Why do you exercise?

Being a personal trainer certified through the American College of Sports Medicine I have to complete continuing education credits (CECs) to keep my certification valid and up to date. Like many other certifications or licenses. I came across something about a year ago while reading some articles for my CECs, took a screen shot of it, but never actually used it. Then I was reminded of it while talking with a client recently about why she is currently exercising.


There is something in the psychology world called the “self determination continuum.” I remember it briefly from one psychology class from college, but in theory it is a scale that helps you determine your motivation for completing certain tasks.


Well, ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine) has spun this continuum into something exercise related. Consider this me citing a sources for the first time in a blog of mine. I did NOT create what I am writing about below 🙂 There are six stages on the continuum for why you might be exercising and I see all of these with my current clients. I have been at many of these stages (as I will talk briefly about below as well). My goal for this post is for you to read through the six stages and see where you are at currently. Farther down the list you are the more sustainable exercise is in the long run. But, that doesn’t mean you can’t be successful if you are in the middle of the continuum. Remember, not everyone will LOVE exercise…I do it for my career for reason 🙂



Here is the continuum (remember I am citing ACSM on this one):


  1. Amotivation: “I don’t know why I am exercising, but I do it. “
    1. I don’t think I have ever really been at this stage…
  2. External Regulation: “I exercise because other’s want me to.”
    1. This was me in 8th grade when my dad got out his old weight lifting set and told me to start lifting. I hated it, but I didn’t have a choice. In hindsight, it was what I needed to learn a few things about lifting.
  3. Introjected Regulation: ” I exercise to not feel bad about myself.”
    1. I have never been here, but this is VERY common with many people in today’s society. Often people with self image issues. I see this quite often.
  4. Identified Regulation: ” I exercise because its important to me.”
    1. This was me in college. I began to see the importance of exercise for my performance on the track, how I looked and my confidence. When you hit this stage, exercise is becoming a more POSITIVE experience and will be more sustainable.
  5. Integrated Regulation: “I exercise because it fits who I am.”
    1. This me. Exercise is my career and a huge part of my life. Its how I have gained confidence and I am most confident when talking about exercise more than any other subject. I know it. I live it. This is where many of my clients have transitioned to over the years and I love it! At this stage, you might not love all the stuff you do in the gym, but its part of your lifestyle and don’t like to miss workouts. You have this “weird” desire to not miss workouts because you know you need to be doing it.
  6. Intrinsic motivation: “I exercise because I enjoy it.”
    1. This is also me. I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t enjoy exercise. Now, this doesn’t mean you have to enjoy it every day, but in general you like exercise for the results it provides for you, how you feel, how you look and your improved confidence levels. Not everyone will get here though and that is OK! I talk about this with clients quite often actually. I don’t expect clients to enjoy exercise as much as me…I am doing it for my career remember! But, if you can start to enjoy parts of your exercise journey it only makes things more sustainable.


Thought this was an interesting graph! The far left column says “knowing it is good for me.” The middle column says “knowing it will give me a pick-me-up” The far right column says “achieving my fitness goal.”





Final take away points:


  1. The farther down this continuum you can get, the better. It means exercise is more sustainable, less painful, less stressful and more fun!
  2. Take this in stride. It will take time to move down this continuum. For me, it took from 8th grade until college before I truly started to enjoy and embrace exercise. In high school I mostly hated weight lifting, but did it for football. When I could start controlling my workouts a bit more in college, I learned to love it.
  3. If you are stuck somewhere in the middle and don’t see yourself moving any further down the continuum, know that you are not alone. There is a reason that the personal training and fitness world is booming right now. There are more and more people in the “regulation” stages of this continuum; meaning they know they need to exercise, but don’t enjoy it enough to do it on their own. They hire coaches and trainers to help with accountability.
  4. Keep working hard. In the end what matters is that you are actually “doing the work” no matter where you are on the continuum 🙂



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