Academic journal article American Journal of Health Education

Exercise as Punishment: An Application of the Theory of Planned Behavior

Academic journal article American Journal of Health Education

Exercise as Punishment: An Application of the Theory of Planned Behavior

Article excerpt


Background: Lack of exercise and physical inactivity have been implicated as contributors to obesity and overweight in America. At a time where experts point to the need for increased exercise, many youth have experienced exercise as a form of punishment, which appears to be imbedded in physical education and sport culture. Purpose: This study uses the theory of planned behavior (TPB) to examine and predict the use of exercise as punishment (EAP) by coaches and physical education teachers. Methods: Surveys based on the TPB were completed by 189physical education teachers and coaches. Results: More than 60% of respondents indicated that they had used EAP; the theory's constructs were able to explain 68% of the variance in participants' intentions to use EAP, with attitude and subjective norm being significant predictors. Discussion: The use of exercise as punishment by many teachers and coaches may contribute to lack of enjoyment and lack of participation in exercise and sport. Further research needs to address the consequences of this practice and to determine if it does lead to future inactivity. Translation to Health Education Practice: Teachers and coaches need to be educated about the possible negative impact of EAP and positive alternative approaches to behavior management.


Using exercise as punishment (EAP) or behavior management is a practice considered by national coaching, health and physical education organizations as inappropriate and counter-productive in helping children become active for the rest of their lives. (1,2,3) Examples of using physical activity as punishment include the practices of coaches who require their losing teams to run laps or undergo punishment practices, or teachers who require misbehaving or late students to do push-ups, sit-ups, or squat thrusts. Many individuals know physical education teachers and coaches who inappropriately use exercise as a form of punishment, and although it appears to be pervasive among coaches, teachers and fitness professionals, this phenomenon is just beginning to be studied.

Schools are often the first places where children experience exercise or physical activity as punishment. Schools provide children with much of their formal instruction about physical activity, and schools have been identified as important environments for promoting and increasing physical activity among children. (4,5) Recently enacted legislation, the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act of 2004, requires school districts who participate in the National School Lunch Program to develop School Wellness Policies that include the promotion of physical activity. (6) These requirements, along with the current national focus on childhood obesity prevention (i.e., Michelle Obama's Let's Move!), point to a major role that schools can play in the promotion of lifelong physical activity and the prevention of many diseases related to inactivity and obesity. Despite these responsibilities and opportunities, however, schools are sometimes places where children come in to contact with teachers or coaches who use physical activity and exercise in an unacceptable and punitive fashion. (7,8)


Results of the 2006 School Health Policies and Program study (9) indicated that 32.3% of the schools included in the study allowed the use of physical activity as punishment, although the data did not indicate if the teaching and coaching staff actually used physical activity as a form of punishment. In 29 states, however, exercise used to punish is considered a form of corporal punishment that is illegal. (10) Corporal punishment is defined as "physically punishing children and inflicting pain with the intent of controlling behavior" (11) and "physical pain inflicted on the body of a child as a penalty for disapproved behavior." (12) Although corporal punishment in schools is legal in 21 states, it is prohibited in almost every other industrialized country in the world. …

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