Investigator Special Issue 1
THE ROLE OF BEHAVIOR AND COGNITIONS IN A GROUP EXERCISE SETTING
Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education,
Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.
27 June 2004
Journal of Sports Science and Medicine (2004) 3 (YISI 1), 56 - 61
Google Scholar for Citing Articles
first purpose of the present study examined whether individuals
with different exercise behaviors (classified by attendance) experienced
different or similar cognitive patterns. It was hypothesized that
different behavior would lead to different cognitive appraisals.
It was predicted that there would be a difference between the three
behavioral frequency groups with regard to self-efficacy measures
and goal measures. The second purpose of the study was to describe,
evaluate and observe whether social factors were associated with
participating in exercise in groups. It was hypothesized that those
who engage in exercise classes would elicit a social focus. Participants
for the study included 39 females who registered in-group fitness
classes at a mid-sized university. Attendance over the 10-week course
was assessed and participants completed a self-report questionnaire
during week seven. The attendance data were used to create 3 exercise
frequency groups (regular attenders, sporadic attenders, and dropouts)
based on ACSM's exercise guidelines. Analysis of Variance (ANOVA),
means and frequencies were used to describe the data. There were
no significant differences on measures of self-efficacy, goal measures,
enjoyment, and external motivation among the three groups (all p's
> 0.05). An analysis of the whole group (N=39) discovered a low
social focus and high ratings of self-efficacy. Continued research
is necessary to investigate the benefit of social support in a group
exercise setting, as well as to better understand how self-regulation
through self-efficacy and goal factors influences and is influenced
by actual behavior.
WORDS: Self-efficacy, goal influence, social interaction.
of the known psychological and physiological benefits of regular
physical exercise, many individuals have sedentary lifestyles. Of
those individuals who do choose to be physically active, sixty-five
percent self-report prefer to participate in a group setting (Stephens
and Craig, 1990).
Unfortunately, group exercise participants do not tend to adhere
to group exercise past 6 months. More specifically, approximately
fifty percent of group exercisers withdraw from an exercise program
within the first six months of initiating exercise (Dishman, 1988).
A considerable amount of research has been directed towards understanding
exercise participation patterns; however, an individual's ability
to incorporate regular exercise into their lifestyle remains a challenge
(Estabrooks and Courneya, 1997;
Dawson et al., 2000;
Fraser and Spink, 2002;
Lowe et al., 2002).
In an effort to help better understand exercise participation rates,
many cognitive-based theories have been developed including the
Trans-Theoretical model (Prochaska and DiClemente, 1986),
Theory of Planned Behaviour (Ajzen and Madden, 1986),
and the Social-Cognitive Theory (Bandura, 1986).
The central tenet of these theories is that cognition influences
behavior. More specifically, an individual's perception of their
volitional control over the behaviour or their convictions of personal
capabilities will ultimately influence the targeted behaviour. Self-efficacy,
or perceived behavioural control has been found to be a significant
predictor of exercise behaviour (Dawson and Brawley, 2000).
The majority of exercise-related research has used cognitive measures
to predict exercise behaviour. Previous research has demonstrated
how cognitions influence behaviour with respect to exercise (Dawson
and Brawley, 2000).
However, it is not well understood how behavior, or exercise frequency
affects cognitions, specifically self-efficacy and goal- related
cognitions. That is, does the exercise behavior patterns of group
exercisers differentially influence important cognitive variables
such as self-efficacy, goals, enjoyment and participation influence?
The first purpose of the present study examined whether individuals
with different exercise behaviors (classified by attendance) experienced
different or similar cognitive patterns. It is hypothesized that
different behavior would lead to different cognitive appraisals.
The second purpose of the study was to describe and evaluate a group
of exercise participants who self-selected group physical activity,
and to observe whether social factors predisposed these individuals
to select group exercise. It was assumed that individuals will select
to exercise as part of a group for a social experience.
Thirty-nine female undergraduate students (Mean = 21, SD = 1.2)
were randomly selected to participate in this study. They were drawn
from individuals who had already registered for fitness classes
at a mid- sized university. Ninety-seven participants completed
the questionnaire, however, only thirty-nine participants completed
both the questionnaire and accurately recorded their attendance
throughout the program. A convenience sample was used to examine
this group. It was not intentional to have an all female group for
this study; however, there were not any males who chose to register
for the group fitness program. The Background portion of
the questionnaire revealed that eighty-four percent of participants
had previously engaged fitness activity as part of a group. Immediately
prior to enrolling into the group fitness program, 90% of participants
reported to engaging in various types of fitness activities (e.g.
"exercising at a health and fitness club", "participating
in group fitness classes", and "exercise not in a health
and fitness club"). This indicated that the majority of participants
were not new to the exercise experience.
Self-efficacy was conceptualized as the participant's belief that
she is competent at succeeding at a particular task. The measure
used in the present study was designed to assess three aspects of
exercise-related self-efficacy. The first being participant's perception
of their ability to complete various in-class exercise components.
The second, perceptions of their ability to organize, plan, and
schedule regular exercise sessions, and third participant's perceptions
of their ability to overcome specific barriers in order to exercise
regularly. DuCharme and Brawley (1995)
found that three types of self-efficacy appraisals improved the
predictability of self-efficacy with respect to group exercise behaviour.
Their 19-item scale was used to measure self-efficacy in the current
Participants rated their perceived level of self-efficacy for 19
statements (5 in-class, 10 perceived, 4 behavioural) on 0% to 100%
confidence scales. A rating of 0 indicated that the participants
were not at all confident in their ability, while a rating of 100
denoted that the participants were very confident in their ability.
Sample self-efficacy statements included "complete the warm-up
and stretching component of each class", "overcoming school
commitments and still attending my scheduled exercise class",
"taking time out for myself and exercising regardless of my
other commitments", and "bring fitness clothes to the
university for each class". A mean of the nineteen statements
signified self-efficacy (Mean = 80.17; SD = 11.98; Cronbach's alpha
Participants were instructed to list their "major goal for
participating in group fitness classes this semester". Specific
goals emerged from the participants. These categories included weight
loss, appearance, social, aesthetic experience (fun), and training
benefit. The most common goal was to increase strength and/or tone
muscles (51.3%). Approximately one-third (33.3%) of the participants
also recorded general health goals (to maintain health or increase
health and/or fitness levels). Following the statement of their
major goal, participants were then asked to rate their confidence
in achieving their goal in the next ten weeks on a 0% to 100% confidence
scale. A rating of 0 indicated that the participants were not at
all confident in achieving their major goal, while a rating of 100
denoted that the participants were very confident in achieving their
major goal. Mean goal confidence was 78.92 percent (SD = 13.2).
Participants were asked to indicate their level of enjoyment regarding
participation in group fitness on a 7-point Likert scale. A rating
of 1 indicated a 'not very enjoyable' experience of the specific
statement, whereas a rating of 7 suggested a very enjoyable experience
of the specific statement. Seven statements described both individual
and social factors related to group exercise. Examples of the statements
included participants indicating how much they enjoyed socializing
with others, stress relief, and learning new things. An overall
mean of the statements measured the various enjoyment factors affecting
group fitness (Mean = 5. 74; SD = 0.77).
Participants indicated how influential seven specific factors were
with respect to their participation in university group exercise
classes. A 7-point Likert scale was used. A rating of 1 indicated
specific factors were not very influential, and 7 indicated that
the specific statement was very influential towards group exercise
participation. These statements, like the enjoyment measurement
scale, included both individual and group factors to assist in determining
the importance of a social focus in participation of group exercise
participants. Example statements included participants indicating
whether motivation from instructor, music, and/or participation
with friends influenced their participation. The overall mean indicated
the level of influence for all statements (Mean = 6.13; SD = 0.59).
Students could register to participate in all 25 classes of exercise
each week. Participants chose to participate in any frequency or
combination of classes over the duration of the ten-week program.
All classes were 60 minutes in duration, and all followed the same
format including a 10 minute warm-up, 35 minute cardiovascular training
session, a 10 minute muscle conditioning component and a 5 minute
cool-down, including flexibility training.
The exercise instructor stamped each participant's attendance card
when they attended an exercise class. Questionnaires were distributed
during weeks seven and eight of the group exercise program. Time
was given at the end of their exercise class to complete the questionnaires.
The questionnaires took an average of ten minutes to complete. At
the conclusion of the 10-week exercise program, participation cards
were gathered and matched with the coinciding questionnaire. A team
of ten female, certified group fitness instructors taught the classes.
All instructors received the same group fitness certification. Instructors
had an average of three years experience of leading group exercise
The attendance data were used to categorize the participants into
three behavioural frequency groups: regular attenders, sporadic
attenders, and dropouts. Categorization of exercise frequency groups
was based on the American College of Sports Medicine's (ACSM) 1998
Position Stand that recommends regular exercise be at a frequency
of three to five times per week. Therefore, regular exercisers were
defined as those participants who attended group exercise classes
three or more times per week for nine out of the ten- week program.
A second cluster of behavior patterns emerged where exercisers maintained
similar frequency of exercise per week, but differed from the regular
exerciser in that they missed more than one full week of group exercise
classes. This group was labelled 'sporadic exercisers'. Finally,
'drop-outs' were classified as attending 1-3 classes during the
first two weeks of the group exercise program, but did not continue
to attend group exercise classes for the remainder of the ten weeks.
Of the thirty-nine participants, 9 were categorized as regular attenders,
12 were considered sporadic exercisers, and 18 were categorized
as dropouts. Three groups were used because any other form of categorization
would not properly represent the group's true attendance behavior.
Analysis of Variance (ANOVA) tests were used to evaluate whether
the three behavioural frequency groups differed on the four cognitive
variables (self-efficacy, goal confidence, enjoyment and participation
influence). T-tests were used to further distinguish differences
between extreme groups (regular vs. drop out). Descriptive data
(e.g. means, standard deviation) were used to evaluate the group's
efficacy patterns and social focus.
were initially analyzed via ANOVA tests to determine the differences
among cognitive variables based on exercise frequency. Results of
the ANOVA tests indicated that overall self-efficacy, goal influence,
enjoyment and participation influence were not significantly different
among the three exercise behaviour groups (regular, sporadic, and
dropout). Table 1 depicts the
F values and significance levels of each measure. Although the exercise
participants could be differentiated by the frequency of their exercise
behavior, the group appeared to be very similar cognitively. Therefore,
the second purpose of the study was to better understand cognitive
and motivational factors of the entire group.
self-efficacy was high for the entire group regardless of exercise
frequency (Mean = 80.17; SD = 11.98). To better understand individuals,
specific self-efficacy appraisals were divided into the three specific
aspects (in-class, planned and barrier) for further analysis in
order to see if there were differences in each category of self-efficacy.
Table 2 demonstrates the differences
among these three means. Post-hoc t-tests were computed to determine
where the specific differences lie. In-class self-efficacy was significantly
different from planning self-efficacy (t=3.28, p < 0.01), and
barrier self-efficacy (t= 4.31, p < 0.001). Planning and barrier
self-efficacy were not significantly different (t = 2.66, p <
comparison for the means of both enjoyment and influence indicated
that individual factors were evaluated as more enjoyable and more
influential (p < 0.05). See Table
3 for details. Recall that the enjoyment and participation influence
variables contained both individual and social factors. Participants
in the current study appeared to participate fitness classes in
groups for individual rather than social reasons. These findings
do not support the original hypothesis, which states that individuals
will participate in exercise in groups with a social focus.
primary purpose of this study was to examine whether exercise behaviour
differentiated individuals in terms of cognitive factors. The results
of this study do not support the first hypothesis. Evaluations of
self-efficacy, goal-confidence, enjoyment and participation influence
were not differentiated by exercise behavior. Likewise, the data
does not support the secondary hypothesis that group fitness participants
engage in exercise classes for a social experience. By contrast
it was discovered that participants in this study exercised for
personal, instrumental reasons rather than to feel part of a group.
frequency and self-efficacy
All exercisers reported relatively high self-efficacy scores regardless
of whether they actually exercised frequently or not. During the
time the questionnaire for this study was distributed (Week 7 and
8 of a ten-week program), attendance had declined, while the self-efficacy
of participants remained high. Results from the current study show
that in-class self-efficacy is higher than planning and barrier
efficacy for all groups. This may be due to the fact that the participants
attended the classes in which they felt they were able to succeed.
What appeared more difficult was actually overcoming obstacles and
planning to attend the fitness classes. Although the values for
planning and barrier efficacy were lower than in-class efficacy,
they were still relatively high despite sporadic attendance. These
findings are interesting as the participants seem to have difficulty
with self-regulation. The participants deceive themselves by feeling
highly efficacious despite infrequent attendance to group fitness
Social interaction and support
Participants did not appear to engage in exercise sessions in groups
for social reasons. This contradicts the findings of Carron et al.
(1996) in which
social support had a moderate to large effect on group exercise
adherence behavior. Perhaps, if participants had more social support
and interaction during group exercise classes, exercise adherence
One important source of support is derived from the group exercise
leader. Support from a positive and influential leader can influence
self-efficacy, adherence and positive mood states (Turner et al.,
1997). The current study did not
control for instructor support/non-support; therefore, it would
be interesting to investigate the relationship in greater depth.
Instructor variation could also be an influential factor. Group
fitness participants may only select classes that are taught by
a specific instructor. If that instructor only teaches once per
week, for example, then the participant may only exercise once per
week. Future studies may want to control for such variables as it
may influence attendance.
Lowe et al. (2002)
examined the influence of instrumental and affective beliefs on
exercise behaviour and intentions. They discovered that the affective
beliefs (e.g. pleasant, unpleasant, etc. ) predicted intention more
powerfully than instrumental beliefs (e.g. healthy, unhealthy, etc.).
The current study investigated reasons for enjoyment of group exercise
classes. It was discovered that participants enjoyed more instrumental
factors (goal achievement, becoming more healthy, etc.) than affective
factors (meeting new people, music, etc.). Individual motivational
orientations influence participation even in group exercise settings.
and future directions
The group size (n = 39) of the study was small, which may not have
fully reflected the true nature of the total number of group fitness
participants (n = 400). The use of university-aged, female participants
also limits the generalizability of the study. Future studies would
benefit in investigating adherence via community exercise centres,
in addition to university exercise centres.
A second limitation was the use of self-report methods for both
the behavioral (attendance) data and the questionnaire. Attendance
data may have been inaccurate due to the fact that participants
may have forgotten to record their attendance for each day they
took part in exercise classes. Thirdly, the current study did not
control for instructor support/non-support; therefore, it would
be interesting to investigate this in greater depth as instructor
variation could also be an influential factor.
current study evaluated group participation, however, it may be questioned
as to whether these individuals reflect a true group or more realistically
a collective group of individuals. The participants exercised together
in the same room with one instructor, but there was minimal interaction
between the group members. Each participant could achieve their goals
without the assistance of other group members. The exercises participant
may not have perceived herself as part of a group and, therefore,
participation was not socially influenced. Analysis of social versus
individual factors certainly supported this contention.
More emphasis needs to be placed on socialization factors and group
cohesion/group efficacy with regard to group exercise. Group exercise
classes continue to be a popular medium for exercise, thus group cohesion
and tools to increase cohesion and social support in group exercise
classes need to be explored. Perhaps the instructor can be seen as
a source of social support for group fitness participants. The instructor
may be able to motivate and educate individuals in a group exercise
class towards compliance to an exercise program.
Understanding group fitness attendance remains a complicated task.
The relationship between action and thought is clearly complex. This
group of exercise participants were highly efficacious, and confident
regarding their goals and abilities; however, exercise attendance
was poor for thirty of the thirty-nine exercisers. Although self-efficacy
was rated high overall, planning and overcoming barriers remain obstacles
to participants. Individuals enjoyed the exercise program and participated
in the classes for individual reasons as compares to social ones.
Continued research is necessary to investigate the benefit of social
support in a group exercise setting, as well as to better understand
how self-regulation through self-efficacy and goal factors influences
and is influenced by actual behavior.
behavior did not seem to differentiate individuals in terms of
show low social focus and high self-efficacy in group exercise
research is needed to better understand how self-regulation through
self-efficacy and goal factors influence and is influenced by
Tina L. SHRIGLEY
Employment: Certified Kinesiologist, Sarnia, Ontario, Canada.
Degree: B.A., Massage Therapy Diploma
Research interests: Massage therapy and injury rehabilitation.
Psychological factors in exercise adherence.
Kimberley A. DAWSON
Employment: Associate Professor, Department of Kinesiology
& PE, Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo ON Canada.
Research interests: Psychological factors in Exercise
Adherence. Self-efficacy and exercise adherence in various populations.
Massage therapy and recovery from exercise.