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What Can You Do With a Master’s in Kinesiology?

What Can You Do with a Master's in Kinesiology?If you have a passion for improving the health and performance of others and you enjoy working with science and data, you may be interested in a kinesiology program.

Kinesiology is the study of physical activity and the way this activity affects personal health, quality of life, and athletic performance. Kinesiologists see the body as a fascinating machine, and they are experts in analyzing, fixing, and fine-tuning its movement. They work with general populations to treat and prevent disease through exercise interventions. They also work with athletes to optimize training and avoid injury.

In this article, we’ll look closer at some of the most popular paths for master’s in kinesiology graduates and lay out some of the skills, education, and certifications needed.

What Can You Do With a Master’s in Kinesiology Degree?

In a kinesiology master’s program, you’ll study human anatomy and physiology, biomechanics, motor control and learning, injury prevention, and sport psychology. You’ll learn how to collect and analyze data, how to apply scientific research to your practice, and how to create evidence-based exercise programs. You’ll also have the option to take electives that expand your understanding of the business dynamics and cultural impacts of exercise and sport.

This broad knowledge base means that kinesiology graduates can apply their skills to a wide range of jobs. For example, the American Kinesiology Association lists nearly 30 kinesiology career options. These range from sport and fitness careers, such as personal trainer or coach, to healthcare careers, such as exercise physiologist or occupational therapist.

Some graduates use their kinesiology master’s to pursue additional advanced education, like medical or physical therapy school. And others help to advance our collective knowledge of human movement by becoming researchers or teachers.

Some roles that especially benefit from an master’s in kinesiology include:

  • Exercise physiologist
  • Kinesiologist
  • Fitness instructor
  • Personal trainer
  • Strength and conditioning coach
  • Sport coach
  • Sport scout
  • Physical therapist (with additional education and training)
  • Occupational therapist (with additional education and training)

Master’s in Kinesiology Careers

Kinesiology jobs involve utilizing movement to help people achieve their physical goals. Your clients or patients might be professional and amateur athletes, non-athlete professionals whose jobs involve a lot of physical activity, or people who want to improve their health.

A master’s degree is becoming an increasingly common requirement for employment, and the healthcare and fitness industries are no exception. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that the best job prospects are for those with increased levels of formal education.

Exercise Physiologist or Kinesiologist: Job Description and Certifications

Projected growth: 10% over 10 years

Exercise physiologists and kinesiologists are responsible for developing exercise plans that treat chronic diseases, reduce disease risk, and improve overall health. They work alongside doctors, nurses, dieticians, and physical therapists in a hospital, nursing home, or clinic. Exercise physiologists may also work in health clubs or in corporate wellness settings.

Exercise physiologists can go on to pursue certification through organizations such as the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) or the American Society of Exercise Physiologists. The core courses of a kinesiology master’s align with many of the requirements of these certifications. In the case of the ACSM Exercise Physiologist Certification, a master’s degree cuts in half the number of clinical hours required to qualify.

What’s the Difference Between Exercise Physiologists and Kinesiologists?

Exercise physiology and kinesiology are closely linked, but kinesiology is considered a broader subject area than exercise physiology. Exercise physiology is primarily interested in how the body’s internal systems respond to physical activity, and how that can be improved. Kinesiology is interested in all facets of human response to movement, including biomechanical, psychological, and cultural/societal factors.

In the United States, there is no official distinction between the title of exercise physiologist or kinesiologist. However, some countries do treat these job titles differently. In Canada, for example, Ontario regulates the use of the term kinesiologist.

“Exercise physiologist” is used more than “kinesiologist” in the United States. For instance, the Bureau of Labor Statistics includes an entry for exercise physiologists but not for kinesiologists. And a recent search of U.S. job postings on Lightcast brought up more than 10 times the results for the career title of “exercise physiologist” than for “kinesiologist.”

Because kinesiology education includes the principles of physiology, certain employers consider a kinesiology degree an equivalent qualification. You will find that some universities like the University of Florida combine kinesiology and exercise physiology within the same degree.

Fitness Instructor or Personal Trainer: Job Description and Certifications

Projected growth: 14% over 10 years

Instructors and trainers use cardiovascular exercise, strength training, and stretching to help people reach their health goals. They draw on their knowledge of human anatomy, functional exercise, and basic nutrition and must relay this information to their clients in a way that’s clear and safe. That is why soft skills like communication and customer service are frequently listed in these job postings.

Fitness instructors plan and lead exercise classes, usually within a gym, health club, or other similar location. Instructors need to be able to demonstrate, motivate, and supervise all at once. Instructors may teach a variety of activities or they may specialize in a single sport such as yoga, swimming, or indoor cycling.

Personal trainers work one-on-one with a client. The programs they develop are specific to their client’s abilities and needs. Trainers work in gyms or health clubs, or they might travel to outside sites. They must be able to understand both the fitness needs of their client and the motivational style that works best.

Fitness trainers who pursue higher education have been shown to use more credible, evidence-based practices in their work. And a degree can also help pave the way for certification through the American College of Sports Medicine, the American Council on Exercise, the National Academy of Sports Medicine, the National Strength and Conditioning Association, and others.

Strength and Conditioning Coach: Job Description and Certifications

Projected growth: 9% over 10 years

When an athlete wants to improve their performance in a specific sport, they turn to strength and conditioning coaches. These coaches build training protocols that increase speed, power, and agility. They also supervise athletes as they move through their training, watching out for performance issues or potential injuries. These coaches need an understanding of bioenergetics, biomechanics, cardiopulmonary responses, and skeletal muscle function.

Strength and conditioning coaches may work for specific pro sports teams, for a college or university, or in an independent gym. Increasingly, these coaches also work in high schools or in tactical settings with first responders or military personnel.

According to the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), the competition for even entry-level jobs is tough and recommends that “to be seriously considered for an entry-level coaching position, pursue a graduate degree in a related field.” Coaches can also add additional credentials with an NSCA certification.

Sport Coach: Job Description and Certifications

Projected growth: 9% over 10 years

Coaches oversee the athletic development of a team and propel athletes to perform at their very best. Coaches lead practices and guide athletes during competitions. Because a coach’s duties include analyzing player performance and creating physical training programs, a kinesiology background can be an asset. Leadership and teamwork abilities are also essential, and so it is worthwhile to look for programs that emphasize these aspects in their curriculum.

While some coaches work with professional athletes, the majority work with amateur athletes. In 2019, 75% of all job postings at schools were for positions related to elementary and secondary schools, with colleges and universities coming in at 25%, according to Lightcast. Collegiate-level coaching positions are more likely to list a master’s degree as a requirement.

When it comes to certification, most options are either sport-specific, such as USA Track & Field or United Soccer Coaches, or age-specific, such as the National Federation of State High School Associations.

Scout: Job Description and Certifications

Projected growth: 9% over 10 years

Kinesiology graduates have a deep understanding of human movement and so they know what to look for when judging performance. Scouts use this ability to identify and cultivate athletic talent. They may also work as “advance scouts” and use their expert knowledge of a sport to watch an opposing team’s athletes in order to strategize for an upcoming game.

A scouting career usually involves extensive travel in order to watch prospects participate in their sports. However, scouts are increasingly relying on video analysis, a technique accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Because there are extensive rules around recruiting, scouts need to be up to date on all regulations and be excellent at handling details. Scouting involves meeting new people all the time and building relationships with them, and so communication and sales skills are critical.

The NCAA requires that scouts who recruit for Division I basketball and football teams be certified by the association’s Enforcement Certification and Approvals Group.

A Foundation for Allied Health

Kinesiologists and exercise physiologists are considered part of the allied health professions. These positions serve patients in clinical settings by identifying and treating diseases. An estimated 60% of healthcare providers can be considered allied health professionals. While these roles do not require a doctor of medicine, they do require other specialized degrees and training.

Kinesiology’s scientific basis and in-depth study of the human body can translate to other allied health jobs. While a master’s in kinesiology is not the terminal degree for professions like physical therapy or occupational therapy, the master’s can serve as a stepping stone to these careers. Many courses within a graduate kinesiology program fulfill prerequisites for advanced training. Plus, kinesiology departments can connect their students with relevant internships to help them gain the on-site experience. Successfully completing graduate work also shows that an applicant can handle the rigorousness of these advanced programs.

Physical Therapist: Job Description and Certifications

Projected growth: 15% over 10 years

A physical therapist treats patients who have movement limitations and are experiencing pain or other quality-of-life issues. They help patients perform exercises and use speciality equipment to restore functions. Their workplaces can include hospitals and clinics, athletic departments, gyms, corporate sites, and nursing homes.

You must have a doctor of physical therapy in order to practice physical therapy in the United States. Most of these doctoral programs require applicants to have completed courses in anatomy and physiology, biology, chemistry, physics, and statistics. Many also require observation hours spent in a PT clinic.

Occupational Therapist: Job Description and Certifications

Projected growth: 12% over 10 years

While many kinesiology careers focus on improving athletic activities, occupational therapists are interested in improving everyday activities. Actions such as getting dressed, driving a car, or moving around a store are called occupations, and they can become difficult to navigate with certain conditions or after an injury. Occupational therapists create evidence-based interventions to improve the lives of their patients and their patients’ families. They must have a deep understanding of how bodies respond to movement.

Occupational therapists must be licensed in their state. To qualify for a license, they must graduate from an accredited OT program, complete field work, and pass the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy certification exam.

Kinesiology Career Salaries and Skills

The average master’s in kinesiology salary is more than $50,000, according to PayScale. How much money you can make with a kinesiology degree depends on many factors, but an advanced degree on average can amplify your earning power: exercise physiologists with a master’s degree make 18% more overall than those with a bachelor’s alone, coaches and scouts make 43.7% more, and fitness trainers make 35.8% more, according to Lightcast.

Exercise physiologist/kinesiologist

Median salary with master’s degree: $64,800
Specialized skills: Advanced cardiac life support, electrocardiogram, patient care, physiology, rehabilitation, treatment planning
Other skills: Communication skills, critical thinking, mentoring, physical abilities, teamwork and collaboration, research

Fitness instructor

Median salary with master’s degree: $64,900
Specialized skills: Aerobics, automated external defibrillation, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, client retention, customer service, teaching
Other skills: Building effective relationships, communication skills, creativity, physical abilities, positive disposition, teamwork and collaboration

Personal trainer

Median salary with master’s degree: $59,000
Specialized skills: Aerobics, automated external defibrillation, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, client retention, customer service, teaching
Other skills: Communication skills, goal setting, organizational skills, physical abilities, research, teamwork and collaboration

Strength and conditioning coach

Median salary with master’s degree: $63,808
Specialized skills: Analysis, automated external defibrillation, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, injury prevention, rehabilitation, training programs
Other skills: Communication skills, motivational skills, organizational skills, physical abilities, planning, teamwork and collaboration

Sport Coach

Median salary with master’s degree: $62,800
Specialized skills: Budgeting, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, concussion diagnosis and treatment, fundraising, scheduling, teaching
Other skills: Building effective relationships, communication skills, organizational skills, physical abilities, problem solving, teamwork and collaboration

Sport Scout

Median salary across all degrees: $62,800
Specialized skills: Budgeting, contract negotiation, recruiting, sales, social media, spreadsheets
Other skills: Communication skills, creativity, organizational skills, persuasian, research, time management

Physical therapist

Median salary with master’s degree: $95,600
Specialized skills: Cardiopulmonary resuscitation, patient care, patient/family education, rehabilitation, therapy, treatment planning
Other skills: Communication skills, physical abilities, planning, teamwork and collaboration, time management, written communication

Occupational therapist

Median salary with master’s degree: $91,400
Specialized skills: Cardiopulmonary resuscitation, home health, patient care, patient/family education, rehabilitation, treatment planning
Other skills: Communication skills, organizational skills, physical abilities, problem solving, teamwork and collaboration, written communication

Source: Lightcast, NSCA (strength and conditioning coach entry)

Benefits of a Master’s Degree in Kinesiology

Reach Higher Career Levels

A master’s degree can help you make the leap to a management-level position, allowing you to have greater input in your organization’s programming and direction. In addition, director-level jobs in the areas of exercise physiology, personal training, and coaching that require a master’s degree pay 40.6% more than those that do not require a master’s, according to the jobs and labor database Lightcast.

Expand Your Skills

If you are a professional who needs additional skills to further your career, or if you have finished an undergraduate degree and want to learn advanced techniques, a master’s program allows you to take your knowledge to the next level. You can go further in your understanding of physiology, biomechanics, injury prevention, and exercise/sport psychology. And you can learn the latest technologies and techniques for measurement and assessment.

Many professionals who are working full-time opt for an online kinesiology degree program that offers classes in the evenings or asynchronously, meaning the material can be viewed at any time. These courses are taught by the same faculty members that teach on campus and the format opens up the chance to connect with students across the country.

Extend Your Network

As many as 80% of job seekers find their next role through networking. And an estimated 70% of open positions are unpublished. A kinesiology graduate program lets you build your professional network. You’ll be able to connect with expert faculty and work alongside other students who share your passion for sport and fitness. Your school can also help you secure internships, find relevant job openings, or meet alumni.

Switch Careers

If you’d like to move into the sport and exercise field, or switch jobs within, a master’s can be your springboard into a new career.

While most programs require certain prerequisite classes, not all require a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology or exercise science. For example, the University of Florida’s M.S. in Applied Physiology and Kinesiology is open to applicants who have completed any type of bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited school.

No matter the degree, an underlying command of science and a commitment to learning about human performance is a must.

UF’s Master of Science in Applied Physiology and Kinesiology

University of Florida offers a top-rated, 100% online kinesiology and physiology master’s degree that builds practical skills for exercise, sport, and health careers. The human performance concentration emphasizes the use of science-backed research and advanced data collection to improve the lives of clients and patients.

This is a career-ready degree. Students will be able to take the techniques they learn in class and immediately apply them to their workplaces. The online master’s degree includes core courses in movement, behavior, conditioning, sport nutrition, and research. UF is the only graduate program to offer online courses in athlete development, ergogenic aids, and corrective exercise training.

Full-time students can complete the degree in as little as a year and part-time students can finish in 1.5 years.

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