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Do You Need a College Degree to Be an Exercise Instructor?

by Kristine Tucker, studioD

Exercise instructors teach aerobic exercise classes and help individuals meet their fitness goals. Educational requirements for exercise instructors vary depending on the organization, skill level, client needs and course offerings. Personal trainers are often required to have exercise certifications and advanced degrees, but general exercise instructors have less stringent educational requirements. Some employers might require exercise instructors to obtain certifications so they are prepared to teach classes and offer sound physical fitness advice.

High School Diploma

Even though a post-secondary education isn't required for many exercise instructor jobs, most employers require a high school diploma to apply for job openings, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Because instructors must be mature and responsible enough to address emergency situations, injuries and adult-related fitness concerns, employers don't usually hire teenagers or those without a high school education. Most employers also require job applicants to have CPR training before they can instruct classes. Teenagers might be allowed to help instruct physical fitness classes at summer camps or fitness centers, but it's usually under the direct supervision of directors and certified instructors.


Many fitness centers prefer to hire job candidates who have certifications in physical fitness or specific exercise methods, such as yoga, cycling or aerobics. Certification exams have a written section and might include a hands-on or practical section. The exams test a candidate’s knowledge of human physiology, knowledge of proper exercise techniques and ability to analyze clients' fitness levels, exercise needs and limitations, according to the BLS. Exercise instructors only need a high school diploma to apply and test for these types of introductory-level certifications. Advanced certifications often require an associate or bachelor's degree in an exercise or health-related field.

Academic Degrees

Some employers and exercise instructing positions call for academic degrees. Specialized exercise instructors, such as personal trainers, athletic trainers, physical rehabilitation instructors and physical fitness advisers, are often required to have an associate or bachelor's degree to qualify for the job. According to the BLS, a degree in exercise science, kinesiology or physical education helps equip instructors for specialized positions. These degree programs stress health-related issues, such as proper nutrition, safe exercise methods, group fitness instruction and healthy lifestyle habits.

Specific Skills

Exercise instructors must have strong communication skills. They interact with clients on a regular basis and help them learn exercise methods, dance moves and heart-rate monitoring techniques. Strong interpersonal skills, such as friendliness, a positive attitude and patience help instructors connect with clients so they feel good about themselves and their workouts. Many instructors use microphones, speakers and music to teach their classes, so basic understanding of electronic equipment is beneficial. Exercise instructors must be physically fit, so they can model effective stretching, aerobic and cool-down exercises for their clients.

About the Author

As curriculum developer and educator, Kristine Tucker has enjoyed the plethora of English assignments she's read (and graded!) over the years. Her experiences as vice-president of an energy consulting firm have given her the opportunity to explore business writing and HR. Tucker has a BA and holds Ohio teaching credentials.

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