Kinesiology Education and Training Requirements

Degrees in kinesiology typically cover the science of movement as it relates to the human body. Find out about the requirements of these programs, and learn about career options, job growth and salary info for kinesiology graduates.

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The human body is a fascinating machine, and the field of kinesiology offers a close examination of how it works. A bachelor's degree in kinesiology can lead to several different career options, including occupational therapist, physical therapist, fitness trainer, and physical education teacher. Each career path has its own specific further education and training requirements.

Essential Information

Kinesiology is the science of human movement and the study of body mechanics, function and performance. It is less a career than a conceptual framework with applications in athletic competition, health maintenance, rehabilitation or any work with a physiological basis. Kinesiology degree programs vary in level and concentration. Many programs include opportunities for students to gain field experience in hospitals, clinics and fitness clubs. Graduates of these programs generally seek additional certification or education in a more career-specific field.

Career Occupational Therapist Physical Therapists Fitness Trainer
Education Requirements Master's degree Doctor of Physical Therapy degree High school diploma
Additional Requirements State OT license State PT license Voluntary certification may be required
Job Growth (2014-2024)* 27% 34% 8% for fitness trainers and instructors
Median Salary (2015)* $80,150 $84,020 $36,160 for fitness trainers and aerobics instructors

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Career Options

A kinesiology degree can lead to a number of different positions, including physical education teacher, physical therapist or therapist assistant, fitness trainer, ergonomics consultant, or occupational therapist. Training requirements vary for these careers, and may include completion of a graduate degree, a passing score on an exam, licensure or certification. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), a number of factors have made employment prospects for kinesiology-related careers favorable. Improving medical treatments that allow more people with critical problems to survive have also increased the demand for physical therapy and occupational therapy, as has the aging population. Increased awareness of the value of fitness has led to the expansion of fitness programs and thus the need for fitness trainers and coaches. Keep reading for an overview of four careers in this field.

Occupational Therapist

After earning an undergraduate degree in kinesiology, an individual may choose to complete an occupational therapy graduate program. According to the BLS, there were close to 200 programs recognized by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education in 2014. After a program has been completed, occupational therapists then must pass a national board certification exam.

Once certified, occupational therapists treat patients in a variety of settings that include hospitals, nursing homes and private residences. According to the BLS, these professionals provide therapy plans and services to people of all ages who are suffering from physical injuries, neurological disorders or developmental delays. These therapies serve to build or restore fine motor abilities and life skills. The BLS predicted that occupational therapists will see 27% job growth between 2014 and 2024. The BLS reported that the median annual salary for occupational therapists was $80,150 in 2015.

Physical Therapist

Individuals who have earned an undergraduate kinesiology degree may choose to continue their education in a physical therapy graduate program. According to the BLS, there were over 200 programs recognized by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education in 2015. Through these programs, students can earn a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree. Once this program has been completed, physical therapists need to complete the requirements for licensure by passing the National Physical Therapy Examination and any state-mandated exams.

Once licensed, physical therapists can work in a variety of settings that include hospitals, nursing homes and physicians' offices. According to the BLS, these professionals provide therapy plans and services to people of all ages who are suffering from physical injuries or neurological disorders like stroke or cerebral palsy. Between 2014 and 2024, physical therapists are expected to see a 34% job growth, per BLS. The BLS also reported that the median annual salary for physical therapists was $84,020 in 2015.

Fitness Trainer

Individuals with an associate's degree or more advanced degree in kinesiology may pursue a career as a fitness trainer, although, one really only requires a high school diploma to enter this field. These professionals primarily need extensive training in a specific exercise modality, and many trainers also pursue specialized certifications, such as Pilates. According to the BLS, the majority of these professionals work at fitness or recreational sports centers where they instruct people of all ages and skill levels in cardiovascular and strength training exercises as well as proper stretching methods.

The BLS reports that fitness trainers and instructors are expected to experience 8% job growth between 2014 and 2024. The 2015 median annual salary for fitness trainers and aerobics instructors was $36,160, per BLS.

Physical Education Teacher

Individuals with an undergraduate degree in kinesiology may choose to complete the additional requirements of teacher certification. Physical education teacher certification requirements vary from state to state. In some states, a physical education teacher needs to obtain teacher certification at his or her level of choice, such as elementary or secondary education. In others, physical education is offered as a kindergarten through twelfth grade certification. Many colleges offer non-degree-seeking alternative teacher certification programs for graduate level students that generally include methods courses and a student teaching internship.

According to the BLS, between 2014 and 2024, preschool, primary, secondary, and special education school teachers are expected to experience a 6% growth, as are high school teachers.

According to the BLS, in 2015, the median annual salary for all elementary school teachers was $54,890. The BLS reported that the median annual salary for middle school teachers was $55,860 that year. The median annual salary for all secondary school teachers was $57,200 in 2015, per BLS.

Kinesiology Disciplines

A movement science program emphasizes the fundamentals of movement, including the names and functions of the musculoskeletal system's major bones and muscles. Students also study biomechanics and the neurological basis of motor control and skill acquisition.

Health and medical kinesiology explores topics such as voluntary movement disorders (cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson's disease), the effects of aging on the central nervous system, developmental disabilities and rehabilitation. Athletic training programs cover nutrition, exercise physiology, exercise regimens, injury profiles and injury rehab.

Regardless of which path you choose to follow, you'll be working closely with people to help their bodies function more effectively and comfortably. Fitness trainers don't need grad school, but they do require proper training in the type of exercise they plan to coach. Physical and occupational therapists will need to seek out a graduate degree program, and physical education teachers will need certification.

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