How to Become a Kinesiologist

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by Doug Wintemute

Published on May 4, 2021 · Updated on April 26, 2022

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How to Become a Kinesiologist

Concerned with the science of movement, kinesiology touches on various fields, including physiology and biomechanics. These programs prepare graduates for many health science and healthcare professions — a sector with promising growth and opportunities. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects the addition of approximately 2.4 million healthcare jobs between 2019 and 2029, and many of these roles could benefit from kinesiology training.

In this post, we'll explore the kinesiology field, looking at some of the main educational and professional pathways students and graduates can take.

What Does a Kinesiologist Do?

Many kinesiologists pursue careers related to areas like exercise science and physical therapy. These healthcare professionals develop fitness plans to help patients manage and overcome injuries and illnesses.

For example, exercise physiologists perform fitness tests and design exercise programs for patients to analyze their bodily responses and meet their specific health goals. Physical therapists — who require a doctorate to practice — use movement exercises and activities to diagnose their patient's physical capabilities and limitations and to rehabilitate them.

These professionals compile and share patient data with physicians to analyze progress and determine future treatment options. Kinesiologists also need to educate patients and their families on the conditions being treated and the potential risks.

Kinesiologist Job Demand and Salary

Kinesiologists possess specialized health science training and skills that can lead to high demand in the medical field. For example, the BLS projects 18% job growth for physical therapists and 11% growth for exercise physiologists between 2019 and 2029 — both of these rates are considerably faster than the average projected growth for all occupations (i.e., 4%).

Many of these professionals also enjoy strong financial rewards, earning incomes above the median annual salary for all occupations. According to the BLS, physical therapists earn a median annual salary of $91,010, and exercise physiologists earn a median annual salary of $50,280.

Kinesiologists may also find work related to athletic training, occupational therapy, and recreational therapy.

Step By Step: How to Become a Kinesiologist

Aspiring kinesiologists can take several pathways into the profession, but the following sections provide details on some common routes. Academic and professional requirements vary by state, school, and program, so students should check with their school and local organizations for specific information.

Step 1: Study Biology, Chemistry, Physics, and Math in High School

To study kinesiology at the college level, learners should develop a solid foundation in science and math in high school. Typically, kinesiology programs require chemistry, biology, physics, and calculus coursework. Applicants can improve their odds of admission by taking AP courses in these subjects.

Some schools also provide conditional offers or pathway programs that permit students to take prerequisites prior to starting their degree.

Step 2: Earn a Bachelor's Degree in Kinesiology

A bachelor's degree in kinesiology provides you with skills in movement assessment, maintenance, and rehabilitation. You'll gain a sociocultural understanding of kinesiology, along with theoretical knowledge and the ability to put that into practice. Typically a minimum requirement in the field, a bachelor's degree can qualify graduates for careers as athletic trainers and exercise physiologists.

When choosing a bachelor's program, you should look first at accreditation. Regional accreditation applies to a whole college or university and ensures that a school meets certain educational standards. Additionally, students may only be able to use certain types of financial aid at accredited institutions, and future employers may only recognize accredited degrees.

Programmatic accreditation can also be important. For example, the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) recognizes high-achieving health science programs.

Some additional program considerations for kinesiology students include the facilities housed in a health science department and available internship opportunities. Within a kinesiology program, degree-seekers may find specializations in exercise science, rehabilitation science, exercise physiology, and sports performance. Specializations can expand and strengthen career options.

true Admission Requirements
  • High school diploma or the equivalent
  • 2.0-3.0 minimum GPA
  • Science and math course prerequisites
  • ACT or SAT scores
  • Letters of recommendation
Typical Courses
  • Fundamentals of kinesiology
  • Human anatomy
  • Human physiology
  • Principles of fitness and wellness
  • Growth and motor development
  • Psychology of physical activity
  • Biomechanics
  • Movement disorders

Step 3: Consider a Master's Degree in Kinesiology

Completing a master's degree in kinesiology can open the door to advanced positions in physical therapy and athletic training, as well as specialist positions in rehabilitation. You can specialize in areas like sports medicine, health promotion, and gerontology.

Master's programs typically include substantial practicum requirements. Often exceeding 400 contact hours, these experiences provide students with invaluable training in the field. Graduates usually leave their practica with essential clinical skills.

true Admission Requirements
  • Bachelor's degree (typically in a related field)
  • Science and math prerequisites
  • 3.0 minimum GPA
  • GRE scores
  • Professional recommendations
  • Statement of purpose
Typical Courses
  • Muscle physiology
  • Professional practice in kinesiology
  • Genetics
  • Functional and ergonomic assessment
  • Biomechanical modeling
  • Health science statistics
  • Measurement and instrumentation
  • Ethical decision-making in kinesiology

Step 4: Establish State Licensure

Kinesiologists may need additional credentials to practice, depending on their career choice. For example, most states require athletic trainers to pass the certification examination from the Board of Certification for the Athletic Trainer.

Physical therapists need a doctor of physical therapy and licensure from the American Physical Therapy Association to practice in all states. Similarly, occupational therapists need a master's degree at minimum and certification from the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy.

Step 5: Gain Practical Experience in the Field

In many health science programs, field experiences are the most important components. While pursuing undergraduate and graduate kinesiology degrees, you can gain experience through internships and practica. You can also volunteer or work in healthcare facilities on campus.

In entry-level positions in athletic training, exercise physiology, and kinesiotherapy, professionals usually learn specific protocols, as well as how to operate specialized equipment and instrumentation. In each of these careers, new workers receive supervision from physicians and experienced professionals.

Step 6: Become a Registered Kinesiotherapist in Kinesiology

Kinesiotherapists use rehabilitative and therapeutic exercises to improve patients' physical and mental states. In coordination with the American Kinesiotherapy Association and the Council on Professional Standards for Kinesiotherapy (COPSKT), CAAHEP provides accreditation to various kinesiotherapy programs that meet the highest standards in the field.

Graduates from these programs who register with COPSKT, possess a minimum 2.5 GPA, and have at least 1,000 hours of clinical experience can sit for the registered kinesiotherapist (RKT) credentialing examination. The RKT credential can provide career advancement opportunities and increase your earning potential.

Registration can also lead to a clinical specialization, which may give RKTs greater prestige and an even larger competitive advantage on the job market.

Related Pages

Best Online Bachelor's in Kinesiology Programs What Is Sports Medicine? Physical Therapy Careers

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