Journal of Applied Physiology


The purpose of this study was to determine the feasibility of using a positive reinforcement protocol to motivate weight-lifting exercise in rats. Intracranial self-stimulation was used to induce weight-lifting exercise. Bipolar electrodes were implanted in the ventral tegmental area of rats, and the animals were trained to bar press on a continuous reinforcement schedule for electrical brain stimulation. Animals with response rates of 1,200–1,500 presses/h were then trained with a discriminative light stimulus to alternate between a normally positioned bar and an elevated bar that could be reached only by standing on the hindlimbs. The animals were fitted with a weighted jacket at a starting resistance of 5–10% of their body weight. Weight-training sessions were conducted 5 days/wk for 10 wk. Training consisted of 600 presses/session, alternating every 15 presses between the low and high bars. At the beginning of each subsequent week, the resistance was progressively increased, with some animals eventually training at resistances greater than 50% of their body weight. At the end of the training period, the rats were lifting over 550% of the starting weight. Gastrocnemius size and mean fiber diameter were increased in the weight-lifting animals. This model combines exercise with positive incentive and has the advantages of being relatively easy to implement and not producing any apparent physical or mental trauma in the animal.