Intimidating sports culture is keeping many people from going back to gyms

NEW YORK — Intimidating sports culture is discouraging countless people from working out, leaving many feeling marginalized by the fitness industry, according to a new poll. The survey of 2,000 adults who don’t regularly exercise reveals that 68 percent feel too self-conscious to set foot in a gym, believing they don’t match the image of a standard gym enthusiast.

An overwhelming 78 percent say sports advertisements don’t inspire them, with one in three asserting that such ads deter them from working out. On the brighter side, 55 percent shared that they’d be more inclined to exercise if ads featured everyday individuals. Also, one in five felt that setting more realistic industry expectations would motivate them to be active.

Additionally, 29 percent felt that sports brands don’t resonate with their lifestyles. One-quarter even found the exercise culture off-putting, though nearly half (49%) wished they had the confidence to engage in physical activity.

This research was spearheaded by ASICS for its “New Personal Best” campaign, which aims to challenge the obsession over performance in the exercise world. This initiative is a collaboration with the mental health charity, Mind.

“The sports industry has been telling us for years that the only thing that matters is a faster time, a longer distance, a higher score, and more reps,” says spokesperson Gary Raucher, the European vice president for ASICS, in a statement. “Although it’s aimed at motivating people, our research shows it’s having the reverse effect and instead creates an intimidating culture that’s putting people off exercise – something we’re committed to change.”

Man worn out, exhausted from exercising
(© rangizzz –

Part of the research had participants view marketing visuals from athletic brands. Shockingly, 12 percent admitted feeling “inferior” due to these images, 13 percent were intimidated, and seven percent even felt depressed. Social media was the primary exposure point for 16 percent, with 42 percent expressing that boastful exercise posts made them feel inadequate even before initiating any exercise routine.

“For people who don’t exercise, taking that first step can be daunting, especially if they’re also experiencing a mental health problem. Getting active can play a vital role in helping us stay and live well with mental health problems,” says spokesperson Hayley Jarvis, Mind’s head of physical activity.

The OnePoll-conducted survey also unveils that 23 percent of people who don’t exercise felt too embarrassed to begin, and 18 percent feared being judged for their lack of fitness. Although a staggering 77 percent acknowledged the mental health advantages of exercising, 61 percent said personal experiences with mental health issues still weren’t motivation enough to be active.

“As someone who is passionate about the benefits of exercise on mental health, it’s upsetting, but unsurprising, that people feel excluded and alienated by the sports industry,” says spokesperson Dr. Alex George, a mental health advocate and TV figure supporting the ASICS campaign. “People need to know that regardless of the type of exercise they do, or the times or distances they achieve, any movement benefits mental health, and is something that should be celebrated.”

72Point writer Fran Tuckey contributed to this report.

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  1. Those who are too lazy to change their lifestyle are willing to make excuses for their lack of exercise or diet change. “Too busy, too hot , too cold, not enough food choices, don’t know that junk food is fattening’ too expensive to join a gym, or too intimidating”.
    There are plenty of fitness facilities that offer exercise for those not as fit. (Think YMCA…..hardly an intimidating atmosphere).
    Walking, home calisthentics, kettlebells, etc. are great ways to get in shape without being ‘intimidated’ or costing much.

    There is always an excuse for those who don’t want to do it.

  2. I prefer exercise outdoors. I have free access to a high end gym, but I am an avid runner and don’t need the social clubbery when working on myself.

    Dangerous machines for which the owner disavows liability for practically anything, a maze of rules. I’m doing fine in the fresh air tyvm.

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