While we know that exercise psychology is derived from sport psychology, the field of sport psychology has also seen its own challenges on the path to acceptance within the domain of psychology. Currently it has, at the very least, come to be viewed as a distinct science.
Many trainers (and often professional psychology practitioners, as well) regard exercise psychology as psychological work with athletes. This approach tends to divert focus from all of the unique research, practice and literature of sport psychology. Today there is a place for this knowledge gained in the daily activities of the personal trainer.
So, while the two have similar themes – yet distinct differences by definition – the underpinnings of all relationships with clients are best understood when we look at the big picture, so to speak. This perspective can be traced back to the work done in the past by both psychologists and experts within the realm of sport collectively.
To make things a little more complicated, we need to be aware of what the key differences between sport and exercise psychology are, too. There are several commonalities between the two kinds. But what really differentiates sport and exercise (therefore sport and exercise psychology as well) is the qualitative shift regarding performance and competition – which fall more appropriately under the topic of sports psychology. To understand this better, think about the dynamics involved when working with a team of athletes in competition versus the one-on-one structure of a personal training dynamic.
When compared to sports psychology, EP tends to shift the emphasis of application to go beyond these conceptual discrepancies mentioned so far. But methodologies, goals and purposes further delineate it from SP. Still, exercise psychology is a part of health psychology, just as sport psychology is a part of performance psychology. However, exercise psychology is more concerned with positive health outcomes, while sports psychology has its goals mainly in performance outcomes, as stated by Portenga and his colleagues.
Just before the turn of the 20th century, the connection linking exercise and psychology was established in discussions given by philosopher and psychologist William James. In James’ view, it was important to recognize exercise and its role in supporting such mental attributes as sanity, serenity, approachability and even good-humor.
There have been six distinct periods in the history of exercise psychology and the evolution of sport psychology. Periods five and six represent the most amount of change in the field, due to advanced testing protocols and technology.
Later, research would also establish a link, theorized previously, regarding the link between depression and exercise. Whereby it was suggested that a moderate amount of exercise was seen to be more helpful than not doing any exercise at all in this management of depression symptoms.
Exercise didn’t get as much attention or importance as an area of study until the 50’s and 60’s, when journal articles referencing research began to appear. Later, in 1968, the International Association of Sport Psychology presented several position statements at a gathering of sport psychologists in United States.
Continuing in this vain was the work of William Morgan, who wrote even more on the specifics of the relationship between exercise and other ‘various’ items tied to psychological interests such as mood, anxiety and exercise adherence. Although considered vital to understanding EP now, Morgan was clearly ahead of his time.
So, we see that sport and exercise psychology have a lot in common historically and theoretically. The American Psychological Association has a division specifically related to both sport and exercise psychology (division 47). A goal-oriented personal trainer will want to know how the differences between the two types are viewed by experts within the field of psychology, and how they affect their daily work with clients in terms of application.
The Application of Exercise History
According to Anshel (2007), exercise psychology evolves around the following topics: Motivation, Barriers of Exercise, Exercise Adherence, Exercise Dependence, Exercise’s Relationship with Mental Health Issues, Interventions, Cognitive and Behavioral Strategies and Their Effect on Exercise, and Personality Traits and Characteristics of Exercise.
Exercise psychology aims to encourage healthy exercise behaviors or tries to use exercise as a possible mechanism or pathway to achieve better health (both physical and mental.) Regular exercise behavior is intended to enhance and maintain the exerciser’s well-being and health. Exercise psychology concerns with the effects of exercising on the quality of the individual’s life. In this way, the realm of exercise psychology must be viewed in light of both its cause and effect in relation to the client.
In the development of their psychological skills and capabilities, this can be almost as difficult to achieve for some as much as their physical capabilities. Most aspects of working co-actively with a client will require an understanding of how our client presents themselves normally. This includes their traits or their steady state. When described this way, we can easily see that we are also referring to personality, typical responses and attention levels. These are dimensions of your client’s psychological core.
This might also include stress management skills, the level of intensity tied to their concentration, or even the approach used for setting challenging – but at the same time – realistic goals. These are all psychological characteristics. For most clients, these can be learned and developed. They contribute to the performance and the well-being of the client, thus we have to know more about them and keep them operating in the background of our mind-set or approach if we are to make proper use of their application.
You will learn about exercise physiology in the NESTA Personal Fitness Trainer Certification, Wexford University Personal Training Certification, the MMA Conditioning Coach Certification and the ITCA Triathlon Coach Certification programs.