The Evolution of AES

Although 'Exercise Science' wasn’t moved to being an accreditation category until 2016, it was introduced as an ESSA membership category in 1991 and has been around since the beginning of ESSA – 30 years ago.

As we reflect on how ESSA and our industry has grown, we look at how the term ‘Accredited Exercise Scientist’ or ‘AES’ has exploded over the last decade and its evolution within the exercise and sports science world.

In the beginning
During the formative years, it was decided ESSA should develop our own accreditation for both individuals and university courses. A committee was formed to develop guidelines for specialist memberships in exercise science, sports science and exercise physiology (rehabilitation).

In the early years, ESSA was successful in demonstrating the role of graduates in the fitness industry. It took a number of years for ESSA to demonstrate the potential of clinical exercise therapy in the health care system. The key achievement was in September 2005 when the Government announced the inclusion of exercise physiology in the Medicare system for allied health. Read Story #2 for more.

With this huge achievement, the ESSA Board made the decision that for the next few years, ESSA’s efforts needed to focus on exercise physiology.

During these years ESSA decreased its focus on the other two professional groups being exercise science and sports science. This was in no way an indication that ESSA did not value the importance of these two groups or that they would cease to exist. It was just a decision to divert focus from these areas for a short time.

Our membership now might be dominated by AEPs, however, this was not always the case prior to 2008. The growth in this area of ESSA’s membership is reflective of ESSA’s focus of resources over the past decade.

In 2009, the then AAESS Board were considering a name change. It was during this time the Board also considered whether the organisation should narrow its focus to just look after exercise physiology. The Board debated this and decided that the organisation needed to remain the peak body that was committed to establishing, promoting and defending the career paths of all university trained exercise and sports science practitioners.

In 2011, the Board commissioned a review of the Exercise Science professional standards. These standards had not been considered since the inception of exercise science membership in the early 1990s. In August 2013, the Board approved the new Exercise Science Standards and graduate attributes, which were developed in consultation with the ESSA membership and broader academic community.

This was followed by the Board establishing an Exercise Science Advisory Group (ESAG) in early 2014. The primary focus of this committee was to provide advice to ESSA on the industry needs of exercise science professionals.

After surveying the membership, ESAG discovered a lot of exercise scientists were working in the fitness industry as well as in areas of community health, corporate health, strength and conditioning, education, and amateur athlete development, to name a few.

Introducing Accredited Exercise Scientists
At ESSA's Annual General Meeting in May 2015, the ESSA membership agreed to a new ESSA Constitution. This new Constitution, which came into effect on 1 January 2016, separated membership and accreditation, providing ESSA accredited professionals the option of membership and/or accreditation.

After the separation of ESSA’s accreditation and membership functions, a new professional title for Exercise Scientist was required as it no longer aligned with the term ‘ESSA Full Member’. It was carefully considered for Exercise Scientist to form part of the accreditation arm of ESSA along with Accredited Exercise Physiologist and Accredited Sports Scientist.

In order to make a decision as to what ESSA would call this accreditation, the Board was provided with independent advice from our advisory groups – Professional Standards Advisory Council, Accreditation Advisory Council, Exercise Physiology Advisory Group and the Exercise Science Advisory Group. The role of these groups is to provide independent advice to the Board and the national office on issues affecting the membership, professions and industry. The Board considered this advice, along with marketing advice and previous feedback from the membership.

After extensive consideration by the Board, the title ‘Accredited Exercise Scientist’ was adopted.

Although some believed that ESSA was introducing a new and unwanted profession to the industry, this was not the case. Exercise science has always been a part of ESSA. It’s in our name, it’s in our DNA.

Exercise science has always played an important role in our industry, even before it was officially recognised as an accreditation title,” explains Anita Hobson-Powell, ESSA CEO.

ESSA is committed to the career paths for all university-trained exercise and sports science practitioners and Accredited Exercise Scientist was the final ‘link in the chain’ between Accredited Sports Scientist and Accredited Exercise Physiologist.

"It’s important to recognise also that an Accredited Exercise Scientist is much more than just a ‘stepping stone’ qualification to becoming an Accredited Exercise Physiologist or Accredited Sports Scientist. An AES has their own career path carved out for them and their role in preventative health care is vital.”

Pictured: Active Mamas by MJ
Image by Le CaMo Photography

Pictured: Active Mamas by MJ
Image by Le CaMo Photography

What an AES can do
The short answer is: They use exercise to improve health, well-being and fitness.

The longer answer is: Accredited Exercise Scientists apply their broad scientific knowledge to optimise sport, exercise and physical activity outcomes for a range of non-clinical populations to enhance well-being and physical function.

One of the greatest strengths of an Accredited Exercise Scientist is that they can provide exercise services in numerous settings to vastly different clientele. At ESSA, we find that this diversity engages and empowers our AES.

An AES can work in a variety of environments, for example:
  • Fitness centres, gymnasiums, private practice or business
  • Education, policy and program planning in schools and government
  • Coaching/training in sport
  • Community health and hospitals
  • Health promotion
  • Corporate health, industrial/mining, workplace well-being, employment screening
  • Ageing and aged care

Our ‘Accredited Exercise Scientist of the Year’ over the years
Since 2016, a range of Accredited Exercise Scientists have been recognised within ESSA’s longstanding Industry Awards, highlighting the broad range of roles an AES can play.

Matt Brearley AES of the Year for 2018: Matt works as a thermal physiologist in the mining, oil and gas industry

The sites I work at generally have physiotherapy services and some sites have AEP services, but AES services are rare. For me, the value of the AES award is in highlighting the delivery of services outside of elite sport and clinical settings to both the exercise and sport science community and general public.

Dr Ming Jing (MJ) Ong – AES of the Year for 2019: MJ provides important exercise science opportunities for the mums in her community to embrace healthy and active lifestyles.

Some people have asked me, ‘You have a PhD, why are you running group fitness classes?’ My answer is always, why shouldn’t I be? Working directly with this population gives me valuable insight and understanding on how I can create more programs to help them to achieve their goals in terms of health and fitness as mothers.

Dr Keane Wheeler
AES of the Year for 2020: Keane is a co-designer for independent, influential, and Indigenous-led engagement initiatives for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, families, and communities.

If we can design programs to better incorporate the physical, spiritual, cultural, emotional, and social well-being of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, then we will help to build community capacity and self-determination.
ESSA grows to support our AES
  • In 2016, there were 379 AES professionals
  • In 2017, there were 424 AES professionals
  • In 2018, there were 484 AES professionals
  • In 2019, there were 629 AES professionals
  • In 2020, there were 742 AES professionals
As of today, there are over 800 AES professionals!

As our exercise science accreditation numbers have grown, dedicated resources have been needed for these professionals that have been researched and specifically developed by their peers.

In 2019, as a way to implement dedicated resources to support Accredited Exercise Scientists, ESSA employed an Exercise Science Member Development Advisor. This role has been dedicated to promoting our AES members and providing them with support in their day-to-day careers.

In 2020, an ‘AES Careers Guide’ was developed to clarify career paths in exercise science and answer questions about study, transition to practice and work opportunities.

In 2021, an exciting advocacy break through occurred which saw Accredited Exercise Scientists recognised by a private health insurer. AES members now have the ability to provide Personal Training services for a selection of Bupa corporate health insurance extras products.

A range of other dedicated resources have also been developed such as:
  • The ‘AES in the Fitness Industry Prospectus
  • The Mental Health Applied Skill and Knowledge (ASK) course which aims to enhance AES knowledge and understanding working in specific health and fitness areas
  • The C.A.S.E (Collaborative Approach to the Science of Exercise) events which are learning opportunities specifically designed for AES to master all aspects of the exercise intervention process
  • Career Chats that highlight the variety of settings an AES can work within such as corporate health, disability, emergency services, and as an Allied Health Assistant.

Moving forward
There is still space for our AES to grow in and it’s exciting to see what the future holds.

As preventative health care sits higher and higher on our government’s agenda, we will see a breakthrough of opportunities for ESSA accredited exercise professionals, especially our Accredited Exercise Scientists.

If you'd like to find an ESSA Accredited Exercise Scientist in your area, visit our online search function today.

Click here

Supporting health through exercise for 30 years 

To celebrate 30 years of Exercise & Sports Science Australia (ESSA), we are reflecting on 30 stories which commemorate the profound impact the exercise and sports science industry and its professionals have had on our communities, and how they have benefited the health landscape in Australia.

Click here to read more like this one