Nearly 7 in 10 adults feel embarrassed to go to the gym – as they don’t look like a ‘typical’ gym goer

Intimidating sports culture is putting millions off working out – as many are feeling alienated by the exercise industry.

A poll of 2,000 adults who don’t exercise found 68 per cent feel too embarrassed to go to the gym because they don’t fit the mould of the ‘typical’ gym goer.

More than three-quarters (78 per cent) don’t find sports adverts motivating and 33 per cent say adverts actually put them off working out.

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However, 55 per cent would be more likely to exercise if they saw everyday people in sports adverts.

And 20 per cent would be more inspired to do something active if there were more realistic expectations set by the industry.

A further 29 per cent say sports brands aren’t relatable to them, and a quarter think exercise culture is intimidating.

While 49 per cent wish they had more confidence to exercise.

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The research was commissioned by ASICS as part of its ‘New Personal Best’ campaign, which is calling out performance-obsessed exercise culture in partnership with mental health charity Mind.

Gary Raucher, European vice president for the sportswear brand, said: “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.

“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.”

As part of the research, survey respondents were shown a series of marketing images from sportswear and athletic brands and asked to comment on how the pictures made them feel.

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Just over one in 10 (12 per cent) said the images made them feel ‘inferior’, 13 per cent felt intimidated and for seven per cent, the images even made them feel depressed.

It was found 16 per cent typically come across these types of images on social media, with 42 per cent admitting seeing boastful exercise posts makes them feel like a failure – even before they’ve started exercising.

Hayley Jarvis, head of physical activity at Mind, added: “For people who don’t exercise, taking that first step can be daunting, especially if they’re also experiencing a mental health problem.

“When you add the pressure of performance so often seen in sports marketing or on social media, for some it can feel impossible to get started as they don’t feel like they’re ‘good enough’.

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“Getting active can play a vital role in helping us stay and live well with mental health problems.”

The majority of Brits admit they are aware of the mental health benefits of exerciseThe majority of Brits admit they are aware of the mental health benefits of exercise
The majority of Brits admit they are aware of the mental health benefits of exercise | ASICS

Reaping the benefits of exercise

The survey, which was conducted via, also found 23 per cent of non-exercisers feel too embarrassed to start now, and nearly one in five (18 per cent) worry people would judge them as they are too unfit.

Over three quarters (77 per cent) admitted they are aware of the mental health benefits of exercise.

But despite 61 per cent saying they have either personally experienced a mental health problem or know someone who has, it is still not motivation enough to get them moving.

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Mental health activist and TV personality Dr Alex George, who is supporting the ASICS campaign, said: “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.

“I too have felt intimidated and insecure after comparing my performance and results to others.

“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.”

The ‘New Personal Best’ campaign features everyday people and is encouraging them to share their own ‘personal best’ images on social media using the hashtag #NewPersonalBest on World Mental Health Day, 10th October. 

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One of which is Tom Durnin, whose inspirational story caught the sports brand’s attention when he finished in last place at the London Marathon 2023.

He said: “For me, it was all about crossing that finish line no matter how long it took me. I run purely because it makes me feel good, I don't worry about my time or being the slowest.

“I never thought I’d ever be the face of a sports campaign but I’m honoured to be partnering with ASICS to encourage more people to move for their mental health.

“If my story can inspire at least one person to take the first step that’s all I could ask for.”

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