Exercise Science vs Athletic Training

How does exercise impact the body? What does a healthy fitness routine look like? Is there such a thing as an exercise program that works for everyone?


If you’re fascinated by the human body and how exercise influences health beyond just your own personal benefit, you might be interested in studying exercise science or athletic training. These two paths of study introduce you to the science of fitness, enabling you to respond to the above questions with answers backed by science. 

But exercise science and athletic training aren’t identical degree paths. Keep reading to learn how they are different from each other—and what opportunities they each open up.

What You’ll Learn

There’s considerable overlap between exercise science and athletic training in terms of required courses and subjects covered throughout various degree programs, but as you move further along your education, varying emphases emerge. While exercise science delves more deeply into the sciences—from kinesiology to cardiorespiratory exercise physiology—athletic training focuses more on hands-on elements, such as manual muscle testing, first aid, and palpatory anatomy.

We offer both programs here at Concordia. Below you can see a snapshot of curriculum differences (as well as similarities) between the two. 

Exercise Science

  • Kinesiology
  • Cardiorespiratory exercise physiology
  • Neuromuscular exercise physiology
  • Bioenergetics & weight control
  • Motor development
  • Chemistry
  • Physics
  • Exercise & chronic disease
  • Strength & conditioning

Athletic Training

  • First aid & emergency procedures
  • Rehabilitation techniques
  • Therapeutic modalities
  • Administration & organization of athletic training
  • Manual muscle testing
  • Palpatory anatomy
  • Recognizing & evaluating athletic injuries
  • Injury management
  • Manual exam & treatment
  • Psychosocial aspects of athletic training

As you can see, exercise science provides a foundational understanding of the processes happening within the body during and after exercise while athletic training focuses more on how to work with the body to achieve athletic goals. Although they differ, the two do still overlap, even in the classroom. Below is a sample of the coursework that both programs share.

Both Programs

  • Anatomy & physiology
  • Biomechanics 
  • Statistics
  • Psychology
  • Exercise physiology
  • Nutrition
  • Weight training
  • Pathophysiology
  • Research methods

Exercise Science vs Athletic Training Job Options

It’s official: Exercise is medicine. Thanks to the work of exercise scientists who study the impact of physical activity on health, we can say without hesitation that exercise is good for your body. 

 This all is good news for individuals earning advanced degrees in exercise science or athletic training and the resulting job market. The undeniable need for exercise even has employers, health care organizations, and some insurers channeling resources to improve the fitness of their employees, patients, and customers. Corporate fitness programs are also gaining traction, offering jobs to athletic trainers who want to work with everyday people, and new partnerships are being forged between fitness and health organizations.

If you have a degree in athletic training, you’ll be prepared for jobs with that interpersonal, hands-on element: working one-on-one with fitness clients in occupational or industrial settings, alongside doctors and therapists in orthopedic settings, or with athletes at the high school, collegiate, or professional level.

If you have a degree in exercise science, you’re set up for a more research, science-oriented career. You could help develop the next best recovery shake, based on your work to understand electrolytes, hydration, and muscle recovery. You could design science-based training programs that help athletes gain a competitive edge in their performance. Or you could even pursue further study to become an occupational or physical therapist, sports psychologist, biomechanics expert, or sports nutritionist.

Is Exercise Science or Athletic Training for You?

Do you nerd out over the biological processes that cause muscle soreness? Do you enjoy teaching people new exercise movements? Are you comfortable demonstrating proper form for a pullup or back squat, or would you rather analyze movement errors to understand how a person’s body is compensating?

If you are more science-minded and analytical, exercise science is probably a better fit for you. If you enjoy people and are intrigued by the human body, athletic training may be the better option. However, before you make your decision, consider what you’d like your eventual career to be, because some more interpersonal jobs (e.g., physical or occupational therapist) are better prepared for with a degree in exercise science.

Whatever course of study you decide to follow, Concordia has an option for you. Learn more about our master’s degree programs in exercise science and athletic training.We also offer an accelerated master’s degree in exercise science.

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