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A series of images that represent research (left) and practice (right) in the field of kinesiology.

Kinesiology, also known as human kinetics, is the scientific study of human movement. Kinesiology addresses physiological, mechanical, and psychological mechanisms. Applications of kinesiology to human health include: biomechanics and orthopedics; strength and conditioning; sport psychology; methods of rehabilitation, such as physical and occupational therapy; and sport and exercise.[1] Individuals who have earned degrees in kinesiology can work in research, the fitness industry, clinical settings, and in industrial environments.[2] 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.[3][4]

Kinesiology as described above should not be confused with applied kinesiology, a controversial[5][6][7] medical diagnostic method.

The word comes from the Greek word kinein, to move.


Kinesiology is the study of human and animal movement, 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.[8]


Adaptation Through Exercise

Summary of adaptations to long-term aerobic and anaerobic exercise. Aerobic exercise can cause several central cardiovascular adaptations, including an increase in stroke volume (SV)[9] and maximal aerobic capacity (VO2 Max),[9][10] as well as a decrease in resting heart rate (RHR).[11][12][13] Long-term adaptations to resistance training, the most common form of anaerobic exercise, include muscular hypertrophy,[14][15] an increase in the physiologic cross-sectional area (PCSA) of (a) muscle(s), and an increase in neural drive,[16][17] both of which lead to increased muscular strength.[18] Notice that the neural adaptation begins more quickly and plateaus prior to the hypertrophic response.[19][20]

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[21] and the adaptability of the musculoskeletal system.[16][17][18] Therapeutic exercise has been shown to improve neuromotor control and motor capabilities in both normal[22] and pathological populations.[10][23]

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.[24] Anaerobic strength training programs can increase muscular strength,[17] power,[25] and lean body mass.[26] Decreased risk of falls and increased neuromuscular control can be attributed to balance intervention programs.[27] Flexibility programs can increase functional range of motion and reduce the risk of injury.[28]

As a whole, exercise programs can reduce symptoms of depression[29] and risk of cardiovascular[30] and metabolic diseases.[31] Additionally, they can help to improve quality of life,[32] sleeping habits,[29] immune system function,[33] and body composition.[26]

Finally, the study of the physiologic responses to physical exercise and their therapeutic applications is known as exercise physiology, which is a major research focus within kinesiology.


Adaptive plasticity along with practice in three levels. In behavior level, performance (e.g., successful rate, accuracy) improved after practice.[34][35] 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.[36][37][38][39][40][41][42] In neuronal level, the number of dendrites and neurotransmitter increase with practice.[37][43][44]

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.[45] 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,[46][47] and/or on specific brain areas, such as greater activation in prefrontal cortex and hippocampus.[48] 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.[49][50]

Mal-Adaptive Plasticity

Maladaptive plasticity is defined as the neuroplasticity with negative effects or detrimental consequences in behavior.[51][52] Movement abnormalities may occur among individuals with and without brain injuries due to abnormal remodeling in central nervous system.[39][53] 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.[54][55]

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 [56][57][58] and stimulate cortical reorganization[59][60][61] in patients with brain damage.

Motor Redundancy

Animation illustrating the concept of motor redundancy: the motor action of bring 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.[62] This redundancy appears at multiple levels in the chain of motor execution:

  • Kinematic redundancy means that for a desired location of the endpoint (e.g. the hand or finger), there are many configurations of the joints that would produce the same endpoint location in space.
  • Muscle redundancy means that the same net joint torque could be generated by many different relative contributions of individual muscles.
  • Motor unit redundancy means that for the same net muscle force could be generated by many different relative contributions of motor units within that muscle.

The concept of motor redundancy is explored in numerous studies,[63][64][65] 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.[66][67] In the optimization theory, motor actions arise from the minimization of a control parameter,[65] such as the energetic cost of movement or errors in movement performance.[68]

Scope of practice

In most countries, kinesiology refers to an area of study and is not associated with a professional designation.[citation needed] In Canada, kinesiology is a professional designation associated with the assessment of movement, performance, and function; and the rehabilitation, prevention, and management of disorders to maintain, rehabilitate, and enhance movement, performance, and function in the areas of sport, recreation, work, exercise, and general activities of daily living.[69]

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.[70]

Licensing and regulation


In Canada, Kinesiology has been designated a regulated health profession in Ontario only[71] Kinesiology was made a regulated health profession in the province of Ontario in the summer of 2007 [72] and similar proposals have been made for other Canadian provinces.

Health service

The analysis of recorded human movement, as pioneered by Eadweard Muybridge, figures prominently in kinesiology.
  • Health Promotion
Kinesiologists working in the health promotion industry focus on working 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.
  • Clinical/Rehabilitation
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.
  • Ergonomics
Kinesiologists work in industry to assess suitability of design of workstations and provide suggestions for modifications and assistive devices.
  • Health and Safety
Kinesiologists are involved in consulting with industry to identify hazards and provide recommendations and solutions to optimize the health and safety of workers.
  • Disability Management/Case Coordination
Kinesiologists recommend and provide a plan of action to return an injured individual to their optimal function in all aspects of life.
  • Management/Research/Administration/Health and Safety
Kinesiologists frequently fulfill roles in all above areas, perform research, and manage businesses.[73]

See also


  1. Bodo Rosenhahn, Reinhard Klette and Dimitris Metaxas (eds.). Human Motion - Understanding, Modelling, Capture and Animation. Volume 36 in 'Computational Imaging and Vision', Springer, Dordrecht, 2007
  2. Ahmed Elgammal, Bodo Rosenhahn, and Reinhard Klette (eds.) Human Motion - Understanding, Modelling, Capture and Animation. 2nd Workshop, in conjunction with ICCV 2007, Rio de Janeiro, Lecture Notes in Computer Science, LNCS 4814, Springer, Berlin, 2007
  4. 9.0 9.1
  5. 10.0 10.1
  6. 16.0 16.1
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  10. 29.0 29.1
  11. 37.0 37.1
  12. 39.0 39.1
  13. 65.0 65.1

External links

  • The dictionary definition of kinesiology at Wiktionary
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