Physiological discomfort is commonly cited as a barrier for initiating and persisting with exercise. Although individuals may think of physiological discomfort as determined by physical sensations, it can also be influenced by cognitive and emotional factors. We explored the impacts of interpreting the purpose of pain as a sign of muscle building (helpful) vs. a sign of muscle tearing and possible injury (harmful) and tested the effect of cognitive reappraisals, or shifting interpretations of pain, on exercise persistence and the subjective experience of discomfort during exercise. Seventy-eight participants were randomized to listen to voice recordings that framed exercise-related pain as helpful vs. harmful before participating in a standard muscular endurance test using the YMCA protocol. Although the two experimental groups did not differ in the overall number of resistance training repetitions achieved, participants who were asked to think about the benefits (rather than the negative consequences) of pain reported less negative pain valence during exercise. Thus, the experience of pain was influenced by appraisals of the meaning of pain, but differences in pain valence did not impact exercise persistence. Theoretical implications and applications for affect-based exercise interventions are discussed.
Keywords: affect; arousal; discomfort; exercise; exertion; pain; persistence; reappraisal; resistance; valence.