People respond better to a fitness instructor who focus on function, not fat

A trip to the gym can be mood-enhancing or harrowing for your self-esteem, depending on your mindset, the shape you’re in, or oh, yeah – what your fitness instructor says. Does she talk smack for an hour about how you all need to stop eating carbs and tone your glutes?

A new study from Northwestern  University study published in the Journal of Sports Psychology tested the effects that a body-shaming instructor had on women’s mood and body satisfaction versus an instructor whose workout comments focused on getting stronger and fitter.

203 college women took a 16-minute strength and conditioning fitness class and were randomly assigned to a class that featured reinforcement based on either appearance or health and strength.

The students in the strength-focused class heard their instructor say things like, “This class is intended to help you strengthen your core muscles which are essential for initiating movement, enabling your body to do all the things you enjoy.” There was no mention of weight loss.

Meanwhile, people in the appearance-focused class heard, “This class is intended to work your butts, guts, and thighs to get rid of those tricky problem spots, burn fat, and get you ready for summer.”

Perhaps not surprisingly, women were found more likely to feel stronger and better after themselves after the strength-focused class. They were more likely to feel ashamed after the appearance-focused one.

“Those who heard appearance-focused comments were much more likely to write things like ‘ashamed’ and ‘disgusted with myself,’ ” after the class, said Renee Engeln, lead author of the study and professor of instruction in psychology in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern, in a release.

“If we want people to stick with exercise, we need to remove shame from the equation,” Engeln added. “This study points to an easy and cost-free step that fitness instructors can take to make their classrooms healthier, more inclusive and more inspiring.”