This article is about the scientific study of human movement. For the alternative medicine technique, see Applied kinesiology.
A series of images that represent research (left) and practice (right) in the field of kinesiology.

Kinesiology is a scientific study of human or non-human body movement. Kinesiology addresses physiological, biomechanical, and psychological mechanisms of movement. Applications of kinesiology to human health (i.e. human Kinesiology) include biomechanics and orthopedics; strength and conditioning; sport psychology; methods of rehabilitation, such as physical and occupational therapy; and sport and exercise. Studies of human and animal motion include measures from motion tracking systems, electrophysiology of muscle and brain activity, various methods for monitoring physiological function, and other behavioral and cognitive research techniques.[1][2]

Kinesiology as described above should not be confused with applied kinesiology, a controversial[3][4][5] medical diagnostic method.

The word comes from the Greek κίνησις kinesis, "movement" (itself from κινεῖν kinein, "to move"), and -λογία -logia, "study".


Kinesiology is the study of human and nonhuman animal-body movements, performance, and function by applying the sciences of biomechanics, anatomy, physiology, psychology, and neuroscience. Applications of kinesiology in human-health include physical education teacher, the rehabilitation professions, such as physical and occupational therapy, as well as applications in the sport and exercise industries. Kinesiology is a field of scientific study, and does not prepare individuals for clinical practice. A bachelor's degree in kinesiology can provide strong preparation for graduate study in biomedical research, as well as in professional programs, such as allied health and medicine.

Whereas the term "kinesiologist" is neither a licensed nor professional designation in the United States nor most countries (with the exception of Canada), individuals with training in this area can teach physical education, provide consulting services, conduct research and develop policies related to rehabilitation, human motor performance, ergonomics, and occupational health and safety. In North America, kinesiologists may study to earn a Bachelor of Science, Master of Science, or Doctorate of Philosophy degree in Kinesiology or a Bachelor of Kinesiology degree, while in Australia or New Zealand, they are often conferred an Applied Science (Human Movement) degree (or higher). Many doctoral level faculty in North American kinesiology programs received their doctoral training in related disciplines, such as neuroscience, mechanical engineering, psychology, and physiology.

The world's first kinesiology department was launched in 1967 at the University of Waterloo, Canada.[6]


Adaptation through exercise

Summary of long-term adaptations to regular aerobic and anaerobic exercise. Aerobic exercise can cause several central cardiovascular adaptations, including an increase in stroke volume (SV)[7] and maximal aerobic capacity (VO2 max),[7][8] as well as a decrease in resting heart rate (RHR).[9][10][11] Long-term adaptations to resistance training, the most common form of anaerobic exercise, include muscular hypertrophy,[12][13] an increase in the physiological cross-sectional area (PCSA) of muscle(s), and an increase in neural drive,[14][15] both of which lead to increased muscular strength.[16] Neural adaptations begin more quickly and plateau prior to the hypertrophic response.[17][18]

Adaptation through exercise is a key principle of kinesiology that relates to improved fitness in athletes as well as health and wellness in clinical populations. Exercise is a simple and established intervention for many movement disorders and musculoskeletal conditions due to the neuroplasticity of the brain[19] and the adaptability of the musculoskeletal system.[14][15][16] Therapeutic exercise has been shown to improve neuromotor control and motor capabilities in both normal[20] and pathological populations.[8][21]

There are many different types of exercise interventions that can be applied in kinesiology to athletic, normal, and clinical populations. Aerobic exercise interventions help to improve cardiovascular endurance.[22] Anaerobic strength training programs can increase muscular strength,[15] power,[23] and lean body mass.[24] Decreased risk of falls and increased neuromuscular control can be attributed to balance intervention programs.[25] Flexibility programs can increase functional range of motion and reduce the risk of injury.[26]

As a whole, exercise programs can reduce symptoms of depression[27] and risk of cardiovascular[28] and metabolic diseases.[29] Additionally, they can help to improve quality of life,[30] sleeping habits,[27] immune system function,[31] and body composition.[32]

The study of the physiological responses to physical exercise and their therapeutic applications is known as exercise physiology, which is an important area of research within kinesiology.


Adaptive plasticity along with practice in three levels. In behavior level, performance (e.g., successful rate, accuracy) improved after practice.[33][34] In cortical level, motor representation areas of the acting muscles enlarged; functional connectivity between primary motor cortex (M1) and supplementary motor area (SMA) is strengthened.[35][36][37][38][39][40][41] In neuronal level, the number of dendrites and neurotransmitter increase with practice.[36][42][43]

Neuroplasticity is also a key scientific principle used in kinesiology to describe how movement and changes in the brain are related. The human brain adapts and acquires new motor skills based on this principle, which includes both adaptive and maladaptive brain changes.

Adaptive plasticity

Recent empirical evidence indicates the significant impact of physical activity on brain function; for example, greater amounts of physical activity are associated with enhanced cognitive function in older adults.[44] The effects of physical activity can be distributed throughout the whole brain, such as higher gray matter density and white matter integrity after exercise training,[45][46] and/or on specific brain areas, such as greater activation in prefrontal cortex and hippocampus.[47] Neuroplasticity is also the underlying mechanism of skill acquisition. For example, after long-term training, pianists showed greater gray matter density in sensorimotor cortex and white matter integrity in the internal capsule compared to non-musicians.[48][49]

Maladaptive plasticity

Maladaptive plasticity is defined as neuroplasticity with negative effects or detrimental consequences in behavior.[50][51] Movement abnormalities may occur among individuals with and without brain injuries due to abnormal remodeling in central nervous system.[38][52] Learned non-use is an example commonly seen among patients with brain damage, such as stroke. Patients with stroke learned to suppress paretic limb movement after unsuccessful experience in paretic hand use; this may cause decreased neuronal activation at adjacent areas of the infarcted motor cortex.[53][54]

There are many types of therapies that are designed to overcome maladaptive plasticity in clinic and research, such as constraint-induced movement therapy (CIMT), body weight support treadmill training (BWSTT) and virtual reality therapy. These interventions are shown to enhance motor function in paretic limbs [55][56][57] and stimulate cortical reorganization[58][59][60] in patients with brain damage.

Motor redundancy

Animation illustrating the concept of motor redundancy: the motor action of bringing the finger in contact with a point in space can be achieved using a wide variety of limb configurations.

Motor redundancy is a widely used concept in kinesiology and motor control which states that, for any task the human body can perform, there are effectively an unlimited number of ways the nervous system could achieve that task.[61] This redundancy appears at multiple levels in the chain of motor execution:

The concept of motor redundancy is explored in numerous studies,[62][63][64] usually with the goal of describing the relative contribution of a set of motor elements (e.g. muscles) in various human movements, and how these contributions can be predicted from a comprehensive theory. Two distinct (but not incompatible) theories have emerged for how the nervous system coordinates redundant elements: simplification and optimization. In the simplification theory, complex movements and muscle actions are constructed from simpler ones, often known as primitives or synergies, resulting in a simpler system for the brain to control.[65][66] In the optimization theory, motor actions arise from the minimization of a control parameter,[64] such as the energetic cost of movement or errors in movement performance.[67]

Scope of practice

In Canada, kinesiology is a professional designation as well as an area of study.[68] In the province of Ontario the scope has been officially defined as, "the assessment of human movement and performance and its rehabilitation and management to maintain, rehabilitate or enhance movement and performance" [69]

Kinesiologists work in a variety of roles as health professionals. They work as rehabilitation providers in hospitals, clinics and private settings working with populations needing care for musculoskeletal, cardiac and neurological conditions. They provide rehabilitation to persons injured at work and in vehicular accidents. Kinesiologists also work as functional assessment specialists, exercise therapists, ergonomists, return to work specialists, case managers and medical legal evaluators. They can be found in hospital, long term care, clinic, work, and community settings.[70] Additionally, kinesiology is applied in areas of health and fitness for all levels of athletes, but more often found with training of elite athletes. All too often biomechanical analysis focuses on the kinetic energy or the working numbers in execution of technique. More emphasis should be placed on muscle and joints as they are involved in the action and the role they play in execution of the technique is critical.[71]

Licensing and regulation


In Canada, Kinesiology has been designated a regulated health profession in Ontario only.[72] Kinesiology was granted the right to regulate in the province of Ontario in the summer of 2007[73] and similar proposals have been made for other provinces. The College of Kinesiologists of Ontario ( achieved proclamation on April 1, 2013, at which time the professional title "Kinesiologist" became protected by law. In Ontario only members of the college may call themselves a Registered Kinesiologist. Individuals who have earned degrees in kinesiology can work in research, the fitness industry, clinical settings, and in industrial environments.[74]

Health service

The analysis of recorded human movement, as pioneered by Eadweard Muybridge, figures prominently in kinesiology.
Kinesiologists working in the health promotion industry work with individuals to enhance the health, fitness, and well-being of the individual. Kinesiologists can be found working in fitness facilities, personal training/corporate wellness facilities, and industry.
Kinesiologists work with individuals with disabling conditions to assist in regaining their optimal physical function. They work with individuals in their home, fitness facilities, rehabilitation clinics, and at the worksite. They also work alongside physiotherapists and occupational therapists.
Kinesiologists work in industry to assess suitability of design of workstations and provide suggestions for modifications and assistive devices.
Kinesiologists are involved in consulting with industry to identify hazards and provide recommendations and solutions to optimize the health and safety of workers.
Kinesiologists recommend and provide a plan of action to return an injured individual to their optimal function in all aspects of life.
Kinesiologists frequently fulfill roles in all above areas, perform research, and manage businesses.[75]
Kinesiologists working in health education teach people about behaviors that promote wellness. They develop and implement strategies to improve the health of individuals and communities. Community health workers collect data and discuss health concerns with members of specific populations or communities.[76]
Kinesiologists working in athletic training work in cooperation with physicians. Athletic trainers strive to prevent athletes from suffering injuries, diagnose them if they have suffered an injury and apply the appropriate treatment.[77]
Kinesiologists who pursue a career as an athletic coach develop new talent and guide an athlete's progress in a specific sport. They teach amateur or professional athletes the skills they need to succeed at their sport. Many coaches are also involved in scouting. Scouts look for new players and evaluate their skills and likelihood for success at the college, amateur, or professional level.[78]
Kinesiologists working as physical education teachers are responsible for teaching fitness, sports and health. They help students stay both mentally and physically fit by teaching them to make healthy choices.[79]

See also


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