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Loser: Good for Entertainment, Bad for Fitness

Posted by Adam Naylor  October 13, 2012 04:11 PM

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Last week at the Association for Applied Sport Psychology annual convention I had the opportunity to listen to Joan Duda share insights from her life’s work. Dr. Duda is world renowned for her examination of motivational processes in sport and exercise. Over the course of an hour, she reminded the audience of how so many answers to success at fitness have been clearly outlined in research and theory but have been stifled in the marketplace.

The Biggest Loser was shared as an ignominious example of the marketplace trumping good science. Weeks of watching [insert your favorite celebrity trainer here] yell at, humiliate, and bully obese contestants provides no template for a successful exercise environment in non-reality t.v. reality. In a lot of regards it is actually a pretty good recipe for failed habits and poor health and wellness. The Loser coaching stumbles to fulfill all three core human needs identified by self-determination theory, one of the most prominent and respected motivation theories at this time: autonomy, competence, and relatedness.

Autonomy – Individuals need to feel a sense of leadership and decision making during their exercise experience. Personal trainers provide the expert exercise knowledge, but the exerciser ought to be in charge of the experience.

Competence –Exercisers need to view fitness programs as appropriately challenging and feel positive feedback for their efforts throughout activity. When failure is a black and white option that includes self-worth stealing embarrassment, motivation loss is not far behind. Positively viewed challenges followed by positive support create deep wells of energy.

Relatedness – Throughout the fitness journey it is necessary to form connecting relationships, rather than divisive ones. When competitiveness, comparisons, and drill sergeant trainers alienate exercisers, long term success at wellness behaviors are unlikely. Connecting and accepting exercise communities are healthy both physically and spiritually.

Watch closely, reality television fails miserably on the above motivational foundations. Does your exercise environment pass the motivation litmus test?

If it’s your type of entertainment, watch reality t.v. If fit living is your goal, make your own reality.

NaylorMug.jpgDr. Adam Naylor leads Telos Sport Psychology Consulting and is a Clinical Assistant Professor in Boston University’s School of Education. He has a decade and a half of experiences working with professional through amateur athletes – of note: US Open competitors, NCAA champions, Olympians, Stanley Cup winners, and UFC martial artists. Beyond sports, over the past five years he has served as a corporate performance and wellness consultant. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @ahnaylor.

Staying fit is an important part of staying healthy. This blog will offer exercise tips from experts as well as share the personal journeys of Globe staff members committed to fitness. No matter your age or energy level, we invite you to join in and share your own story. How do you find time to work out? What are your daily challenges? Let us know and read along -- and together, we can all get moving.


Elizabeth Comeau is a social media marketing manager at She will be blogging about her personal fitness journey and using a device called a FitBit to track her weekly goals and progress (see below). Follow her journey and share your own. Read more about Elizabeth and this blog.

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