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Exercise physiologist: Job description

Exercise physiology is a branch of the biological sciences and is concerned with the way in which the body responds to exercise and training.

Exercise physiologists are defined by The British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences (BASES) as scientists who investigate the responses and adaptations to muscular activity in humans or animals and use this knowledge to improve human performance. The purpose may be training for a specific sport, improving fitness or the prevention and treatment of illness.

Exercise physiologists typically provide scientific support at various levels to athletes and teams within a single sport or several sports. This may involve monitoring training through the measurement and assessment of such physical functions as respiration, metabolism, body composition, muscle, nutrition, and the nervous, pulmonary and cardiovascular systems.

Typical work activities

Tasks are likely to include:

  • fitness testing of athletes and team members so that an accurate physiological profile of the individual can be obtained;
  • developing specific fitness training programmes and monitoring adherence to them;
  • providing regular monitoring and reassessment of an athlete's training plan;
  • engaging with coaching staff to maximise the effects of training;
  • educating and advising athletes and coaches on areas such as heart rate monitoring, recovery techniques, hydration strategies, overtraining, acclimatisation and periodisation (the breaking down of a training programme into a cycle of sub-programmes);
  • providing benchmark physiological information to enable long-term athletic development;
  • working in collaboration with other sport and exercise professionals such as physiotherapists, dietitians, strength and conditioning coaches and sport psychologists;
  • using specialist resources and equipment such as aqua pacers, osmometers and electronic timing systems;
  • producing reports and longitudinal studies;
  • keeping up to date with ongoing research;
  • raising awareness of health and fitness issues and promoting the benefits of sport and exercise;
  • attending local, regional and national meetings, seminars and conferences;
  • teaching on academic courses.

Those working as clinical exercise physiologists (rather than in a sports setting) will typically work as part of a multidisciplinary team of clinicians and allied health professionals, with the aim of providing expert advice on exercise for people with chronic diseases such as coronary heart disease, diabetes or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Other duties may include teaching and presenting to allied health professionals and other medical staff, and working with community groups, volunteers and local councils.

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Written by AGCAS editors
December 2012

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