses on the human body’s response to stress in physical activity. Classes include: physiology, abnormal psychology, rehabilitation, pharmacology, human anatomy, human nutrition, human biochemistry, and gerontology. This degree program also includes a fair amount of clinical work.

Skills You’ll Learn

Personal trainers get into the industry because they love being healthy and physically active, and want to help others achieve their health and fitness goals as well. Their education and their hands-on experience give them a skill set that can be transferrable to many other fields and careers. Examples of skills are:

  • Analytical skills
  • Interpersonal (people) skills
  • Communication
  • Flexibility
  • Adaptability
  • Problem-solving
  • Critical thinking
  • Verbal and written skills
  • Leadership skills
  • Collaboration
  • Listening skills
  • Observation
  • Organization
  • Time management
  • Business skills
  • Dependable
  • Planning
  • Self-promotion
  • Self-motivation
  • Empathy
  • Creativity
  • Understanding of exercise science
  • Nutrition knowledge

What Can You Do with a Personal Training Degree?

Personal trainer graduates have many options in the fitness industry, however there are many options that many graduates don’t even think of. From opening up your own gym to working on a cruise ship, there are many choices and avenues. Examples are:

  • Community centres
  • On-line coaching
  • Boot camps
  • Corporate wellness retreats
  • Resorts
  • Cruise ships
  • Personal training
  • Group training
  • Athletic training centres
  • Educational services
  • Hospitals
  • Health and wellness coaching
  • Lifestyle & weight management
  • Consulting
  • Gyms
  • Spas
  • Senior living facilities
  • Business owner


Discover what you’ll learn—and what you can do after you graduate.

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