Self-monitoring using pedometers is an effective behaviour change technique to support increased physical activity (PA). However, the ways in which pedometers operate as motivational tools in adoption and maintenance of PA is not well understood. This paper investigates men’s experiences of pedometers as motivational tools both during and after their participation in a 12-week group-based, weight management programme for overweight/obese men, Football Fans in Training (FFIT).
Semi-structured telephone interviews were conducted with 28 men, purposively sampled to include men who did and did not achieve 5% weight loss during the programme. Data were analysed thematically utilising the framework approach, using Self-Determination Theory (SDT) - namely concepts of behavioural regulation and the basic needs of relatedness, competence and autonomy - as an analytical lens.
During the programme, FFIT’s context and fellow participants supported relatedness and encouraged use of the pedometer. The pedometer was seen to provide tangible proof of progress, thus increasing competence for change, whilst the ability to monitor one’s own progress and take remedial action supported autonomy; these men portrayed the pedometer as an ‘ally’. However, a minority found the pedometer ‘dispiriting’ or controlling when it evidenced their inability to meet their PA targets.
After the programme, some men no longer used the device as they had fully internalised their motivations for increased PA. In contrast, others continued to use pedometers or progressed to other self-monitoring technologies because it was enjoyable and facilitated maintenance of their increased PA. However, the minority of men who experienced the pedometer as controlling no longer used it. They were less successful in achieving 5% weight loss and appeared reliant on external factors, including support from coach and group members, to maintain motivation.
These findings show how self-monitoring using pedometers and associated goal setting supported the development of autonomous motivation for PA, during and after participation in a group-based programme. They also suggest that programmes could focus on early identification of participants who remain motivated by extrinsic factors or express negative experiences of self-monitoring tools, to offer greater support to identify the benefits of PA based on a person’s own values.