How to Become a Kinesiologist

Want to learn how to become a kinesiologist? Discover the steps you must take and the various kinesiology degrees and jobs you can pursue.
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Updated on March 28, 2024
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A kinesiologist 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.

If you're passionate about helping others achieve health and wellness through physical activity, you 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 individualized treatment plans. Kinesiologists often work in hospitals, clinics, and other settings including home health.

Kinesiologist Responsibilities

  • Prescribe exercise routines to increase patients' mobility, help them recover from injuries, or increase their overall strength and stamina.
  • Assess patients to determine their baseline fitness levels 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, such as adaptive eating utensils and mobility aids (e.g., wheelchairs, canes, and walkers).
  • Communicate with members of a multidisciplinary team.

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How to Become a Kinesiologist: 6-Step Guide

So how do you become a kinesiologist exactly? While there are several pathways you can take, here are the most common routes.

Remember that academic and professional requirements vary by state, school, and program.

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    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 you to take prerequisites before starting your degree.

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    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 you for a career as an athletic trainer or exercise physiologist.

    When choosing a bachelor's program, you should look first at accreditation. Accreditation ensures that a school or program 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 be important for healthcare degrees like kinesiology. For example, the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) recognizes high-achieving health sciences programs.

    You should also consider the facilities housed in a health sciences 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 your career options.

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    Step 3: Consider a Master's Degree in Kinesiology

    Earning 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 take in a master's in kinesiology program include:

    • Genetics
    • Muscle physiology
    • Health science statistics
    • Measurement and instrumentation
    • Professional practice
    • Biomechanical modeling

    Master's programs typically include 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.

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    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 (AKTA) and the Council on Professional Standards for Kinesiotherapy (COPSKT), CAAHEP accredits various kinesiotherapy programs that meet high standards.

    Graduates from these programs who register with COPSKT, have a minimum 2.5 GPA, and have at least 1,000 hours of clinical experience can sit for the registered kinesiotherapist (RKT) credentialing exam. 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 a competitive advantage on the job market.

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    Step 5: Get a Job as a Kinesiologist

    Kinesiologists can find jobs in hospitals, health clinics, community recreation facilities, corporate offices, schools, and 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 December 2023.

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    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 you to specialize in a concentration.

    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 graduate degrees in allied health. Many of these jobs require a master's degree or doctorate, such as those below:

    • Master's in Occupational Therapy
    • Physician Assistant Master's
    • Doctor of Chiropractics
    • Doctor of Physical Therapy

    Earning a doctoral degree in kinesiology qualifies you to work as a researcher or professor.

What to Know Before Becoming a Kinesiologist

Here are a few key facts to know about becoming a kinesiologist before you embark on this career path.

Accreditation

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 find a job. 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. You must graduate from a CAAHEP-accredited program to qualify for the RKT credential.

Licensing and Certification

According to AKTA, kinesiotherapists are not required to be licensed in any state at this time. That said, kinesiotherapists are credentialed by 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.

Cost

The College Board reports that the average tuition costs for master's programs in 2023-2024 ranged from $9,250-$30,970. 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 consider hidden college costs, like club fees and Greek life. Additional considerations include the costs of online versus on-campus programs.

And don't forget — the exam to qualify for the RKT credential costs $260.

Salary

Because of the many career paths available, kinesiologists' salaries can 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 salary of $51,350 in 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 salary of $54,000 as of December 2023.

You 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 salary of $97,720, $126,010, and $93,180, respectively, in 2022.

Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming a Kinesiologist

What qualifications do you need to become a kinesiologist?

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You need a bachelor's degree in kinesiology or a related field to become a kinesiologist. Though not licensed, kinesiologists are credentialed through the Council on Professional Standards for Kinesiotherapy. If working as an exercise physiologist or athletic trainer, you must pursue credentialing or certification for that specialty based on the state where you live and work.

What is the fastest way to become a kinesiologist?

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The fastest way to become a kinesiologist is to earn a bachelor's degree in kinesiotherapy or a related field and get credentialed by the Council on Professional Standards for Kinesiotherapy.

How many years does it take to become a kinesiologist?

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It usually takes 4-5 years to become a kinesiologist, including earning a bachelor's degree and becoming credentialed. A master's or doctoral degree in kinesiology will lengthen the time it takes to start your kinesiology career.

Can I become a kinesiologist with an online degree?

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Yes, you can become a kinesiologist with an online degree. Just make sure you attend an accredited online bachelor's program in kinesiology or exercise science. Accredited schools usually require 1,000 hours of hands-on clinical internship training. Online student support services and other resources can be useful in finding internships.

How much money can I make as a kinesiologist?

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According to the BLS, the average annual salary for exercise physiologists is $55,280, with an average hourly wage of $26.84, as of May 2022. The top 10% earn $77,980 and the lowest 10% earn $39,250.

Payscale reports the average kinesiologist salary as $54,939 in 2024.

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