Lifting the Bar on Strength Training Behaviour Change


Jasmin Ma is currently a post-doctoral fellow with Dr. Linda Li in the Department of Physical Therapy/Arthritis Research Canada. Her research is focused on supporting strength training behaviour change and developing methods for tailored physical activity interventions among people with rheumatoid arthritis and other chronic diseases and disabilities.

If you know me well (or have just met me for that matter) you’ve likely heard me talk about “getting your DPA (daily physical activity)”. I’m passionate about physical activity, in part because I see it as a common platform to bring together different research disciplines, professions, and abilities. I come from a diverse background in kinesiology training including disability, physical activity behaviour change science, exercise physiology, and knowledge translation. I’ve also worked the past eight years as an adapted personal trainer for people with intellectual and physical disabilities that’s helped form the basis of many of my research questions and to see first-hand the application of the work we do.

During my master’s, under the supervision of Dr. Brendon Gurd at Queen’s University, we examined the effects of a 4-minute high intensity exercise protocol on fitness and the underlying physiology behind its potency. We later translated this protocol to a series of high intensity interval stories (Google FUNtervals if you have kids that need to spend some energy… i.e., all kids) that showed a 4-minute break can help kids behave and focus better in class. In my PhD, under the supervision of Dr. Kathleen Martin Ginis at UBC Okanagan and in collaboration with Dr. Christopher West at ICORD/UBC, we worked with over 300 end-users to co-develop an intervention to support community members with spinal cord injury to be physically active. Physical activity coaching where we taught individuals with spinal cord injury the basics of physical activity and strategies for sticking to a goal, provided referral to appropriate peers and programs, and developed tailored exercise prescriptions were the keys to successful physical activity and fitness improvements. We are currently working with GF Strong Rehabilitation Hospital, BC’s provincial spinal cord injury organization (SCI BC), and the Rick Hansen Institute to put this intervention into practice.

My previous training highlighted the importance of tailoring our approaches to helping people engage in physical activity, which should also include customizing our approaches to addressing a specific behaviour. Strength training as a unique physical activity behaviour is largely understudied and under promoted. In fact, we often criticize our nation for our poor participation in the aerobic portion of the guidelines (150 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic activity/week), yet a much smaller fraction of the population is meeting the strength training guidelines (2x/week). This is a missed opportunity given the unique benefits to strength training as an important disease management strategy and facilitator of functional independence. My current work focuses on working with patients to identify strategies to support people with rheumatoid arthritis to do regular strength training. By understanding the determinants of strength training, synthesizing the supporting evidence on effective strength training behaviour change interventions, and engaging patients as partners, we aim to develop knowledge translation approaches to help address this problem.

Of course, in my pursuit to push for physical activity to be accessible and enjoyed by all, I need to practice what I preach. In my off-hours you can find me cycling, swimming, playing beach volleyball, geocache racing, or doing anything that involves a little competition.