How to Become a Kinesiologist
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- Kinesiologists may develop exercise programs for patients recovering from illnesses.
- These professionals need a bachelor's degree in kinesiology or a related field.
- Many pursue graduate degrees in kinesiology or allied health professions.
- Kinesiologists find jobs in health clinics, community recreation facilities, and more.
A kinesiologist often uses exercise and movement to help people recover from injuries and illnesses, or reach their health and fitness goals. This growing field incorporates numerous specialties, including rehabilitation, sports performance, and exercise.
A career in kinesiology requires a bachelor's degree in kinesiology or a related field. Some graduates enter the workforce as exercise physiologists or corporate wellness directors. Others continue their education and earn graduate degrees in physical therapy, athletic training, or chiropractic sciences.
People passionate about helping others achieve health and wellness through physical activity may find a rewarding career in kinesiology.
What Is Kinesiology?
Kinesiology focuses on the study of human movement and how physical activity impacts physical and psychological health.
Developed in the 1960s by George Goodheart based on systems that emerged in the 1920s and 1940s, this holistically oriented discipline has evolved into an effective system of injury rehabilitation, exercise therapy, ergonomics, physical fitness, disability management, and general wellness.
What Does a Kinesiologist Do?
A kinesiologist uses expert guidance to help others improve their overall health through holistic assessment and an individualized treatment plan. Kinesiologists are often employed in hospitals, clinics, and other settings including home health.
- Prescribe exercise routines to increase patients' mobility, help them recover from an injury, or increase their overall strength and stamina.
- Assess patients to determine their baseline fitness level and improvements over time.
- Aid in injury prevention by helping clients perform everyday tasks using ergonomic principles.
- Provide high-performance coaching and fitness training to athletes.
- Lead clients through exercise and functional movements that help optimize their bodies' performance and reduce chronic pain.
- Document patient assessments and progress in medical record.
- Order equipment (e.g.: adaptive eating utensils or mobility aids such as wheelchairs, canes, and walkers)
- Communicate with members of multidisciplinary team
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What Are the Steps 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, you should develop a solid foundation in science and math in high school. Typically, kinesiology programs require chemistry, biology, physics, and calculus coursework. Improve your odds of admission by taking AP classes 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. Accreditation may apply to a whole college or university, or sometimes to a specific program. Accreditation ensures that a school meets certain educational standards. Additionally, you may only be able to use certain types of financial aid at accredited institutions, and future employers may recognize only 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, you may find specializations in exercise science, rehabilitation science, exercise physiology, and sports performance. Specializations can expand and strengthen career options.
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.
Classes you might find in a master's program for this subject include genetics, muscle physiology, and health science statistics to measurement and instrumentation, professional practice, and biomechanical modeling.
Master's programs typically include large practicum requirements. Often exceeding 400 contact hours, these experiences provide you with invaluable training in the field. On average, the out-of-state tuition of a graduate degree in kinesiology is roughly $19,000 while the in-state tuition is around $11,000.
That said, it's best to confer with the admissions of individual programs for precise information. Graduates usually leave their practical with essential clinical skills allowing them to go further in their field of interest.
Step 4: Become a Registered Kinesiotherapist
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.
Step 5: Get a Job as a Kinesiologist
Kinesiologists can find jobs in hospitals, health clinics, community recreation facilities, corporate offices, schools, and many more. They may work with athletic teams or as part of a healthcare team. A few common career trajectories include the following:
- Corporate Wellness Director: These professionals teach employees workplace ergonomics and exercise routines to help prevent injury and improve health.
- Strength and Conditioning Coach: These coaches help athletes improve their performance through strength and conditioning programs.
- Athletic Trainer: These trainers assess and treat acute and chronic athletic injuries.
- Exercise Physiologist: Exercise physiologists develop exercise programs for people recovering from illnesses or chronic diseases.
While there is no standard kinesiologist license requirement, some professions require certification. For example, almost all states require certification for athletic trainers. According to Payscale, those with a master's in kinesiology earned an average yearly salary of $54,000 as of September 2023.
Step 6: Consider Continuing Education or Specialization
Professionals can continue to advance in their careers through continuing education. For example, earning a master's in kinesiology allows students to specialize in one of the many concentrations. A few specializations include:
- Exercise Science
- Health Promotion and Wellness
- Recreation and Sports Management
- Integrative Wellness
- Sports Performance
- Disability Studies
A bachelor's in kinesiology also offers a pathway to numerous graduate degrees in allied health. Many of these professions require a master's or doctorate.
- Master's in Occupational Therapy
- Master's in Physician Assistant
- Doctor of Chiropractics
- Doctor of Physical Therapy
Earning a doctoral degree in kinesiology qualifies graduates to work as researchers and postsecondary educators.
What to Know Before Becoming a Kinesiologist
Earning a degree from an accredited school ensures the highest standards in education. It also impacts your ability to qualify for federal financial aid, transfer credits, and gain employment. Legitimate institutional accreditation for online schools is particularly important.
To ensure proper accreditation, check the U.S. Department of Education's accreditation database or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation database.
Programs may also earn accreditation. In kinesiology, programs are accredited by the CAAHEP. Students must graduate from CAAHEP-accredited programs to qualify for the RKT credential.
Licensing and Certification
According to the American Kinesiotherapy Association (AKTA), kinesiotherapists are not required to be licensed in any state at this time. However, kinesiotherapists are credentialed by the Council on Professional Standards for Kinesiotherapy (COPSKT).
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.
The College Board reports that the average tuition costs for master's programs in 2022-2023 ranged from $9,000-$29,660. On top of the cost of a bachelor's degree, becoming a kinesiologist can be quite expensive.
The true program costs also include room and board, books, fees, and travel expenses. Prospective students should also consider hidden college costs, like club fees, Greek life, and socializing. Additional considerations include the costs of online versus on-campus programs.
Additionally, the exam to qualify for the RKT credential costs $260.
Because of the many career paths available, kinesiologists' salaries vary dramatically. Those with a bachelor's in kinesiology may become exercise physiologists. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that these professionals earned a median yearly wage of $51,350 as of May 2022. Those working in California saw much greater earnings, with an average salary of $79,210.
According to Payscale, those with master's degrees in kinesiology earned an average annual wage of $54,000 as of September 2023.
Students can also use a bachelor's in kinesiology as a stepping stone to other graduate healthcare degrees. These may lead to positions such as physical therapist, physician assistant, and occupational therapist. According to the BLS, these professionals earned a median annual wage of $97,720, $126,010, and $93,180, respectively, as of May 2022.
Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming a Kinesiologist
What qualifications do you need to become a kinesiologist?
You need a bachelor's degree in kinesiology or a related field. Though not licensed, kinesiologists are credentialed through the Council on Professional Standards for Kinesiotherapy. If working as an exercise physiologist, athletic trainer, etc, the kinesiologist must pursue credentialing or certification for that specialty based on the state where they live and work.
What is the fastest way to become a kinesiologist?
The fastest way to become a kinesiologist is to obtain a bachelor's degree in kinesiotherapy or related field and become credentialed by the Council on Professional Standards for Kinesiotherapy.
How many years does it take to become a kinesiologist?
It usually takes 4-5 years to become a kinesiologist, including earning a bachelor's degree and becoming credentialed. A master's degree or doctoral degree will of course add to the time it will take to complete one's education.
Can I become a kinesiologist with an online degree?
You can become a kinesiologist with an online degree through attending an accredited school with an online bachelor's program in kinesiology or exercise science. Accredited schools usually require 1,000 hours of hands-on clinical internship training, and online student support services and other resources can be useful in finding internship opportunities.
How much money can I make as a kinesiologist?
The Bureau of Labor Statistics lists the average annual salary for exercise physiologists as $55,280, with an average hourly wage of $24.84, with the top 10% earning $77,980 per year and the lowest 10% earning $39,250 as of May, 2022.
Payscale lists the average kinesiologist salary as $54,066 in 2023.