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BCU professor says demand for fitness professionals high

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SIOUX CITY -- Want to become a strength and conditioning coach, personal trainer, exercise physiologist or athletic trainer?

Fitness-related careers, such as these, are in high demand, according to George Panzak, an associate professor at Briar Cliff University, who also chairs the Sioux City college's kinesiology department. 

"There's a big demand now for people," he said. "There's a lot of research going on with physical fitness and helping with cancer and chronic disease and also with positive quality of life issues and preventing heart disease, diabetes and reducing obesity." 

Panzak said students interested in this field have a lot of options at Briar Cliff when it comes to choosing a major. He said it's uncommon for a smaller school like Briar Cliff to have a kinesiology department. Kinesiology is the scientific study of human body movement. Kinesiology has five major disciplines -- exercise physiology, biomechanics, neurophysiology, motor learning, motor control and motor development, according to Panzak.

Students interested in kinesiology could pursue a degree in human performance, previously kinesiology & human performance, or exercise physiology.

A human performance major could work in the wellness, personal training, coaching, or strength and conditioning fields, or seek a master's degree in coaching, strength and conditioning, or health promotion. An exercise physiology major might enter BCU's doctor of physical therapy program. Panzak said an exercise physiology major could also pursue a career in occupational therapy, go on to get a doctorate degree in kinesiology or exercise physiology, or go to medical, osteopathic or dental school.

"If they want to do clinical work, they can do cardiac rehab, become clinical exercise physiologists," he said. "The human performance major enables students to go into those very popular career tracks."

Panzak said the key difference between the two majors is that human performance requires at least one semester of biology and chemistry and, perhaps, physics, while exercise physiology has two semesters each of biology, chemistry and physics. He noted that the curriculum at Briar Cliff is "adaptable" to match students' interests and that students can spend time with a professional in their career field or choice in during an off-campus internship. 

"I base our department and our career tracks and majors to try to meet any variation of students coming in," said Panzak, who said the majority of students who pursue these majors are student-athletes. "Whatever their interests are, I try to support their interests." 

Taking mathematics classes, including algebra, as well as anatomy, physiology and biology in high school, Panzak said, will provide students with a "good foundation" for the human performance and exercise physiology majors. 

Although there is no license process to become a personal trainer, a strength and conditioning coach or clinical exercise physiologist, Panzak said there are strong certifications. He said Briar Cliff is aligned with the National Strength and Conditioning Association and American College of Sports Medicine.

Philosophically, Panzak said there's no difference between prescribing exercise and prescribing medicine. Those professionals prescribing exercise must be aware of their clients' co-morbidities, such as diabetes and heart failure, and seek to do no harm. 

"If you look into scientific literature, far and above surgery and medication, appropriately prescribed exercise, hands down, is the No. 1 treatment," he said. 

Next fall, Panzak said students will once again have the option of majoring in health and physical education. He said that major is coming back thanks to a joint effort between Briar Cliff's education and kinesiology departments. 

"I really feel they're worth their weight in gold," Panzak said of physical education teachers. "They work with kids at a very young age -- movement, fitness. The whole idea there is to adopt physical activity as a permanent lifestyle activity."

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