Skip to content mail-pink
(+27) 21 659 5600 mobile-notch-thin

Choosing a career in the Fitness industry?

Embarking into the fitness industry can be exciting, but we've found that prospective students have many questions about what to study, where to study, and how to study in these disciplines. In this blog, we unpack specific roles and careers within the Sport and Exercise Science field.


For many of us, physical activity, sport, and exercise form huge parts of our culture and lives. Sport as a whole, has a distinct nature of bringing people together in joy and passion, whether our teams win or lose. As a result of this, we may be very interested in getting involved in sport and exercise, not only from a participation standpoint, but possibly as a career pathway. Across South Africa and the world at large, there are many courses that may find its way to you through online marketing campaigns, tv and radio adverts and social media. As aspiring exercise and sport professionals, we begin sifting through these courses. Since the fitness industry boasts many opportunities, finding the right course to enrol in could be a mammoth task.


The advancement of technological learning platforms versus traditional learning environments has set some institutions apart from the rest, as they adopt more digital and hybrid models for course facilitation - SSISA being one of the institutions leading the way for Fitness and Personal Training qualifications. Though the decision to study within the fitness and sport industries may be quite obvious because of its benefits and our passion for movement - prospective students may still need further information on the why, who, what when and where (the infamous 5-W’s) regarding their career pathways and trajectories.


Why should I study?

The biggest question! Always start with your why. We study, learn new skills and advance our thinking in certain disciplines because we have something to offer and a gap to fill - a purpose often underscored by meeting the needs of someone or a group of people. A former student  began their career in Personal Training by enrolling for a PT certificate (NQF-5). While studying fitness and group exercise instruction modules, he noticed that there were no fitness and recreation engagements taking place in his community. He wanted to bring his neighbours closer together and create more of a community presence among the members within the community - he saw fitness to be his vehicle to achieve this. After just a few lectures in learning the basics of leading exercise programmes, he started his very own community bootcamp class, charged a minimal fee in an effort to get people moving and more physically active. Now neighbours have become friends, and the community has become more integrated with one another, it’s become a safer environment and people are starting to become healthier, physically and mentally. This solidifies that fitness and exercise are indeed positive social activities. This was important especially since we, as people, sometimes live right past each other due to the busy-ness of life and our attention within our own homes. Your WHY is what will determine your success in any chosen profession within the exercise and sport sectors. To find out your purpose, jot down a few of the reasons you are choosing a particular course of study, and ask yourself if you could see yourself doing that every day. As Confucius once said, “choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”


Who do I want to be?

Our interests at present are very diverse and the industry of fitness spoils us for choice, these days. As exercise and sport professionals, we adapt, change and innovate, and together the industry grows. Today, there are Fitness Instructors, Personal Trainers, Sport Coaches, Strength and Conditioning Coaches, Biokineticists, Sport and Exercise Scientists, Club/Sport Managers, Group Exercise Instructors and more! Though at the base of all these different designations, we are all taught some degree of anatomy, exercise physiology, how to lead exercise sessions, health screenings, fitness testing and exercise programme design. Depending on who you are aiming to become - career-wise - find a course that qualifies you in that particular career path.


Here are some definitions of the different roles within some of the different areas of the exercise and sport industry:

  • Sports Coach: Coaches exist across every sport code. A sports coach is responsible for understanding the rules of the game, and facilitating the required knowledge of the sport to the athletes that participate in the sport code. Additionally, sport coaches often procure their coaching accreditations from within the federation (e.g. Sports Federation coaches qualifications - SA Football, SA Rugby, Cricket SA, Gymnastics SA etc.). Most coaches may also serve accredited officials of the sport, such as referees, judges, and assessors. Part of a Coach’s repertoire of skills include the design of sport-specific programmes for teams and individuals which encompass warm-ups, conditioning, tactical strategies, drills, obstacles, and cool downs for the improvement of performance at either amateur or high performance levels of participation. The coach is the leader of the sport field, gymnasium or pitch, and is central to athlete development and growth, communication with parents of athletes and management of the athlete success journey, often in association with strength and conditioning coaches, sport scientists, and biokineticists (if necessary).
  • Strength and Conditioning Coach: Strength and Conditioning Coaches (or S&C Coaches) are focused predominantly on athletes or sportspeople across all sports, with three major goals, namely; improving athletic performance, reducing athletic injuries, and teaching lifelong fitness and movement skills. Additionally, S&C coaches are determined to assist with improving performance within various components of fitness namely; muscular strength, flexibility, muscular endurance, cardiovascular endurance, balance, speed, agility, and eye-to-hand coordination. S&C coaches achieve improvements in these areas through utilising a periodisation plan to guide athletes and their coaches on programme specifics for performance improvements. Courses to become a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) are usually earned after gaining a having a base qualification (such as Personal Training Certificate, Sports Science Degree etc.).
  • Fitness and Group Exercise Instructor: This is someone that assists clients in general to improve in fitness and achieve their health goals through guidance, exercise recommendation and programming. Fitness Instructors are often found in commercial gym facilities, and are essentially in charge of ensuring client safety, correct exercise execution and customer service.
  • Personal Trainer: A Personal Trainer is essentially an entrepreneur who uses fitness as their medium to render services for direct payment. PTs are required to understand and apply the principles of business administration and management to render a fitness service on a 1-on-1/ 2-on-1/ 3-on-1 basis. Personal Trainers are equipped with the skills to design individualised programmes that specific to client goals and needs. Most often, you would find a PT in a commercial gym setting, or embedded within a workplace gym. They most likely are paying a monthly rental to operate and render fitness services. Services could include, but are not limited to, body composition and fitness assessment, programme design, client supervision of exercise sessions, and administration.
  • Club/Sport Manager: Club and Sport Managers skillsets are largely within the realm of Business Management, Facility Management and Entrepreneurship. Additionally, Club and Sport Managers have a considerable amount of sport-specific coaching knowledge. In general, Club and Sport Managers are astute, operational, administrative and are skilled leaders. To manage the many moving parts of a club or sport federation, Club and Sport Managers need to understand aspects around the management of athletes, spectators, events, and members. Club and Sport Managers are expected to perform well in back office, and as front of house to efficiently manage client/member queries, operational issues that arise, financial administration (income and expenses) of the organization, and be accessible by members, the public and relevant stakeholders.
Health Sciences
  • Biokineticist: A Biokineticist a registered health professional with the Health Professionals Council of South Africa (HPCSA) , and has undergone intensive undergraduate, postgraduate and clinical examination processes to understand human anatomy, human biology, exercise physiology and client-health practices to become exercise specialists who would aid in the rehabilitation and recovery processes for a variety of non-communicable diseases, surgical procedures, and lifestyle conditions. Biokineticists are committed to assist people to improve their physical condition and the quality of life by means of physical assessment and the prescription of health exercise habits.
  • Sport Scientist: Sports scientists work alongside coaches or trainers to assist sportspeople to achieve the best possible sporting performance, by applying physiological, biomechanical and anatomical knowledge and techniques from the areas of medicine, physiology, biomechanics, nutrition, psychology and physiotherapy/massage).
  • Exercise Physiologists may work alongside other health practitioners to devise treatment and exercise programmes in accordance with people of all ages and fitness levels, including athletes, individuals with chronic diseases or disabilities, and those who want to improve their overall health and fitness.

Both Sport Scientists and Exercise Physiologists design training of programmes for people to improve their health and/or athletic performances and prevention of injury. Assessments can be more scientific in nature, that of genetics, dna, VO2max, blood-glucose and much more. Additionally, these professionals assist clients to strengthen particular areas of the body through periodisation techniques, and can form part of a Medical and Scientific Team typically made up of Biokineticists, Physiotherapists and Sports Physicians and Surgeons.

Both Sport Scientists and Exercise Physiologists may refer clients to medical and paramedical specialists such as orthopaedic surgeons, rheumatologists, physiotherapists, biokineticists, psychologists and podiatrists. Sports Scientists and Exercise Physiologists often attend training sessions and sporting fixtures to monitor sporting performances as well as working in a research office or testing laboratory. Their work also encompasses a considerable amount of research, especially at postgraduate levels of study (Masters and PhD), and their research outputs have a high level of contact with the public and relevant sport stakeholders.


What could I study?

This is a big question, too! Before applying, envision yourself in the position you aspire to obtain one day, and then look at courses offering more or less subjects/qualifications that are in alignment with your future self. Since our industry is so robust, often some positions overlapping others, this decision might be the most difficult to make. As such, the best thing to do is to apply for a course of study, obtain that qualification and make your next decision about your career thereafter. From an immediate list of the different types of qualifications available, you will see that there are certificates, advanced certificates, diplomas and degrees on offer at a variety of institutions. We need to acknowledge that in South Africa, we have the National Qualifications Framework (NQF) which outlines the different levels of education that one could obtain.


A graph mapping out the National Qualification Frameworks (NQF) and how they relate to different educational options within the South African educational system in 2017.


Matric or Grade 12 is NQF level 4. At present, a higher certificate is NQF 5, an advanced diploma is an NQF level 6, and a degree is an NQF level 7. Based on your decision on where to study, you may find out that some institutions offer only certificates and diplomas, some offer certificates, diplomas and degrees, and some offer only degrees. Depending on the amount of time you are willing to spend studying (i.e. in preparation for your career) this will be something you need to consider. When deciding, take into consideration the amount of capacity you have at your disposal (keeping other employment, home responsibilities and finances, childcare and family responsibilities in mind), as studying can be a very time consuming investment. To ascertain your capacity for taking on a new course, map out your current commitments and identify how much time you have available to spend on your career training in fitness, then decide on which certificate, diploma and/or degree you are wanting to pursue. Once your decision is made, then all you have to do is apply!


When should I study?

At the end of your high school graduation, a choice needs to be made between Personal Training and Fitness related qualifications, or to enter the workforce with your Matric Senior Certificate. With all the different aspects of life pulling at our attention, it definitely may seem that there's little-to-no time for studies. One way to work around this would be to find a way to incorporate your studies into your daily routine. Online learning has taken the lead since the COVID-19 pandemic as many people became further engaged with keeping their minds occupied and learning new skills throughout the various stages of lockdown, and continue to do so. The benefit of online learning is that you will be able to set aside a few hours per day to attend an online lecture or complete a task for the course you are registered for. Accessibility to education in this way is completely necessary as we are becoming more and more remote in the way we live, work, learn, and play. We also need to consider the prices of these course. All courses vary in price, and this may be attributable to the success of the fitness industry and the rate at which it is growing. The idea behind further education is to obtain a qualification, become employed or start your own business, and earn a living with the qualification of your choosing. If you are unable to study at the moment, our advice would be to find a mentor who you would like to emulate in your own career and shadow them in the interim. Absorb their knowledge and network within their networks. This will help to further expose you in the fitness industry and getting noticed is definitely something that will help in personal advancement in sport or fitness settings. Through this experience, you are positioning yourself to pick up on certain sponsorships, scholarships and other opportunities that come and go. Merely looking in from the outside may be to your disadvantage.


Where should I study?

At the Sport Science Institute of South Africa, which is home to exercise science and sporting practices, we offer Certificates and Diplomas in Personal Fitness Training and Coaching. Supported by specialists within the realm of Exercise Science, Sports Science and Biokinetics, we are committed to developing Exercise Professionals that will be equipped for a successful career in Fitness, Personal Training and Coaching. If you are a considering SSISA as your institution of choice, we recommended that you visit us, or head over to our website and our social media to find out more about our courses.


We are here to provide you with the answers to all of your questions relating to studying fitness and personal training. Additionally, it would be great to find out from your coaches, fitness instructors and personal trainers where they studied and who they recommend you add to your list of potential institutions. Our premise in asking questions and doing research is to provide insight to prospective students and help guide them in making the best decisions possible for their careers one day. At SSISA, we are networked with all industry leaders and our qualifications are internationally recognised - so don’t be afraid to ask, we are all here to uplift each other and are able to provide guidance in this way.


Good luck on your journeys! The future is bright and you definitely have a spot within fitness, sport, recreation and exercise, because you are passionate about human movement.


Yours in Sports Science,

Sports Science Institute of South Africa