Motivational Communication Techniques Help Exercisers, Study Suggests Move Away From ‘No Pain, No Gain’

Motivational Communication Techniques Help Exercisers, Suggests Move Away From 'No Pain, No Gain'

A small set of findings suggests that indoor cycling instructors who use motivational techniques and communication can better satisfy, engage, and appeal to participants in fitness classes. Although the study does not actually compare these results to techniques based on the “no pain, no gain” mantra, the results suggest a possible alternative to more hard-line approaches.

The study focused on 29 indoor cycling instructors and 246 class members, with 10 and 75 serving as the control group respectively. The instructors were made to engage in motivationally adaptive communication when talking to exercisers. This more or less means that the instructors were given workshops, educational videos, and engaged in group discussions and activities to help plan out approaches and strategies. If this sounds vague, that’s because it is. The best way to understand what happened is that the test group of instructors was trained to take time to listen to and respond to their exercisers needs, acknowledge feelings, respond appropriately, explain tasks, and give exercisers chances to offer input and decisions on the workout. It is not clear what the control group was asked to do.

Unfortunately for the researchers, comparing the test and the control groups proved unreliable. This was because the there was a large attrition rate among the instructors and exercisers in the control group, which threw off calculations of how significant comparisons were. Instead, they were left to assess the motivation group in isolation.

It was found that the exercisers in the motivation group had their perceptions of the instructor’s strategies, feelings of having needs satisfied, and intentions to remain in the class all increase over time. Among the instructors of the same group, they felt more satisfaction over time and also reported being less controlling.

What This Means

The idea that a motivation-based approach with more open communication could improve satisfaction and retention is far from shocking, but it’s nice to have a small bit of extra validation from the study. For some reason, the press release makes a big deal of comparing this approach to the “no pain, no gain” method, which the writers seem to interpret as an instructor appearing indifferent and not explaining themselves.

Even if that was the method used by the control group—of which there is no indication—the attrition rate made a comparison unusable. Still, since the more hard-line approach has shown limited effectiveness and in some cases is known to backfire and cause things like eating disorders, it’s nice to know that there is some evidence of a viable alternative—however obvious.

Wheeler, M., “‘No pain, no gain’ fails to motivate exercisers,” Science Network web site, September 20, 2016;, last accessed September 21, 2016.

Ntoumanis, N., “The effects of training group exercise class instructors to adopt a motivationally adaptive communication style,” Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 2016;