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Measurements of Acute Affective Responses to Resistance Exercise: A Narrative Review

Beaumont, Cory; Ferrara, Paula-Marie M.; Strohacker, Kelley

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Translational Journal of the ACSM: Summer 2020 - Volume 5 - Issue 11 - p 1-7
doi: 10.1249/TJX.0000000000000126



Many of the leading noncommunicable diseases observed in adults (e.g., obesity, cardiovascular disease, and type II diabetes) can be, in part, prevented or treated through regular participation in physical activity and/or exercise (1). With regard to aerobic activity, experts recommend that adults engage in the metabolic equivalent of 150 min of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week, 75 min of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity per week, or a combination thereof (1). Experts also recommend that adults should participate in moderate-load muscle strengthening activities, targeting all major muscle groups (quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteus maximus, pectoralis, deltoids, latissimus dorsi, biceps, triceps, and rectus abdominis) on two or three nonconsecutive days (1). A higher proportion (51.6%) of adults in the United States report meeting the aerobic guidelines compared with the 29.3% of adults who report meeting the muscle strengthening guidelines (2). Promoting the adoption of, and the regular participation in, resistance exercise is important because of the unique health benefits one may receive, including increased bone density, increased lean body mass, decreased fat mass, and positive effects on insulin sensitivity, glucose metabolism, and resting metabolic rate (3,4).

Researchers posit that positive affective responses to exercise may improve adherence and adoption rates (5). Core affect can be understood as the foundation of emotions and mood states and, under the circumplex model of affect, is composed of varying degrees of pleasant/unpleasant states combined with activated/deactivated states (6). An exercise–affect–adherence chain has been proposed (7,8), which theorizes that exercise produces an immediate positive or negative affective response, and that the direction and magnitude of this response will influence behavioral maintenance or attrition. Recently, the Affective–Reflective Theory of physical inactivity and exercise was developed and posits that there are both automatic associations and more conscious, reflective evaluations to exercise-related stimuli (9), and that the interaction between these factors will influence exercise behavior. Within the framework of the Affective–Reflective Theory of physical inactivity and exercise, an individual’s affective experiences during exercise (“in-task affect”) over time would influence future exercise participation.

Most work centered around the exercise–affect–adherence chain has been conducted using aerobic exercise and has provided important insight (5,10,11). In particular, research supports a Dual Mode Model (12) of affect, such that aerobic activity performed below an individual’s ventilatory threshold typically produces more positive affect than aerobic exercise performed above an individual’s ventilatory threshold, which will typically produce negative ratings of affect. This difference is believed to be on account of individuals’ ability to devote attention to cognitive factors such as self-efficacy and exercise-related goals when intensity is below their ventilatory threshold. Conversely, when intensities result in individuals crossing their ventilatory threshold, attention shifts to interoceptive factors that may be unpleasant, such as rapid heart rate, increased respiratory rate, and muscular strain and fatigue. Another influential finding is that the in-task affective response differs from affective responses measured after an exercise bout (13). In particular, a rebound effect commonly occurs, in which participants may report decreases in affect over time during continuous aerobic exercise but report more positive ratings immediately after cessation of exercise (14,15). The explicit assessment of in-task affect is important because these ratings have been found to predict the levels of participation in future exercise (16–18), as well as the intention to continue participation in aerobic activity (19,20), whereas postsession ratings do not.

Although the literature focused on affective responses to resistance exercise is not as extensive as the aerobic literature, interest in the field appears to be growing. A recent systematic review was conducted regarding the role resistance exercise has on the influence of affect, anxiety, and mood (21). The review synthesizes 32 studies, provides recommendations to exercise participants, and provides insight into future research. Cavarretta et al. suggested that rest intervals and repetition duration (i.e., cadence of exercise) should be self-selected, and exercisers should save their favorite exercise for the conclusion of a bout. However, they provided little detail regarding the nature of the affective response measurements within the studies included for analysis. The instrumentation used was documented, but no details were provided regarding the details timing, frequency, or analyses of such measures. It is important to note that some of the instruments cited in the review of Cavarretta et al. that are commonly implemented throughout the literature (e.g., Positive and Negative Affect Schedule and Subjective Exercise Experiences Scale) do not necessarily represent the entire domain of affect, leading researchers to encourage the use of the Feeling Scale (FS) and the Felt Arousal Scale (FAS) to assess the dimensions of the affect circumplex (22–24). The in-task experiences are crucial, as demonstrated in the aerobic literature, but currently there is no broadly accepted protocol to clearly define measurement of in-task affect for discontinuous activity spanning various exercise, such as resistance exercise. Thus, the purpose of the present review is to synthesize the available literature regarding the timing of affective measurements during resistance exercise with the aim of moving toward a more deliberate, standardized method of measuring the resistance exercise experience. With a clearer understanding of affective responses to resistance exercise, further insight can be added into the exercise–affect–adherence chain.


A systematic search of published literature related to the affective response to resistance exercise was conducted between August and September 2018. Given the lag between the initial search and the manuscript preparation, a follow-up search of published literature was conducted again in December 2019 to cover more recent articles published after September 2018. The search methodology is reported in a fashion similar to the guidelines described in the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (25) to be objective and replicable. However, because of the nature of the research question, results of the search are presented in a narrative fashion.

Search Strategy

A visual representation of the search strategy according to the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses guidelines is shown in Figure 1. Peer-reviewed articles were retrieved from PubMed, PsycInfo, and SportDiscus. Ten terms related to affective response (“core affect,” “affective valence,” “Feeling Scale,” “positive affect,” “negative affect,” “enjoyment,” “pleasure,” “exercise experience,” “mood,” and “emotion”) were searched in conjunction with four terms related to resistance exercise (“resistance training,” “weight training,” “strength training,” and “resistance exercise”), resulting in 40 individual searches per data base.

Figure 1
Figure 1:
Search strategy following the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses guidelines.

Inclusion Criteria

For an article to be included in the final analysis, the following criteria were applied: 1) written in English, 2) resistance exercise as the only mode of physical activity, 3) affective responses were a primary study outcome, and 4) measurements of affect were taken during each session, rather than just the conclusion of a resistance training program. No restrictions were placed for publication date or participant demographics, nor were there criteria related to the method of affective measurement (i.e., any validated instrumentation used for measurement was acceptable). The first author conducted the full literature search of all three databases, performed the screening of titles and abstracts, and evaluated the publications that were deemed eligible for full reads. The last author conducted an independent screening of the titles and abstracts, as well as evaluating the studies’ eligibilities to be included in the narrative review. An agreement of 100% was reached for the articles assessed in the current review.


The initial search of all databases generated 898 titles. After removing duplicate titles, the total was reduced to 414. After screening the titles and abstracts, 32 articles were deemed eligible for a full review. Of the 32 articles reviewed, 9 studies were excluded based on the following criteria: interventions investigated the effects of resistance training on core affect over time, rather than during every session (7 articles); publication was not peer-reviewed (i.e., a dissertation, 1 article); and publication itself was a systematic review (1 article). One article was included from an additional source. The second search, conducted in December 2019, used the same strategy described above and yielded six more recent titles. Of these, four articles were added to the results, and two were excluded because of their chronic study design. In total, 28 studies met all inclusion criteria. Because a variety of loads was used across the studies (i.e., 60% of 10-repetition maximum [RM], 100% of 5RM), a normalized load value (%1RM) was calculated based on accepted conversions (e.g., 10RM = 75% of 1RM) for studies that did not use 1RM. Results are discussed in a narrative format to address the aim of describing procedures implemented to measuring affective responses to acute resistance exercise.


General Study Characteristics

Across the 28 studies included in the analysis, the majority of sample sizes ranged from 10 to 32 individuals, with one relatively large sample size of 104. Fifteen studies included individuals who were at least recreationally trained (26–40), eight studies included sedentary individuals (41–48), and five studies did not report training status of participants (49–53). Total-body training protocols were implemented across all studies, with the exception of one that targeted lower-body exercises exclusively (46) and one that targeted upper-body exercises (38), with variability in resistance exercise mode, exercise order, and the exercises included. Authors explicitly stated the use of a familiarization session in seven studies. A normalized load range of 15% to 100% of 1RM was implemented across all studies, with a relatively even distribution of 13 low load (<60% 1RM) and moderate load (60%–80% 1RM; 19), with a relatively low presence of high load (>80% 1RM; 5) conditions. All studies used acute exposure to resistance exercise conditions ranging from one experimental session (41,42,44,49) to five experimental sessions (32). Given the importance of measuring in-task affect specifically during exercise, Supplemental Table 1,, provides summaries only for studies wherein measurements were taken during the exercise session. Results herein are organized based on how authors reported measuring affective responses.

Posttraining Session Affect

Of the 28 articles included for analysis in current review, 14 took measurements of affective responses only pre- and postsession (32–37,40,45,48–53). Two studies (27,39) obtained ratings of affect postsession only, with no measurements taken before the bouts of exercise. It is important to acknowledge these articles and their appearance in the systematic search. However, because of the focus of this narrative review, which is to assess the timing of affective measurements, more attention will be given to the remaining articles in subsequent sections.

Time-Based In-Task Measurement of Affect

Five studies measured in-task affect using predetermined time intervals (26,28,42,44,46). Nosrat et al. (44) and Ciccolo et al. (42) followed identical protocols to examine the effect of a single bout of bodyweight resistance exercise on individuals’ core affect. Participants assigned to the experimental groups performed bodyweight circuits alternating between upper- and lower-body exercises for a total of 10 exercises. Control groups watched education videos unrelated to exercise. Each exercise in the experimental condition was performed for 30 s with 90 s of rest between exercises. The investigators measured affect presession, every 10 min (“mid”), immediately postsession, and 10 min postsession (“delay”) via FS and FAS scores. Nosrat et al. (44) reported increases on the FS greater than 1 point from pre- to postsession and from presession to delay with exercise compared with control groups. Although the experimental group showed an increase on affect at the “mid” measurement, and the control group showed a decrease at the same time point, neither the change nor the between-group difference was significant. Ciccolo et al. (42) reported significantly greater increases of approximately half of a point in FS from presession to delay, with no significant change or difference between groups at the “mid” measurement. Finally, Herring et al. (46) measured affect based on time intervals as well, taking measurements using the Profile of Mood States—Brief Form every 11 min and 40 s, which was explicitly identified as following the completion of an individual exercise. On separate days, participants completed three sets of 10 repetitions using 70% of estimated 1RM and four sets of 10 repetitions with 15% of estimated 1RM, which the authors classified as a placebo condition. Vigor was rated significantly higher in the 70% condition compared with the placebo and the no-treatment control condition, and fatigue was rated as significantly lower in the 15% placebo condition compared with the 70% condition.

Alternatively, Bellezza et al. (26) and Chmelo et al. (28) measured affect presession, during, and postsession using the order of exercises to determine the midpoint for in-task measurements. Bellezza et al. examined the influence of exercise order on affective responses. The protocol used a condition of machine and cable exercises, progressing from small muscle groups to large, whereas a second condition implemented the opposite order. Bellezza et al. took affect measurements presession, during (i.e., upon completion of the middle exercise in the sequence), postsession, and 10 min postsession using FS and FAS scores. Significant increases in affect during the session (increase of ~0.6 points on the FS) and at 10 min postsession (increase of ~0.75 points on the FS) occurred in the small-to-large condition, and a nonsignificant increase (less than 0.5 points on the FS) in affect occurred from pre- to postsession in the large-to-small condition. In the large-to-small condition a small, nonsignificant decrease in affect during the session of approximately 0.2 points on the FS was reported. Chmelo et al. (28) compared the affective response with resistance exercise performed with cable machines when exercises were performed in front of a mirror versus the same exercises performed without a mirror. Affective measures using FS, FAS, and Activation Deactivation Adjective Checklist scores were taken presession, in the middle of the session (“following lateral raises”; p. 1070), immediately postsession, and 15 min postsession. When using a mirror, FS values increased less than 1 point on the FS during and immediately postsession. When exercises were done without a mirror, FS values increased by approximately 1 point on the FS from pre- to postsession. The difference between conditions was not significant.

Set-Based Measurement of Affect

The investigators of seven studies chose to take measurements of affect based on working sets of resistance exercise. Five of the six studies took measurements after every set (30,38,41,43,47). Alves et al. (41) aimed to compare the acute affective response after each exercise set with overall session affect (i.e., pleasure/displeasure felt for the whole session, measured 30 min postsession) under self-selected loads. Study participants were instructed to self-select a load that felt “comfortable” for five exercises (barbell curl, leg curl, lat pulldown, leg extensions, and bench press) and completed three sets of 10 repetitions. Affect was measured after every set as well as 30 min postsession using FS scores. Authors reported no significant difference between mean values of in-task affect and session affect, with positive affective responses for all exercises. Greene and Petruzzello (30) compared affective responses with 70% and 100% of 10RM using a combination of free weight and resistance machines. Affect was measured presession, after every exercise set, and at five time points postsession using FS, FAS, PACES, and State-Trait Anxiety Inventory. Positive affect was significantly greater when using 70% of 1RM (scores approximately a + 3 on the FS) compared with 100% of 1RM (scores approximately a + 1.5 on the FS), and in-task affect was significantly correlated with a decrease in enjoyment only in the 100% of 1RM condition. Elsangedy et al. (43) measured affect after every working set used FS scores and allowed for self-selected load when performing the protocol exercises on resistance machines. Results indicated that average self-selected load was >51% of 1RM (14%–31% variability of load), and the mean FS score for all exercises was between 0 and 1, indicating a more neutral response, although a large intersubject variability of >45% was noted by the authors. The authors speculate that this large intersubject variability of mean FS scores was accounted for by the overhead press and biceps curl exercises eliciting negative affect rating from three and two participants, respectively. Richardson et al. (47) measured affect after every working set using the Physical Activity Affect Scale and FS, with an interest in how responses would vary based on velocity of movement and the load used. On separate days, participants performed three sets of 14 repetitions using 40% of predicted 1RM with the concentric phase performed as quickly as they could, and three sets of seven repetitions with 80% of predicted 1RM with a 2-s concentric phase. The authors report no significant difference in FS scores between conditions and slightly more favorable affect scores captured with the Physical Activity Affect Scale for the heavy condition compared with the light condition. Finally, Vasconcelos et al. (38) investigated the effect that traditional sets compared with cluster sets would have on the affective response in men who were resistance trained for at least 6 months. Participants performed cluster sets (i.e., 3 sets of two blocks, each block containing four repetitions and separated by 20 s) of machine chest press and seated rows. The load used for exercises was equivalent to 75% of the participant’s 1RM. Authors used the FS to measure affect after every set and found no significant difference between affect when exercises were completed in traditional format or cluster sets.

Authors of the remaining two studies measured affect after every third set (the last set of an exercise) (29,31). Focht et al. (29) implemented three separate conditions; prescribed load (40% of 1RM or 70% of 1RM) and self-selected load, with all exercises performed using resistance machines. Affect was measured with the FS presession, after every third working set, postsession, and 15 min postsession. The average self-selected load was 57% of 1RM. Results indicated a significant increase in FS scores during the exercise bout, immediately postsession, and 15 min postsession, all compared with baseline, when using 40% of 1RM and the self-selected load condition. Focht et al. also found, when using 70% of 1RM, a significant decrease in FS scores of approximately 2 points (from slightly above +2 to slightly above 0) during the exercise bout, with a significant increase to approximately +3 on the FS 15-min postsession. In a study conducted by Portugal et al. (31), self-selected load (all exercises ultimately performed at “low to moderate intensity”) was used once again, as well as three prescribed load conditions, all using resistance machines. Affective response was measured via FS and FAS scores obtained presession, after every third set, 10 min postsession, and 20 min postsession. Results indicated an interaction effect on FS between control and the 80% of 1RM condition, with 80% of 1RM showing a significant trend of decreased FS scores as each exercise was completed. There was no effect between control and either the 40% of 1RM condition or the 60% of 1RM condition.


The current review has provided a synopsis on literature related to the affective responses to acute bouts of resistance exercise. Although a majority of the studies purportedly measured in-task affect, measurement protocols varied across studies and consistently seemed to occur during resting periods within the total-body training protocol. Time was used as a determinant for measuring in-task affect in five studies (26,28,42,44,46). The in-task affect of each participant was measured just once at a particular time point (i.e., session midpoint) in all such studies, aside from Herring (46), who measured in-task affect for each participant at three time points within the bout. Of these studies, the midpoint of the exercise sequence was used to represent participants’ in-task affect in two study designs (26,28), whereas simply measuring affect every 10–12 min was used as the representative in-task affective response in the other three study designs (42,44,46). In the remaining six studies with measurements of in-task affect, ratings were taken after each exercise set in four studies (30,41,43,47) and after every third exercise set in two studies (29,31), yielding a range of 4 and 21 measurements of in-task affect in each study. Finally, with the exception of two studies (30,43), interindividual variability in affective response was not reported.

Regardless of whether time or exercise set was used as the determinant of measuring affect, the participants seemingly were not actively exercising at the time of measurement. For example, when participants’ core affect was measured every 10 min by Ciccolo et al. (42) and Nosrat et al. (44), if one follows their circuit training protocol of 30 s of exercise and 90 s of rest, the measurement presumably falls before the beginning of a new exercise set while the participant is recovering. In addition, for the aforementioned studies as well as those measuring affect after a working set, no detail is provided to indicate timing between set completion and affective rating. We recognize that, in certain contexts (e.g., power lifting, plyometric training), redirecting attentional focus may compromise safety and that ratings of affect may only feasibly be implemented during rest intervals. Although it may seem to be a reasonable alternative for researchers to take measurements after an active set and identify in-task affect with clearly worded prompts (i.e., “how did you feel during the set you just performed?”) to minimize capturing the rebound effect, this method would capture remembered affect, which is a useful but distinct construct (54). On a related note, only two studies (41,46) included prompt details, and ratings were specific to the question “how are you feeling right now?” (pp. 4 and 702, respectively), which was presented to participants after the working set.

Without precise details regarding prompt specifications and timing, it is impossible to determine whether the researchers were accurately assessing in-task affect rather than a rebound effect. A rebound effect, as described previously, is commonly documented in response to aerobic exercise. This effect is characterized by decreases in affect ratings under exertion, followed by an immediate reversal to positive ratings of affect after cessation of activity. This immediate reversal is because of the removal of aversive stimuli (in this instance exercise and accompanying interoceptive cues) and a return to affective homeostasis (55). Concern for a rebound effect was noted in only one study (30) included in the current review, such that analyses were only conducted using the FS scores of the second set of each exercise, instead of the third, aiming to “eliminate a potential relief effect from cessation of individual exercises” (p. 80). Although Greene and Petruzzello recognized this relief effect and attempted to control for it, there is a possibility that the same phenomena may occur within each exercise set, not just the final set, as a result of metabolic clearance of lactate upon cessation of muscular contraction, and because of the removal of the physical strain itself. Although not represented in the results of this review because they did not appear in our searches, two recently published papers with in-task ratings of affect were brought to our attention. The authors of one study measured affective responses during the last 2–3 s of a working set, indicating the feasibility of measuring in-task affect during resistance exercise ((56); preprint). The second study was conducted by Cavarretta et al. (57) and lends credence to the supposition that a rebound effect may occur before the final set is completed. The authors measured affect during the second set (out of three) and found that interset affect was significantly higher than intraset affect. Ultimately, if researchers are to make statements regarding what factors influence the experience and perceptions during resistance exercise (i.e., load, exercise order, and use of mirrors), it is crucial to implement consistent measurement protocols to accurately and precisely address in-task affect. On the basis of available information, either rebound effects cannot currently be ruled out for the studies that were included in this review or minimal reporting standards should be implemented to alleviate concerns regarding interpretation.

The studies included for analysis in the current review also lack assessment of interindividual differences. Elsangedy et al. reported mean affective responses such that the aggregate FS scores across all exercises were between 0 and 1, but they also reported observing intersubject variability such that >45% of participant scores for each exercise did not reflect the mean for a specific exercise. Elsangedy et al. speculated that this discrepancy was due to negative affective scores from certain individuals for particular exercises, specifically the overhead press and the biceps curl (43). In comparing preexercise ratings with various time points (i.e., after a given exercise), Greene and Petruzzello reported that in the 70% of 10RM condition, most participants either experienced no change in affect (14%–55%) or an increase in affect (36%–50% of participants) during exercise (30). In a similar fashion examining the 100% of 10RM condition, Greene and Petruzzello reported a similar number of participants who demonstrated an increase in affect, but less participants (9%–23%) experienced no changes in affect, paired with more participants (32%–50%), showing a decrease in affect during exercise. In all other studies included in the current review, only group averages were reported. Variations within a group should be acknowledged (58) because it is possible that individuals might have personal preferences that influence affective responses to acute bouts of exercise (59,60). A landmark study published in 2000 (61) emphasizes the importance in reporting idiographic results, as opposed to just nomothetic data. Van Landuyt and colleagues recruited a homogenous sample (N = 63) to complete the same relative exercise protocol. When analyzed in aggregate, the average participant reported positive FS scores that were consistent over the course of the protocol. However, idiographic assessments revealed that only 14.3% of participants demonstrated such affective patterns, 44.4% of participants reported increased FS ratings over time, and 41.3% reported decreasing FS scores over time. This large discrepancy in group versus individual responses was similarly reported by Greene and Petruzzello, suggesting a similar phenomenon with resistance training. The interindividual differences to the same stimulus have important implications for examining affective responses to resistance training. Authors of a systematic review of periodization literature (62) confirm this, stating that “data interpretation is being compromised by persistently ignoring interindividual variation in responsiveness to experimental protocols.” (p. 31). Although the authors were not commenting on affective responses directly, the sentiment is likely relevant to exercise programming and resultant perceptions as a whole.

The results of this narrative review have revealed variability in the methods for measuring affective responses to resistance exercise. Because of the purported significance of in-task affect on the continuation of behaviors that should be repeated regularly, it is important to move progressively toward establishing a framework of measurement that will yield robust data. Measuring in-task affective responses during resistance exercise poses unique obstacles compared with protocols in aerobic studies, such as the discontinuous nature of resistance exercise and the relatively higher risks associated with asking participants to provide perceptual ratings while under external loads. Measurement of in-task affect for every repetition would simply not be feasible or safe. It may be useful to consider measurement timing based on the peak-end rule heuristic, which states that individuals make judgments of an experience primarily from the “peak” (i.e., the most salient point, regardless of positive or negative valence) and the end of the experience, rather than the average of each moment in the experience (63). That is, researchers may need to target the peak of each set. Although the peak of a set has not been unequivocally defined and needs to be empirically tested, it is reasonable to speculate that the last repetition of a set fulfills the criteria for the peak, as the physical and mental strain accumulates throughout the working set.

Broadly speaking, if researchers can consistently measure affective responses following relatively similar protocols, comparison across studies would likely become less cumbersome. Keeping in mind that a typical resistance exercise session consists of multiple exercises performed for multiple sets that contain multiple repetitions, there are numerous opportunities to assess affective responses. However, strategic and consistent patterns of measurement may be achieved from measuring affect: 1) before the start of the session, 2) before and after each set of each exercise, 3) during the middle and last repetition of each set, and 4) using clearly worded prompts (e.g., “right now” or remembered). Finally, the procedures regarding each of these points should be explicitly and clearly stated with replicable precision. These procedures would allow researchers to better capture and compare temporal fluctuations in affect, both in task and during rest, to assess various manipulations designed to improve experiences during resistance exercise. With more conducive protocols for cross-study comparison, it is reasonable to speculate that stronger inferences could be developed related to how affective responses influence the maintenance of behavior. These inferences, with a more comprehensive understanding of affective responses, could be translated into strategies to promote long-term adherence of resistance exercise.

The results and views of this paper do not constitute endorsement by the American College of Sports Medicine. The authors report no conflicts of interest or sources of external funding.


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