- The martial arts online community had the most toxic online behavior (66.2%).
- The pilates online community exhibited the least toxic online behavior (41.6%).
- The bodybuilding online community had the highest percentage of posts containing vulgar language (5.8%).
- Overall, 51.6% of respondents claimed that a supportive fitness community was very important to them, however 54% said they at least somewhat often experienced harassment while exercising.
You’d think health-related online forums would include mostly positive, motivating digital content for the wellness community and its participants. But after scraping millions of Reddit threads for positive and negative sentiments on everything from martial arts to yoga, we’re no longer so sure. From our data, we now know the most negatively and positively charged fitness activities with regards to their online communities.
We were able to determine the disciplines that involved the most cursing, negative sentiment, and even overall toxicity. We included weightlifting, running, cycling—whatever your fitness interests, you’ll likely find your community represented here. To see how people in your particular subset of fitness use the internet, keep reading.
Most Negative Fitness Communities
With more than half a million Reddit posts on running subthreads alone, the fitness community is alive and active online. The first section of our study looks at how many posts related to each activity are considered by the algorithm to be of negative sentiment.
Martial arts Redditors were the most negative—the clear majority of posts (66.2%) on this topic were of negative sentiment. The effect of martial arts on social-psychological development has long been debated; even a study dedicated to this topic by the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine failed to determine once and for all whether martial arts negatively impacts participants. Martial arts was also the broadest fitness category we explored, since it could refer to Redditors conversing over anything from kickboxing to karate. In terms of more specific categories, powerlifting and bodybuilding weren’t far behind in terms of negative sentiment.
On the other hand, yoga gained more evidence for its reputation for inspiring a positive mindset: This activity, along with the closely related disciplines of flexibility and pilates, had one of the lowest negative sentiment percentages. Medical experts argue that yoga can achieve everything from relieving stress to improving overall quality of life. Now we know Redditors discussing yoga and similar fields are substantially more positive than other fitness communities.
Foul Fitness Language
While opinions on vulgar language vary, its use in an online setting can be an indicator of negativity. Therefore, the next section of our study explores the total percentage of posts for each fitness practice that included some type of profanity.
Bodybuilding posts included the highest percentage of profanity (5.8%). Martial arts and strength training were also clear front-runners for the “Most Vulgar” trophy. These types of sports are dominated by men and also often involve shouting during practice. Comparatively, fewer than 1% of yoga or pilates posts involved cursing—these disciplines are typically female-dominated and don’t find participants speaking aloud very often. Perhaps this makes them less outspoken in an online setting as well? Runners, swimmers, and triathletes were also fairly reticent when it came to cursing.
Popular Curse Words in Sports
Curious to know exactly which curse words these sports enthusiasts were using? The following data analysis scraped online posts for some of the most common curse words and revealed which wellness practitioners employed them most frequently.
“Sh-t” was clearly the most common vulgar word Reddit picked up (28.3%), followed by “f-ck” (24.1%) and “ass” (14.4%). The term “Balls” was used significantly higher than average (600.5% greater than average) among the Pilates fitness community. However, the term likely wasn’t used as a curse word by pilates aficionados, since pilates balls are an important accessory in this practice. Whether the term was meant in a profane way in other fitness posts was not confirmed.
“Crap” was heavily used by those discussing virtual reality fitness, an activity that uses technology to deliver a virtual workout with real benefits. Essentially, your body is the controller, and you can watch your avatar do everything from throw punches to climb mountains. Perhaps technical or hardware mishaps were responsible for causing the “crap” storm in this community. Another vulgar term that was infrequently used overall but cropped up more than average in the martial arts and bodybuilding communities was “p-ssy.”
Fitness Toxicity Level Breakdown
Our study concludes with a final look at toxicity in the world of fitness. We asked people if they had ever experienced direct harassment in a fitness setting, and what types of harassment occurred. Additionally, we looked at how these experiences related to the type of activities people were involved in.
More than half of survey respondents reported experiencing harassment in a fitness setting at least somewhat often. Respondents involved in martial arts were the most likely to say so (79.3%)—coinciding with our observations of toxicity and vulgarity in the martial arts online fitness community. On the flip side, respondents involved in aerobics reported experiencing the least amount of harassment. Nevertheless, in every category except aerobics, over 50% of respondents reported experiencing harassment at least somewhat often.
Overall, the majority of both men and women claimed they were harassed by individuals of the same gender. However, women were over three times more likely than men to experience harassment from other genders. Women were also more likely to say this harassment negatively impacted their desire to exercise and felt more strongly that a supportive fitness community was important.
Maintaining Fitness Positivity
Energies and attitudes differ across various fitness communities. In our study, the martial arts online community appeared to be the most negative, while bodybuilders used the most vulgar language. That said, more than half of our respondents considered a supportive fitness community to be very important, and certain activities (such as pilates and yoga) stood out for their positivity. Even if these particular disciplines aren’t your thing, there are always ways to find exactly what you’re looking for within your preferred workout field.
FitRated.com dedicates itself entirely to connecting you with the perfect fitness equipment. Whether you’re focused on budget, machine type, or both, FitRated provides up-to-date product information filtered to your needs. If you’re ready to ditch the negativity with a tailor-made workout, head over to FitRated.com today.
Methodology and Limitations
For the first half of this study, we scraped over 2,000,000 posts and comments across 16 different Reddit fitness communities from January 1, 2021, to December 13, 2021. As well as recording the post or comment’s date, text, and subreddit, we analyzed each one using VADER (Valence Aware Dictionary and sEntiment Reasoner) sentiment analysis in conjunction with the NLTK (Natural Language Toolkit) library in Python to compute aggregate scores for positive, negative, and neutral sentiment.
No statistical testing was performed on this data, so the claims listed above are based on means alone. As such, this content is exploratory and is presented for informational purposes only.
For the second half of the study, we surveyed 1,000 active respondents who reported exercising at least once a week. 54.1% of respondents identified as men, 45.1% identified as women, and the remaining 0.8% identified as nonbinary. Due to sample size limitations, nonbinary was not included among gender breakdowns. Additionally, the average age of respondents was 38.7 years old with a standard deviation of 12 years.
The main limitation of this part of the study is its reliance on self-report, which is faced with several issues, such as attribution, exaggeration, recency bias, and telescoping.
Fair Use Statement
We hope this research left you with a positive sentiment score. If you feel so inclined, you are welcome to share the information. Just be sure your purposes are noncommercial and that you link back to this page when doing so.