How to Become a Kinesiologist

Learn what it takes to become a kinesiologist. Read up on the different kinesiology degrees and promising career opportunities for graduates.

portrait of Marisa Upson
by Marisa Upson

Updated August 26, 2022

Edited by Kristina Beek
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How to Become a Kinesiologist
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A kinesiologist typically 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.

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What Is Kinesiology?

Kinesiology focuses on the study of human movement and how physical activity impacts physical and psychological health. A kinesiologist may help others improve their overall health and mobility using exercise and movement. This broad field covers injury rehabilitation, exercise therapy, ergonomics, fitness, disability management, and more.

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 Responsibilities

  • Prescribe exercise routines to increase patients' mobility, help them recover from an injury, or increase their overall strength and stamina.
  • Perform patient assessments to determine their baseline fitness level and improvements over time.
  • Aid in preventing injuries 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.

Kinesiology Not for You? Check Out These Related Careers.

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, 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 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. 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.

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 range from genetics, muscle physiology, and health science statistics to measurement and instrumentation, professional practice, and biomechanical modeling.

Master's programs typically include substantial practicum requirements. Often exceeding 400 contact hours, these experiences provide students 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. This being said, it's best to confer with the admissions of individual programs for precise information. Graduates usually leave their practica 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 $52,000 as of July 2022.

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

Accreditation

Earning a degree from an accredited school ensures the highest standards in education. It also impacts students' 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, students can 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

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.

Cost

The College Board reports that the average tuition costs for master's programs in 2021-2022 ranged from $9,000-$29,670. 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.

Salary

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 $47,940 as of May 2021. Those working in California saw much greater earnings, with an average salary of $76,040.

According to Payscale, those with master's degrees in kinesiology earned an average annual wage of $52,000 as of July 2022.

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 $95,620, $121,530, and $85,570, respectively, as of May 2021.

Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming a Kinesiologist

What qualifications do you need to become a kinesiologist?

Kinesiologists must possess, at minimum, a bachelor's degree in kinesiology or a related field. Many continue their education, earning a master's degree in kinesiology or one of the allied health professions. Kinesiologists may also earn the optional registered kinesiotherapy credential.

While there is no general licensure for kinesiologists, several careers these professionals pursue require certification or licensure. For example, most states require certification for athletic trainers. Those interested in becoming physical education teachers must complete a student teaching internship and pass state-specific exams.

Though not usually mandated, exercise physiologists may obtain certification from the American Society of Exercise Physiologists or the American College of Sports Medicine.

What is the fastest way to become a kinesiologist?

Kinesiologists must possess a bachelor's degree in kinesiology or a related field. These usually take at least four years to earn. However, some online programs take less time to complete.

Some schools may also provide accelerated or combined degree programs. These enable students to earn their bachelor's and master's degrees in five years. While you can save time and money in these programs, you should also prepare for a heavier course load.

How many years does it take to become a kinesiologist?

It usually takes about 4-5 years to become a kinesiologist. This includes the time it takes to earn your undergraduate degree in kinesiology or a similar field. Keep in mind that many people in this field continue their education and earn a master's degree.

Earning a graduate degree enables you to specialize further and offers increased opportunities and earning potential. Earning a master's degree usually takes about two years.

Those interested in research or teaching at the college level may need a doctoral degree. This can take up to six years to complete and lead to a career as a kinesiology research scientist or college professor.

Can I become a kinesiologist with an online degree?

Yes, you can become a kinesiologist with an online degree. Several schools offer online bachelor's degrees in kinesiology and exercise science. Make sure to check for institutional and programmatic accreditation. CAAHEP accredits two universities in kinesiotherapy and about 78 colleges and universities in exercise science.

Accredited kinesiology programs require 1,000 hours of clinical internships, which offer critical hands-on experience. Check into a school's online student support services and see if it provides help finding internship opportunities in your area. Ideally, these take place in your area of interest, such as an athletic organization, school, or healthcare facility.

How much money can I make as a kinesiologist?

The salaries for kinesiologists vary based on the position, employer, location, and education level. For example, the BLS reports that exercise physiologists earned a median annual wage of $47,940, with the top 10% making $76,950 as of May 2021. Those who work for the government find even greater pay, with median salaries of $81,890.

Professionals in kinesiology who work their way up into managerial roles can also see greater earnings. For instance, according to Payscale, wellness directors earned an average salary of $61,020, with the top 10% making $86,000 as of June 2022.

Those who earn their doctorate in physical therapy see some of the highest pay in the field. The BLS reports that physical therapists earned a median wage of $95,620 as of May 2021.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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