Are Exercise Physiologists Licensed?

Exercise physiologists are health care professionals, not personal trainers.
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When you told your BFF about your career plans, her response was “An exercise what-a-gist?” Exercise physiologists typically get a master's degree. They may be certified, especially if they want to practice as clinical exercise physiologists, but only one state requires a license. Other states are working on the issue, and licenses may be required in the future.

About Exercise Physiology

    Exercise physiology is the study of physical activity and its underlying physiological mechanisms, according to American Society of Exercise Physiologists. This could include the nitty-gritty details of exactly how your breathing, pulse and blood pressure change in response to an activity such as running on a treadmill. It’s also about the science of movement, known as kinesiology. Kinesiologists and exercise physiologists are interested in how chemistry, mechanics and muscle control affect the role of physical activity in health and disease.


    An exercise physiologist, according to ASEP, is a health-care professional. She could have an academic degree in that discipline, be certified to practice exercise physiology or have a doctoral degree in exercise physiology from an accredited college or university. The Clinical Exercise Physiology Association states that an exercise physiologist should have at least a master’s degree. ASEP is very clear that an exercise physiologist is not a personal trainer, as an exercise physiologist actually prescribes exercise in the same way a physician prescribes medications.

Standards and Certification

    National standards for exercise physiologist licensing and certification do not exist, and each state regulates their practice individually. Perhaps because the educational preparation is varied, ASEP recommends certification as a means to identify exercise physiologists who are competent in their profession. CEPA notes that unless an exercise physiologist holds a master’s degree and is either licensed or has a professional certification from a national organization, she is not a clinical exercise physiologist, but only a clinical exercise specialist. From CEPA’s point of view, licensing and certification are equivalent for exercise physiologists.


    As of May 2012, CEPA noted on its website that only Louisiana required exercise physiologists to be licensed. CEPA members have provided updates that indicate licensure efforts are underway in some states. In Maryland, the CEPA chapter began meeting with the local American Physical Therapy Association chapter and state representatives on the licensing issue in January 2013. A Massachusetts bill was sent back for study and will be reintroduced in 2015. North Carolina has been working on the issue since 2011. Other states, such as Montana, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin are at varying stages of the legislative process.

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