Fitness Pros Influence Body Satisfaction

Comments by group exercise instructors affect women.

By Shirley Archer, JD, MA
Apr 22, 2019

Women in a group exercise class experienced greater body satisfaction and better moods when the instructor made motivational comments related to strength and health instead of weight or appearance.

“The women in this study did all the same exercises, in the same room, with the same music playing,” said lead study author Renee Engeln, PhD, professor of instruction in the Department of Psychology at Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois. “Yet just modifying the script the fitness instructor used had a meaningful impact on the way people felt about themselves afterward. If we want people to stick with exercise, we need to remove shame from the equation.”

Instructor scripts focused on function or appearance. After class, women reported feeling more positive and satisfied with their bodies after hearing, “This exercise is crucial to developing strength in the legs. . . . These are the muscles that truly help you run, jump, sprint like a super hero. . . . Think of all the amazing things your body is capable of,” in contrast to, “This exercise blasts fat in the legs—no more thunder thighs for us! Get rid of that cellulite. . . . Earn your dream body.”

The study is open access in the Journal of Clinical Sport Psychology (2018; doi:10.1123/jcsp.2017-0047).

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Shirley Archer, JD, MA

Shirley Archer, JD, MA, is the 2008 IDEA Fitness Instructor of the Year and is IDEA's mind-body-spirit spokesperson. She is a certified yoga and Pilates teacher and an award-winning author based in Los Angeles, California, and Zurich, Switzerland. Two of her books, The Walking Deck and The Strength and Toning Deck, are now featured as iPhone apps. Contact her at www.shirleyarcher.com.

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