• running;
  • sports;
  • goal setting;
  • performance feedback


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  2. Abstract

We evaluated goal setting with performance feedback to increase running distance among 5 healthy adults. Participants set a short-term goal each week and a long-term goal to achieve on completion of the study. Results demonstrated that goal setting and performance feedback increased running distance for all participants.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2010) recommend that individuals engage in physical activity for at least 30 min on most days of the week. The benefits of regular exercise include weight control, enhanced muscle strength, improved cardiovascular health, mental wellness, and possible life extension (Dishman, 1991). Behavioral interventions such as goal setting and performance feedback have been shown to be useful to achieve behavior change in the realm of health, sports, and fitness (Martin, Thompson, & Regehr, 2004).

Goal setting has been employed in competitive sports such as soccer (Brobst & Ward, 2002), football (Ward & Carnes, 2002), and rugby (Mellalieu, Hanton, & O'Brien, 2006), and results from these studies suggest that setting goals can enhance specific skills for both individual athletes and teams. Other studies demonstrate that the combination of goal setting and individualized feedback can be even more effective than goal setting alone (Stokes, Luiselli, Reed, & Fleming, 2010). Although previous research has shown that goal setting and feedback can increase performance in a variety of athletic activities, no studies have examined individual running performance. The purpose of the current study was to examine the effects of goal setting and performance feedback for increasing running distance among healthy adults.


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Participants and Setting

Five women, 18 to 28 years old, participated in the study. Participants were recruited through flyers posted around the University of South Florida campus. All participants were college students who expressed an interest in being a part of the study for the purpose of increasing overall weekly running distance. Participants were included in the study only if they were in good health and did not have any conditions that would pose health risks, as indicated by the Physical Activity Readiness Questionnaire (Thomas, Reading, & Shephard, 1992).

Measurement and Design

At the initial meeting with the researcher, each participant received information about the study and the running equipment (i.e., Nike+ SportKit and Nike+ sensor pouch). The SportKit consists of the Nike+ SportBand and sensor. Before individual calibration, the accuracy of the device for each run is estimated to be around 90%, and after calibration it is between 90% and 100% (“Nike+ iPod: User guide,” 2010). Distance per running episode was recorded using the SportBand and sensor. A running episode was defined as a continuous run at a speed faster than a brisk walk (4 miles per hour; 6.4 km per hour).

We used a multiple baseline design across participants with an embedded changing criterion design for Intervention 2 to assess the effects of goal setting and performance feedback for each participant. To assess interobserver agreement, two independent observers, the researcher and the participant, recorded the date and the distance (rounded to the nearest 10th) per running episode. These data were extracted from both the website and from the SportBand. Interobserver agreement, assessed for 100% of the runs across all participants, was 97% (range 91% to 100%). Finally, a four-item social validity questionnaire, with items rated on a 5-point Likert scale (1 = strongly disagree, 5 = strongly agree), was provided at the end of the study to assess each individual's opinion of the intervention.


During baseline, the participants wore the SportBand during each run but did not set short- or long-term goals. Baseline data collection lasted 2 to 4 weeks.

Intervention 1: Daily goal setting and feedback

Following baseline, each participant met with the researcher to set a long-term distance goal (a distance the participant aimed to run in a single running episode by the conclusion of the study) and short-term goals (set at each weekly feedback meeting). The participant was required to set a goal to run at least three times per week and, to set a higher goal for the next week, she had to complete at least two of the three runs at or above her set criterion level with the most recent run recorded at or above the criterion level (see Table 1 for weekly goals and goal achievement). If the participant did not meet these requirements, she could choose to remain at the same criterion level or lower her goal for the next week. Weekly meetings (in person or via video conference) lasted no longer than 20 min and were conducted to provide visual and descriptive performance feedback to the participant and to set short-term goals. The visual feedback consisted of a graphical display of the participant's running distance, and the descriptive feedback consisted of a verbal description of daily progress delivered by the primary researcher. The participant was asked to upload her runs onto before the weekly meeting. The website housed a cumulative record of distance run for each participant that could be viewed on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis.

Table 1. Participants' Weekly Goals and Goal Achievement (in Miles) during Interventions 1 and 2
  1. Intervention 2 started in Week 4 for Kelsey, Week 3 for Jackie, and Week 6 for Mary. The line separates goals set in Intervention 1 and Intervention 2. To increase a goal for Intervention 1, participants were required to run at least three times a week (at least two of those times had to meet or exceed the set distance). To increase a goal for Intervention 2, participants were required to meet or exceed their weekly goal at least two consecutive weeks. Baseline data are not included.

  2. a

    Goal achieved.

13.5 (5.6 km) × 2a0.5 (0.8 km) × 2a0.3 (0.48 km) × 23 (4.8 km) × 20.3 (0.48 km) × 2a
24.0 (6.4 km) × 2a0.8 (1.2 km) × 20.3 (0.48 km) × 2a2.5 (4 km) × 20.5 (0.8 km) × 2
34.3 (6.9 km) × 20.5 (8.8 km) × 2a0.5 (0.8 km) × 24 (6.4 km)a0.4 (0.64 km) × 2a
44 (6.4 km) × 20.6 (0.96 km) × 2a1 (1.6 km)a4 (6.4 km)a0.8 (1.2 km) × 2
54 (6.4 km) × 20.7 (1.1 km) × 2a1 (1.6 km)a5.5 (8.9 km)a0.5 (.8 km) × 2
63.8 (6.1 km) × 2a0.8 (1.2 km) × 2a2 (3.2 km)a5.5 (8.9 km)a1.5 (2.4 km)a
74.8 (7.7 km) × 2a 2 (3.2 km)a7 (11.2 km)a1.5 (2.4 km)
85.3 (8.5 km) × 213 (4.8 km)a7 (11.2 km)a1.5 (2.4 km)a
95.3 (8.5 km) × 2a 3 (4.8 km)a7 (11.2 km)a3.0 (4.8 km)a
106 (9.6 km) × 2a 3 (4.8 km)a 3.0 (4.8 km)a
116 (9.6 km) × 2a   4.3 (6.9 km)a
12    4.3 (6.9 km)
13    4.3 (6.9 km)a
14    5 (8 km)a
15    5 (8 km)a
16    5 (8 km)a
Intervention 2: Weekly goal setting and feedback

Three participants failed to meet their criterion on multiple occasions, so a modified version of Intervention 1 was implemented. Intervention 2 consisted of goal setting and feedback, but short-term goals were set based on weekly, instead of daily, running distance. This modification did not require a minimum number of runs per week. However, running distance had to be at or above criterion for at least 2 weeks before setting a new goal, and the last week could not fall below criterion level. The long-term goal was the number of miles that each participant wanted to be running on a weekly basis by the conclusion of the study. We informed the participants of the intervention change and explained that their short-term goals would be set to reflect their total distance run over the 7-day period. Participants were provided the option of remaining in Intervention 1 or moving to Intervention 2, and all three participants decided to participate in the second intervention.


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  2. Abstract

All five participants increased their running distance with goal setting and performance feedback. Figure 1 shows the results for Amye and Evan. Amye's running distance increased from a baseline mean of 5.7 miles per week (9.2 km per week) to a mean of 15.5 miles per week (24.9 km per week) in the last 3 weeks of intervention. Amye achieved her weekly goals during 7 of the 11 weeks. Evan increased from a baseline mean of 0.1 miles per week (0.2 km per week) to a mean of 2.4 miles per week (3.9 km per week) in the last 3 weeks of intervention. She achieved her goal on 5 of 6 weeks. Figure 2 shows the results for Kelsey, Jackie, and Mary. Kelsey increased slightly from 0 miles in baseline to 0.6 miles per week (1 km per week) in Intervention 1, achieving her goal only once. During Intervention 2, Kelsey achieved her weekly goals in all 7 weeks with a mean of 3.8 miles per week (6.1 km per week) in the last 3 weeks. Jackie's running distance was 5.2 miles per week (8.4 km per week) in baseline and 4.5 miles per week (7.2 km per week) in Intervention 1. Jackie achieved her goal in all 7 weeks in Intervention 2, with a mean of 7.6 miles per week (12.2 km per week) in the last 3 weeks. Mary slightly increased her running from 0 miles in baseline to a mean of 0.9 miles per week (1.4 km per week) in Intervention 1, achieving her goal only twice in 5 weeks. In Intervention 2, Mary achieved her weekly goal in 9 of 11 weeks, with a mean of 5.7 miles per week (9.2 km per week) in the last 3 weeks.


Figure 1. Miles run per week for Amye (top) and Evan (bottom).

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Figure 2. Miles run per week for Kelsey (top), Jackie (middle), and Mary (bottom). Dashed lines represent the overall weekly distance goals that were set for each participant.

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Table 1 shows each participant's weekly goals. Weekly goals were met on 80% of opportunities by Amye and 83.3% of opportunities by Evan during Intervention 1. Weekly goals were met 33%, 0%, and 40% of opportunities during Intervention 1 for Kelsey, Jackie, and Mary, respectively. However, Kelsey, Jackie, and Mary met their goals on 100%, 100%, and 82% of opportunities, respectively, during Intervention 2. For Amye's Week 4, Jackie's Week 2, and Mary's Week 5, goals were not met because they did not meet all of the contingencies set for increasing the goal in Intervention 1. The results of the social validity questionnaire showed that all participants enjoyed participating in the study (M = 4.8), were happy with the results they achieved (M = 4.8), thought the goal-setting procedure was motivating (M = 4.6), and planned to continue running at the study's conclusion (M = 4.8).

In this study, participants set weekly goals for their running distance. Goal-setting procedures in which criterion levels are set for an individual's behavior (Brobst & Ward, 2002) may function as an establishing operation that enhances the reinforcing value of goal achievement (Miltenberger, 2012). If an individual sets a goal to run a minimum of three times a week (at or above a set distance), he or she may be more likely to engage in the behavior and contact the reinforcing consequence. The stated goal may act as a rule that generates an aversive condition that is escaped by engaging in exercise (Malott, 1996). Delayed reinforcement in the form of positive feedback and praise for goal accomplishment may also influence achievement of the goal.

In summary, this study demonstrated the effectiveness of goal setting and performance feedback to improve running performance. Further research should be conducted to demonstrate the robustness of these findings. This study was also the first to employ a single-subject design to evaluate an intervention for increasing running distance and the first to incorporate the use of the Nike+ SportKit as an automated method of recording. Automated recording created a permanent product measure so researchers did not have to rely on self-report from participants. The use of automated recording lessened the possibility of data falsification that can result from self-recording. Another advantage of the SportKit was that each participant could see her progress toward her goal on the SportBand watch.

One limitation of this study is a lack of maintenance data. In addition, it is not known whether the participants would continue to run without the social support provided by the researchers. Future research should examine long-term maintenance of goal setting and performance feedback with and without social support.


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  • Action Editor, David Wilder