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The Stages of Behavior

The Stages of Behavior

The stages of behavior change determine how an individual adopts new behaviors and sets new goals throughout the change process. The stages of change that an individual completes affect their level of self-efficacy and ability to make good or bad decisions and behave according to their decisions (Liu et al., 2018). However, for the individual to move through the stages, they must make key changes in various personal aspects. Firstly, they need to change how they perceive themselves. Self-perception determines how individuals think, act, and behave. For instance, the self-perception of weight, physical fitness, and body image can be a reason to diet and adopt behaviors to control weight (Arispon Cid et al., 2018). The second key thing to change is how one perceives and reacts to stress. The psychological-physiological response to stress determines physical activity, behavior, and health (Lox et al., 2019). The third key change is how one perceives new behaviors. People are more likely to change and adopt new behaviors if they perceive the change to be beneficial and easy to sustain.

Individuals can make changes in self-perception, stress perception and reactivity, and perception of new behaviors through the processes of self-reevaluation, dramatic relief, and reinforcement management. The process of self-reevaluation relates behaviors to self-perception. An example is when a person considers their current behaviors, such as eating habits, against their body and health goals. The dramatic relief process focuses on the psychological relief an individual gets from changing behaviors. For example, when one person decides to manage their drinking due to stress, they can learn to manage their stress and their unhealthy drinking habits. Lastly, the reinforcement management process seeks to motivate learning and maintaining new behaviors, for example, rewarding oneself for completing daily exercise routines.


Arispon Cid, J., Andrades Ramírez, C., Sánchez Rodríguez, J., Iglesias Conde, A., Jáuregui-Lobera, I., Herrero Martín, G., & Bolaños Ríos, P. (2018). Self-perception of weight and physical fitness, body image perception, control weight behaviors and eating behaviors in adolescents. Nutrición Hospitalaria: Organo Oficial de La Sociedad Española de Nutrición Parenteral y Enteral, ISSN 0212-1611, Vol. 35, No. 5 (Septiembre-Octubre), 2018, Págs. 1115-1123, 35(5), 1115–1123.

Liu, K. T., Kueh, Y. C., Arifin, W. N., Kim, Y., & Kuan, G. (2018). Application of transtheoretical model on behavioral changes and amount of physical activity among university’s students. Frontiers in Psychology, 9(DEC), 2402.

Lox, C., Gainforth, H. L., Ginis, K. A. M., & Petruzzello, S. J. (2019). The Psychology of Exercise: Integrating Theory and Practice (5th ed.). Taylor and Francis.


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Week 1 Assignment
The transtheoretical model states that people change by moving through a series of stages.

The Stages of Behavior

The Stages of Behavior

What are the three key things that people need to change in order to move through the stages?
Describe the processes people use to change these three things, giving specific examples.

Lox, C. L., Ginis, K.A. M., Gainforth, H. L., & Petruzzello, S. J. (2019). The Psychology of Exercise (5th ed.). Taylor & Francis.

Chapters: 1-3


Lecture Notes Week 1
Lecture 1

Slide 1

Introduction to exercise psychology

Slide 2

Welcome to the first lecture on the psychology of exercise. As a fitness professional, you probably already know more than you might think about exercise psychology. When you motivate a client to achieve their goals, you’re using psychology. The more you know about why people do or do not exercise will help you refine your motivation strategies as you develop your personal training experience.

Slide 3

Exercise psychology can be defined as the convergence of exercise science and psychology. It explores the reasons that people exercise, as well as the psychological blocks that people put up to avoid exercise. It also attempts to apply psychological principles to the promotion and maintenance of exercise. Finally, exercise psychology is concerned with the psychological and emotional consequences of exercise.

Slide 4

Previously we mentioned that exercise psychology is a convergence of exercise science and psychology, but what does that mean? Let’s start by defining psychology. Psychology involves the mental processes that people experience. Exercise science, on the other hand, involves all aspects of sports, recreation, exercise, and rehabilitative behavior. Exercise psychology seeks to answer how these two seemingly different practices come together, and how to effectively use psychology in your fitness training programs.

Slide 5

If everyone exercised regularly, stuck with their routines, and achieved their fitness goals without any external motivation, we wouldn’t have much of a need for exercise psychology. However, participation in regular physical activity is low, and individuals who begin exercise programs often drop out early. These are examples of what we call noncompliant behavior, and lead to negative emotional states that we will learn how to reduce in this course.

Slide 6

The benefits of physical activity have been documented by exercise scientists for years. Most people know that physical activity is good for them, including reducing feelings of depression, anxiety, and negativity. So why don’t more people get regular exercise if it comes with so many benefits? For the most part, their mental processes block them from making the time or effort to exercise.

Slide 7

People will list all sorts of reasons they are unable to exercise, citing convenience, environmental factors, physical limitations, lack of time, or lack of enjoyment of the process. However, the biggest barrier for most people is in their minds. In this course, we will seek to answer why people are reluctant to start or continue an exercise program, as well as ways you can help individuals remove those barriers.

Slide 8

Before the industrial revolution, most people had physically demanding jobs and exercised regularly in the workplace, as farmers, construction workers, or laborers. In the 20th century, more and more jobs moved from being physically demanding to mentally demanding. Awareness of this issue increased steadily, and the 1970’s and 1980’s saw a fitness craze as people recognized they were not getting enough exercise working in an office all day. Exercise scientists also took notice; people were not getting enough exercise to maintain a healthy lifestyle. They asked themselves why this was happening, and what steps they could take to improve participation. As we have seen, people’s mental processes are mostly responsible for lack of activity, so exercise scientists looked to psychology to help them motivate clients in training sessions.

Slide 9

Physical activity epidemiology

Slide 10

The developed world has seen an epidemic of physical inactivity. We frequently see in the news that obesity seems to be reaching higher and higher proportions every year. The biggest reasons for this are a lack of physical activity and poor diets, fueled by the rise of fast food. Diseases such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers have risen dramatically along with the rise in obesity. Advancements in technology have kept us enthralled with our phones and computer screens, taking our attention away from much needed exercise. All of these factors have led us to a true epidemic of physical inactivity. Luckily, fitness professionals and doctors are aware of the epidemic and are doing everything they can to slow it down.

Slide 11

Before we can explore the reasons that people don’t exercise, we should touch on some of the ways we can measure physical activity. Until recently, physical activity was mostly self-reported and self-recorded because measuring activity was difficult for most individuals. This led to wild inaccuracies, and people assumed they were getting more exercise than they actually were. Technology has come a long ways, and now we can track our physical activity objectively using a number of devices: Smart phones with GPS, heart rate monitors, pedometers, and accelerometers.

Slide 12

In the next sections, we are going to look at physical activity data collected by exercise scientists. While they were not able to study the entire world’s population, they performed comprehensive surveys in Australia, Brazil, Canada, England, Scotland, and the United States. They studied a variety of demographics in those countries, such as age, gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and education level, to see how physical activity might differ between these populations.

Slide 13

Generally speaking, epidemiology attempts to answer why certain people are getting ill. As we have already acknowledged, physical inactivity is an epidemic in the industrialized world, and epidemiology can help us understand the causes of and solutions to this epidemic. Specifically, epidemiology asks the questions: Who exercises? Where, when, and why do they do so? What do they do?

Slide 14

Physical inactivity has reached such proportions that even government agencies and major organizations have released guidelines for physical activity. Organizations such as the Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommend that individuals exercise to increase cardiovascular, resistance, flexibility, and neuromotor health.

Slide 15

As mentioned previously, researchers conducted major studies to determine how many people regularly engage in physical activity in a variety of countries. As you can see in the chart, only around 50% or fewer of people in these countries engage in physical activity!

Slide 16

A summary of physical activity patterns emerged from the study. At the most general level, researchers concluded that the number of people participating in physical activity is extremely low. They also noted that the amount of time spent on physical activity tends to decline with age. Men are more likely to engage in vigorous exercise, whereas women are more likely to engage in moderate activity.

Slide 17

In the global study of physical activity participation, researchers saw that low income groups and ethnic minorities tend to have lower levels of physical activity, and education level is also directly related to physical activity. More educated people tend to exercise more than less educated people.

Slide 18

As a fitness professional, the consequences of physical activity and inactivity might seem obvious, but we should acknowledge them here for completeness. Physically active people have lower mortality rates overall, mostly because they avoid conditions such as coronary heart disease, heart attacks, diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity, which are some of the leading causes of death in the industrialized world.

Slide 19

Obesity is the leading consequence of physical inactivity. From the chart, we can see that adults tend to have higher rates of obesity, but there is still an epidemic of obesity even among children, which is rising every year. As of the printing of this chart, almost 20% of children are obese in the United States alone.

Slide 20

Finally, researchers included special populations in their study. They noticed a commonly held misconception that people with a disability or chronic disease are insufficiently healthy to participate in exercise, and these populations are far less active than the general population. Of course, this puts them at even greater risk for secondary health issues, and they should be participating in physical activities to improve their overall health.

Slide 21

Understanding exercise behavior, part one. Stimulus response theory and social cognitive approaches.

Slide 22

Before we talk about specific models and theories, let’s take a moment to define those terms. A model is a visual representation of a behavior or phenomenon. A theory explains why a behavior or phenomenon occurs. Models and theories are important because they allow us to predict physical activity behavior and they give us a scientifically validated method for formulating solutions to the problem of physical inactivity.

Slide 23

Previously we mentioned that a model is a visual representation of a behavior or phenomenon. You might have been wondering how you can visually represent physical inactivity patterns. Most often, this is done with charts, graphs, and diagrams. Here we can see a behavioral model of exercise, represented as a cycle that you have probably seen before as a personal trainer.

Slide 24

We will talk a lot about motivation in this course. Motivation can be thought of as the direction and intensity of someone’s effort. Think about your own motivation. As an exercise professional, you might have high motivation to exercise, but low motivation to work on your taxes. What drives your motivation? Is it intrinsic factors, such as fun, a sense of challenge, or personal improvement? Or are you motivated by extrinsic factors such as health, social recognition, or money? I would imagine that some of both drive your motivation to exercise, whereas filing your taxes is almost surely motivated by extrinsic factors. Intrinsic motivations tend to cause people to dedicate themselves more fully to the activity than extrinsic motivations. In this lesson we will explore the theories and models of behavior that address people’s motivations.

Slide 25

Stimulus-response theory

Slide 26

In last week’s lesson, we learned about two theories of behavior that were based on the social-cognitive effect, which can be used to predict behavior using a person’s thoughts and feelings about an activity. In this week’s lesson, we will focus on theories of stimulus and response, which aren’t necessarily influenced by someone’s thoughts and feelings about an activity.

The stimulus-response theory was developed by B.F. Skinner and Ivan Pavlov, and suggests that a behavior can be learned through repeated reinforcement. The classic example involves Pavlov’s dog. Pavlov rang a bell every time he fed his dog. After a while, the dog associated the bell with food, and would drool whenever Pavlov rang the bell, whether food appeared or not. Stimulus can come from both positive and negative sources, and serves to reinforce behaviors associated with the stimulus and activity.

Slide 27

If we use the stimulus-response theory to predict exercise behavior, in general we can see that positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement can increase exercise. Positive reinforcement refers to the rewards that someone receives as a result of their action, such as gaining muscle. Negative reinforcement refers to the removal of something negative, such as back pain. Punishment and extinction, in this case defined as “taking away reinforcement”, actually decrease exercise. When talking about exercise, a punishment might take the form of an injury while working out. Extinction might occur if someone stops losing weight, when their weight loss was a motivating factor for their exercise.

Slide 28

The stimulus-response theory provides valuable insight into predicting behavior through repeated stimulus, but does not take into account any of the cognitive theories presented in last week’s section, which should at least be considered when thinking about exercise interventions. Additionally, some of the principles of stimulus-response theory can be difficult and unethical to apply to the field of exercise, and are often not used.

As we will see in the following sections, the best approach is to use the knowledge and tools developed from all of the theories we have learned to help people get active.

Slide 29

Integrative approaches

Slide 30

So far we have learned about the self-efficacy theory, the theory of reasoned action, the theory of planned behavior, and the stimulus-response theory. The bad news is that none of these theories is perfect for influencing exercise behavior. The good news is that we can integrate approaches from all of these theories to help us work with clients. In this section, we will explore the two main integrative models: the transtheoretical model, and the social ecological model.

Slide 31

The transtheoretical model, or TTM, integrates ideas from the theories we have already studied as stages of change. Other theories generally focus on predicting exercise behavior in the moment. Researchers have learned that decisions take time, and they conceptualized a model that accounts for the various stages of the decision making process.

In the precontemplation stage, the individual is not actively thinking about the action at all. They don’t even consider exercising. In the contemplation stage, the individual is thinking about exercise, and if they begin, will likely be within 6 months or so. In the preparation stage, the individual has decided they are going to exercise, and they are locating a fitness facility that will work well for them. In the action stage, the individual has begun working out on a regular basis. Finally, in the maintenance stage, the individual is continuing to exercise after a prolonged period of time.

Slide 32

TTM uses the terms “experiential” and “behavioral” processes to describe ways for individuals to progress through the stages of the TTM. Experiential processes are tied to the experiences people have or witness, whereas behavioral processes refer to the behaviors that people undertake to influence their exercise activity. The theory further breaks these two processes down into 5 components each. In the experiential process, individuals learn more about the benefits of exercise and raise their awareness, or consciousness. They evaluate themselves, and ask themselves if they want to be active or sedentary. They think about the impact of exercise on their social structure or environment, and they experience dramatic relief at the thought of no longer being overweight. They might also experience a social liberation as they realize they are not alone in their exercise goals, and that all sorts of social resources are available for them to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Behavioral processes also contribute to an individual moving through the stages of the TTM. Someone might gain self-confidence and announce their commitment to exercise. Or they might perform counterconditioning, which refers to substituting one activity for another. In this case, the individual might substitute an hour of TV time per day for an hour of gym time. They might also alter their behavior by controlling stimulus that would lead them towards inactivity, or reward themselves for achieving their fitness goals. Finally, the model acknowledges that helping relationships, such as those with a personal trainer, can move individuals along the stages of the TTM.

Slide 33

The two ways in which we can measure a person’s progress through the stages of the TTM are with shifts in decisional balance (the pros outweigh the cons), and with increased self-efficacy. As we can see in the first chart, as soon as someone decides that the pros of exercise outweigh the cons of exercise, they shift from the contemplation stage to the preparation stage. Similarly, as a person increases their self-efficacy, they move from the preparation stage to the action stage.

Slide 34

Here we see a simple survey that can help us understand what stage of the TTM an individual might be in. If someone has been exercising regularly for more than 6 months, they are in the maintenance stage. If someone has been exercising regularly for less than 6 months, they are in the action stage. If someone intends to start exercising in the next 30 days, they are in the preparation stage. If someone intends to start exercising in the next 6 months, they are in the contemplation stage. And finally, if someone does not intend to start exercising, they are in the precontemplation stage.

Slide 35

The next question we should answer is, how can we help individuals move through the stages? That depends on which stage they are currently in. If someone is in the precontemplation stage, we can help them understand the benefits of exercise. If someone already knows the benefits of exercise and is in the contemplation stage, we can help the identify even more benefits of exercise. If someone is ready to get started with exercise in the preparation stage, we can help them get organized and find an appropriate facility or workout program. If someone is actively exercising, we can offer tips for overcoming obstacles they encounter along the way. Finally, if our client is in the maintenance stage, we can provide information to prevent them from backsliding.

Slide 36

The TTM is a great model for analyzing and influencing physical activity, and many exercise programs have been designed around its principles. However, the model has problems predicting movement to another stage, and designates arbitrary time frames for each stage. For example, the contemplation stage says that the individual intends to begin regular exercise within 30 days. But that 30 days could be 40 days, or 10 days. Additionally, people don’t always progress through the stages linearly. They might skip a stage or go back and forth between stages for a time. Our job as fitness professionals is to consider the model carefully, and make adjustments as needed for our particular situations.

Slide 37

Self-efficacy theory

Slide 38

Self-efficacy refers to someone’s perceived capabilities. You can think of self-efficacy like a situational version of self-confidence. Someone might have high overall self-confidence, but if a weight-lifter is tasked with participating in a ballet, his self-efficacy will be low for that particular activity. Let’s say he was scheduled to participate in a weight-lifting event on a day he got sick. He knows he is capable of participating under normal circumstances, but for that event, his self-efficacy is lower than usual.

Slide 39

Self-efficacy comes from a variety of sources. Past performance or accomplishments will inform someone of what they are capable of. Vicarious experiences where a person watches someone else do something can also have an effect on self-efficacy. Have you ever said “hey, I can do that!” when you watch someone working out? That’s an example of vicarious self-efficacy. You could also be persuaded by someone verbally to have self-efficacy. Dad shouting “you can do it!” when you’re up to bat can give you that self-efficacy to hit the ball in that moment. Finally, physiological states, such as feelings of pain and fatigue or illness can cause you to lose self-efficacy in certain situations.

Slide 40

Only the individual truly knows their own self-efficacy, so measuring self-efficacy is usually performed with a self-assessment like the one you see here. The assessment should include different levels of the activity in question. In the example here, we can see the levels are distinguished by the number of miles you think you can jog without stopping. Then, the assessment should include a strength scale, usually from 0 to 100 or 0 to 10, that the person can use to assess their self-efficacy at each level. In the example here, we see that the self-assessor is extremely confident they can job up to 3 miles without stopping, but as the number of miles increases, their self-efficacy decreases, until we get to 7 miles, at which point the individual has no confidence at all.

Slide 41

Here we can see a great example of an assessment designed to measure an individual’s self-efficacy in overcoming barriers to exercise. The levels are represented by the various reasons people say they cannot exercise, from having little time, to the weather, to being too tired. I’m sure we’ve heard these all before! See if you can determine your own self-efficacy in each of these areas.

Slide 42

So how can we as personal trainers affect self-efficacy in our clients? We can perform interventions using our knowledge of the theory of self-efficacy in four ways. First, we can invoke the client’s past performances, reminding them of what they have been capable of in the past. We can show them examples of people in similar situations who are accomplishing their fitness goals. We can use positive persuasion to help them gain self-efficacy. Finally, we can educate the client about their particular condition, opening their awareness of what they are actually capable of.

Slide 43

Self-efficacy theory does have its limitations. Self-efficacy theory is usually focused on the individual starting an activity, not necessarily continuing an activity. The influence of self-efficacy theory diminishes as the individual habituates the activity.

Slide 44

Theory of reasoned action and theory of planned behavior

Slide 45

The Theory of Reasoned Action focuses on predicting an individual’s behavior in a single activity. The theory was originally developed to predict voting behavior in an election, and sought to use an individual’s intention to vote as a predictor. The Theory of Reasoned Action is most powerful when used to predict a single action within a short time span. The theory loses power as it is applied to actions that happen further in the future, or actions that require ongoing commitment over time.

Slide 46

The theorist further broke down intention into two components: attitude and subjective norms. In this case, attitude refers to a person’s positive or negative thoughts about the action. In the case of voting, a person has a positive attitude if they think their vote matters and they care who wins the election. Subjective norms can be thought of like social pressure. Again, in the case of voting, subjective norms refers to the social pressure to vote, and how society will perceive us if we don’t vote.

Slide 47

Interventions based on the Theory of Reasoned Action require you as a personal trainer to improve your client’s attitude toward exercise, as well as generate external or social pressure to exercise. These techniques might work well to get your client to exercise today, but will not lead to long-term success for your clients.

Slide 48

A few years after the Theory of Reasoned Action was formed, researchers added a third component to the theory: Perceived Behavioral Control, or PBC. They also renamed the theory to the Theory of Planned Behavior, or TPB. Perceived Behavioral Control refers to an individual’s perception of how much control they are able to exert on a given situation. This is similar in concept to the concept of self-efficacy, where the individual’s perception of their own abilities or control help to inform us of their behavioral actions. To give an example, someone might have positive attitudes about exercise and might feel significant social pressure (subjective norm) to exercise, but if they feel like they have no control over their exercise behavior, such as lack of time, lack of access to equipment, or no knowledge of where to begin, they are unlikely to actually begin exercising.

Slide 49

As a personal trainer, adding Perceived Behavioral Control to your list of motivation tools can help client’s overcome their obstacles. You can promote a sense of personal control over your clients’ exercise behavior, and help an individual overcome some of their perceived barriers.

Slide 50

Self-Determination Theory

Slide 51

Self-Determination Theory is based on the idea that people engage in challenging activities for three reasons. First, people have a need for self-determination, which refers to autonomy and self-dependent behavior. Second, people have a need to demonstrate competence and master an activity. Finally, people have a need to relate to other people through social interactions.

Slide 52

The Self-Determination Theory uses the scale you see here to categorize motivations as having high self-determination and low self-determination. At the top of the scale, we see that intrinsic motivation provides the highest level of self-determination. We learned earlier that intrinsic motivation comes from within the person. A person with intrinsic motivation genuinely gets pleasure and satisfaction from exercise. They probably don’t require much intervention from a personal trainer. On the other end of the scale, someone who is amotivated is simply not motivated by anything. In the middle, we can identify several forms of extrinsic motivation, some of which realize higher self-determination than others, but not to the same level as intrinsic motivation.

Slide 53

As a personal trainer, interventions based on the Self-Determination Theory enhance an individual’s sense of autonomy and foster long-term commitment to exercise. You might have heard the phrase, “give a man a fish and feed him for a day, give a man a fishing pole and feed him for life.” The same idea applies here. You might be able to use the Theory of Reasoned Action to get your client to exercise today, but interventions based on the Self-Determination theory will give your client the autonomy to exercise for the rest of their lives. Remember there is also a social component of the Self-Determination Theory, so interventions should also focus on giving your client a positive, supportive environment with satisfying social interactions.

Slide 54

At this time, the Self-Determination Theory is well regarded by the fitness community for sustaining exercise in clients over longer periods of time. However, more research is required to determine exactly how effective the theory is in predicting exercise behavior. What is the relationship between self-determination and the experience of interest and other affective states?



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