Research paper review: Group exercise intensity, enjoyment, and adherence

A study by researchers at the University of Pavia in Italy have found that the higher the intensity in a group exercise class, the less likely you are to enjoy it, and, therefore, adhere to it. Or so it would seem…

The researchers took 27 people and put them through a moderate intensity fitness class for one hour. And then took the same people through a vigorous intensity fitness class for one hour. They compared exertion levels and feelings of enjoyment and then compared the two.

Not surprisingly, they found that people worked harder in the vigorous intensity session than in the moderate intensity session. They also found that people enjoyed the vigorous intensity less than the moderate intensity. From these results, they concluded that because people enjoyed moderate intensity more, they are more likely to adhere to moderate rather than high intensity group exercise workouts.

While from a science prospective it is true (assuming that the assumptions they made about enjoyment and adherence are true), from a practical application perspective we run into problems.

Many people will read this paper (or just the abstract) and immediately say that vigorous intensity group exercise (such as Les Mills GRIT SERIES) isn’t good and people just won’t stick to it.




What theyre really saying is doing AN HOUR of vigorous intensity group exercise (such as two GRIT SERIES workouts back to back) means that people are less likely to stick to it.

From a practical perspective most group exercise programs that are super high intensity do not last for an hour, mainly because it’s too hard for the vast majority of group exercise goers, and it will scare people off. So, does this research paper add some science into something that we kind of already knew? Probably, yes.

Hedonic Theory of Motivation

The hedonic theory of motivation basically says that the more we associate something with pleasure, the more likely we are to do it again (it’s got way more substance to it than that but for the purposes of this article that’s all we need to know!). The conclusions of this study are very much based on this.

But there is another thing which they did not really touch upon in this scientific study. The effect of the instructor. What if the instructor were able to create a sense of inclusivity, non-negative motivation, and (more importantly from a hedonistic point of view), such a sense of achievement that at the end of your vigorous workout you have a sense of euphoria? These are all positive emotions, and could swing the overall feeling of said workout to positive, therefore increasing the likelihood of adherence. So could the instructor have an effect on this? Perhaps. But this needs to be studies further.

The bottom line

The real take away message from this is that an hour of vigorous intensity exercise is less enjoyable than an hour of moderate intensity exercise. Hardly ground-breaking stuff. But it does ask more questions which merit further studies on our knowledge of exercise adherence (the study in question didn’t directly measure this, they assumed it based on our current knowledge of the subject), and whether or not instructor input and training time can be an influencing factor on enjoyment levels.

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