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Get of the couch with your digital coach

Freiburg psychologists develop online training services to help students overcome their laziness

Freiburg, Mar 08, 2019

Get of the couch with your digital coach

Photo: leszekglasner/

Even sportiness must be learned. And a new online training service, free to University of Freiburg students, demonstrates how. A team of researchers from the Institute of Psychology developed the InterAKTIV Sport site. And to take the first step towards a more athletic life, you don’t even have to break a sweat.

 Are you a lone forest jogger - or would you rather chase a ball round a gymnasium? The program helps students understand what type of exerciser they are. Photo: leszekglasner/

There are people who exercise. And then again, there are people who would really like to but just don’t get around to it. Maybe because after work they really have to finish watching their favorite TV series. Or because they don’t dare show up at the gym while wearing their old sports gear. But when their friends tell them how great they feel since starting Zumba a few times a week, or how brilliant the skiing trip was last weekend - then they suddenly hear a little voice whispering to them... It’s their guilty conscience. Because exercise - as everybody knows - not only keeps you fit, it keeps you healthy.

But the couch potato of the soul is not so easily defeated. Just slip on your running shoes and off you go - who does that? You are much more likely to succeed if you make a plan to exit your lazy everyday life. You can do this while still on the couch. For example, by firing up your laptop and clicking on „StudiCare“. From there you can launch the „InterAKTIV Sport“ online training site, developed by a six-person team at the University of Freiburg Institute of Psychology. The training is for students who rarely or never exercise, says team leader Dr. Lena Krämer: “And we aim to get them on board right where they are for most of their studies - in front of the computer screen.”

Email reminders

InterAKTIV Sport is not sports training in the conventional sense of workouts or exercises. It is psychological training which aims to boost motivation and provide various strategies to help participants realize their exercise intentions. Krämer and her team developed the site in 2017 and the following year tested it with 60 participants as part of a Master's project. “It was great to see how the students actively took part. We read a lot of remarkable exercise intentions,” Krämer remembers. The test persons themselves also made suggestions as to how the service could be improved. For instance, the participants wanted to be reminded again and again by email to take part, so that they would stay with it. Krämer and her team have now implemented that.

The program aims to get the students on board right where they are for most of their studies - in front of the computer screen.

Anyone who opens the site up has already taken the first step towards a fitter life. Without even breaking a sweat. The first chapter of the system asks participants - why? So the idea is to think quietly about your needs: Do you want to live a healthier life? Or are you bothered by a roll or two of fat spilling over the waistband of your jeans? And what type of exerciser are you? Are you a lone forest jogger - or would you rather chase a ball round a gymnasium?

Motivation alone is not enough

The training is split into five chapters, which participants are meant to work through in three weeks. Chapter two is about concrete planning. It says the essential thing is to close the gap between intention and actual behavior. The fewer escape routes the participant leaves for him- or herself, the more likely it is that he or she will be successful. So for instance if you want to keep fit with Pilates, you should rush to find a sports partner or a course to create an obligation. The advantage of this is that is makes you ask “Should I or shouldn’t I?” every day; because every Tuesday and Thursday evening - according to the calendar - you’ve got Pilates with a friend. But having a plan isn’t everything, Krämer says. “Disruptions can happen even to the best plan. The online training site provides a number of tips and tricks as to how you can stay active despite bad weather and other distractions.”

The program follows the successful HAPA model (HAPA stands for Health Action Process Approach). Krämer says the model brings together everything people need to become more physically active. “Motivation by itself is not enough; what you need are the skills to translate the good intention into concrete behavior. And that is exactly what we offer with our program.” It is a kind of digital coach which provides not just motivation but also formulates specific exercises, identifies obstacles to action, and offers strategies as to how you can get back on track if things go wrong. All that happens as the participant clicks through the program, thereby gathering a lot of information - but also working through a quiz, tests and other online exercises in order to educate him- or herself towards more physical activity.

And of course, the coach sometimes asks: “Have you carried out the plan?” Don’t worry. The program doesn’t punish you. But it does congratulate you when you have done your exercise properly - and ask questions if things didn’t work out as planned. And it does so with understanding. Because, after all, it is supposed to be fun and the aim is for users to stay in a good mood - and not slouch back down on the couch.

Stephanie Streif


Join in - it’s free!

University of Freiburg students may participate free of charge in the
InterAKTIV Sport program as well as many other psychologically-based online training services, for instance for mindfulness or fear of exams. These services are available on the StudiCare platform which has been developed by an international team of researchers.