If you like the idea of becoming a personal trainer, the next step is knowing the difference between a fitness certificate and a fitness degree. Having a degree in exercise science gives you more fitness career options than just a personal trainer certification. But, a certification impersonal training is faster and includes only the most relevant information you need to know to start as a fitness coach or personal trainer. If you love fitness, nutrition, and wellness–you should get both. Pursuing both helps you in the short and long term.


Find out why other students choose Lionel for their exercise science degree AND personal training certification. 


Of course, there’s more detail in the differences between an exercise science degree program and trainer certification. Here, we’ll dive into the details so you can plan for a rewarding career in the fitness industry.

Education Differences Between A Trainer Certification and Exercise Science Degree

A trainer certification provides only the amount of education and training for someone to start as an entry-level fitness trainer. Basically, you’ll know what you need to get your foot in the door. For example, you’ll learn:

  • The basic and applied science of fitness
  • How to conduct fitness assessments
  • Correct exercise technique
  • Exercise program design principles
  • Rapport and communication with clients
  • Basics of nutrition science

You can consider a certification as the “how-to” guide for day one in the gym. It doesn’t prepare you to work with clients who might have special needs or considerations like prenatal populations, youth clients, or those affected with chronic conditions or disease.

An exercise science degree has more breadth and depth of the information you’ll learn. You’ll learn everything you will in a personal training certification–going into greater detail on how the body responds to exercise demands. But, you’ll also have a greater breadth of knowledge such as:

  • Exercise physiology
  • Corrective exercise and sports medicine
  • Sport management
  • Sports performance enhancement 
  • Nutrition coaching
  • Sport and exercise psychology
  • Health and wellness coaching
  • Group fitness instruction
  • Youth physical fitness
  • Fitness business and management

The breadth of information you cover in a degree program is the primary reason why you’ll have more fitness and wellness career opportunities.

Different Career Options In Health And Fitness

With just a personal training certification–you can just do that–train the average fitness client. As you obtain continuing education through fitness specialist certificates, you’ll be able to do more. But, starting out, you have one option with a certificate.

A student with a degree in exercise science will have more career options, including:

  • Physical education teacher
  • Strength and conditioning coach
  • Wellness or health coach
  • Athletic director
  • Group fitness instructor
  • Corrective exercise specialist
  • Exercise physiologist
  • Parks and recreation management 
  • Sport coaches
  • Gym owner
  • Fitness manager or director

These are jobs that you can get right out of school. There are even more career opportunities that a degree in exercise physiology or exercise science can prepare you for. For example, you can more easily tap into these markets with your advanced degree:

  • Athletic trainer
  • Physical therapy technician
  • Physical therapist
  • Massage therapist
  • Fitness influencer
  • Exercise science or related professor

Time To Achieve A Degree Or Certificate 

Most personal training certifications are all online and self-study. This means you can go at your own pace, learning the material as fast or as slow as you want. Realistically, it will take you three to six months to finish your personal trainer course and pass your exam. However, most certification companies will give you up to a year to do this. 

Depending on the degree program you’re pursuing, it can take you 18 months for an associate's degree and four years to get a master's degree. Of course, this all depends on any courses you may have already taken or the course load you’re willing to take on each semester.

One of the best things to do is enroll in both. You can earn your personal training certificate quickly, then continue learning in a degree program. This way, as you learn more about the fitness industry, you already have the education to make a career change once you complete your program.

The most unique feature of Lionel University is that your degree program INCLUDES a personal training certification AND additional fitness specialties.

It’s part of our Master Trainer Certificate Program. Therefore, you don’t pay additional fees to get both. 

Differences In Ongoing Education Requirements 

The scientific principles of human performance and fitness do not change over time. Therefore, you won’t need continuing education to maintain your fitness degree. Of course, when you’re working with the well-being of others, it’s always important to stay up to date on the latest applications of health science. But your degree in fitness doesn’t need renewal.

A personal trainer certification, on the other hand, requires continuing education every two years for you to maintain your certificate. This is because you don’t have the same depth of fitness knowledge as you would with a degree program. Instead, you learn the applied science of fitness training–which the applications and trends change over time. Additionally, the roles and responsibilities of a trainer change over time. Therefore a certified personal trainer must stay current by renewing every year or two years. 

As you can see, the biggest difference between a fitness certificate and a fitness degree lies in the jobs you can get with what you learn. Businesses want to make sure that their customers are safe, and getting closer to their fitness goals. For each of these jobs, having a Lionel degree on your fitness resume will help you stand apart from the competition. This is in large part because of the elite reputation of Lionel in the fitness education space. History, credibility, and reputation are important when it comes to an exercise science degree program.

In addition to a degree, you’ll need a certification. One of the unique things about Lionel University is that you earn your personal training certification as you go through the education program. This means you can start working as a fitness trainer before you even graduate. Even better, Lionel offers additional certifications and specializations in the degree programs. This will earn you a Master Trainer Certificate. Even without a degree yet, this gives you an edge above the rest and can also help you land a job in luxury locations. The personal training certification and Master Trainer Certificate mean you don’t have to invest additional money on expensive certifications. 

Regardless of whether you’re pursuing an associates degree, bachelor’s degree, or master’s degree, at Lionel you earn multiple certifications and specializations along the way. This means you can start working on getting that dream job before graduation day. And, with the help of financial aid, earning your exercise science degree is even more of a possibility. Check out our programs and contact Lionel today!