Monday, November 15, 2010

Exercise Partner Reliance: Social Support in a Senior Exercise Class

WHAT: Participants in a senior center exercise program complete three, 1-hour sessions with an instructor each week.  Both individual and group instruction is utilized by the instructor during the exercise sessions.  The instructor is well aware that social support can encourage participation and success in their classes with the seniors.  It is the responsibility of the instructor to promote social support throughout the group exercise participants as well as demonstrating a socially supportive environment themselves as an exercise instructor.  The instructor believes that utilizing social support through the group will enhance individual’s performance with exercise while their social support as the instructor will increase participation and exercise performance in the group as a whole.

SO WHAT: It is important for the exercise instructor to encourage social support among participants as well as provide social support.  Courneya and McAuley (1995) define social support as information and help someone receives at both the individual and group level.  It may improve exercise performance and Gill and Williams (2008) note that the “quality of support is more than important than quantity of social contacts.”  It is important that exercise participants utilize social support contacts within the exercise class to enhance performance and influence continual participation.  In a study reviewed by Gill and Williams (2008) explain that social support is able to increase self-efficacy for individuals in an exercise program.  The instructor needs to find ways to encourage social support within the exercise group to help increase self-efficacy.

NOW WHAT: The instructor can measure their groups social support by administering the Social Support Questionnaire (Sarason, Levine, Basham, & Sarason, 1983).  Results from the questionnaire will help establish whether or not group members feel social contacts and support are available to them currently and will give the instructor advice on how to provide social support.  Gill and Williams (2008) describe Rosenfeld and Richman’s model of ways to provide social support such as emotional support and task appreciation.  To promote social support among group members, the instructor can have participants work in groups of 2 during certain exercises and encourage them to appraise and complement one another for their exercise efforts.  In these same groups, the instructor can challenge participants to rely on each other to attend all exercise sessions with their partner.  This is a way to provide emotional support among the group because they will know they may be letting a partner down by not attending.  Encouraging group members to attend exercise classes and pair with a partner that shares similar health or exercise backgrounds will also increase emotional support among individuals (Gill & Williams, 2008).  Courneya and McAuley (1995) describe guidance as another form of support.  This is the method the instructor will utilize to increase social support among the whole group.  The instructor will provide advice in regards to correct exercise form, exercise-related questions, and advice for exercise intensity, duration, amount of weight to lift, etc.  They will also provide the participants with relevant information regarding the exercise class and the benefits of exercise.  Within their scope of knowledge, the instructor will relay health benefiting information from exercise and types of work-outs to complete in a group or individual setting. 

CONCLUSION: The exercise instructor in the senior center has success with having healthy participants who exercise regularly 3 times per week.  Now the instructor must encourage and promote social support both at the individual and group level in their exercise class.  Quality of the support will be stressed over the quantity of support available to participants.  Previous research shows that social support is able to increase one’s self-efficacy during an exercise program.  After utilizing the SSQ, the instructor will have baseline knowledge of how the group perceives and understands their social support networks.  The instructor will split group members into pairs and encourage appraisal and complementing of one another during exercise sessions.  A buddy system will be implemented to promote emotional support by encouraging both partners to attend and rely on each other during each exercise class.  Finally, the instructor will utilize guidance as a social support domain to give exercise advice and provide educational knowledge to group members.  With these approaches, this exercise class will develop social support at both the individual and group level.


Courneya, K. S., & McAuley, E.(1995). Reliability and discriminant validity of subjective norm, social support, and cohesion in an exercise setting. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 17, 325-337.

Gill, D. L., & Williams, L. (2008). Psychological dynamics of sport and exercise (3rd Ed.). Champaign, IL:Human Kinetics.

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