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Best Online Degrees in: Exercise and Sports

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Explore a Bachelor's Degree in Exercise and Sports

Exercise and sports science is the study of physical activity and how the body moves, particularly when participating in athletics. An emphasis is placed on disease prevention and promoting optimal human health. Since exercise and sports science degree programs emphasize hands-on learning, many online exercise and sports science degree programs incorporate occasional campus visits so that students can participate in various clinics and labs, particularly when it comes to courses where students learn emergency care for sports injuries. However, many courses in this degree program can be completed fully online or in hybrid format, making the online program more ideal for those with busy schedules.

Online programs in exercise and sports science are available at the undergraduate and graduate levels, but the bachelor's degree is the most common degree level pursued. Most bachelor's degrees are designed to be completed in two years of full-time work. However, program length will vary depending on the college or university, and students may be able to complete the program more quickly by choosing an accelerated program, transferring in credits from other schools or AP courses completed in high school, or through CLEP testing. Some students may need to attend their degree programs part-time due to work and family constraints, adding to the overall program length.

Class Curriculum

Students completing undergraduate programs in exercise and sports science take general education courses in written composition, mathematics, humanities, social and behavioral sciences, and biological and physical sciences. In addition, students take core courses in human anatomy and physiology, health and fitness, principles of athletic training, strength and conditioning, and adapted physical education. Students also commonly take the following courses:

  • Sports Nutrition. In this course, students learn how micronutrients and macronutrients fuel the body's energy systems for athletic activity. Students look at the biochemical processes in metabolizing energy, and eating in a way that boosts physical performance and overall fitness.
  • Exercise Physiology. This course examines how the body adapts to allow participation in physical activity and sports. Students study the major body systems involved in movement, including the cardiopulmonary, neuromuscular, and musculoskeletal systems, and how these systems respond to sustained movement over time. This course may also touch on how exercise physiology is applied in clinical populations, or people who have diseases and other health problems.
  • Kinesiology. In this course, students are introduced to muscle groups, including their structure and function, particularly as it applies to human performance and dysfunction. Students look at how various muscle groups contribute to particular movements, including normal and impaired movements.

Exercise and sports science students complete a wide range of homework and projects. Students will demonstrate their knowledge of body parts and systems on anatomical sheets, attend clinics on the prevention and treatment of common sports injuries, write papers on how to adapt exercise programs for people of different age groups and physical abilities, and more. Students also generally participate in lab work that accompanies their courses in the hard sciences.

Field work and internships are also often incorporated into exercise and sports science programs. These internships may pertain to general health and wellness, research into human movement, outdoor education, sports management and coaching, or any other area pertaining to exercise science. Students have the opportunity to observe exercise and sports science professionals in action, and hone their own skills in designing athletic programs for various population groups and providing supervised training to others. This supervised fieldwork takes place at approved sites, like local area high school athletic departments, college athletic departments, sports medicine businesses, pro sports organizations, nonprofit youth sport organizations, and private sport psychology consulting practices.

Building a Career

A few of the many career paths for students with a background in exercise and sports science include exercise specialists, fitness and wellness coordinators, strength and conditioning specialists and coaches, and sport performance researchers (for those who pursue graduate study). Other jobs include recreation workers, such as camp directors, camp counselors, and people who direct activities at health clubs, parks, and on cruise ships; and fitness workers, which include aerobics instructors and related fields, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). With the appropriate educational background and state licensure, some go on to become physical education teachers at K-12 schools.

Many, however, become fitness trainers and instructors. The median yearly salary for fitness trainers and instructors is $31,090, the BLS notes. Fitness trainers typically must have a minimum of a high school diploma to enter the field, but an increasing number of employers are requiring college education, such as an associate degree or bachelor's degree in a relevant area like exercise science, kinesiology, or physical education, according to the BLS. In addition, employers prefer to hire people who are certified personal trainers and also certified in CPR, the BLS notes. Salaries vary depending on where you live, the size of your employer or client base, and other factors.