Careers in Fitness That Don't Require a Degree

Dietician consulting with a client

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The fitness industry is booming. With so many people passionate about health and exercise, it's no wonder there's a growing interest in fitness careers. Becoming a personal trainer or fitness instructor is always an option, but there are other careers to check out as well—some of which don't require a degree.

Wellness Coach

While personal trainers focus mostly on exercise, wellness coaches look at the bigger picture. They work with clients to develop health and fitness programs by identifying the obstacles standing in their way.

This is more of a collaborative and individualized experience in which the coach encourages clients to set goals in a realistic and sustainable way. Beyond fitness planning, a wellness coach also offers guidance about nutrition, weight management, stress reduction, and health risk management (such as smoking and drinking).

As a wellness coach, you can help people manage conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes. You can also choose to work with special populations such as teens, children, older adults, and people with disabilities.

Benefits

Wellness coaching is an attractive option for health enthusiasts, offering easy entry into the industry with a number of key benefits:

  • Flexibility: You can work with your clients in person or by phone, email, or video. Many wellness coaches work mainly by phone, providing them a healthier work-life balance.
  • Opportunities: You can work with individuals or join a corporate environment. Coaches often write books and articles, teach seminars, and collaborate with personal trainers, doctors, dietitians, and other health professionals.
  • Satisfaction: Wellness coaches tend to form more intimate relationships that go well beyond basic personal training. It is an ideal career for someone who strives to connect with people on an intimate level.

According to a report from the 2016 ICF Global Coaching Study, coach practitioners, a designation which excludes athletic or sports coaches, had an average annual income of $61,900 in 2015.

Education / Certification

You don't need a special degree to become a wellness coach. However, getting certified can help you gain credibility in the industry. There are many coaching certifications available in the industry, and it can take time to separate the good from the not-so-good.

One of the best-known accreditation programs is offered by the National Board for Health and Wellness Coaching (NB-HWC), a group that has set national standards for wellness coaching. Another highly-recognized choice is the American Council on Exercise (ACE), which offers certification approved by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA).

To get certified, you will typically pay upwards of $400 to obtain a home study program with a certification exam to complete at your leisure. There are also classroom-based courses that may take up to 75 hours, roughly at a cost of $700 to $1,000 per level.

Weight Management Consultant

A weight management consultant develops weight management programs for clients that comprise of nutrition, exercise, and lifestyle management. They also work to identify barriers that interfere with weight loss, delving deeper into the psychology and physiology behind a client's weight gain as opposed to simply guiding them through exercises.

Weight loss consultants can work independently or gain employment from private companies, fitness centers, weight loss retreats, human service organizations, government agencies, hospitals, or schools. Evening or weekend hours may be necessary to meet a client's needs.

Benefits

Some weight management consultants are certified as independent practitioners. Others add weight management consultancy to their personal training certification, broadening the scope of their services. Among the benefits of becoming a weight loss consultant are:

  • Position: This professional functions on a more executive level rather than being limited to a gym environment. It is well-suited for problem solvers who have analytical thinking and instructional skills.
  • Variety: In addition to different clients, challenges, and goals, your job may encompass one-on-one consultations, telephone support, travel, and the drawing up of institutional guidelines.
  • Advancement: Weight management certification can broaden the career opportunities for a personal trainer. Some consultants with high school educations choose to expand their career by pursuing a bachelor's degree in health, nutrition, fitness, or a related field. 

Entry-level consultants with companies like Jenny Craig earn around $30,000 per year. Those who pursued a bachelor's degree and became a dietitian or nutritionist earned an average of $61,270 in 2019, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Education / Certification

A high school diploma is typically needed to pursue a career as a weight management consultant. There are a number of online courses available to earn your certification and generally cost between $200 and $700 per certification level.

Whether you choose home-based or classroom-based training, it is best to look for those certified by the National Exercise and Sports Trainers Association (NESTA), the American Council on Exercise (ACE), and American Fitness Professionals Association (AFPA).

Sports Massage Therapist

Becoming a massage therapist takes more time than either of the other two careers but can offer more in terms of job satisfaction. If you are interested in fitness and health, you may be best served pursuing licensing as a sports massage therapist.

Sports massage therapy is geared toward athletes of every sort, from world-class professionals to weekend runners. Massage techniques can vary by sport and the level of the athlete you're working with. Some therapists are generalists while others pursue careers specific to a certain sport.

Benefits

Sports massage therapists are highly sought in the fitness industry. It is an industry driven by referrals, meaning that the better you are, the more clients you'll obtain. The benefits of sports massage therapy are many:

  • Flexibility: Depending on your aims, you can set your own hours, either working at home, in an office setting, or making house calls.
  • Growth: The demand for sports massage therapists is growing each year. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the massage therapy sector is expected to grow 21% between 2019 and 2029.
  • Specialization: Sports massage therapists may have more leeway to specialize than spa massage therapists. While there are sports massage therapists who work in spas, they are also found in gyms, working with physiotherapists, or employed by sports teams or associations.

While the average national salary for a massage therapist in 2019 was $42,820 per year, according to the BLS, sports massage therapists tend to demand higher salaries if working with athletics groups or a physiotherapy practice.

Education / Certification

The majority of states require the licensure and/or certification of sports massage therapists. Some allow certification if you complete an accredited training program; others have additional requirements such as continuing education credits or CPR training.

In terms of job opportunities, many employers require certification through the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB).

Depending on where you live, massage therapy training can take anywhere from six months to a year. On average, you must complete 500 to 600 hours of classroom and practical training at a cost of $6,000 to $15,000, including textbooks and supplies.

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Article Sources
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  1. International Coach Federation. 2016 ICF Global Coaching Study. 2016.

  2. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Occupational Outlook Handbook: Dietitians and Nutritionists. Updated September 1, 2020.

  3. U.S. Department of Labor Statistics. Occupational Outlook Handbook: Massage Therapists. Updated September 2019.

  4. American Massage Therapy Association. Working in Sports Massage. 2020.