A Psychological View of Fitness Goal Attainment – From Variety to Constancy
New research from the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business investigated the means by which to use exercise variety (or a lack thereof) for improving exercise compliance, motivation and achievement of clients’ fitness goals. The results will be in “The Dynamic Impact of Variety among Means on Motivation,” to be published in the Journal of Consumer Research in April 2012. Authors applied personal training insight to analyze how consumers choose weight-management products/activities to attain their goals. Investigators examined a simple programming pattern which consistently promoted steady motivation and goal accomplishment. This pattern involved beginning with high exercise variety during the initial stages of training, and then progressing to less exercise variety while sticking to specific activities that the client favors and is willing to work hard on. As stated by Etkin, “To keep beginners committed to a goal and coming back to me, I found it effective to mix different exercise, with little repetition, into their sessions. As these clients progressed, they were satisfied with less variation and more repetitions in exercises they became comfortable with.” Researchers tested this theory on undergraduate students in a set of related studies involving fitness goal attainment and consumption of a variety of protein supplement products.
According to the investigation, clients who claimed that they were unable to make progress toward their fitness goal found that using a large variety of different products would spur their motivation; the opposite would occur when the same individuals became closer to their goals. The nearer one was to goal attainment, less variety and more consistency kept the client on track. Essentially, the clients went through a sort of refinement process that would begin with the pursuit of considerable variety to instill confidence through the perception of having numerous distinct ways to pursue their goal; and then taper off into a ‘focus phase’ where the individual was motivated to work harder or pay more for a set of dietary supplements that was less varied. Such willingness to spend, being a secondary effect of motivation in both stages of consumer behavior in the studies, is suggested by Ratner to be a big plus for retailers to capitalize on. “It would make good sense for retailers and marketers to target the new year, when many people have set new goals, as a time to emphasize ‘how many’ different options – or ‘how much’ variation within a particular product – they provide for people to meet their goals,” she explains.
For trainers looking to kick-start and sustain a regimen with clients excited about improving their fitness levels this new year, the concepts presented in this research can be easily applied. The emphasis in the beginning should be on providing variety as it relates to programming and recommended supplement use as this will give the client the sense that they are exploring all potential roads to success, and have a key role in choosing the most favorable methods. During this introductory period the personal trainer should document the activities and supplements that the client truly enjoys or finds palatable to refine a more distinct, yet less varied, program and nutritional strategy as time progresses. Direct and ongoing communication with the client is crucial to maintain an understanding as to how the program should be refined and developed. As explained by Etkin, “Embrace the idea of variation – experiment with different products until you feel as if you are closer to attaining your goal, whether it be weight loss or muscle development… If later you feel that a shake is more palatable and a more effective way than a protein bar or other products, then you are on track to committing to a less varied plan and attaining your weight loss goal.” Basically, as the pounds are shed or lean mass is added – the client will likely identify and feel confident about remaining consistently committed to a narrowed training and supplement strategy as long as they had the initial choice to try out many potential options. It may make one recall the old adage that most people have to learn things for themselves before they feel confident in something – even advice from the most experienced counselors/professionals may not be accepted until the individual has at least had a chance to contribute to their own decision.