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Physical Activity: The Focus of Kinesiology

This is an excerpt from Introduction to Kinesiology 5th Edition With Web Study Guide by Shirl Hoffman & Duane Knudson.

In your college courses, you may have noticed that disciplines are not all learned or studied in the same way. Art, for example, may be studied through reading, writing, and experimentation with studio projects. People learn history, literature, and philosophy largely through reading, writing, memorization, and discussion. The same activities are important when learning chemistry and biology, but these disciplines also involve active participation in laboratory exercises.


People learn kinesiology in three different but related ways (see figure 1.2), one of which is through physical activity experience.Just as students in art and music learn to appreciate their disciplines in part by watching, listening, and performing, you can develop your understanding of kinesiology in part through the direct personal experienceof watching or performing physical activity. A second way of developing an understanding of kinesiology is through scholarship of physical activity. This way of learning involves researching, reading about, studying, and discussing with colleagues both theoretical and practical aspects of physical activity; it also involves laboratory experiences. These forms of study are necessary in order to master the various subjects included in the kinesiology curriculum. Where does the knowledge contained in such subjects come from? Mostly, it comes from work done by people in the field of kinesiology who have developed and added to the knowledge base through systematic research and scholarship. Scholars who conduct research in biomechanics, motor learning, and many other subdisciplines of kinesiology develop important foundational knowledge for the scholarly study of physical activity.


Figure 1.2 Three interrelated sources of knowledge in kinesiology.
Three interrelated sources of knowledge in kinesiology.


A subdiscipline in kinesiology is often related to a broader, more established "parent" discipline, such as psychology, physiology, sociology, biology, history, or philosophy. For instance, exercise physiology draws on basic concepts and theories from physiology, the study of motor behavior draws on psychology, and the philosophy of physical activity draws on the general field of philosophy. These relationships mean that kinesiology students must develop a working knowledge of the language, theories, and conceptual frameworks of a number of major disciplines and learn to apply them to physical activity. Some subdisciplines focus on the effects of physical activity in particular populations, such as older adults, children, or persons affected by disease or disability.


A third way of learning about physical activity is through professional experience in physical activity. Here, the focus is placed not so much on learning to perform physical activity or on learning about it but on learning by designing and implementing physical activity programs for clients in one’s professional practice. For example, professionals such as physical education teachers, personal trainers, and cardiac rehabilitation specialists systematically manipulate the physical activity experiences of students, clients, patients, and others whom they serve in order to help them achieve personal goals.


Knowledge gained through these three sources becomes part of the discipline of kinesiology only when it is embedded in a college or university curriculum in kinesiology or is universally accepted and used by kinesiologists in their research. This caveat is given in order to clarify precisely what is considered part of the "official" discipline and what is not. Many people experience physical activity (e.g., mowing the lawn, playing golf), study it informally (e.g., read Sports Illustrated or popular trade books on fitness or sport), or engage in some form of physical activity leadership (e.g., volunteering as a Little League coach) outside the confines of the university curriculum. However, these activities do not constitute the practice of kinesiology, and the people engaging in them are not kinesiologists in the strict definition used in this text.


To be sure, these activities may be important and valuable in their own right, but they do not constitute practicing kinesiology any more than the use of elementary psychological principles by a businessperson to motivate her sales force constitutes practicing psychology. The discipline of psychology remains tied to the college and university curriculum and to the research conducted by psychologists. Similarly, people may use the principles of kinesiology outside of the discipline, but kinesiology per se remains a function of curriculums and research in colleges and universities.


Key Point

Only knowledge about physical activity that is included in a college or university curriculum or used in research is considered to be part of the body of knowledge of kinesiology.


Another reason for limiting our definition of kinesiology lies in the fact that the knowledge you acquire in your major curriculum is more highly organized and more scientifically verifiable than the knowledge of physical activity held by laypersons. Universities use rigorous methods to organize and monitor the authenticity of the knowledge included in their curriculums and in the research conducted by their faculty members. Think about it: Would you have more confidence in recommendations made by a university kinesiologist who specializes in fencing than in recommendations made by someone who fences as a hobby? Similarly, would you have more confidence in the scientific accuracy of recommendations for exercise programs offered by an exercise physiologist than in recommendations offered by a television exercise guru who lacks formal training in kinesiology? Would you be more likely to trust the recommendations of a university specialist in pedagogy when organizing physical activity instruction for a large group of young children than the recommendations of a volunteer coach who has no formal training in kinesiology? Given your decision to invest several years of hard work in preparing for a career in the specialized field of kinesiology, your answer to all three questions is likely to be yes.

Learn more about Introduction to Kinesiology, Fifth Edition.