Effects of a 12-Week Resistance Exercise Program on Physical Self-Perceptions in College Students

Article excerpt

There is an increase in literature suggesting exercise can promote positive changes in physical self-perceptions that can manifest as an increase in global self-esteem. In the present study, we assessed self-esteem using the hierarchical framework of the Exercise and Self-Esteem Model (EXSEM) along with cognitive facets at the subdomain level (e.g., competence, certainty, importance, and ideal self-discrepancy). This allowed for an analysis of cognitive facets as possible contributors to changes in physical self-perceptions. We addressed these aims with a sample of 120 college-age adults who completed a 12-week resistance exercise program. Results indicated significant improvements in self- perception constructs at all levels of the EXSEM. The hierarchical structure of the EXSEM was partially supported, as we observed successively smaller improvements at each level of the model (e.g., self-esteem showed lesser improvements than physical self-worth). In addition, a path model developed to explain the impact of strength changes on self-esteem proved a good fit for the data. Results are discussed in terms of contemporary models of self-perception, potential mediators of exercise on self-esteem, and the need to consider cognitive facets of self-perception.

Key words: adults, cognition, self-esteem, weight training


Self-esteem is considered one of the fundamental indicators of mental health (Fox, 2000), emotional stability, and adjustment to life demands (Sonstroem, 1997). Self-esteem is "the awareness of good possessed by the self" and is synonymous with self-worth (Biddle, Fox, & Boutcher, 2000). Higher levels of self-esteem are also associated with persistence and success in health-related behaviors, such as higher levels of physical activity (Fox, 2000) and refraining from smoking and drinking (Fox, 1999). Research has indicated that physical activity participation can have a positive impact on self-esteem (Sonstroem, 1997). Consequently, a large body of work has been dedicated to studying the influence of physical activity on self-esteem.

Previous research, within the context of physical activity, showed that self-esteem should be considered multidimensional and hierarchical (Sonstroem, Harlow, & Josephs, 1994). This hierarchical concept was introduced in the physical activity literature with the development of the Exercise and Self-esteem Model (EXSEM; Sonstroem & Morgan, 1989). Within the EXSEM, physical self-worth (i.e., domain-level esteem) is hypothesized to be derived from more narrow subdomains of physical competence and physical acceptance. Physical competence is defined as a statement of one's physical ability. Physical acceptance is the amount of regard one holds for a given level of physical ability. Both these subdomains are hypothesized to be influenced by more specific physical self-efficacy beliefs, (i.e., beliefs about how well one can perform specific physical tasks). These specific beliefs concerning physical tasks are hypothesized to exist as subdomains, underlying physical competence (Sonstroem & Morgan, 1989).

The hierarchical and multidimensional structure of the EXSEM allows a focus on the elements of physical self-worth while considering changes in key constructs influenced by physical activity interventions (McAuley, Blissmer, Kamla, Duncan, & Mihalko, 2000). Meta-analytic reviews of self-esteem and physical activity found a range of significant, although small (Spence, McGannon, & Poon, 2005) to larger more moderate (McDonald & Hodgdon, 1991), changes in self-esteem associated with exercise participation. Because there is no consensus that can explain this variation across studies, the EXSEM has the potential to aid researchers in understanding the physical activity/ self-esteem relationship. To this end, there has been extensive research across diverse populations. For example, the relationship between physical activity and self-esteem was explored in adolescent girls (Crocker, Sabiston, Kowalski, McDonough, & Kowalski, 2006; Dishman et al. …