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Difference Between Sports Medicine & Exercise Science

Sports Medicine and Exercise Science are related fields, yet they are not one and the same. Sports Medicine entails working with a patient to treat injuries sustained during athletic events, as well as their prevention and diagnosis. On the other hand, Exercise Science studies the movements that take place during physical exertion and the body's natural reaction to them.

There are a number of sub-disciplines and professions that overlap with both broad disciplines of Sports Medicine and Exercise Science making strict categorizations quite nebulous. The scientific application, education, and work setting can make an impact on the ultimate vocational definition thus making it important to have a strong understanding of the various scientific worlds that come together to create both Sports Medicine and Exercise Science.

The various disciplines and sub-disciplines coalesce to make a unified, supportive team to work towards improved health and increased performance for each individual. At times, it is necessary to adopt a multifaceted approach with a variety of specialists to produce an outcome that is truly optimal for the client. If one area of a training program is ignored or underdeveloped, the health and performance of the individual may suffer.

Top Careers in Exercise Science & Sports Medicine

While this list does not include all possible career options available to someone with a degree in Exercise Science or Sports Medicine, the following list are some of the most common career opportunities worth learning more about.

Aerobics Instruction

An Aerobics Instructor leads a group of people in exercise sessions and these groups can contain individuals with diverse levels of fitness and medical concerns or can be comprised of people who are all on the same fitness level. The activities that take place under the guidance of a qualified Aerobics Instructor may include water based aerobics, cycling, and chair aerobics. Aerobics instructors can work in hospitals, commercial fitness centers, private clinics, or integrated into an employee fitness program. Prerequisites for an Aerobics Instructure include an undergraduate degree from an accredited institution plus an employer-approved certification. To learn more, students can research associations such as the AFAA or utilize our search platform.

Athletic Training

Athletic Trainers will most often work in conjunction with exercise physiologists, team physicians, coaches, and/or physical therapists to care for and prevent injuries incurred during sporting activities. To work as an athletic trainer, you will need to earn an undergraduate degree an accredited program approved by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs plus a certification from the National Athletic Trainers Association. In addition, obtaining proper licensure will be requisite for most states in the country by successfully obtaining a NATA certification examination.

Exercise Physiologist

An Exercise Physiologist devotes their energy to best understand a patients fitness level to help them improve or maintain a desired level of health. Important to know: an Exercise Physiologist is not synonymous with a personal trainer. In order to become an Exercise Physiologist, a person must complete a specialized degree in Exercise Physiology and become certified by the ASEP (American Society of Exercise Physiologists). A

n Exercise Physiologist can work with a variety of people from working with athletes to improve their overall performance to patients with chronic diseases to regain or stabilize their level of health. In its most basic form, an Exercise Physiologist uses a variety of tests and tools to understand metabolism and cardiovascular systems before creating a custom fitness plan for a patient. Fitness goals can vary from person to person and may or may not include elements of strength, endurance, flexibility, and mobility.


A Nutritionist or Nutrition Scientist works to understand the effect of food on people that include several domains: metabolism, mental health, behavior, and overall health. This holistic approach of nutrition can be applied individually or globally for the benefit of others as new discoveries come online. Broad-based applications for a nutritionists work may include changes or additions to health care, safety standards, research, treatments, and food therapy.


Dietetics is an area of study of ascertaining the nutritional value of foods in a given diet and its effects person by person. Dietetics has strong roots in public health with a vigilant eye towards educating others of the importance of making prudent dietary choices. Dieticians can work with or for government agencies or private corporations to leverage their knowledge to help craft personal diets for individuals taking care to understand each person and the possible effect each food, or combination of foods, interact with one another.

Sports Medicine Physician

A Sports Medicine Physician is a doctor equipped to treat active individuals enhance performance, boost overall health, stay injury free, and maintain a positive trajectory of health for life. A Sports Medicine Physician will take one of two paths to this career: osteopathic or allopathic.

An allopathic Sports Medicine Physician in an M.D. that work in group or solo practices providing hands-on care for specific ailments. The other option is an osteopathic physician (D.O.) that would take a holistic view of each patient to arrive at an amiable solution for their physical health and well-being.


A Kinesiotherapist create and manage exercise programs to help patients gain muscle strength and muscle functioning lost due to disease or injury. A Kinesiotherapist may specialize in a particular type of disease, focus on a specific type of injury, or perhaps a certain type of patient. After investing time to understand each person, a Kinesiotherapist will craft a therapeutic exercise program that may include walking, prosthetics, aquatics, orthotics, and/or a lifelong training regimen.

Sports Nutritionist

A Sports Nutritionist is a professional involved the study of nutritional intake and the resulting digestive and metabolism processes. A Sports Nutritionist studies their client's eating habits and helps them to establish a dietary pattern that will maximize their level of athletic performance and keep them in optimal health.

A dietetics undergraduate degree is required, in addition to the successful completion of a nine-month internship approved by the American Dietetics Association and an ADA administered exam. The most common places of employment for a Sports Nutritionist will be public health facilities, schools, sports teams, and clinics.

Employee Fitness Director

As more workplaces place a greater emphasis on the health of their staffs, larger companies have begun to hire designated Employee Fitness Directors to administer exercise programs. A Fitness Director can run a variety of programs that may include: wellness programs, stress management plans, and nutritional awareness systems.

In the end, these programs are designed to reduce the employer's health care costs, increase the overall health of an organization, and increase productivity. In order to become an Employee Fitness Director, an undergraduate degree and a recognized American College of Sports Medicine certification are required.

Personal Trainer

Personal Trainers typically work one on one with their client and are paid for their services on an hourly basis. The setting for these training sessions is selected by the trainer and their client. They offer an individualized exercise prescription to clients, based on their specific health and wellness goals. You will need an undergraduate degree to become a personal trainer, as well as a recognized certification from the American College of Sports Medicine.

Sports Medicine & Exercise Science Teacher

Those who wish to teach can seek employment within Sports Medicine and Exercise Science on any level, from elementary schools to the college level. Teaching physical education at the elementary school requires an undergraduate degree, as well as a state certification. To teach at a university level, a master's degree is required; however, individuals looking to maximize their teaching pedigree should also have substantive practical experience.

Level of experience, geographical location, market demands, and specific employment setting all play a role in your expected level of compensation. As you further your education and receive advanced degrees, you can expect greater compensation.

Why Choose a Career in Exercise Science?

Choosing a career in exercise science or sports medicine is a personal choice. The reasons to enter the field include the physical benefits to the satisfaction of helping others reach their personal goals. Dedicating yourself to helping others be their best can be an immensely satisfying vocation with exceptional personal and health benefits. For additional resources, make sure to visit our exercise science or sports medicine portal to find your perfect college match today.

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