My wife likes to take the piss out of me. While I’ve been working through my graduate degree, and people ask her what I’m studying, she likes to say, “Exercise science. I know, it sounds like a made up degree.”
She’s not wrong; “exercise science” does sound a bit nebulous to the point of gnostic wisdom. However it’s important to understand that most people think they have a clue about exercise and they simply do not. It’s a bit like Parkinson’s Law of Triviality: people have bodies, therefore they think they know how to exercise said body. Given the state of health in the United States, it should be clear that we have little in the way of cultural norms to maintain fitness, and even less cultural wisdom to get people on the right track.
Frankly, exercise is complicated stuff by the simple fact that you have to account for so many variables in so many subjects (body of knowledge subject, not human being subject). This is why exercise science is actually a translational science, a cross disciplinary, scientific research driven by the need for practical applications of science. This type of science is often used in medicine and pharmaceuticals, because you need people to figure out how to take lab discoveries to trial as quickly as possible, and also to take these discoveries into best practice perhaps even faster. This came about because it takes an average of 24 years for a lab discovery to primary care setting, so long that “breakthroughs” that can save many lives leave so many dying before they can be applied.
The same seed is what has created a movement in health and human performance departments at universities to move away from terms like “exercise physiologist/biomechanist/kinisiologist” toward a unifying umbrella of “Exercise science.” This is because those are all part of what you study at the graduate level and then some. I made a picture with a mouse to illustrate the breadth of subject matter I learned in my studies (click for full size):
Now if I walked into a lab that was devoted to any of those pursuits, I’d be dangerous. In the context of the human body and how it responds to an exercise stimulus, I’m better than any of those experts. I’m taking what they’re studying, mixing it with what others from totally different fields are studying, and attempting to mold a best practice that gets at the good stuff as efficiently as possible. I’ve been trained to be the ultimate generalist when it comes to understanding the human body and its response to exercise, which is exactly what an exercise science curriculum should do.
Yes, it sounds made up, but it’s really the shortest description of what it is we do!