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Men’s hidden fears about body fat are fuelling gym attendance motivated by feelings of guilt and shame rather than a desire to build muscle, new research has shown.

Psychology researchers from the UK and Australia found out that while male attitudes towards muscle or body mass index (BMI) did not predict how often they would attend the gym, their perceptions of body fat did.

The researchers discovered that men worried about body fat were more likely than others to undertake spontaneous, unscheduled work-outs – and warned that these ‘sporadic’ exercise patterns tend to be hard to maintain over time.

The study was carried out by Dr David Keatley from the School of Psychology at the University of Lincoln, UK, and Kim Caudwell from Curtin University, Australia.

Dr Keatley said: “Coaches, trainers, and even ‘gym buddies’ need to be aware of individuals’ motivations and reasons for attending a gym. 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 behaviour change.

“Anyone can be affected by what they see online, the social cues images can give, and the popular conceptions of an ‘ideal 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.

“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.”

The research is the first of its kind to examine men’s body attitudes alongside both their conscious (explicit) and non-conscious (implicit) motivations for attending the gym. The findings could help health and fitness professionals improve gym attendance in the long-term by focusing on pro-active goal-setting and personal autonomy, rather than body image.

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Men’s hidden fears about body fat are fuelling gym attendance motivated by feelings of guilt and shame rather than a desire to build muscle, new research has shown. Psychology researchers from the UK and Australia found out that while male attitudes towards muscle or body mass index (BMI) did not...