Interview with an Exercise Physiologist

Different professionals in the areas of health and fitness can have a lot of expertise that can positively impact your quality of life. This week we interviewed Selena Neily, an exercise physiologist who has been in the field for the past 16 years. She offers some great advice for when you should go see an exercise physiologist and what to look for in a good exercise physiologist.

YYC Fitness: What is an exercise physiologist?

Selena: An exercise physiologist is a specialist in the field of physical movement. Exercise physiologists can work in multiple realms of health care, fitness and sport performance. Essentially our role under the  Canadian Society of Exercise Physiology (CSEP) is to perform assessments and from these assessments develop and implement conditioning exercises suited to compliment the needs of the individual client’s illness, injury or dysfunction.

Most physiologists guide and teach clients through supervised exercise sessions that encompass healthy lifestyle education. Areas of focus where exercise physiologist’s skills are required to aid in the reconditioning of client health and function are; musculoskeletal, cardiopulmonary, metabolic, neuromuscular and conditions associated with the natural aging process. Within these areas the injury or illness can be that of a chronic condition or an acute injury brought about by trauma.

YYC Fitness: Can you elaborate on the type of assessments that are performed on clients?

Selena:The assessments performed can vary depending on why you have sought out the services of the exercise physiologist. First clients are encouraged to use the pre-screening Get Active Questionnaire located on the CSEP website (]). This will assist in your understanding of your readiness to being in an exercise and fitness program and provide a relative measure of your overall current health. If concerns arise from this then you should seek further clearance from your physician prior to seeing an exercise physiologist. More specific screening assessments are required for certain populations, for example expectant mothers require Par-MedEX.

Once you meet with your exercise physiologist there are a number of assessments that you could be asked to perform/complete dependent on your current health and fitness and your final goals. Some common assessments and measurements that exercise physiologists monitor are below.

Vitals to track heart rate and blood pressure before, during and after exercise are very common to assess the body’s reaction and interactions to exercise and functional movement. This is particularly critical information when training individuals with hypertension and who may be on medication that could cause a masking/blunting affect. Another assessment your exercise physiologist may have you complete is Body Composition. Many exercise physiologists in a non-clinical or research facility will typically use the skin fold technique also known as the ‘pinch test’ (it’s not as bad as it sounds), others may have a bioelectrical impedance scale and for those in a lab setting you may get to complete hydrostatic weighing or a BOD pod.

Question: What elements do you touch on in healthy lifestyle education?

Selena: For many clients, nutrition and label reading as well as portion control continue to be a hot topic of healthy lifestyle education.

I have myself have found that for many clients it’s not for lack of wanting to eat healthier it is a lack of confidence in the knowing how to plan, budget and prepare the healthier options. . . behavior training is a huge aspect of our profession . . . helping people to breakdown what they consider the barriers to their health and find a path forward on this journey that is functional for the individual is key. For example: when a client and I sit down to review their training and nutrition program one of the first things I ask is how much time do you have to commit or how can we make more time in their day to commit to their health. Essentially, I ask them to paint me a picture of their day to day and then we start to develop a plan that works for them and their needs. Again, the goal is to help create a lifestyle and provide supports for behavioral change. Setting clients up on an unrealistic plan that will end in failure does not serve them or me.

YYC Fitness: When should a person visit an exercise physiologist?

Selena: Whether you are continuing to build on your health and fitness to a new performance level or seeking to start your fitness journey for the first time an exercise physiologist can be helpful. An exercise physiologist can provide different support/feedback than a life coach or personal trainer and a more in depth understanding of the human body and pathophysiology of diseased and or ill or injured states. Seeking the services of an exercise physiologist can be self directed or recommended from a health professional.

Note it is always suggested that you refer to your family doctor and/or other attending practitioners prior to starting a new or augmented fitness or reconditioning program. This provides the opportunity for these practitioners to provide guidelines that they wish for the exercise physiologist to consider during the assessment and the exercise prescription development.

On your first appointment there will be a significant amount of time spent on gathering your health, history, current activity level, exercise knowledge, personal goals, functional needs for your Activities of Daily Living, medications, your goals, reviewing any parameters provided by other healthcare providers and more.

At your future appointments  never be afraid to ask the question ‘Why’ to your exercise physiologist when she/he is prescribing certain activity or regime.

YYC Fitness: How long is a typical appointment and what are the associated costs?

 Selena: Length of appointment and cost can vary depending on the pathway you take to meet your exercise physiologist. If you are under the supervision of an exercise physiologist for the purpose of diagnostic testing requested by a doctor and therefore in a clinical setting, there would be no additional cost associated. If you are seeking one on one sessions for reconditioning or performance training then an individual session could be anywhere from 60 to 90 minutes with widely varying costs. The national average for personal training sessions at present is $50/hour according to the National Strength and Conditioning Association.

YYC Fitness: What education is required to become an exercise physiologist?

Selena: There are many paths that a practicing exercise physiologist can take to arrive at their final certification with many specialized areas of study to augment their practices and skill. General requirements are that candidates provide documentation proving that they have graduated/completed an appropriate Undergraduate program with at least 120 credits at the post-secondary level as well as have completed a co-op, work and/or volunteer experience in healthy and chronic populations or sport fitness. More information on this can be found at

YYC Fitness: What should you look for when choosing a good exercise physiologist?

Selena: First, consult other practitioners providing care for your health and ask if they would like to provide feedback that would be useful in your desired exercise prescription. Second, never be afraid to ask for educational certification and liability documentation. Documents to ask for include CSEP membership number and current certification, CPR and First Aid and current liability insurance coverage. Remember that as the client you are interviewing your exercise physiologist to be the best fit for your healthcare needs, so do not be afraid to be selective. Ensure you feel comfortable with your selected trainer so that you can develop a positive professional relationship with this person.

Third, take some time to establish your goals that you wish to achieve with the guidance of your exercise physiologist before meeting. This will help you narrow your search for the right exercise physiologist with the essential skill to help you work towards your goals. As noted above there are different educational backgrounds, supplementary training and work experience an exercise physiologist can have .  i.e. if a client is diabetic he may want an exercise physiologist with continued studies in nutrition to support meal preparation ideas and label reading education. If you are struggling to find a certified professional in your area, you can contact CSEP directly and they can assist you in finding certified members near your location.

YYC Fitness: How would you describe your qualifications and practice of exercise physiology?

I myself completed a Bachelor of Science in Human Kinetics and then continued studies in nursing and nutrition therapy. I was very fortunate to work with our Canadian Armed Forces as an exercise specialist and then continue my education in exercise physiology and yoga therapy.

As an exercise physiologist I strive to use moment and meditative practices as means of healing the body, mind and spirit.

Yoga and more specifically pranayama found me many moons ago, but I didn’t truly being to appreciate or dive deeper into my practices until 2012. I became a certified yoga instructor and have integrated these practices into my own daily health and wellness routine as well as introduced to clients. We spend many hours in our days and weeks busy with being busy and teaching ourselves to practice that ‘pause’ is very much a discipline. Teaching ourselves to breath again to create space in our minds to simply become quiet and peaceful is what so many of us need and crave and don’t even realize it. Now this ‘pause’ can take different form for many . . . a quite walk in nature, a prayer, a song/hymn, chant or mantra or simply sitting with the breath . . . but this is above all other training techniques in the mind THE most needed for all of my clients and has the most profound healing capacity when practiced daily.

Catch Selena’s tips for a happy and healthy life next week!

*Interview has been edited for length and continuity.




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