Exercise Kinesiology Careers: Job Description & Salary Information

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Learn about careers in exercise kinesiology. Get job descriptions, salary and education requirement information. Get straight talk about the pros and cons of a career in exercise kinesiology.
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Careers in Exercise Kinesiology

As defined by the American Kinesiology Association (AKA), kinesiology is the study of movement or physical activity. Take a look at the table below to learn more about some common careers in exercise kinesiology: athletic trainer, coach and physical education teacher:

Athletic Trainer Athletic Coach Physical Education Teacher
Career Overview Working in cooperation with physicians, athletic trainers strive to prevent injuries, diagnose them and apply appropriate treatment. A coach develops new talent and guides an athlete's progress in a specific sport Physical education teachers are responsible for teaching fitness, sports and health
Education Requirements At least a bachelor's degree At least a bachelor's degree At least a bachelor's degree
Program Length Four years full time Four years full time Four years full time
Certification and Licensing Certification and licensure required in all or most states Certification generally required in public schools and at a college level Certification or licensure required in public schools, not in private schools
Experience Required None; entry-level None; entry-level None; entry-level
Job Outlook for 2014-2024 Much faster than average (21%)* As fast as average (6%) for coaches and scouts* As fast as average (6%) for all high school teachers*
Mean Salary (2014) $45,730* $39,150 for coaches and scouts* $59,330 for all high school teachers*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Athletic Trainer

Athletic trainers mainly focus on the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of injuries related to sports or movement. Knowledgeable in exercise kinesiology, athletic trainers are healthcare providers who may work with student-athletes, professional athletes or soldiers. They can provide an initial diagnosis and treatment of an injury and refer a patient to a physician. Working under and in cooperation with a physician, they can also apply therapeutic modalities to encourage rehabilitation.


According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and the National Athletic Trainers Association (NATA), you can qualify to become an athletic trainer by earning a bachelor's degree. It's best if your degree is from a program that has been accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education (CAATE). Programs should contain classroom and clinical components and include courses such as physiology, biomechanics and anatomy. The BLS emphasizes that most states require athletic trainers to be certified and/or licensed.

Certification requirements vary by state, though most states insist that you graduate from a CAATE-accredited program and sit for the standard certification examination administered by the NATA Board of Certification, Inc (BOC). The resulting credential is Certified Athletic Trainer (ATC). In addition, you must carry current certification in Emergency Cardiac Care (ECC), which includes CPR and Automated External Defibrillator (AED). National certification is renewable every three years upon the completion of 75 continuing education units.

Below are some examples of what employers were seeking in November 2012:

  • A health system in New York was looking for a full-time athletic trainer who had at least one year of work experience. Candidates were to hold a bachelor's degree and be currently certified in CPR and AED. Candidates were to be licensed or eligible to be licensed by the New York State Department of Education. Candidates were to be certified by NATA-BOC.
  • A community college district in California was seeking to hire a full-time college athletic trainer. Candidates were to hold a bachelor's degree and have at least three years of qualifying work experience. Candidates were to hold CPR and First Aid certificates, in addition to an ATC credential.
  • A California high school wanted to hire a part-time athletic trainer. Candidates were to hold a bachelor's degree and have 1-2 years of qualifying work experience. Candidates were to hold First Aid and CPR cards and ATC certification. The job was 20 hours per week for 36 weeks a year and rotated between all schools in the district. A California driver's license was necessary.

Standing Out

As noted by the BLS, you can broaden your horizons by earning a master's degree. If you want to advance to a position at a college, university or with a professional organization, a master's degree is often required. You may want to consider professional development courses offered through the National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE). Further education can also prepare you for a move up to a position such as head athletic trainer or athletic director. You may also increase your marketability if you earn a teaching certificate.

Athletic Coach

Essentially, a coach is a teacher of a particular sport. In some cases, a position as a coach may be an adjunct to a teaching position. Whether you're a teacher-coach or simply a coach, you're required to have a broad knowledge of your sport and an ability to impart that knowledge to your charges. Some coaching positions, particularly at the assistant level, also require you to act as a scout. As a scout, you may be asked to seek out potential athletes for your team or to conduct reconnaissance and data-gathering missions on upcoming opponents.


The BLS mentions that in order to become a coach at a public secondary school, most school districts require you to hold a bachelor's degree. In addition, if you're hired as a teacher-coach at a public school, you must hold state certification or licensure as a teacher. These requirements don't necessarily hold true for coaching positions at private schools. If you're interested in coaching at the college level, you should hold at least a bachelor's degree.

Depending on the sport, coaching position, state or locality, you may be required to become certified or licensed. For example, in order to become licensed to coach at the public high school level in New York, you must complete approved courses in athletic education principles and philosophy and coaching theory and techniques. You must also hold First Aid and CPR certification. You may also be required to complete courses in health sciences as they apply to coaching, as well as courses in prevention and intervention in cases of child abuse, maltreatment and violence in school settings. Certification courses and examinations are offered through a number of professional organizations such as the United States Sports Academy, the National High School Coaches Association and the National Federation of State High School Associations.

Here's what some employers were looking for in November 2012:

  • A community college in Mississippi was looking for a head football coach. Candidates for this full-time position were to have significant coaching experience, particularly at the community college level. Though applicants holding a bachelor's degree were considered, those holding a master's degree were preferred.
  • A West Virginia college wanted to hire a part-time assistant men's wrestling coach. The position entailed assisting the head wrestling coach in all facets of administrating and managing a NAIA Division I or NCAA Division II wrestling program. Candidates were to hold a bachelor's degree and have two years of collegiate wrestling experience or one year of experience as a wrestling coach.
  • A California community college wanted to hire a part-time head women's volleyball coach. Candidates were to hold a bachelor's degree and have at least two years of professional experience or an associate's degree and six years of professional experience. However, the employer preferred to hire an individual who held a master's degree in exercise science, kinesiology or physical education.

Standing Out

Though schools and organizations have been known to hire coaches based on playing or coaching experience alone, it would be to your advantage and perhaps give you an edge on the competition if you were to hold at least a bachelor's degree. A master's degree would make you stand out more and might serve to enhance your marketability. Certification by any one of a number of professional organizations can stand in testimony to your professionalism and commitment. Completing NASPE professional development courses can also work in your favor.

Physical Education Teacher

Physical education teachers are responsible for instructing students in the areas of health and physical education (PE). At the secondary level, you may have to teach 5-6 PE classes each day. At the elementary level, you may be called on to teach as many as 8-10 PE classes each day, but for a shorter duration. In some high schools, policy may stipulate that you're also responsible for teaching health classes. Depending on the school system, you may be asked to split your teaching schedule between several schools. Like other teachers, you may be detailed for study hall, lunchroom or bus monitoring duty. You may decide or be asked to coach an athletic team. If that's the case, you may be required to become certified as a coach.


A physical education teacher must meet the same requirements as any other teacher. As noted by the BLS, school teachers must hold at least a bachelor's degree. In general, the degree must be in an appropriate major content area. Physical education teachers typically major in an area such as physical education, kinesiology, exercise science or something similar. It can be to your advantage if your program is in compliance with standards that have been set by the NASPE.

Public school teachers must complete a teacher preparation program that contains education courses and a student teaching component. This is required to complete the training necessary for state certification. You'll have to sit for tests that determine your ability in general education and another in your subject area. While private school teachers are not required to be certified, most hold at least a bachelor's degree.

In November 2012, some employers were looking for the following:

  • A residential psychiatric treatment facility in Illinois was looking for a physical education instructor. The full-time position mandated that candidates hold at least a bachelor's degree from an accredited school and have at least two years of experience working with students requiring special education. Candidates were to hold an LBS1 (special education) teaching endorsement and be certified in health science. The employer preferred that candidates hold a state teaching certificate.
  • An intermediate school district in Michigan wanted to hire a full-time physical education teacher. Splitting duties largely between two schools, this instructor was to be responsible for teaching physical education to students with disabilities and those who had been adjudicated. Candidates were to hold a valid state teaching certificate with a physical education endorsement. The employer preferred candidates to hold an additional endorsement in health and to be familiar with special education rules and regulations.
  • A Tennessee youth academy was seeking a full-time physical education teacher. Candidates were to hold at least a bachelor's degree from an accredited school and state teacher certification. Candidates were to have 1-2 years of experience or training or a comparable combination of education and experience. Candidates who held a master's degree with a special education endorsement were preferred.

Standing Out

According to the BLS, some states or school districts insist that you earn a master's degree after having been certified. You may be able to distinguish yourself and increase your marketability by earning a master's degree whether or not your state requires it. You may also enhance your employability by earning endorsements in additional subject areas that may complement your initial endorsement.

If you meet the education and experience requirements, you may want to become a Certified Adapted Physical Educator (CAPE). You can accomplish this by sitting for the national certification examination administered by Adapted Physical Education National Standards (APENS). This certification indicates that you've met national standards and have qualified to adapt physical education training to meet the needs of individuals who have physical or mental disabilities. You can further distinguish yourself by completing NASPE professional development courses.

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