One of the lessons of lockdown in 2020 and 2021 has been the importance of fitness. As a result, people looking for a career change are looking at kinesiology and exercise science as a future. An associate’s degree in exercise science and kinesiology can be a fast, low-cost way to start a great career.
What is Kinesiology and Exercise Science?
The field of kinesiology refers to the broad study of movement, performance, and function – and how these factors impact one’s overall health. Kinesiology is defined as the academic discipline and study of how physical activity impacts one life and health.
Exercise science focuses on the many underlying mechanisms that impact exercise, plus how humans adapt and respond to exercise. The simplest way to understand the answer to the question – What is exercise science and kinesiology? – is to define their differences.
What is the Difference Between Kinesiology and Exercise Science?
The field of exercise science is typically considered a subfield of the broader field of kinesiology. Exercise science focuses on the impact and changes to the human body when exercising (often in terms of one’s health), whereas kinesiology focuses on the various aspects of mechanics in motion and movement.
Both kinesiology and its sub-subject exercise science offer a wide variety of appealing occupations, especially to those who have already enjoyed (and understood) the benefits of an active lifestyle. And, while both kinesiology and exercise science are similar – in that they focus on performance & exercise, the two fields have definite distinctions that students should understand. In understanding the nuances of each occupation, one can best determine the academic path to reach their goals.
Accreditation for Exercise Science & Kinesiology
Selecting the right academic college degree in exercise science or kinesiology is a life-impacting choice. But how does a student decide which exercise science/kinesiology associate-level program is the right choice and worthy of the cost of obtaining the degree?
The most direct way to determine the quality of the post-secondary education quality is to determine if the school or the program has been regionally or specialized accreditation. The process of accreditation denotes if the academic degree or higher learning institution has met the educational standards as established by the federal government – at the federal level or a sanctioned accrediting agency at the industry level. Accreditation reviews the school or program – include academic, competency curriculum, and faculty (among others) discovery, and if the program/school meets the criteria, it is awarded accreditation.
The process of regional accreditation is recognized among the oldest of accrediting agencies across the nation. The United States regional accreditation is divided into six agencies based on their location within the country. The purpose of these CHEA-overseen agencies (Council for Higher Education Accreditation) is to review and issue accreditation to the entire institution of higher education, rather than schools/colleges within the university/college or the programs offered.
A United States Department of Education (USDE) regionally accredited school offers each student a level of certainty they need if they plan to transfer credits to another school or want to earn a more advanced degree after completing their current academic degree.
Specific degree programs, like an associate degree in exercise science and kinesiology that have been voluntarily awarded specialized accreditation, offer students an important assurance as to the academic degree program’s standards when compared to a set of established criteria relative to these specialties. In the world of accreditation for exercise science and kinesiology, the Committee on Accreditation for the Exercise Sciences (CoAES) is the primary agency tasked with the responsibility of accrediting programs at the associate, baccalaureate, and master’s degree levels, plus several international programs.
The Committee on Accreditation for the Exercise Sciences (CoAES)
Established in 2004, the CoAES works under the auspices of the largest agency that that accredits allied health academic degrees – CAAHEP, which is the acronym for the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs. The Committee on Accreditation for the Exercise Sciences seeks to set the industry standards for students preparing for careers in the health, exercise, and fitness industries. The Committee on Accreditation for the Exercise Sciences accredits both departments and programs related to exercise science, kinesiology, and physical education, among others.
Students seeking a career in exercise science or kinesiology should determine if the program and school of interest have been awarded accreditation either regionally or through a specialized accreditation agency.
Types of Exercise Science and Kinesiology Associate’s Degree Programs
Those interested in studying for an associate’s degree in exercise science or an associate’s degree in kinesiology are likely interested in pursuing a career in fitness, health awareness, physical education, or sports management, among others.
An associate degree in kinesiology and exercise science on-campus or an associate’s degree in exercise science online is a great option for those who wish to find an entry-level position in a career related to kinesiology or exercise science. An on-campus or online associate’s degree in exercise science or kinesiology typically takes about one to two years to complete, depending on the student’s course load. Schools that offer kinesiology and exercise science associates degree programs provide degree candidates with a comprehensive overview of the fundamental principles of –
- Movement and movement’s function
- The Biomechanics of Movement
- Basic Health Education
- Muscle structure
- Introduction to Kinetics
- Human Anatomy & Physiology
- Introduction to Athletic Training
- Introduction to Nutrition
- Exercise Physiology
Degree candidates who have completed an associate’s degree in exercise science or an associate’s degree in kinesiology spend their days evaluating client injuries and developing rehab programs to help heal those injuries. Graduates from online exercise science associate’s degree programs will also implement assessments for client fitness and then develop programs to improve their fitness and help prevent future injuries. Those who have earned a kinesiology associate’s degree or an exercise science associate degree online may also choose to specialize in other subtopics of weight loss or strength training, to name a few.
Graduates of on-campus or online exercise science associates degree programs enter the workforce as fitness instructors, consultants, or personal trainers, among others. Exercise science associates degree online program grads may also choose a career as a high school coach, or physical/massage therapist, which requires additional training.
Entry-level positions available in the field of exercise science often include assistantships to professionals during which individuals gain hands-on experience working directly with clients under the supervision of more experienced exercise science professionals.
Many exercise science associate’s degree online graduates choose to pursue their baccalaureate degree in a variety of fields that may include –
- Physical Education
- Dance Instructor
- Health Administration
- Physical Therapy Assisting
- Health Education
- Health Policymaking
- Mental Health Services
- Massage Therapy
- Sports Management
Additionally, many further their education by eventually earning a master’s or doctorate degree in occupational/physical therapy, managers at fitness centers, or athletic directors, among others. And it is noted that many exercise science occupations – especially those related to kinesiology may require a license, with requirements dictated at the state level.
Kinesiology & Exercise Science Certification and License Options
In the world of exercise science, the process of certification offers a wide variety of specialties. The various opportunities discussed below allow students to further specialize in either an exercise technique or a specific population.
The National Strength & Conditioning Association (NSCA)
The National Strength and Condition Association seeks to advance the profession and professionals working in the strength and conditioning industry. The NSCA offers a variety of exercise science certificate options, which are detailed below.
The National Strength and Condition Association offers its version of an exercise science certification as a Certified Personal Trainer (NSCA – CPT®), which only requires that applicants hold a high school diploma (or its equivalent), be a minimum of 18 years of age, and have been certified in CPR and AED training. Professionals who hold the CPT certificate in exercise science educate and motivate clients to help improve their fitness and overall health. Those who hold an NSCA – CPT designation are also trained to respond to medical emergencies.
Additionally, the National Strength and Condition Association offers an exercise science certification – the Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (NSCA – CSCS®) for those who wish to apply scientific knowledge in the training of athletes to improve their performance. This exercise science certificate requires applicants to be AED/CPR certified and to hold a baccalaureate degree from an accredited higher learning institution.
For exercise science professionals who wish to physically train emergency personnel, the NSCA, since 2012, offers the Tactical Strength and Conditioning Facilitator certificate in exercise science (TSAC -F ®). Those who hold a TSAC-F credential are skilled at strength training and conditions programs for law enforcement and other protective and first responder services.
Another exercise science certification available by the National Strength and Condition Association is the Certified Special Population Specialist (NSCA – CSPS®) designation, which offers professionals an exercise science certificate online and the skills to train specialized portions of the general population with regard to their fitness/health needs. Certified Special Population Specialists (CSPS) are equipped to prepare effective and safe programs to help clients meet their fitness and health goals.
The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM)
Another professional organization that offers kinesiology and exercise science certification programs is the American College of Sports Medicine.
The Certified Exercise Physiologist (ACSM – EP-C)
The Certified Exercise Physiologist possesses advanced skills in the interpretation of physical fitness and related assessments and the development of exercise plans for physically challenged and healthy individuals. Emergency response certifications are required, as is a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology or exercise physiology.
The Certified Group Exercise Instructor (ACSM – GEI)
This exercise science certification is ideal for those individuals who enjoy motivating and teaching others in group environments, plus support outside the classroom. Certified Group Exercise Instructor professionals employ motivational and educational techniques that help create positive experiences.
The Certified Clinical Exercise Physiologist (ACSM – CEP)
Those who hold the Certified Clinical Exercise Physiologist designation from the American College of Sports Medicine seek to improve their client’s life on a daily basis. Their ultimate goal is to increase a client’s likelihood (those challenged with pulmonary, metabolic, or cardiovascular disorders) of independence from a social and physical perspective. Applicants for this credential must hold a minimum of a baccalaureate degree, plus relevant clinical or hands-on experience.
The Registered Clinical Exercise Physiologist (ACSM – RCEP)
The Registered Clinical Exercise Physiologist credential is offered by the CEPA (the Clinical Exercise Physiology Association), which is an affiliate of the American College of Sports Medicine. Those who hold this designation work within a team of healthcare professionals that work together to oversee the programs for individuals afflicted with specific disorders or physically limited. Applicants for this designation must possess a master’s level degree in a specific related field.
The Certified Inclusive Fitness Trainer (ACSM – CIFT)
Certified Inclusive Fitness Trainers are professionals who possess unique skills as they work with individuals with physical limitations or other health risks. The CIFT credential has been created in conjunction with the National Center on Health, Physical Activity, and Disability, with a comprehensive requirement of understanding the policies that align with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Careers in Exercise Science and Kinesiology
Are you seriously considering one of the various careers in exercise science and kinesiology? If so, it is important to be certain to understand the answers to these important questions regarding exercise science and kinesiology jobs and occupations.
- What Can I Do With an Associates’s Degree in Exercise Science?
- Are there exercise science associate’s degree jobs available that meet your salary expectations?
- What kinds of associate’s degree in exercise science jobs are available in your area?
- Where can I locate a list of careers in kinesiology and exercise science?
Those who graduate with an associate’s degree in exercise science or kinesiology will soon realize that there are a wide variety of available jobs in kinesiology and exercise science. Graduates with associate level degrees will find entry-level kinesiology and exercise science jobs that offer many opportunities.
Exercise Science and Kinesiology Jobs
Graduates of associate degree programs in exercise science/kinesiology will find various and assorted kinesiology and exercise science jobs as follows –
- Personal Trainers
- Athletic Class Leaders
- Fitness instructors
- Fitness Consultants
- Massage Therapists
Many graduates who hold an exercise science associate’s degree choose to pursue a baccalaureate degree as the options, responsibilities, and compensation all improve for the jobs in kinesiology and exercise science available to professionals with more advanced degrees. Physical therapy, nutrition, and other higher-order careers can start with an associate’s in kinesiology.
Kinesiology and Exercise Science Salary Data
In 2019, there were nearly 375,000 fitness trainers and instructors working in the United States. According to the federal government’s BLS, the median annual salary for fitness trainers and instructors in 2020 was $40,510, which translates to $19.48 per hour. In addition, the statisticians at the BLS anticipate the job growth for these professions to grow at a rate of 15% through 2029 – a job growth rate that is significantly faster than the average of all occupations/jobs combined in the United States. As companies and organizations across the country recognize the benefits afforded to those who participate in health and fitness programs, the need for fitness trainers & instructors will continue to outpace the average of other jobs.
To fully understand the compensation for exercise science majors, review the percentile wages for exercise trainers or group fitness instructors –
|Percentile||Associates Degree in Exercise Science Salary|
|10%||$21,640 per year|
|25%||$27,840 per year|
|Median – 50%||$40,510 per year|
|75%||$57,490 per year|
|90%||$76,550 per year|
|State||Kinesiology and Exercise Science Salary|
|Connecticut||$63,140 per year|
|Vermont||$58,580 per year|
|Washington, DC||$57,790 per year|
|New Jersey||$56,980 per year|
|Washington||$55,110 per year|
|State||Number of Positions||Kinesiology and Exercise Science Salary|
|California||32,390||$54,770 per year|
|Texas||17,970||$43,200 per year|
|New York||16,310||$53,710 per year|
|Florida||13,920||$28,470 per year|
|Illinois||12,120||$47,610 per year|
|State||Kinesiology and Exercise Science Salary|
|New Haven, CT||$81,080 per year|
|Charleston Area, SC||$73,190 per year|
|Modesta, CA||$68,390 per year|
|Bridgeport/Norwalk/Stamford, CT||$65,590 per year|
|Ventura – Thousand Oaks, CA||$64,590 per year|
|San Jose – Sunnyvale, CA||$ 64,210 per year|
|Burlington Vicinity, VT||$63,410 per year|
|San Francisco – Oakland, CA||$62,930 per year|
|Salinas, CA||$62,500 per year|
|Santa Rosa, CA||$50,740 per year|
|State||Kinesiology and Exercise Science Salary|
|NE South Carolina Non-Metro Area||$59,900 per year|
|N Missouri Non-Metro Area||$53,520 per year|
|NY Capital Region Non-Metro Area||$53,440 per year|
|Nevada Non-Metro Area||$53,220 per year|
|Southern Vermont Non-Metro Area||$51,690 per year|
Professional Organizations in Exercise Science and Kinesiology
Professional organizations are created by industry professionals and experts as a voice of advocacy and support for the companies and professionals working in the industry. For professionals in the kinesiology and exercise science, there are many professional organizations from which to select that will help bolster one’s career as professional organizations offer –
- Job Boards
- Networking Opportunities
- Continuing Education
- Publications & Other Resources
- Awards & Recognition
- National and Regional Conferences/Seminars
- Advocacy and support, to name a few.
While many memberships require annual dues, the available benefits far exceed the financial commitment required by the professional organizations. Exercise science and kinesiology professionals have these organizations to consider –
The AKA was established to promote and enhance the profession of kinesiology. It offers a variety of professional benefits to its members that include access to publications, events and services, and a comprehensive career center. The AKA offers a variety of levels of members and offers several awards to deserving recipients.
As a voice and advocate for the kinesiotherapy profession, the American Kinesiotherapy Association seeks to improve the standards of care through education opportunities and legislative endorsements. This association is an affiliate organization of the AKA.
The American Society of Biomechanics (ASB)
Established during the 1970s, the ASB is comprised of hundreds of nationwide members that include clinicians, scientists, researchers, faculty, and students on a mission to increase access to accurate information regarding health science, exercise science, and ergonomics, to name a few. The ASB offers both professional memberships and those available at a reduced cost for students who wish to join.
The ACSM is recognized as the world’s largest organization dedicated to the professions of exercise science and sports medicine. At present, the American College of Sports Medicine is more than 50,000 members strong across the globe. ACSM’s ethos is concerned with the integration/advancement of scientific research in the provision of education and practical applications in the fields of sports medicine, kinesiology, and exercise science. The ACSM offers three tiers of membership – for students, a basic professional membership, and a premium professional membership.
Established in the early 1950s, the National Athletic Trainers’ Association is a professional organization with a worldwide membership that exceeds 34,500 members. The National Athletic Trainers’ Association’s mission to enhance the quality of care provided to clients/patients by athletic trainers by advancing the profession overall. The NATA offers two tiers of membership – one for students and professional membership for non-students.
For exercise science students and professional degree holders interested in a career as a physical therapist, the APTA is a great option. The American Physical Therapy Association has nearly 100,000 members that include physical therapists, assistants, and students. The American Physical Therapy Association’s cost of membership starts at approximately $80 per year.
The National Academy of Kinesiology (NAK)
Established as an affiliate of the AKA, the National Academy of Kinesiology is recognized as an honorary organization of those individuals and professionals who have made significant contributions to areas of physical education and kinesiology. Members work to promote education opportunities to the science of physical activity and human movement. In nearly 100 years, the National Academy of Kinesiology has had more than 475 members, with more than 130 members currently active.