Athletic competitions are not the only arena where it is important to understand how the body moves, what causes exceptional physical performance and why people choose to participate in sports.
Because exercise influences health outcomes, investigation into how people exercise and what motivates people to begin a fitness regimen is relevant to the field of medicine and the study of public health. It also provides insight to anyone recovering from a serious injury and guidance to rehabilitation specialists.
Someone who is fascinated by this area of science may want to pursue a degree in kinesiology, which is sometimes called movement science, exercise science or exercise physiology.
“Simply put, kinesiology is the study of movement,” Kathryn Alexander, a Texas-based personal trainer with a bachelor’s in kinesiology and a master’s in clinical exercise physiology, wrote in an email. “It includes physics, biomechanics, physiology, biology and chemistry.”
Beth Lewis, director of the University of Minnesota—Twin Cities School of Kinesiology and a professor there, says a common misconception is that college majors in kinesiology inevitably lead to a career in physical therapy.
Though kinesiology bachelor’s degree recipients often go on to physical therapy graduate programs, they can opt to become personal trainers or pursue a Master of Public Health degree, she says. It is also common for individuals with college degrees in kinesiology to pursue graduate education in occupational therapy or a career as a corporate wellness program administrator, Lewis adds.
The breadth of the field of kinesiology means that it can be applied in a variety of ways. Someone with a kinesiology degree may feel overwhelmed by his or her options and unsure about which direction to take, Lewis says, noting that kinesiology graduates have flexibility to design a career that suits them personally.
Experts note that a college degree in kinesiology could prepare someone for physician assistant school, medical school or chiropractic school, or it could lead to a graduate degree in nursing, athletic training or sport and exercise psychology. Someone could also pursue a master’s or doctorate in kinesiology, since a graduate credential can make someone more marketable in the field and is especially beneficial for teaching and research positions.
“You might become a kinesiologist if you love to be physically active or you enjoy sports. Or if you had to overcome an injury and realized how important physical activity was for rehabilitation,” Paul G. Davis, an associate professor and graduate program director with the University of North Carolina—Greensboro’s department of kinesiology, wrote in an email.
“You might also want to help others learn the benefits of being physically active. Or you may just want to share the fun and excitement you experience while being active,” adds Davis, who has a Ph.D. degree in exercise science.
Davis notes that kinesiology degree recipients can work for a wide range of employers, including companies in the fitness industry, health care organizations, schools and community centers.
“Benefits of the profession include being able to remain physically active, work in teams, work with diverse populations, have fun, focus on helping others to be better, and overcome health challenges. … Kinesiologists usually are working to help people be more skilled movers while also becoming happier, healthier and more well,” he explains.
The following professions are jobs where a kinesiology degree would come in handy. For some of these occupations, a kinesiology degree is helpful but not sufficient to qualify for a position, since some jobs require either a specialized degree in a different field or a mandatory certification.
- Athletic trainer.
- Exercise physiologist.
- Fitness instructor.
- Sports medicine physician.
- Occupational therapist.
- Orthopedic surgeon.
- Personal trainer.
- Physical therapist.
- Physical education teacher.
- Rehabilitation therapist.
- Strength and conditioning coach.
- Kinesiology professor.
- Kinesiology researcher.
Melissa Hewitt, who earned a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology at the University of Maryland—College Park in 2020, wrote in an email that a longtime interest in the research side of kinesiology ultimately led her to her current role as a clinical research assistant at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
“I work with active-duty service members and veterans with a variety of maladies,” Hewitt says. “Most of my research focuses on individuals with amputations, specifically looking at new technologies like prosthetics and hand transplantations that could revolutionize the healthcare industry.”
Todd Buckingham, an exercise physiologist with a Ph.D. degree in his field, notes that kinesiology students gain many skills that are applicable to health professions, such as the skills necessary to administer and interpret electrocardiograms.
“This gives kinesiology undergraduate students an advantage over those who choose to enroll in the pre-professional programs instead,” Buckingham explained in an email. “Kinesiology majors can work for health clinics, fitness centers, high schools, colleges and universities, nursing homes, hospitals, rehabilitation centers, doctor’s offices, federal and state government, and many more.”