What it’s really like to be an Accredited Exercise Physiologist

This week is Exercise Right Week – an opportunity to shine the spotlight on the experts of exercise and highlight the importance of exercise, physical activity and movement for our physical and mental health.

Hi! My name’s Riley and I’m an Accredited Exercise Physiologist (AEP). What is an Accredited Exercise Physiologist you ask? Simply put, we are allied health professionals who use exercise as medicine for people with complex and chronic health conditions, injuries or disabilities. We specialise in designing and delivering safe and effective exercise interventions for these different populations; and ultimately help clients reach their health goals.

Being a recently graduated AEP, I wanted to share with you why I chose to study clinical exercise physiology, what a typical day as an AEP looks like, and what skills will help you succeed in the industry.

Why I became an AEP

Growing up I played A LOT of different sports. From rugby league to triple jump, name the sport and I probably gave it a crack! I was overly competitive about everything (the annual Connect 4 championships between my siblings and I can account for that), and my love of sport ultimately made me fascinated about how the human body worked and how I could optimise my own athletic performance.

Clinical exercise physiology fell into my lap. Like many others in the field, I was originally wanting to study Physiotherapy coming out of high school and enrolled in an exercise physiology course in the hopes of transferring over after a few semesters. I knew after my first year at university that this was the perfect profession for me, and I graduated with my Bachelor of Clinical Exercise Physiology (Honours) in 2019.

What does a typical day in the life of an AEP look like?

One of the most amazing facts about working in this industry, is that this question is almost impossible to answer. Through the expert application of exercise, AEPs can help an obese client lose weight, while also guide an injured athlete through a period of rehabilitation. They can have a hand in increasing functionality and quality of life for someone with Cerebral Palsy, while helping another client back to physical activity after a cancer diagnosis. Some AEPs specialise in a certain area, and others provide a range of services. Ask any two AEPs what their day looks like, and odds are you’ll get a totally different answer!

Common specialisation areas for AEPs include:

  • Athlete performance
  • Musculoskeletal rehabilitation
  • Cardiac rehabilitation
  • Neurological disorders
  • Metabolic conditions (diabetes/obesity)
  • Oncology
  • Mental health

Industries and organisations that seek the expertise of AEPs can include:

  • Public and private hospital settings
  • Primary, secondary and tertiary healthcare
  • Within private and multidisciplinary clinics
  • Population health
  • Workplace health and rehabilitation
  • Ageing and aged care
  • Fitness centres, gymnasiums, businesses
  • Sporting clubs

For me personally I work with a wide range of chronic conditions, mainly of a metabolic and musculoskeletal nature. I like to work with these clients as I’ve seen firsthand not only the great physical benefits that can be achieved, but also the social and emotional improvements that can be accomplished through regular exercise. It makes me feel extremely proud to be able to play even a small role in helping someone make a positive change in their life.

What are the best parts and the challenges?

For me, the best parts about being an AEP definitely stem from the meaningful relationships I’ve built with my clients. Exercise is one of my true passions, and I love being able to take that passion and help others while building lasting friendships at the same time. Being an AEP can be challenging as well, as with any other client facing industry. There is a wide range of knowledge out there, and knowing how and when to apply that information with an actual client can be quite challenging (but that’s part of the fun!). It’s not quite as simple as reading a textbook out loud when trying to convince clients to buy into exercise!

What skills will help you succeed?

Empathy! The ability to empathise with people, put yourself in their shoes and genuinely want to help everyone that walks through your door is one of the most important traits that a practitioner can have. Through the excellent education offered at The University of Queensland and other institutions theoretical knowledge can be learned, but the ability to translate this into practice is another matter entirely. That is where working hard, having empathetic core values, and wanting the best for other people will be irreplaceable for any successful AEP.

Exercise Right Week (25-31 May 2020) is supported by Exercise and Sports Science Australia, the accrediting body of sport scientists, exercise scientists, and accredited exercise physiologists in Australia.

Find out more about studying clinical exercise physiology at UQ.

Last updated:
28 June 2022