Kinesiology And Exercise Science Degree

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What is Kinesiology?

Kinesiology is simply the study of human movement.  More specifically, kinesiology is the analysis of physical activity, sport, human performance, and recreation through the lens of biological, social, behavioral, and developmental sciences.  Students that graduate with a degree in kinesiology will specialize in one or more of the following areas of study:

  • Biomechanics
  • Sports Sociology
  • Recreation & Leisure Studies
  • Ergonomics
  • Physical Education
  • Exercise Physiology
  • Motor Control and Behavior
  • Philosophy of Sport & History of Exercise

What is Exercise Science?

Exercise science is defined as the study of body movements that contribute to holistic wellness and fitness.  Advances in technology and pharmacology have allowed individuals to live longer lives but the argument of quality of life is still suspect.  As such, people of all ages seek out the professional advice of exercise scientists to help them achieve and maintain an optimal level of health.  Understanding an individual's level of health can be assessed based upon:

  • Heart Rate & Body Heath
  • Capillary Physiology
  • Fat Fuels
  • Oxygen Consumption & Max VO2
  • Strength & Endurance
  • Nutrition & Wellness

Why Earn a Exercise Science Degree?

A kinesiology degree and exercise science major will prepare students with the an understanding of how muscles interact with the body on a scientific & practical level.  Such programs will require students to study a variety of sciences including biology, biochemistry, anatomy, nutrition, exercise physiology, biostatistics, and biomechanics.

Through their coursework, students will learn to apply this knowledge in a structured form.  Education in kinesiology will help guide individuals in the proper methods to exercising muscles, avoid strain, metabolism, and to increase the strength evenly throughout the body's muscle mass.

Top Degrees in Kinesiology and Exercise Science

College degree programs for kinesiology and exercise science span from associate degrees through doctorate degree programs with defined nuances for each type of degree program.  Online exercise science graduate programs can be found from a variety of accredited colleges and universities along with online undergraduate kinesiology degree programs.  Below you will find a breakdown of each program type along with nuance of each degree track to help you find the right program for you.

Kinesiology and Exercise Science Associate's Degree

An associate’s degree in exercise science and kinesiology is designed to help students help your employment opportunities when looking to enter the field or expand your vocational choices as a professional.  In either case, the general education course plus rigorous core curriculum will help prepare students to grow in their field.  Core classes will likely include: human anatomy, biology, chemistry, mathematics, health, chemistry, statistics, human physiology, and exercise physiology.

The different types of associate degree programs include an Associate of Science (AS) and an Associate of Applied Science (AAS).  The Associate of Science program is clustered around exercise physiology and biological sciences along with a number of required general education courses like philosophy, creative writing, and English composition.  An AS degree program may be considered if you are inclined to pursue a career as a personal trainer or similar.

The AAS degree program is very similar to the Associate of Science degree with an emphasis on technical skills required in the fitness training business.  The Associate of Applied Science degree track will include upper level course like foundations of kinesiology, motor behavior, biomechanics, communication, exercise psychology, and health coupled with an internship or practicum.

Kinesiology and Exercise Science Bachelor Degree

Degree options for a exercise science bachelor’s degree online or on-campus can be found in varied forms.  For example, kinesiology and exercise science degrees can be found in a school's course catalog as a Bachelor’s of Arts (BA) or a Bachelor’s of Science (BS).  In most cases, accredited colleges and universities will offer an exercise science degree program coupled with adjacent programs.  Meaning, it is rare to have a college offer a bachelor’s degree in just exercise science.  Rather, the majority of schools will offer exercise science with a concentration in similarly situated disciplines such as:

  • Athletic Medicine
  • Exercise Science
  • Physical Education
  • Applied Exercise Science, Health
  • Movement Science

In our years of research, we have discovered bachelor programs that are either narrowly focused, broad in nature, or highly technical in a related field of science.  If you are passionate about kinesiology and exercise science, make sure you invest the time to research school programs that work best for you and evaluate their curriculum for the best fit.  This approach will not only help you narrow down school options but give you a glimpse into the future knowing of what to expect.  As you migrate from general education courses to upper level courses in exercise science, the intensity and expectations will increase accordingly.

Kinesiology and Exercise Science Master Degree

A master’s degree in kinesiology and exercise science is known as an MS or Master’s of Science degree.  The Master’s of Science program are a clusters of  upper level courses in movement sciences coupled with associated research and real-world applications.  Akin to the bachelor’s degree program in exercise science, students will invest substantive time in class along with the requirement to complete a research project and/or internship along with a final presentation project or thesis paper.

Kinesiology and exercise science master's programs will typically last 1-2 years and will very likely be conjoined with an adjacent movement science.  Common areas of concentration for an MS program include:

  • Public Health
  • Research
  • Clinical Exercise
  • Physiology
  • Human Performance
  • Fitness & Wellness

Students with a Master’s of Science in exercise science will be equipped with the academic and practical prowess to launch a meaningful, rewarding career in a fitness center or healthcare organization.

Kinesiology and Exercise Science Doctorate Degree

A doctoral degree in kinesiology is a PhD program often seen as Doctor of Philosophy program in a course catalog.  The overriding objective of the PhD in exercise science and kinesiology is the prepare students to teach, consult, research, and lead organizations in a variety of academic, government, private, or public settings.  Doctoral students are expected to master not only their area of specialty but leverage knowledge from adjacent disciplines.

The primary areas of specialty within the Kinesiology Doctor of Philosophy program track include:

  • Cognitive and Motor Neuroscience
  • Exercise Physiology
  • Athletic Training
  • Psychosocial Areas of Physical Activity & Sport

With a large portion of the PhD program focused on the dissertation, students will invest substantive time focused on academics in applied sciences, research courses, and writing. The PhD program will take 2-3 years to complete including the dissertation depending on the number of credits taken at a given time along with the school-specific requirements.

A PhD in kinesiology will prepare students and working professionals to step into high level positions at fitness centers, hospitals, healthcare organizations, or universities.  Take the time to visit the programs below and learn more about the doctorate programs in kinesiology to learn more.

Employment Opportunities and Careers in Kinesiology

A career with a kinesiology degree may be pursued in a variety of fields, including sports management, athletic coaching, and physical education. Individuals may seek employment at a number of locations, and are capable of working with a variety of age groups and individuals as determined by their education.

Job opportunities are expected to grow over the next decade due to increased demand for preventative healthcare and physical fitness. As such jobs should be available to individuals, though they will be more readily available for those who live in highly or densely populated areas. Employers that receive public funding may have less growth due to budgeting.

Exercise Science Careers

The most common jobs for an exercise major varies widely depending on the specific degree program you have selected and the ensuing academic work and/or work experience.  That being said, take a look at the following list as an attempt to help you envision a realistic vocational path after earning your college degree.

  • Fitness Managers
  • Personal Trainers
  • Health Coach
  • Trainer
  • Strength Coach
  • Corporate Wellness Manager
  • Cardiac Rehabilitation Specialist
  • Exercise Physiologist
  • Clinical Exercise Specialist
  • Dietician
  • Athletic Trainer
  • Occupational Therapist & Occupational Assistant
  • Recreation Therapist
  • Speech-Language Pathologist
  • Respiratory Therapist
  • Physical Therapist & Physical Therapy Assistant

Exercise Science Job Description

While each specific job title is not practical to illuminate here, we have culled the most relevant job description for a student with an exercise science degree.  You will have a basis to help give you a viable window into a typical day of an ES.  The job description of a kinesiologist and exercise scientist include the following set of tasks:

  • Prescribing an individualized exercise program for clients with details around equipment, intensity, duration, and frequency.
  • Communicating exercise plans, physiological testing, and testing processes to clients.
  • Developing a precise exercise regimen to help patients improve their overall standard of health in accordance with exercise standards and regulatory guidance. These standards can be measured through the utilization of flexibility, endurance, strength, blood pressure, resting heart rate, and circulatory functioning.
  • Evaluating a patient’s exercise regimen data to evaluate progress, risks, and opportunities to modify the program.
  • Providing emergency and non-emergency medical care to clients showing signs or symptoms of distress.

Top 10 Skills of an Exercise Scientist and Kinesiologist

In a recent survey performed by the United States Department of Labor, professional Exercise Scientists and Kinesiologists provided feedback on their day-to-day jobs and requisite skills for success.  The survey illuminated a number of key pieces of information about the job of an exercise scientist and kinesiologist including skills, tasks, attributes, technical skills, ability, knowledge, work context, education, work values, and interests.

The survey revealed the top skills of an exercise scientist and kinesiologist to include the following:

  1. Critical Thinking – The utilization of reason and logic to decipher what is being said and what a patient means in contrast to what you observe and conclude on your own merit.
  2. Active Listening – Providing others with your full, undivided attention to understand their needs and asking great questions prior to giving advice or counsel.
  3. Written Communication – Both written communication and writing comprehension are essential to an exercise science major.
  4. Teaching – The ability to help others understand simple or complex issues or concepts through oral communication, written communication, and physical demonstrations.
  5. Deducting Reasoning – The application of generally accepted rules to specific instances to illuminate issues at hand.
  6. Oral Communication – The skills involved with speaking and oral comprehensive were found to be vital to the success of a kinesiology major in the workplace.
  7. Inductive Reasoning – Gathering disparate pieces of information to draw conclusions or working theories.
  8. Quality Relationships - Developing and maintaining quality relationships with patients, participants, family members, vendors, third-parties, and peers.
  9. Empathy – Helping others with medical issues, emotional support, personal assistance, and personal care.
  10. Physical Activities – Ability and willingness to perform considerable physical activities with arms and legs such as lifting, climbing, stretching, walking, squatting, and jumping.

What Can You Do with an Exercise Science Degree?

A sampling of job titles of an Exercise Scientist or Exercise Physiologist include the following an array of job opportunities.  Your career path may follow a traditional or non-traditional path.  However, a list of common examples of exercise science major jobs include:

  • Lifestyle and Weight Management Consultant
  • Kinesiologist
  • Director of Rehabilitation & Wellness
  • Bariatric Weight Loss Clinic Manager
  • Exercise Physiologist
  • Bariatric Weight Loss Counselor
  • Clinical Exercise Specialist
  • Cardiac Rehabilitation Program Director
  • Clinical Coordinator
  • Heart Failure Cardiac Rehabilitation Manager
  • Clinical Exercise Physiologist
  • Coordinator Cardiopulmonary Services
  • Director of Cardiac Rehabilitation

Exercise Science Salary & Career Outlook

Industry growth in kinesiology and exercise science is estimate to grow at at 13% clip through 2024 which is nearly twice the growth forecast for a composite of all jobs during that time frame.  The average salary for individuals in careers related to kinesiology and exercise science is approximately $47,340 per year.  While above the national average, this number may vary greatly based on experience, education, and location.

Individuals in areas with greater demand may see higher starting salaries.  Education may not necessarily increase one's starting salary, though it does open up more job opportunities at higher levels.  As such, it is often recommended to add work experience and relevant certifications to your degree to help solidify your career trajectory.

Exercise Science & Kinesiology Resources

Individuals interested in kinesiology and exercise science may also be interested in physical therapy, health and physical education, or sport and fitness administration/management.   For additional information about Kinesiology & Exercise Science, read our Complete Career Guide in Exercise Science on our blog as a deep dive into this exciting career path.

National associations can be great sources of industry information and inspiration.  A short list of quality national organizations include the following:

  • American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM)
  • National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA)
  • American Kinesiology Association (AKA)
  • Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND)
  • National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM)
  • Sports, Cardiovascular, and Wellness Nutrition (SCWN)

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Career Summary: Kinesiology and exercise science Major




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