Men don’t workout to build muscle– it’s because they feel ashamed

While the amount of muscle mass or body mass index (BMI) ratings have little impact on when and how frequently a man will go to the gym to work out, hidden concerns over how much body fat can greatly affect attendance habits, according to new research published this month.

In their new study, which was published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, Dr. David Keatley from the University of Lincoln School of Psychology and Kim Caudwell of Curtin University in Perth, Australia, recruited 100 men and had them complete a questionnaire, then participate in a word-association exercise to evaluate  non-conscious motivation.

They found that while attitudes regarding their BMI or muscle did not predict how frequency the men would attend the gym, those with feelings of guilt or shame associated with body fat tended to be more likely to participate in unplanned, spontaneous workout sessions – patterns which the researchers warn can be difficult to sustain over time.

“Coaches, trainers, and even ‘gym buddies’ need to be aware of individuals’ motivations and reasons for attending a gym,” Dr. Keatley explained in a statement. “Spontaneous gym goers are more likely to be motivated by guilt, shame or pressure, so it’s important to turn this around and place a focus on positive feelings of achievement and pride, fostering a long-term healthier behavior change.”

Why guys like Vin Diesel and Hugh Jackman are to blame

The new study, which the authors claim is the first to examine the body attitudes of men along with both their explicit (conscious) and implicit (non-conscious) motivations for exercising, may help health and fitness experts improve long-term gym attendance patterns by focusing on goals and personal autonomy instead of body image.

“With the recent growth of ‘selfies’ and the return of muscle-bound Hollywood hero icons like Vin Diesel and Hugh Jackman, there’s a real risk that males may be more influenced to attend the gym more regularly and workout to a point where it becomes dangerous or detracts from their wellbeing,” Dr. Keatley said.

Dr. Keatley and Caudwell recruited 100 men, all of whom had slightly elevated BMI levels and said that they worked out for about one hour two to three times per week. Only 16% claimed that appearance or amateur bodybuilding was their motivation for working out, and just 8% said their goal was just to train and/or compete.

Each participant filled out a self-reporting questionnaire, rating things like whether or not they felt like others were pressuring them to work out on a scale of one (not very true) to four (very true). They then also were asked to associate either positive or negative words (willing, forced, spontaneous and restricted, for example) with words relating to themselves and others.

“Anyone can be affected by what they see online, the social cues images can give, and the popular conceptions of an ‘ideal body image,’” Dr. Keatley noted. “This study is important in showing that whilst they may be more unlikely to admit it, body dissatisfaction and dysmorphia can and do affect males as well as females, and therefore should be investigated fully.”


Image credit: Thinkstock