Last updated on July 9th, 2024 at 03:24 pm

The human body is truly remarkable. Physically speaking, we function far differently than the majority of our fellow mammals—with less hair and a unique, upright gait.

As Smithsonian experts point out, this gait frees us to carry and use a range of tools, which, combined with our cognitive intelligence and problem-solving skills, gives us an evolutionary edge. In modern society, these abilities play into everything from recreational opportunities to job performance. Despite these extraordinary abilities, we often rely on professionals to help us use our bodies more effectively, avoiding injuries and general discomfort.

These experts from the far-reaching field of health and human performance recognize all that makes the human body special, along with the distinct opportunities and challenges these attributes deliver. However, by capitalizing on these qualities, we have the ability to take part in a wide range of utilitarian and recreational activities while also maintaining optimal health, comfort, and mobility.

Many people need guidance to achieve these goals, especially as we work our bodies too hard or, in many cases, not enough. Health and human performance professionals provide valuable insight while delivering the motivation and accountability that produce long-term improvements in how our body functions—at work and play, in sickness and health. These opportunities are deeply rewarding to those who recognize the power of movement.

Does this sound like a compelling career path? In this guide, we reveal: What is health and human performance, and what does it take to succeed in this field? 

What Is a Health & Human Performance Degree?

As you consider your preferred career path and related educational opportunities, you may wonder, what is a health and human performance major?

The Master of Science in Health and Human Performance (MSHHP) is a targeted graduate-level degree program meant to prepare students for success in the dynamic world of fitness, health, and wellness. Available fully online, this program integrates theory and practice with a curriculum that delves into exercise physiology, biomechanics, nutrition science, and more.

The MSHHP also provides the opportunity to pursue one of two main specialties: strength and conditioning or sport coaching education. While both tracks share a similar foundation in physiology and human movement, each is purposefully tailored to help students develop relevant skill sets based on their individual career goals. 

Career Options in Health & Human Performance

Health and human performance can mean different things to different people. In general, this field centers on supporting and guiding clients, students, or patients as they seek to improve their physical health and quality of life. More specifically, though, it involves efforts to improve human movement, including strength, mobility, balance, and coordination. Career fields worth considering include: 

Kinesiology Profession

As the study of human movement, kinesiology examines the human body’s anatomical, physiological, and biomechanical fundamentals, revealing how physical activity affects human health as a whole. This is sometimes confused with exercise science, which represents an important subcategory. With kinesiology, however, the focus is not merely on how the human body responds to exercise but rather how movement in general influences our health and well-being. 

Coaching High School and College Athletics

High school and college sports provide valuable opportunities for connection, physical activity, and sheer fun. These teams thrive under the direction of well-trained coaches, who are experts not only in numerous athletic activities or events but also in exercise science and human performance. These coaches understand which training regimens are most likely to produce impressive results on the field, court, or track, but they are mindful of injury prevention and mental health as well. Physical education represents an exciting opportunity, too, but with more of a broad-based approach in a traditional school setting. 

Exercise Physiology

Similar to kinesiology but with a greater focus on performance-oriented conditioning, exercise physiology reveals how the human body responds to physical activity and strives to optimize that response to improve various facets of fitness, such as strength or flexibility.

Exercise physiologists work closely with clients to determine which fitness regimens are most likely to produce a positive outcome while also limiting the risk of injury. To help them make such determinations, they measure key indicators such as blood pressure. They continue to monitor these metrics over time to see how curated exercise routines benefit their clients on a physiological level. Along the way, they may work closely with physicians or sports medicine specialists. 

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy involves the restoration of movement, especially among patients who have been afflicted by illness or injury. Physical therapists (PTs) examine and diagnose patients before developing curated, goal-oriented treatment plans. These may be carried out by physical therapy assistants (PTAs), although PTs continue to monitor patients and adjust treatment regimens as needed.

Currently, it is necessary to obtain a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) and pass a licensure exam prior to working as a physical therapist. However, many master’s programs can provide valuable preparation for this track, and job opportunities such as physical therapy assistant (PTA) are also available to those with degrees other than the DPT. 

Sports Medicine

Athletic activities can prompt a number of acute and chronic injuries, which are often best prevented and treated by sports medicine providers. These specialists largely focus on the musculoskeletal system, especially as it relates to high-impact physical activity. The goal of the sports medicine specialist is both to restore function from a performance mindset and to improve and preserve the patient’s health in the interest of boosting long-term comfort and mobility. 

Health Education and Promotion

While many health and human performance professionals prefer to work in a one-on-one capacity, some are responsible for implementing wellness programs at schools, community centers, or even corporate workplaces. Others focus more on research, taking a deep dive into the often mysterious connections between fitness and chronic disease. 

Nutrition Science

Nutrition science plays a critical role in health and human performance. How we fuel our bodies determines how we feel and how we move. To that end, nutrition scientists study the physiological processes related to the consumption of food. Their work is concerned with how food is digested and metabolized and how its nutrients impact our health. Many nutrition science specialists work in pharmaceuticals, nutraceuticals, and biotechnology. 

The Advantages of a Degree in Health & Human Performance

Now that we have revealed the numerous job opportunities available in health and human performance, let’s take a closer look at the other advantages of an MSHHP program: 

Enhanced Practical Skills

Through targeted and highly compelling coursework, aspiring health and human performance professionals develop a broad range of skills that can benefit them in many career tracks:

  • Fitness assessments Involving measures of endurance, flexibility, and body composition, fitness assessments provide valuable insight into many parameters of health and wellness. Health and human performance students learn how to conduct these assessments and analyze their results.
  • Designing exercise routines Although exercise in general is strongly recommended for improving health, different types of exercise may benefit certain clients or patients. Health and human performance students discover what goes into the process of selecting ideal exercises.
  • Strength and conditioning techniques Knowing which exercises to complete is only the first step. Beyond this, clients or patients must know how to complete these effectively. Health and human performance students learn what goes into proper technique so they can in turn provide the instruction their clients need. 

Internships With Professional Sports Teams and Local Parks

Foundational coursework offers a strong start, but skills must be practiced in real-world environments as well. Internships provide valuable opportunities to see firsthand how the principles of kinesiology and nutrition science play out. Aspiring health and human performance professionals might score compelling internships with sports teams, recreation departments, and fitness centers. 

Skills Acquired From a Master’s Program in Health & Human Performance

We’ve touched on the practical skills and abilities that health and human performance students gain on the path to earning their master’s degree, but this is only the beginning. This program also provides ample opportunities to build soft skills, which are highly valued by a variety of employers. Examples include:

  • Teamwork and collaboration
  • Empathy and compassion
  • Written and verbal communication
  • Critical thinking
  • Creativity 

Developing Leadership Skills

Leadership skills are highly valued across the spectrum of health and human performance. This field provides plenty of room for advancement, but climbing the career ladder can be difficult without a strong leadership skill set. This should include many of the soft skills outlined above along with strong time management and the ability to delegate. Additionally, leaders should be passion-driven professionals who understand how to inspire both clients and fellow health and human performance professionals. 

Is a Career in Health & Human Performance Right for You?

If you are passionate about fitness and eager to share this with the community, you could have a bright future in health and human performance. As you plan a career that you find meaningful, be sure to round out your skill set and your resume. You could accomplish this by pursuing your Master of Science in Health and Human Performance (MS HHP) from Salem University. Reach out today to learn more about our MSHHP program. 

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