Why Do So Few of Us Fail to Value Taking Care of Ourselves?

As both a personal trainer/ strength coach and a PhD student with an interest in behavior, I end up having some pretty specific questions. For example, knowing all the health benefits of resistance training why are most of us failing to meet the recommendations? In the face of evidence that says exercising in general literally makes us live longer why aren’t we putting aside some time to take care of ourselves?

The same things that cause behavior are also the reason why people don’t engage in certain behaviors. Let’s take for example, value. If someone sees high value in a thing like resistance training, then they are going to be more likely to engage in resistance training. Conversely, if someone sees low or no value in resistance training then they won’t do resistance training.

It’s the same construct where it’s presence of absence contributes to behavior.

Why Would Someone do Resistance Training?

In brief, determinants are what cause and influence behavior. For example, if I wanted to go out on a run this morning but it’s down-pouring then the weather influences my behavior. Am I going to go out in the rain to run? No probably not. 

But what if I found a lot of value in running, what if I was confident that I could run in the rain? Would I be more likely to do it?

Yes, the answer is yes.

In this case we have what’s called an intrapersonal determinant, aka the stuff going on in my head, interacting with environmental determinants (the weather).

If we just looked at the intrapersonal determinants, we would see that outcome expectations (i.e. what do I expect as a benefit from the behavior), self-efficacy (confidence that you can do the behavior), social support, intentions (motivation to do the behavior), attitudes, and self-regulation all contribute to resistance training behavior.

For example, if I thought that resistance training would improve my mood (outcome expectation), if I found resistance training to be fun (behavioral regulation) and if I was confident that I could do resistance training I would probably have a pretty strong intention to do it. Intentions are important. Most people don’t do resistance training unless they intend to do it. 

To translate intentions into behavior, people need to make plans when and where they will do the behavior. They need to have plans if barriers come up and they need to be confident that they can overcome these barriers.

What Do We Do Now?

So, the question is why do people do resistance training? People who have autonomous motivation, have higher confidence, and have greater intentions and recovery self-efficacy are more likely to meet the guidelines. People who make action planning and coping planning are also more likely to meet the guidelines. Knowing this, we need to find ways to enhance and improve these determinants.

Confidence, or self-efficacy is going to be enhanced with experience. The best option is to find a resistance training challenge that you are confident that you can tackle. Never done resistance training before? Maybe the first step for you is to go out and buy a dumbbell or some resistance tubing. In the comfort of your home try some basic at home exercises like these


Also, here is a whole list of upper and lower body exercises you can do at home. Once these get easier, try harder things and think about getting a gym membership. If you’d like a quicker confidence booster think about doing a few sessions with a personal trainer.

To improve autonomous motivation, find a gym that caters to your personality. Find a gym that provides community support that is fun for you. Big commercial gyms are fine and often cost less. But in reality, you should be thinking about paying for your time. If a gym that motivates you to do the work cost 150 dollars a month and you go 16 times per month you are paying less than 10 dollars a session. Compare that to a 75-dollar commercial gym where you go once a week; you’re technically paying more for that gym.

Make a Plan and Stick To It!

Next, imagine all the things in your life that you care about that would improve if you were more fit. You might not love resistance training, but I bet there is something you do love or value. Maybe it’s hiking, maybe it’s having an independent life or being around for your kids. Maybe you just like being alive, well, doing resistance training 3 times per week can help with that. Make the mental connection between what you care about in life and your own health.

If you are motivated to do resistance training you should make action plans about where to fit it into your day. You should also make attempts to plan what you will do if something gets in the way of your training. How will you make it up? Recovery self-efficacy is a significant predictor of behavior. Having a plan to make up missed sessions and to stay on track is associated with adherence. In the beginning stages having a plan and staying diligent will be important!

It is important to know what you need to have in place to build up motivation/ an intention to do resistance training. It is pretty straight forward for me to express the notion that meeting the recommendations for strength training is good for you. There has been loads of research that can attest to this. But it can be scary to try it on your own, you might not be sure what you’re doing. This is completely fine.

Try an in-home routine with minimal equipment to get started, or if you want to get right into it, try a few sessions with a good trainer. These are two ways to boost your confidence. Once you’re motivated to do it on your own make sure you have a plan in place and make sure you come back to it after initial setbacks in adherence.

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