Exercise physiologists analyse a person’s medical history and fitness level to develop a personalised exercise programme

As an exercise physiologist, you’ll investigate how people respond and adapt to muscular activity and will use your skills and knowledge to improve their performance and fitness levels or to help prevent or treat illness.

You’ll typically provide scientific support to athletes and teams within one or several sports. This may involve monitoring training through the measurement and assessment of physical functions such as respiration, metabolism and the nervous, pulmonary and cardiovascular systems. You might also be involved in developing fitness training programmes to adequately prepare athletes for competition.

If working as a clinical exercise physiologist in a hospital setting, you’ll provide expert advice on exercise for people with a range of chronic diseases, including coronary heart disease, diabetes or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.


As an exercise physiologist, you’ll typically need to:

  • fitness test athletes to build accurate physiological profiles
  • develop tailored fitness training programmes
  • monitor and reassess training plans on a regular basis
  • liaise with coaching staff to maximise the effects of training
  • educate and advise athletes and coaches on areas such as heart rate monitoring, recovery techniques, hydration strategies, overtraining and acclimatisation
  • provide benchmark physiological information to enable long-term athletic development
  • work in collaboration with other sport and exercise professionals such as physiotherapists, dietitians, strength and conditioning coaches, and sport psychologists
  • use specialist resources and equipment such as aqua pacers, osmometers and electronic timing systems
  • produce reports and longitudinal studies
  • keep up to date with ongoing research
  • raise awareness of health and fitness issues and promote the benefits of sport and exercise
  • teach academic courses.

If you’re working as a clinical exercise physiologist, you’ll generally need to:

  • perform a range of investigations, including exercise tolerance tests, to assess patient risk
  • work directly with patients on how to make changes to their lifestyle
  • refer patients where necessary to other specialists
  • work as part of a multidisciplinary team including clinicians and allied health professionals
  • teach and present to allied related medical staff
  • work with community groups, volunteers and local councils to raise awareness of the benefits of exercise.


  • Exercise physiologists employed in the sports sector may earn between £18,000 and £35,000. If you work in high-profile sports science, your salary can exceed £60,000 and may reach up to £100,000.
  • Clinical exercise physiologists working in the NHS are usually covered by the Agenda for Change (AfC) pay rates. You’ll typically start at the lower end of Band 5 (£27,055 to £32,934), and will need to undertake a considerable amount of continuing professional development (CPD) to progress up the pay scale.
  • Salaries for qualified exercise physiology lecturers in higher education typically range from £25,454 to £38,387. Details of the pay scale for lecturers can be found at the University and College Union (UCU).

Salaries can vary greatly depending on your employer and the type of work you’re involved in.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Working hours typically include evenings and weekends to cover appointments with clients. When on tour or at training camps with athletes or teams, your working hours may be long. If you’re working in a hospital, your working hours are more likely to be Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm.

Part-time work and self-employment are possible. Consultancy work is also available for experienced and accredited physiologists.

What to expect

  • Exercise physiologists working within sport typically work either in a laboratory or in the field. If you’re working as a clinical exercise physiologist, you’ll usually be based in a hospital, medical centre or private healthcare organisation.
  • Although more career opportunities are becoming available, competition for jobs is fierce.
  • Opportunities exist throughout the UK and abroad.
  • You may need to spend time away from home to attend training camps, competitions, fixtures and events.
  • If you work with children and young people, you’ll need to undergo a Disclosure and Barring Service check.


You’ll usually need a degree in sports science or a closely-related subject. Relevant undergraduate sport and exercise science degrees are based around physiology, biomechanics and psychology, and you’ll be expected to have a broad knowledge base covering all three subjects and interdisciplinary approaches.

Some degree courses are endorsed by The British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences (BASES), which means that the curriculum, resources and opportunities that the courses offer are appropriate for a career in sports science. See the BASES Course Finder.

As competition for jobs is strong, it can be useful to have a postgraduate qualification specialising in sport and exercise physiology or a relevant PhD. Search postgraduate courses in sport and exercise physiology.


You’ll need to have:

  • key technical skills and knowledge
  • communication skills to work effectively with athletes, coaches, healthcare and other associated professionals
  • self-motivation and the ability to motivate others
  • the ability to prioritise, balance conflicting demands and meet deadlines
  • teamworking skills
  • presentation and report-writing skills
  • a willingness to learn and the determination to succeed.

Work experience

BASES reports that competition for jobs is intense, because although job opportunities in sport and exercise science are increasing so too are the number of sport and exercise graduates.

Relevant work experience in a sports or fitness setting, through work shadowing or volunteering, is therefore vital and will also help you find out what the work is really like.

If you are interested in a particular area of sport, try to get some specific coaching or fitness training experience. Any chance to observe experienced professionals in the role will be invaluable.

For free mentoring resources and experiences designed to support aspiring healthcare and legal professionals – including virtual work experience that is accepted by medical schools, see Medic Mentor.

Find out more about the different kinds of work experience and internships that are available.

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