Careers in the Exercise Physiology Field

Commonality and growth abound in diverse health-fitness settings

There is literally no institution or stratum in modern American society that is not touched in some manner by health, sport and fitness. From high political circles, where it has been accorded a status of great significance (e.g., President’s Council on Physical Fitness & Sport), to its firm defenders and followers within the ranks of traditional American religious denominations (e.g., YMCA, YWCA & JCC all rooted here), participation in and enjoyment of sports and fitness is evident.

Look at postmodernism today and how exercise reflects the society of which it is a part. If you loosen your imaginations we observe that exercise in society today is everywhere. Read the words of Synthia Sydnor (excerpt found in Exercise and Society – Introduction to Exercise Science, 2001) who describes how the postmodern exercise subculture can be seen with juxtaposed images of people and events that seem ironical or paradoxical:

On any one day, we may look out the window to see a female senior citizen in-line skate down the street, turn on CNN to hear of space shuttle astronauts performing experiments on rats to learn about weightlessness on human muscular activity for a future trip to Mars, go to a game emporium to enter a virtual sword-fighting contest, drop by a church to participate in gospel aerobics, visit a university exercise science department to see researchers studying the movement of honey bees circling hives and using chaos theory to apply what they learn to understanding defensive moves in a soccer game, and enter a store to purchase a T-shirt with the representation of our favorite professional athlete emblazoned on it.

The explosive growth of health-fitness facilities and programs designed to promote high-level wellness began during the early and mid-1980’s, and it shows no sign of letting up anytime soon. The growth has appeared in four distinct segments – designated as commercial, community, corporate, and clinical settings. Because there are close to 75 thousand facilities currently serving more than 19% of the American population, there is considerable diversity.

Commercial Setting

The greatest proportion of jobs can be found in for-profit, commercially run health-fitness facilities. The industries big players in the commercial sector can be found across the United States and include Bally Fitness Center divisions, Club Corporation of America, Gold’s Gym franchises, and the newest and fastest growing club – Equinox Fitness. The commercial environment is rich in opportunity for someone interested in the marketing and sales of health-fitness services and products. This is also a good place to get broad exposure to all the business management areas within the health-fitness industry.

Opportunities to work with athletic populations are expanding in the commercial setting as well. This includes developing and implementing specialized training regimens and fitness assessments of athletes at all levels (e.g., adolescents, high school and college-aged, professional and elite).

Community Setting

Many organizations and agencies serve clients in community settings, including voluntary, non-for-profit entities such as YMCA’s, YWCA’s & JCC’s, as well as public parks and recreation agencies, schools & universities, hotels, country-clubs and residential health-fitness developments. Many community-based facilities and programs afford good exposure to programming coupled with a social and recreational focus.

Corporate Setting

In-house health-fitness facilities and services found in large and small-scale businesses have spread like wildfire. Both tangible and intangible goals underlie the objectives of corporate health-fitness facilities. These may include reductions in employee absenteeism, turnover rates, and health care costs while improving employee wellness, morale, and enthusiasm in the workplace.

Clinical Setting

Health care is moving away from the traditional approach and rapidly moving toward more managed care, capitation, and risk sharing. Hence, an environment is created in which a hospital’s ‘fiscal fitness’ depends in large part on the physical fitness and health status of its patients. Today, hospital- based health-fitness facilities can be found in 1 out of every 4 hospitals.

Because it is known that these programs are cost beneficial and cost effective, a forecasted growth to almost 2 out of every 4 hospitals is expected within the next decade. Most of these facilities are closely associated with outpatient services, such as physical therapy, sports medicine, and cardiac rehabilitation and frequently provide both types of programs in the same facility.