Five Stages of Change for Physical Fitness

Making the transition from nonexerciser to regular exercise can be hard.
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Becoming a regular exerciser can be hard; especially if you have been a nonexerciser for a long time or don't particularly enjoy exercise. It takes time to develop new habits and to lose old ones. In studying how we develop and maintain habits, psychologists Prochaska, Norcross and DiClemente developed a theory about the process of change called the Transtheoretical Model. Using this model, five stages of change can be distinguished: precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, action and maintenance. Some variations of this model also include a sixth stage: relapse or dropout, denoting a return to old habits.


When you are in the precontemplation stage, you will not have even thought about making changes. You could be an unapologetic smoker, be overweight but content being so or be a nonexerciser who never even thinks about becoming more active. Despite advice from friends or information in the media, if you are in the precontemplation stage, you are content with remaining as you are and will remain so until you become sufficiently motivated to think about making a change.


When you are in the contemplation stage, you are aware that you want or need to make some changes. You may feel that you need to lose some weight, get fit, give up smoking or become more physically active. In this stage, you may do some research so you can decide what steps to take and how to progress. For increased physical activity, this may mean contacting local gyms and asking about membership rates or asking your friends how, where and when they work out.


The preparation stage is all about planning for the next stage: action. This could include joining a gym, agreeing to meet a friend for a jog, buying home workout equipment or acquiring appropriate workout clothing. This stage may also involve setting fitness or weight loss goals. All of these actions take you one step closer to actually getting started on your quest for improved fitness and health.


After all the thinking and planning, it's now time to start actually exercising. This can be the hardest part of the Transtheoretical Model because you have to actually get up, get out and get moving. Initially, there may be a novelty factor that helps break the inertia of being sedentary; however, those first few workouts can be tough and remind you that you aren't in very good shape. Too much exercise too soon can leave you sore and tired, so it is important to be conservative initially and build up gradually, so the action stage does not come to a premature and abrupt halt.


As increased levels of physical activity become the norm, you enter the maintenance stage. You are no longer "just starting out," but are a regular exerciser. In this stage, you should see the benefits of your regular workouts, and while exercise never really gets any easier, you should find you can do more than before. While it is possible to enter a sixth stage of change -- relapse or dropout -- with support and by using motivational strategies such as goal setting, decision balance sheets and reward schemes, you should be able to stay in this phase of change for the foreseeable future.

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