Kinesiologist vs. Personal Trainer: What’s the Difference?

If you're looking to get fit, or you’re an active person and you are recovering from an injury, you may be wondering about the difference between a kinesiologist and a personal trainer. Both professions involve helping people achieve their fitness goals, but there are some key distinctions. 

Personal trainers and kinesiologists have a similar process of assessment, design, implementation, and monitoring of client-tailored exercise programs, but there’s a big difference between the two professions.

The difference becomes very important if you’re seeking sessions and you have a complex injury and underlying health condition. And if you're seeking a professional with a scientific background or specialty like athletic therapy, you need to know how kinesiologists and personal trainers differ.

I own and operate an award winning kinesiology business in Vancouver, BC, helping clients with their fitness and rehab goals. This post follows in out series of what kinesiologists do and how kinesiologists are different from other health professionals.

So far we've explored how a kinesiologist is different from a physiotherapist and a sports medicine physician. In this post we will learn about one of the biggest confusions in the fitness industry, the difference between kinesiologists and personal trainers.

So which one is right for you? Here's a closer look at each profession to help you decide.

What are kinesiologists and personal trainers

These two professions may appear similar so let's explore them both separately.

Personal Trainers develop workout routines

A personal trainer is someone who helps their clients achieve their fitness and body aesthetics goals. Personal trainers typically work with their clients one-on-one, providing guidance and support throughout the client's fitness journey. Their clients benefit from an assessment or physical screen, a planned workout routine, progress monitoring, motivation and accountability.

Personal trainer in a session

In addition to leading sessions, a personal trainer also plays an important role in promoting healthy lifestyle choices. By educating their clients about nutrition and exercise, personal trainers help create lasting behavior changes that lead to better overall health.

Kinesiologists are human movement experts

Kinesiology is the scientific study of human movement and its biological components. A Kinesiologist uses active techniques based on a synthesis of anatomy, exercise physiology, neuroscience, biomechanics and nutrition sciences to improve human function and performance. Kinesiologists treat health and movement issues with the aim of optimizing the body’s potential.

Kinesiologist vs personal trainer: what's the difference?

The three main differences between the two are education, work setting and scope of practice. Personal trainers have a certificate and offer fitness and nutrition training, coaching and advice, whereas kinesiologists have a 4 year degree and work in gym, healthcare, research or office settings.

Education of kinesiologists vs. personal trainers

A personal trainer will normally practice under a certification. Training required in a personal trainer certification program can be weeks or months, depending on the program and the background of the student.

Personal training certifications require members to complete continuing education credits. Topics range from Fitness Theory, Weight Training and specific rehab specializations.

Kinesiologists have a 4 year bachelor’s degree majoring in kinesiology or human kinetics. Major universities offer kinesiology degrees which include courses in anatomy, physiology and biomechanics and provide students with access to research labs and sports facilities for further learning opportunities and certifications.

Continuing education required for kinesiologists include in-services (healthcare focused presentation or workshops), approved courses/conferences and teaching or leading workshops. 

Some examples of continuing education for kinesiologists are Functional Movement Screen (FMS) and Soft Tissue Release (STR). Kinesiologists are also expected to maintain current first aid and CPR certifications. 

To bring it full circle, it’s worth noting that kinesiologists, although it is not necessary due to their scope of practice, commonly hold a personal trainer certificate.

Kinesiologist session rehab vs personal trainer

Scope of Practice of kinesiologists vs. personal trainers

The scope of practice is the work we are ethically allowed to do and best defines how kinesiologists and personal trainers are different. 

The CSEP (Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology) lays out the scope of a personal trainer as conducting screening and assessments for clients as well as the design, implementation, and monitoring of client-tailored exercise programs. A kinesiologist’s scope is more broad and includes athletic therapy, postural assessment, exercise prescription and ergonomics. 

Although a kinesiologist is well prepared to train the general population in fitness, strength and conditioning, they are very adaptable to specific client needs. Kinesiologists are better suited for helping special populations with more complex injuries and underlying health conditions than personal trainers because of their health training and a background in science. 

They address imbalances, injuries and health conditions, cueing clients to follow specific exercises and movements. An important distinction is while personal training is within the scope of practice for a kinesiologist, the reverse is not true.

Work Setting of kinesiologists vs. personal trainers

When you think of a personal trainer, your first thought may be of someone in a gym or a fitness studio working with a client. In fact their contributions extend to community work, providing workshops in conferences like canfitpro, hosting webinars and more. 

Outside personal training session vs kinesiologist

Personal training certification equips a trainer to deliver fitness and nutrition training, coaching and advice in settings like a gym, office place or conference. In contrast, the expertise of a kinesiologist is broad and applies to fitness, healthcare and academic settings. 

In a gym, recreation center or sports facility, kinesiologists work similar to a personal trainer when providing exercise advice and support. The support of a kinesiologist comes with the backing of years of education, so sports teams, health clinics and community centers commonly hire kinesiologists for this very reason.

Kinesiologists also work in hospitals and multidisciplinary clinics alongside other health professionals. They are comfortable working with clients who are experiencing pain, injury or specific health conditions. Within large clinics, kinesiologists collaborate on cases with physiotherapists, doctors and counselors. 

A kinesiologist can deliver advice on office workspaces by providing detailed ergonomics assessments. At insurance companies kinesiologists manage treatment and care of those in need of health coverage. In an academic setting and university labs, kinesiologists contribute to our overall understanding of how the human body moves and community health.

Are kinesiology or personal training regulated

Neither personal trainers or kinesiologists are regulated (except Ontario where kinesiologists are regulated by the College of Kinesiologists of Ontario), meaning there is no law protecting their title and no legislated complaint review for their clients.

Instead, both professions rely on their regional professional associations to set standards, define their scope and handle complaints.

kinesiologist vs personal trainer

Which is better, a kinesiologist or a personal trainer?

It's a difficult question to answer which is better, and entirely dependent on what you’re looking for as a client. The two occupations approach client work differently and it is possible for someone to work with both simultaneously.

Goal setting, motivation and a solid exercise program are the foundation of work with a personal trainer. For anyone looking to get fit, push themselves and stay accountable, training with a personal trainer is a great option. 

A kinesiologist helps anyone from athletes to folks living with underlying health conditions improve their function, mobility or rehab. Kinesiologists address imbalances, injuries and health conditions by leading clients through exercise and movement. 

Kinesiology draws on science and healthcare knowledge to challenge you appropriately, making sure to avoid any set-backs like further aggravating an injury. Expect your kinesiologist to form part of your health team and communicate with your physiotherapist, doctor or other health practitioner to keep you moving forward with your health.

Clients who are dealing with injuries, chronic health conditions, old age, or looking for a science-grounded approach to training, a kinesiologist will help. 

Why would you see a kinesiologist?

Kinesiologist, personal trainers, physiotherapists and sports medicine doctors exist to keep you healthy and moving, but it's the kinesiologists who focus on movement and exercise in your session.

There are so many reasons to see a kinesiologist, after an injury like getting fit or returning to activities you love.  But find out for sure in our recent blog post, why you should see a kinesiologist.

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