Physical inactivity levels continue to rise in spite of widespread knowledge of the negative consequences. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill researchers suggest the issue may not come from a lack of knowledge but from how exercise is programmed. Studies show that simply manipulating elements of the FITT principle (frequency, intensity, time and type of exercise) does not improve adherence to exercise.

In a scientific perspective published in Physiology & Behavior (2018; 199 [33]), study authors recommend that fitness professionals consider measuring clients’ emotional response to exercise as well as their self-confidence; pros can then prioritize ways to increase exercise enjoyment by creating customized programs that clients will be more likely to do consistently.

“I believe in a ÔÇÿone-size-does-not-fit-all’ approach to exercise prescription,” says lead study author Katie Burnet, MS candidate, in the Department of Exercise and Sport Science at UNC Chapel Hill. “To further address the element of fun to encourage exercise adherence, future research is needed on the best ways to evaluate an individual’s exercise enjoyment.

Les Mills US in Chicago has also examined this issue of adherence and motivation. Amy Boone Thompson, national customer experience manager, says, “Les Mills conducted a research study based around self-determination theory on how fitness instructors can increase participant enjoyment, engagement and consistency. The following are three components for coaching with a motivationally supportive style, with examples of how to apply the components.”

  1. Instill competence by welcoming new participants with a class description so their experience matches expectations. Remind each person that showing up is important, and reward attendance as a measure of success.
  2. Foster connections by remembering and using names often, introducing members to each
    other, and encouraging genuine connection and interaction.
  3. Build autonomy by reminding members that they each choose their own exercise intensity. Demonstrate options, beginning with level one and building to level three, and permit participants to lighten or increase individual training loads at any time. Invite new participants to step out after the first work period in a class, so they feel they have permission to leave and are in charge of their own exercise experience.

The Les Mills International—sponsored study is available in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports (2016; doi:10.1111/sms.12713).

Shirley Archer-Eichenberger, JD, MA

Shirley Archer, JD, MA, is an internationally acknowledged integrative health and mindfulness specialist, best-selling author of 16 fitness and wellness books translated into multiple languages and sold worldwide, award-winning health journalist, contributing editor to Fitness Journal, media spokesperson, and IDEA's 2008 Fitness Instructor of the Year. She's a 25-year industry veteran and former health and fitness educator at the Stanford Prevention Research Center, who has served on multiple industry committees and co-authored trade books and manuals for ACE, ACSM and YMCA of the USA. She has appeared on TV worldwide and was a featured trainer on America's Next Top Model.

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