EXERCISE PSYCHOLOGY Theories of Exercise Behavior:

sport psychology  EXERCISE PSYCHOLOGY Theories of Exercise Behavior:

Psychological models of human behavior have been applied to the exercise-setting in an attempt to explain why people don’t exercise, why they start to exercise, and why they do or do not continue to exercise, and why they start exercising again if they stop. These models include:

  • The Theory of Reasoned Action
  • The Theory of Planned Behavior
  • The Transtheoretical Model
  • Social Cognitive Theory

The Theory of Reasoned Action

The theory of reasoned action proposes that the main precursor of a behavior such as exercise is the individual’s intention to perform the behavior. The intention to perform the behavior is determined by the individual’s attitude towards the behavior as well as social norms or social pressure to perform the behavior. Research by Estabrooks and Courneya (1997) has demonstrated the effectiveness of the theory of reasoned action in exercise settings. While the theory of reasoned action is a viable model for predicting exercise behavior, research has demonstrated that its predictive power is increased when personal control is added to the model. This observation led to the development of the theory of planned behavior.

The Theory of Planned Behavior

The theory of planned behavior is an extension of the theory of reasoned action. The intention to perform a behavior is fundamental to the theory. Intention is determined by the individual’s attitude towards the behavior and social norms. The difference between the theory of reasoned action and theory of planned behavior is the addition of behavioral control to the latter model. An individual will maintain or initiate an exercise program if his intention is firm and he feels in control. Intention is in turn a function of his attitude towards exercise and perceived social support. Several researches have demonstrated general support for the theory of planned behavior in predicting exercise behavior. Strong support for the theory of planned behavior is also provided through meta-analysis reported by Hausenblas, Carron, and Mack (1997).

The Transtheoretical Model

According to the transtheoretical model, individuals pass through five dynamic stages in adopting healthy long-term exercise behavior. The stages are dynamic, because individuals may move in and out of the several stages before reaching the final stage, which is also dynamic.

The five stages are:

  1. Precontemplation
  2. Contemplation
  3. Preparation
  4. Action
  5. Maintenance Other factors that interact include self-efficacy, perception of gains and losses, and a set of psychological obstacles that may need to be addressed (e.g., personal or family conflicts).

Social Cognitive Theory

Social cognitive theory provides a viable way to explain exercise behavior. Individuals who are dissatisfied with their current exercise behavior who exhibit high levels of exercise self-efficacy, and who set exercise goals are generally able to achieve their goals. Exercise self-efficacy is a powerful predictor of exercise behavior. Individuals who believe in themselves and believe that they can be successful at maintaining an exercise program generally are successful.

Fitness as a Moderator of Life Stress

Given the positive relationship between exercise and improved mental health, it follows that physical fitness should serve as a buffer against life stress. The ability of individuals to insulate, protect, or inoculate themselves against the stresses of life through regular exercise is called stress inoculation. Research shows that the psychological benefits associated with regular exercise do not normally require an increase in physical fitness. Aerobics fitness, however, does appear to be a necessary precursor to the stress inoculation effect. Aerobically fit individuals appear to be inoculated against stress, illness, and the general hassles of life to a greater extent than less aerobically fit individuals. Children and adults who engage in healthy behavior that leads to physical fitness can insulate themselves from various physical and psychological health problems throughout their lives. Life stress represents an accumulation of the daily hassles and challenges of living out our lives. Individuals who exercise regularly and maintain a high level of physical fitness are less susceptible to the negative effects of life stress. Evidence of this hypothesis has been provided by a number of researchers. Research results of an investigation show an interactive relationship between life stress, physical fitness, and number of visits the the health center (illness). Being physically fit serves to inoculate the individual against illness during periods of high stress. Conversely, physically unfit individuals appear to be unprotected against high stress.


Cox, H. Richard. (2002). Sport Psychology: Concepts and Applications. (Fifth Edition). New York: McGraw-Hill Companies Lavallec. D., Kremer, J., Moran, A., & Williams. M. (2004) Sports Psychology: Contemporary Themes. New York: Palgrave Macmillan Publishers

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