We sourced online databases Glassdoor and Payscale for salaries—and interviewed a few industry experts living the dream—to find 10 of the most rewarding, sometimes under-the-radar jobs that make fitness both a lifestyle and a livelihood.
1. Fitness tech engineer
Average Salary: $125,000
Education: Masters degree in biomechanics or software engineering
Designing fitness tech is all about finding solutions to real-world problems: smelly workout gear, finicky fitness trackers, and sore muscles. All that gear all is inspired by athletes—but it takes engineers to bring it to life. “Athletes offer us the insight to go beyond today’s trends or marketing stories to actually solve a problem,” says Christopher Bohannon, director of product engineering at SnapbacOpens a New Window., an apparel line for active muscle recovery. “It’s not uncommon for us to research automotive, footwear, consumer electronics, or outdoor industries for the latest in technology that can be applied to our products. My approach is to conduct research that proves that the science actually makes the product better, which is how I measure innovation success.”
2. CEO of a gym chain
Average salary: Between $1-5 million
Education: At least a bachelor’s degree and extensive business and industry experience
If you’re looking for the cash flow, this is your line of work. Being the CEO of a big-box gym chain like Equinox, Planet Fitness, or Gold’s Gym is like being the CEO of any commercial operation: high-profile, high-pressure, and potentially lucrative. But it’s more shaking hands and signing papers than WODs and training methods—in fact, you’re probably better off with a degree in business, rather than biology. A CEO’s day-to-day is largely dedicated to the boardroom and meetings—not time in the gym—since a CEO’s primary responsibilities include being the direct liaison between the board and management of the company and communicating to the board on behalf of management.
3. Professor of Kinesiology
Average salary: $63,600 for an assistant professor
Education: Ph.D. in kinesiology
This ain’t teaching gym—being a kinesiology professor means staying at the forefront of research and scientific findings that change the way millions of people move. Kinesiology is the study of physical activity, and broadly includes studies in exercise, sport, and movements of daily life, from quotidian stuff (climbing stairs) to manual labor (carpentry). Professors of kinesiology are the go-to experts when it comes to finding out how certain movements affect, shape, strengthen, and improve our bodies. The next time you read in the news that a research team has found squats to be the most effective total-body exercise, you can bet there was a professor of kinesiology behind the study.
4. Physical therapist
Average salary: $66,000
Education: Doctorate of physical therapy (D.P.T.)
Elite athletes and weekend warriors alike fall prey to the pitfalls of injury, and that’s where the everyday heroes we know as physical therapists come in. Physical therapists earn their doctoral degree to help you move and function better when sprains, tears, and overuse bring down your abilities to get the most out of your workouts and reach your fitness goals. And while most physical therapists work for a larger company or clinic, 21.6% of physical therapists are owners of, or partners in, their own practice.
5. Fitness apparel designer
Average salary: $67,000
Education: Bachelor of fine arts in apparel design
You know those sweat-wicking shorts you love to wear? And those knee-weakeningly flattering yoga pants your girlfriend wears? Someone had to dream up the stitches, elastic, and cotton that ultimately become those workout favorites. Apparel designers at big brands like Reebok, Adidas, Nike, and Under Armour often have fashion backgrounds, many with specialized design degrees from colleges such like Parsons School of Design, Rhode Island School of Design, or the Fashion Institute of Technology. Their day-to-day work includes meetings with cross-functional teams, spying market trends, researching, sketching, and (most importantly) working out—so they can know firsthand what clothes need to do in the gym.
6. Fitness model
Average Salary: $1,500 day rate
Education: None required, but a knowledge of exercise form is helpful
Show up, don some of the coolest new workout duds, have your photo taken in amazing locations while doing fitness-related activities, and get paid handsomely for it: Yes, fitness modeling is a dream job. But take it from us: Fitness modeling jobs are highly competitive, demand absolute discipline, and are hard to come by—so even an ultra-fit dude could go months without booking a campaign. Signing on with a talent agency ups your chances of getting work—one example is Sports + Lifestyle UnlimitedOpens a New Window. (which has offices in the fitness-industry hubs of Portland, Oregon and Los Angeles). And you don’t need us to tell you that getting magazine-worthy abs is no easy featOpens a New Window..
7. Fitness start-up partner
Average salary: $75,600
Education: Business degree preferable
Sitting at the helm of any startup is a gamble, but it’s safe to bet that if you can transform people’s bodies, they are going to show up to your gym. And even though you probably won’t rake in the big bucks for a few years, you’ll get paid in so many other ways than money—like being on the forefront of workout trends and boutique, individualized fitness. Plus, you’ll stay fit AF.
“As a partner, I don’t think like a trainer, I think like a consumer,” says Ramón Castillón, an executive with Basecamp FitnessOpens a New Window. in California. “I take class every day and constantly meet with my team to put out the best product in the market. There’s a lot of time and effort spent on programming and developing workouts. At the end of the day, I’m not an entrepreneur—I’m the consumer. I get to work out every day and get paid!”
8. Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist
Average salary: $46,100
Education: C.S.C.S. certification; a bachelor’s in science is helpful
Being a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (aka C.S.C.S.) puts you leagues ahead of the average trainer (who, let’s be honest, sometimes has no certification, education, or qualification at all to be telling you how to work out). Trainers with a C.S.C.S. are fitness professionals who apply scientific knowledge to train their clients for the primary goal of improving athletic performance. Their training and certification allows them to conduct sport-specific testing sessions, design and implement the most effective diet and injuries. Being a C.S.C.S. allows you to be a one-stop fitness shop for your clients—meaning more money and recognition for you.
9. Registered dietitian
Average salary: $56,300
Education: Bachelor of science in nutrition, pass the National Dietitian Registration exam
You know what they say: Fitness results are 80% diet, 20% working out—and registered dietitians are the miracle workers who provide nutrition consulting to a variety of personal clients, food companies, and health organizations that can change bodies and lives.
In addition to developing and implementing wellness programs for individual clients as well as corporations across the country, registered dieticians—aka R.D.s—often also use social media to share accurate and up-to-date nutrition info in a way that the average person can understand and use to get the results we want out of our workouts. “It’s really fun to work with clients in our private practice and to see how the changes we make with food positively impacts aspects of their life they never expected,” says Willow Jarosh, co-founder of C&J NutritionOpens a New Window.. “There is a lot of misinformation out there regarding nutrition, and some of it can be pretty harmful. Getting through to people—either one-on-one or via workplace wellness or our media work—and giving them tools that helps them to create healthier lives with evidence-based nutrition is definitely the major reward.”
10. Fitness magazine editor-in-chief
Average salary: $85,000
Education: Bachelor of journalism helpful, but not required
Being an editor at a fitness magazine means always having the inside knowledge on experts, trends, gear, and workouts that can (and do) change the way we sweat every day. But take it from the Men’s Fitness crew: Sharing kickass workouts and feature stories for the millions of people who dedicate their own time and lifestyle to fitness isn’t just exciting—it’s also challenging. An editor is responsible for sourcing and finding stories that are timely, relevant, and newsworthy—as well as assigning stories, editing, working closely with writers and industry experts, and—most importantly—meeting deadlines.