The STEP for MS trial was designed and delivered by a team of medical and rehabilitation professionals with a key player being the exercise professional (EP). Our purpose is to showcase the role of the EP and methods for standardized, safe and effective exercise and behavior change intervention.
Site principal investigators who designed the intervention and implementation plan were physical medicine and rehabilitation doctors, physical therapists and kinesiologists with expertise in MS and exercise programming. The interventional EP were site staff members with varied backgrounds in delivering exercise programming to people with MS. Professional titles include personal trainer, exercise specialist, clinical exercise physiologist, graduate teaching assistant, research associate, clinical integration and research coordinator. Interventionalists had little to no prior experience using the theory-based behavior change strategies employed in the trial.
To accommodate differences in EP backgrounds and expertise, standardized training on behavior change principles and exercise prescription was required. Weekly booster meetings were held via Zoom to discuss participant progress, challenges and identify solutions and modifications to the intervention while maintaining trial fidelity. Supporting materials like exercise training manuals, scripts, newsletters, logbooks and calendars were used by EPs to deliver the intervention. EPs deployed their unique skills and training to provide guidance on exercise program progression, exercise technique modification and behavior change strategies to participants. EPs and participants mutually decided on the trajectory of exercise progression based on experiences during the first 2 standardized weeks. The trajectories differed in the rate of progression with all participants meeting the exercise guidelines of 30 minutes of aerobic exercise and 5–10 strength exercises consisting of 1–2 sets, 10–15 repetitions targeting lower body, upper body, and core musculature 2 days a week, by week 10 of the program. Outcome measures were transcribed by EPs in a research database.
There was a varied skillset among principal investigators and interventionalists in the STEP for MS trial which provided a well-rounded intervention to people with MS. Standardized training, trial-issued supporting materials and weekly booster meetings enabled successful and standardized program implementation across 8 sites.
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