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Using imagery to predict weightlifting dependency in men.

The purpose of this study was to examine imagery use in recreational weightlifters. Participants were 415 male weightlifters, ages 18 to 62 years (Mage = 25.91 [+ or -] 7.6 years). Weightlifters used appearance imagery the most, followed by technique and energy imagery (M = 6.55, 5.93, and 3.44, respectively). Hierarchical regression analysis revealed that hours weightlifting per week and all three functions of imagery significantly predicted weightlifting dependency, accounting for 32.8% of the total variance. Of the three imagery variables, energy imagery predicted the greatest amount of variance in weightlifting dependency, followed by appearance and technique imagery (rsp =. 161,. 138,. 106, respectively). These findings support Hall's (1995) suggestion that exercise imagery is related to exercise dependence.

Keywords: male weightlifters, weightlifters, imagery, exercise dependency, weight training


In today's culture, images of ideal physiques saturate the media (Lantz, Rhea, & Mayhew, 2001). Lantz and his colleagues stated that although these images are only the current ideals of beauty, health, and fitness, many people desire and are motivated to obtain the physiques of these individuals (e.g., fashion models, athletes, and entertainers) even though these bodies are almost impossible to achieve. Both women and men demonstrate body dissatisfaction, although the nature of the dissatisfaction differs (Furnham, Badmin, & Sneade, 2002; Stanford & McCabe, 2002). For men and male weightlifters, this body image disturbance is related to two factors that include the desire for increased muscularity and reduced body fat (see Hildenrandt, Langenbucher, & Schlundt, 2004). In order to attain a lean, muscular physique, individuals may engage in unhealthy behaviours such as disordered eating, steroid use, or excessive exercise to change their bodies. Given this drive for an ideal body and willingness to go to extremes to achieve it, it is possible that people can develop a dependency on exercise. This dependency has been referred to in the literature as "obligatory exercise" (Thompson & Pasman, 1991), "compulsive exercise" (Diekhoff, 1984), "exercise addiction" (Rudy & Estok, 1983), and "exercise dependence" (Frederick & Morrison, 1996).

Smith, Hale, and Collins (1998) suggested that individuals engaging in weight training might be particularly susceptible to exercise dependence. Despite this, Hausenblas and Symons-Downs (2002a) stated that exercise dependence research has focused extensively on running, while weightlifting was examined in only 7.8% of the dependency studies. Researchers who have examined dependency in weightlifters (Hurst, Hale, Smith, & Collins, 2000; Smith et al.) have used Pierce's definition of dependence, which is "a process that compels an individual to exercise in spite of obstacles, and results in physical and psychological symptoms when exercising is withdrawn" (as cited in Smith et al., p. 66).

In an effort to examine dependency in bodybuilders, recreational weightlifters, and Olympic weightlifters, Smith and colleagues (1998) developed the Bodybuilding Dependence Scale (BDS). The BDS consists of three subscales: social dependency, training dependency, and mastery. Social dependency items measure an individual's need to be in the weightlifting environment. Training dependency items measure an individual's compulsion to weight train. Mastery reflects the individual's need to exert control over his/her training schedules. All three of the BDS subscales were correlated with training frequency.

Hurst and colleagues (2000) further examined dependency in weightlifting through their validation of the BDS. They found that experienced bodybuilders scored significantly higher than inexperienced bodybuilders and weightlifters on the BDS. Moreover, it was found that bodybuilders, regardless of experience, scored significantly higher than weightlifters on the social dependency subscale while experienced bodybuilders scored significantly higher on the training and mastery subscales than inexperienced bodybuilders and weightlifters. Although these results are promising and support the construct and concurrent validity of the social dependency subscales, it must be noted that the other two subscales of the BDS (training dependency and mastery) were not wholly supported. The authors suggest that further research examining the validity and reliability of the BDS is warranted.

Although several studies have examined dependency in weightlifters, the motivating factors underlying dependency to exercise have yet to be examined in this population. Hall (1995) suggested that one such motivating factor might be exercise imagery. White and Hardy (1998) defined imagery as:
 [A]n experience that mimics real experience. We can be aware of
 "seeing" an image, feeling movements as an image, or experiencing
 an image of smell, tastes, or sounds without actually experiencing
 the real thing. Sometimes people find that it helps to close
 their eyes. It differs from dreams in that we are awake and
 conscious when we form an image. (p. 389)

Researchers (Gammage, Hall, & Rodgers, 2000; Hausenblas, Hall, Rodgers, & Munroe, 1998) found that exercisers use imagery for three main reasons: energy, appearance, and technique. Energy imagery included mental images related to becoming more energized or relieving stress. The use of appearance imagery included images associated with a leaner, fitter, and healthier appearance. Technique imagery included imagery related to the execution of proper body positioning and form while exercising. Gammage et al. also found that, regardless of gender, frequency of exercise, or activity type, participants used appearance imagery the most, followed by technique, then energy imagery. Men, however, used technique imagery more than women, while women used appearance imagery more than men (Gammage et al., 2000). In addition, the frequency of exercise affects imagery use, with low-frequency exercisers (less than three hours per week or two or fewer times per week) reporting significantly less imagery use than high-frequency exercisers (eight or more hours a week or three or more times a week) on all three subscales (Gammage et al., 2000; Hausenblas et al., 1998). Finally, Gammage and colleagues found that the type of activity did make a difference in the use of imagery among the participants. Runners used significantly less appearance imagery than exercisers in other types of activities, and weightlifters used significantly more technique imagery than those who used the cardiovascular equipment.

Based on Hall's (1995) proposal that imagery might be linked to exercise addiction, Rodgers, Hall, Blanchard, and Munroe (2001) investigated the relationship between imagery and obligatory exercisers. The authors hypothesized that exercise dependence would be predicted by appearance motives, and thus appearance related imagery would be able to predict dependence on exercise. Participants engaging in a variety of activities such as aerobics, weight training, and running reported using appearance imagery the most and energy imagery the least. Furthermore, imagery accounted for 20% of the variance in exercise dependence, with energy and technique imagery exhibiting statistically significant and meaningful predictive relations. The findings supported the suggestion by Hall that imagery is an important predictor of exercise dependence.

Hausenblas and Symons-Downs (2002b) further investigated the relationship between imagery and exercise dependence in male and female college students participating in a variety of physical activities. These authors again found appearance imagery was used most frequently, while energy imagery was used least frequently. They also found that energy imagery made a unique contribution to the prediction of exercise dependence for both men and women, while appearance energy also contributed to the prediction of exercise dependence for women only.

These studies suggest that multiple motives may underlie exercise dependence and that exercise dependence is not grounded exclusively, or even primarily, in appearance. To date, however, no large-scale studies examining single activities other than aerobics have been conducted in the exercise imagery area. Gammage et al. (2000) examined differences in imagery use based on exercise type but were somewhat limited in the number of participants engaged in each type of exercise. These researchers did find that imagery use varied by type of exercise, suggesting that more research is needed with regard to specific activities.

Based on previous research (Gammage et al., 2000; Hausenblas et al., 1999; Rodgers et al., 2001) there is a strong rationale to continue the study of exercise imagery, thus increasing our understanding of the initiation of and dependence on physical activity behavior. Hall (1995) suggested that an exercise imagery intervention program, designed to change how people dependent on exercise imagine their participation and the outcomes they hope to achieve while exercising, could prove to be beneficial. Therefore, the purpose of the present study was to examine the use of imagery in dependent weightlifters. Two hypotheses were made. First, participants would use appearance imagery the most, followed by technique and energy imagery. Second, energy and technique imagery would be the biggest predictors of dependence on weightlifting in men, while appearance imagery would not predict weightlifting dependence.



The participants included 415 male recreational weightlifters (i.e., those who do not lift weights for the purpose of competing in bodybuilding competitions) from various fitness clubs (Mage = 25.91, SD = 7.6), with a wide range of weightlifting experience (M = 6.23 years, SD = 5.84). The participants varied in both frequency (M = 4.19 day per week, SD = 1.24) and time (M = 6.36 hours per week, SD = 2.87) of weightlifting. Since the studies that have involved the BDS (Hurst et al., 2000; Smith et al. 1998) have examined mostly male participants, only male participants were used in the present study.


Weight Lifting Imagery Questionnaire (WLIQ; adapted from Gammage et al., 2000). The WLIQ (1) is a nine-item measure on which participants rate the frequency of their imagery use on a nine-point Likert scale anchored by 1 (never) and 9 (always). The questionnaire consists of three subscales: appearance imagery focuses on the attainment of a fit-looking body (e.g., "I imagine a more 'defined me' from lifting weights"); energy imagery relates to getting psyched up or feeling energized from exercising (e.g., "To get myself energized, I imagine lifting weights"); and technique imagery relates to performing the skills and techniques correctly with good form (e.g., "When I think about lifting weights, I imagine my form and body position"). Each subscale contains three items. The appearance and energy subscales are thought to serve a motivational function, while the technique subscale is thought to serve a cognitive function (Gammage et al., 2000; Hausenblas et al., 1999). The Cronbach's alphas were found to be acceptable for the WLIQ subscales, ranging from .79 to .84.

Bodybuilding Dependency Scale (BDS; Smith et al., 1998). The BDS is a nine-item measure on which participants rate their dependency to weightlift on a seven-point Likert scale with 1 representing "Strongly Disagree" and 7 representing "Strongly Agree." This scale consists of items assessing the individual's need to exert control over his training schedule (e.g., "I often weight train when I have a cold or flu"), the individual's compulsion to weightlift (e.g., "I feel guilty if I miss a weight training workout"), and the individual's need to be in the weightlifting environment (e.g., "bodybuilding has totally changed my lifestyle"). The Cronbach's alpha for these items showed satisfactory internal consistency ([+ or -] = 0.81).

Demographic Data. Relevant demographic information was also obtained, including age, years lifting weights, and number of weight training sessions and hours spent weightlifting per week.


All male club members who entered the facility to work out during the time the researcher was present (N = 480) were asked to participate in the study. Participants were able to freely decline to participate in the study. Those who agreed to participate (N = 415), resulting in an 86.5% response rate, were asked to complete a consent form, the two questionnaires (WLIQ, BDS) and demographic questions before or after the workout. Questionnaires were returned to the researcher upon completion.


Table 1 shows the means and standard deviations for the demographic variables, as well as the imagery subscale scores (appearance, energy, and technique) and weightlifting dependency scores. Participants reported using appearance imagery the most, followed by technique and energy imagery, thus supporting our first hypothesis.

Table 2 shows the correlation matrix for the demographic variables, weightlifting dependency, and the three imagery subscales. The three imagery subscales were all significantly correlated with one another, and with weightlifting dependence. In addition, imagery and weightlifting dependence were moderately, positively correlated with hours and days of weight training engaged in per week. In addition, hours and days spent weight training per week were strongly correlated with one another (r = .694).

In order to examine whether the imagery subscales could predict weightlifting dependency, a hierarchical regression was conducted. Because hours in weight training per week was significantly correlated with all imagery variables and dependence on weightlifting, this variable was entered in the first block to control for its effects. The three imagery variables--energy, appearance, and technique imagery--were all entered in the second block. Results revealed that hours of weight training per week, and all three functions of imagery significantly predicted dependency on lifting weight, accounting for 32.8% of the total variance (F (4, 398) = 50.15, p < .001). Hours of training per week accounted for 18.5% of the variance, while the three imagery subscales accounted for an additional 14.3% of the variance. An examination of the semi-partial correlations indicated that hours weight training contributed the most to the prediction of weightlifting dependency, followed by energy, appearance, and technique imagery, respectively (see Table 3). Thus, our second hypothesis was partially supported.


The general purpose of this study was to examine the relationship between exercise dependence and imagery use in individuals who weight train. Consistent with previous research on imagery use by exercisers, weightlifters used appearance imagery the most, followed by technique imagery, and finally energy imagery (Gammage et al., 2000; Hausenblas et al., 1999; Rodgers et al., 2001). This finding coincides with the views of Western culture that promote a standard of beauty and success, focusing on being physically attractive and muscular, especially for men (Philips & Drummond, 2001; Pope, Phillips, & Olivardia, 1999; Tucker, 1982). With these current trends, people may be motivated to exercise to obtain these ideals of what constitutes attractiveness. As stated by Gammage and colleagues, individuals may participate in exercise primarily for appearance outcomes and may use appearance imagery as motivation to engage in exercise.

Correlations also indicated that weightlifters who spent a greater number of hours engaging in weight training also used imagery more frequently. Consistent with Gammage et al. (2000) and Hausenblas et al. (1999), it appears that individuals who spend more time engaging in weight training also spend more time thinking about their weightlifting.

In addition, correlations suggested that those who spent the most time engaging in weight training scored highest on a measure of weightlifting dependency. This finding supports the notion that individuals who spend more time weight training tend to be more dependent upon lifting weight (Fussell, 1991; Klein, 1993). It is also consistent with suggestions by Hausenblas and Symons-Downs (2002a) that time spent exercising should be one of seven criteria for classifying exercisers as dependent. That is, dependent individuals must spend a significant portion of their time engaged in exercise.

The findings from the hierarchical regression analysis partially supported the second hypothesis that energy imagery would be the biggest predictor of dependence on weightlifting, followed by technique imagery. While energy imagery again was the biggest predictor of exercise dependence of the three imagery variables (Hausenblas & Symons-Downs, 2002b; Rodgers et al., 2001), the current study found all three functions of imagery contributed significantly to the prediction of exercise dependence. Energy imagery has consistently been the largest predictor of exercise dependence in other types of activities (e.g., aerobics; see Hausenblas & Symons-Downs, 2002b; Rodgers, Hall, Blanchard, & Munroe, 2001), indicating that weightlifting dependence is not rooted solely in a desire to improve appearance. As noted by Hausenblas and Symons-Downs, this suggests that primary exercise dependence differs from secondary exercise dependence in its underlying motives; while secondary dependence stems from appearance motives (i.e., to control body composition), primary dependence stems from a need to perform the activity itself. This finding contradicts suggestions that weightlifting dependency is primarily a result of a need to achieve societal ideals of appearance, thereby improving body image and self-esteem (Hurst et al., 2000; Smith et al., 1998).

However, it is important to note that, unlike previous findings in which appearance did not predict exercise dependence in men (Hausenblas & Symons-Downs, 2002b; Rodgers et al., 2001), it was a significant predictor in the present study. One reason appearance may have been a predictor of exercise dependence in this group may lie in their exercise motives. Loze and Collins (1997) found that men and women who participated in resistance activity scored higher on motives for muscular development and appearance, while they scored lower on weight management motives compared to individuals involved in aerobic activities. Thus, weightlifters may be more motivated than those involved in other activities to achieve a muscular body type, which is the most preferred and socially desired body type for men (Davis, Elliot, Dionne, & Mitchell, 1991; Tucker, 1982). Therefore, a dependent male weightlifter may be even more motivated to achieve this body type and as a result may use more appearance imagery than other types of exercisers to help attain his goals.


Since there are no normative values for the BDS, comparisons to other studies are difficult. Furthermore, from a theoretical perspective, the BDS does not tap into many of the dependency criteria as suggested by Hausenblas and Symons-Downs (2002a). Therefore, it would be important to replicate these findings with a multidimensional measure of weightlifting dependency. Moreover, further examination of the validity of the BDS is warranted. Last, an additional demographic question regarding the purpose of lifting weights is needed. Participants may have different motives for lifting weights. In professions such as firefighting or policing, strength and stamina are a necessity and therefore may be the primary motivator for lifting weights.


The present study produced several key findings. The evidence in the present study supports Hall's (1995) proposal that imagery may be an important predictor of exercise dependence. By recognizing that male weightlifters do use imagery related to their training, practitioners may be able to develop intervention programs to help attenuate dependence on weightlifting (i.e., reducing the use of certain functions of imagery may lead to corresponding reductions in exercise behaviour). Furthermore, the findings may also help men that have trouble adhering to a weightlifting program. Since it was found that all functions of imagery predict dependence on weightlifting, an intervention program incorporating the various functions of imagery may help individuals who are new exercisers or less dependent on weightlifting adhere to a weightlifting program.

Hurst and colleagues (2000) suggested that future research should examine recreational weightlifters and competitive bodybuilders. The present study did examine the imagery used by recreational weightlifters. However, future research should investigate competitive bodybuilder's use of imagery. Further, only men were investigated in the present study, and it would be useful to examine women weightlifters. Women may benefit greatly from engaging in weight-training programs (e.g., improved body image, reduced risk of osteoporosis; see Layne & Nelson, 1999; Williams & Cash, 2001), yet many are still reluctant to lift weight for fear of becoming "too masculine." Therefore, it is important to determine interventions that can improve adherence to weight training in this group. Furthermore, since weightlifting is only one facet of exercise, it would be interesting to investigate the other realms of exercise dependence and imagery use independently, such as running, aerobics, or less traditional fitness activities. Running and aerobics are more continuous exercises, while weightlifting is more discrete. This would allow for comparisons to be made with various aspects of exercising.

It is also possible that other variables are related to imagery use. For example, recent work suggests that the drive for muscularity (a desire to be bigger and more muscular) is also related to energy imagery in men (Munroe-Chandler, Gammage, & Hall, 2004). This finding suggests it is possible that weightlifting dependence and drive for muscularity have similar underlying motives. That is, for those with a strong desire to be muscular and those with a physiological and psychological need to lift weight, imagery may help reduce stress and increase energy, thereby allowing them to exercise more and ultimately increase their muscle mass. Alternatively, it may be that the drive for muscularity underlies a dependence on weightlifting and that imagery is one way they reinforce their motivation to lift weight. These possible links between these variables should be further investigated.

In conclusion, the results from the present study indicated that male weightlifters use imagery for both motivational and cognitive purposes. The results further show that all three functions of imagery predict dependency to weightlift over and above that predicted by time spent weightlifting. Energy imagery accounted for the most variance of the three imagery variables, thus supporting Rodgers and colleagues' (2001) finding that the underlying motivation for dependency to weightlift is not rooted primarily in appearance imagery (i.e., maladaptive).
Table 1
Summary Statistics for All Variables

Variable Mean SD Min Max

Age 25.91 7.6 18 62
Years 6.18 5.86 1 45
Days 4.17 1.24 0 8
Hours 6.3 2.84 0 15
Weightlifting dependency 34.17 10.46 12 60
Appearance 6.55 1.78 1 9
Technique 5.93 2.06 1 9
Energy 3.44 1.98 1 9

Note. Years = years weight training; days = number of workouts
per week; hours = hours weight training per week.

Table 2
Correlation Matrix for Hours Training per Week, Imagery
Subscales and Weight-lifting Dependency

Variable 1 2 3 4

1. Hours
2. Days .694 *
3. Years -.014 -.034
4. Appearance .371 * .343 -.034
5. Energy .385 * .349 * -.064 .517 *
6. Technique .390 * .352 * -.050 .574 *
7. Dependency .445 * .430 * .145 * .449 *

Variable 5 6 7

1. Hours
2. Days
3. Years
4. Appearance
5. Energy
6. Technique .546 *
7. Dependency .464 * .449 *

Note: Hours = hours spent weight training per week;
Days = number of workouts per week;
years = years spent weight training.

* p < 0.01 (2-tailed)

Table 3
Summary of Hierarchical Regression Analysis for Variables
Predicting Weight-Lifting Dependency (n = 403)
Variable 1 SE B [beta] rsp [DELTA]

Step 1
 Hours .854 .169 .233 .207 * .187 *
Step 2
 Energy 1.083 .275 .203 .161 * .145
 Technique .712 .275 .140 .106 **
 Appearance 1.032 .306 .177 .138 *

Note. Hours = hours training per week.

*p <.01, **p <.05


(1.) The WLIQ can be obtained from the first author.


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The University of Windsor


Brock University

Correspondence for this article should be sent to Krista Chandler, Faculty of Human Kinetics, University of Windsor, Windsor, Ontario, Canada N9B 3P4. Electronic mail:
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Author:Gammage, Kimberley L.
Publication:International Journal of Men's Health
Geographic Code:1CONT
Date:Jun 22, 2004
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