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Self-Efficacy and Exercise Adherence: Why it’s Important for Trainers to Understand
As Fitness Professionals, we have a responsibility to understand how psychological coaching strategies can have a dramatic impact on the bottom line results our clients achieve.
While many trainers do continuing education in the areas of exercise program design, nutrition, supplementation, flexibility, and functional training, very few fitness professionals take a close look at how our clients attitudes, beliefs, and expectations, are ultimately the foundation of exercise adherence and success.
With inactivity and high drop out rates in the exercise arena, it’s time that fitness professionals implemented specific psychological strategies to enhance client progress.
One theory that has been found to be valid in research study after research study is known as Self-Efficacy Theory. Self-efficacy, a term coined by noted psychologist Albert Bandura, is defined as one’s confidence in their own ability to develop strategies and complete tasks necessary to be successful in various endeavors.
One thing to note is the fact that self-efficacy is highly specific to tasks and situations, rather than general in nature. That means that someone could have high self efficacy in one area and lower self-efficacy in another. One example would be a successful business person who obviously has high self-efficacy in business, but whose self-efficacy in exercise is so low that they are afraid to walk into a gym. Fitness pros who understand self-efficacy are this person’s best chance to achieve long term lifestyle change and fitness commitment.
There are other aspects of self-efficacy a trainer should be aware of. Self-efficacy has an effect on one’s persistence. Thus, when the going get’s tough, the person with lower self-efficacy will quit before the person with high self-efficacy. In addition, self-efficacy also has an impact on the perceived exertion scale that good trainers often use. People with high self-efficacy will have lower exertion ratings and the person with lower self-efficacy will have high exertion ratings.
In our everyday world, this could be applied when someone is truly working at 40-50% of capacity and is saying that they are at a 9 out of 10. While the main point of the RPE scale is to listen to client feedback, we also need to know when their feedback is truly skewed and we may consider pushing them farther, regardless of what they answer regarding RPE.
One of the unique things about self-efficacy is that it has a reciprocal effect. Mental strategies can enhance exercise self-efficacy which will improve exercise behavior. The improved exercise behavior then serves as a powerful impetus for on-going increases in self-efficacy.
So just how important is self-efficacy?
In one study of 2,053 randomly sampled adults, with 24 independent variables including social cognitive factors, demographics, injury status, diet habits, and neighborhood environment measured, self-efficacy was found to be the strongest correlate to vigorous exercise.
In the same study, social cognitive variables including perceived barriers, benefits, modeling, and friend support were all correlated with vigorous exercises.
One last study I’ll mention that has implications for trainers looked at the relationship between self-efficacy and body fat. As we might expect, self-efficacy was negatively correlated to body fat composition. (The higher the body fat, the lower the self-efficacy).
I hope you are now convinced that this little known variable, self-efficacy, is critically important to the actions your clients take and, in the end, the benefits they receive from exercise programs.
To help our clients increase self-efficacy, we need to address four major ways that self-efficacy is shaped. Bandura found that self-efficacy was formulated through personal accomplishment, sometimes known as mastery experience, vicarious experience, verbal persuasion, and physiological states. For the purposes of this discussion, we’ll focus on the first three.
The following action steps can help you help your clients.
-Effective goal setting- one of the best ways to increase self-efficacy is to start with some small, easy to accomplish goals, and with a few successes under their belt, your clients will be ready to take on bigger challenges as their self efficacy improves.
-Baby steps- tying into goal setting, it’s important that you start people with low self-efficacy off in an easy manner where they feel successful when exercising with you, rather than intimidated and overwhelmed.
-Modeling, both self-modeling and modeling others who have been successful is an effective way to improve self-efficacy. Here’s a few ideas:
-have a client watch themselves performing an exercise correctly in the mirror
-have your client visualize themselves performing an exercise correctly
-videotape client doing an exercise correctly. Re-watching this has been shown to increase self-efficacy.
Vicarious experience – People’s own self-efficacy increases when they see others that have been successful as well. The more similar the other person is, the more powerful the message. Using testimonials properly can not only sell your services, but enhance the results of your clients as well.
Verbal persuasion- Obviously feedback is important. Many people with lower self-efficacy have had many negative comments and experiences pounded into their brain regarding exercise. Your job is to get all of that junk out and put all of the positive feedback in.
To conclude, remember that one’s self-efficacy, or essentially self-confidence, can make or break their success. Their beliefs in this arena will fuel their actions when they are not with you. Work on your clients mindset from the beginning and not only will your business thrive, but your clients will be thrilled as well.