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Male body fat shame responsible for gym attendance

Media release

Curtin University research has examined the relationship between men’s body attitudes and gym attendance, finding hidden fears about body fat, rather than a desire to build muscle, is more likely to fuel gym visits.

Lead researcher, Mr Kim Caudwell from Curtin’s School of Psychology and Speech Pathology, said while body dissatisfaction had been widely researched, less was known about the relationship between motivation and attitudes and their relation to gym attendance in males.

The study asked 100 men from Australia, Britain and America who regularly attended the gym to complete an online questionnaire about their non-conscious and conscious motivations for exercising.

On average, participants had a BMI slightly above ‘normal’, and reported they exercised two-to-three times per week for about an hour. Nearly three-fifths (60 per cent) listed health and fitness as their primary motivation for going to the gym, while 16 per cent cited amateur body building or appearance.

“Results however, demonstrated male attitudes towards muscle and body mass index (BMI) didn’t predict how frequently men attended the gym, but their perceptions of body fat did,” Mr Caudwell said.

“Men who reported they were motivated by enjoyment or positive outcomes related to exercise, went to the gym more. When asked about motivation indirectly, they reported obligation, guilt, and pressure as driving factors for their gym attendance.

“This may mean that feeling guilty about missing or skipping workouts, and negative attitudes towards body fat, may lead men to participate in unplanned, sporadic workout sessions to alleviate these concerns. As the primary motivation for exercise, this could be difficult to sustain in the long run and has the potential for increased injury risk.

“We suspect portrayals of the ‘muscular ideal’ are a contributor to image concerns in men, so while it’s great that more people are interested in exercise and fitness, there is a risk men may be susceptible to these concerns when engaging in exercise behaviours,” he said.

The researchers recommended people, and indeed health and fitness professionals, focus on individual health-oriented goals, instead of image-related ones. This, in conjunction with having a good ‘gym-life’ balance, may help to foster positive fitness habits throughout a person’s life.

The full research paper, The Effect of Men’s Body Attitudes and Motivation for Gym Attendance, was published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, and can be found here.