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‘No pain, no gain’ not the answer to exercise motivation

Media release

New research by Curtin University has found exercisers are more likely to keep exercising if their fitness instructor adopts a positive communication style rather than a ‘no pain, no gain’ approach to motivating them.

Lead paper author, Professor Nikos Ntoumanis, from Curtin’s School of Psychology and Speech Pathology, said as instructors were in a position of authority, the communication style they adopted played an important role in influencing people’s motivation to engage in and sustain regular exercise.

“It is not uncommon for exercise instructors to adopt a ‘no-pain, no gain’ mentality, often driven by the assumption that more controlling, pressurising environments will be more likely to make fitness class attendees work hard,” Professor Ntoumanis said.

“Despite the evidence that suggests that this approach undermines rather than fosters quality motivation, fitness instructors typically do not receive training in how to motivate exercisers in a more adaptive way.”

Professor Ntoumanis said drawing from a self-determination theory (SDT), researchers developed and tested an intervention to train fitness instructors to adopt an adaptive communication style when motivating exercisers.

“The research showed exercisers were most motivated when three basic psychological needs — autonomy, relatedness and competence — were met by their instructor,” Professor Ntoumanis said.

“A supportive instructor acknowledges exercisers’ feelings and perspectives, encourages choice and initiative and identifies, nurtures, and develops exercisers’ interests and goals.

“This supports the overall premise that this type of communication style satisfies exercisers’ psychological needs and promotes autonomous and sustained exercise engagement.”

Professor Ntoumanis said the results contributed to the growing evidence supporting the motivational benefits of implementing SDT-based interventions.

“Despite the potential benefits of a need-supportive communication style, evidence suggests the fitness industry is often dominated by motivational approaches which aren’t appropriate to the environment or situation,” Professor Ntoumanis said.

“The development of instructor training programs that pull from contemporary theories of motivation could be an important step to address this gap in instructor training provision.”

For the trial, 29 indoor cycling instructors were assigned to either an intervention or a control group, comprising a total of 246 class members. Instructors in the intervention group completed a SDT-based communication training program, with both instructors and exercisers responding to questionnaires about instructors’ use of motivational strategies.

The full research paper, The effects of training group exercise class instructors to adopt a motivationally adaptive communication style, was published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, and can be found at: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/sms.12713/full.