Are you one of the millions of people who set a New Year's resolution to get healthier? To eat better? Lose weight? If so, you might also be among the millions of people whose New Year's resolutions likely failed within the first few weeks.
Don't feel bad – it happens to the best of us. In fact, studies have shown only 8 percent of people actually stick to their New Year's resolutions. The other 92 percent are likely derailed by the smallest setbacks instead.
Despite trying to slim down for the summer, plan for a big event, or finally get back into those old jeans, we've all got workout excuses. But where do they come from? To shed some light on some of the most common reasons people avoid getting active, we polled over 1,000 respondents about their workout behaviors and routines. We asked men and women which exercises made them feel the most uncomfortable, which were the most difficult, and what they thought killed their confidence. Read on as we explore their reasons for avoiding breaking a sweat.
All Eyes on You?
No matter how comfortable you feel in your own skin, almost everyone has moments of doubt while working out. Whether it's about feeling judged by the people around you or just being uncomfortable with the exercise, that uncertainty may be all in your head. Some gyms have even come under fire for body shaming people to show up, a tactic that unsurprisingly lacks in motivation. Instead of inspiring us, research suggests these tactics can discourage a person on their fitness journey.
As it turns out, the perceived difficulty of a workout can have the same effect. According to people polled, martial arts were seen as being the most difficult and linked to the highest sense of fear of judgment by others.
The use of resistance bands and even light weights was also linked to difficulty and judgment among those surveyed. While it may sound daunting, weightlifting has plenty of health benefits even if you're not looking to bulk up.
So how about the excuses men and women come up with to avoid working out? It turns out the go-to alibi was the same: Some workouts are just too boring to bother with. Running mindlessly on the treadmill can get old fast, and experts recommend finding exciting ways to spice things up if you want to avoid the drag. Add a cool twist by working out outside or bringing your pet along for the run. And if you're exercising indoors or at the gym, bring a friend for motivation or attend a new class to keep things interesting.
Of course, some excuses might be more of a stretch. Nearly 1 in 3 women used bad weather as an excuse, and almost 1 in 5 men said they skipped a day (or more) because they needed to recover from a previous workout. Resting between sessions is important, but so is sticking to your routine. Everyone is different, but breaking your workouts into different muscle groups means you can still exercise five or six days consecutively while resting your body.
Even if their fitness goals are different, 32 percent of men and 23 percent of women agreed on the biggest boost to their confidence: basic equipment knowledge.
In some cases, it's entirely possible to tour a gym, sign up for a paid membership, and still be completely confused about what to do next. It's not even that uncommon, and the "gymtimidation" people get just thinking about all the machines they don't know how to use can keep them at home instead. Experts recommend signing up for a gym tour or even a personal training session to get fully acquainted with the equipment.
Additionally, 30 percent of men and 22 percent of women identified music as a conductor of confidence. Building a playlist that motivates and inspires you is one of the easiest ways to beat the dread of going to the gym.
What you wear working out could also have something to do with how confident you feel. In fact, men might be even more concerned than women about their appearance at the gym. According to 20 percent of men and 16 percent of women, wearing quality athletic clothing and shoes helped increase their confidence. Thirteen percent of women and 6 percent of men said the same about flattering clothing.
Before you run out to buy an expensive fitness tracker or digital app, consider this: Only 5 percent each of men and women felt more confident after investing in fancy fitness tech.
Finding Your Comfort Zone
From "mansplaining" to unwanted physical contact or an unwelcome gaze, there are plenty of reasons why women may often feel uncomfortable at the gym. In fact, women were over 10 percent less likely to express comfort at the thought of working out at the gym.
According to our research, 69 percent of women said they were comfortable working out, while 81 percent of men said the same. While these percentages may seem high, they still represent 31 percent of women and 19 percent of men who were uncomfortable by contrast.
Men and women also experienced changes in their workout confidence with age. While women were less comfortable in their 20s and 30s (and then again in their 60s), men were confident at younger ages and less so as they got older. As we'll explore below, these feelings of assurance can have a direct impact on how likely we are to show up at the gym in the first place.
A Cycle of Excuses
If you take a few days off from working out, you might start to feel a bit sluggish. Take a few weeks off, and your energy may wane. Take a few months – or even a few years – off, and you'll probably start to notice more than just tightness in your belt.
Staying active does more than change how you look –it changes how you feel. Routine workouts release endorphins that help ward off anxiety and stress. Put them off, and you can feel worse instead. And the longer you stay away from exercising, the harder it can be to get back into form again when you finally find the right motivation.
As we found, women responded more strongly to these feelings of discomfort than men. On average, women who ranked their gym comfort level at very uncomfortable worked out less than three times a week on average. In contrast, men with the same level of discomfort worked out nearly three and half times a week on average instead.
While men and women who felt comfortable were more likely to go to the gym, women who ranked themselves at very comfortable also worked out more frequently than men with the same level of comfortability.
In Their Own Words
Whatever the underlying issues are, people polled confessed to some of the most creative excuses for putting off the gym.
From the mundane "I couldn't find my socks" to the more elaborate (and candid) "explosive diarrhea," there are all sorts of stories people are willing to tell themselves to get out of exercising. Some people even suggested, "I exercised so much last month that I can really take it easy this month" or "I don't need to do cardio because I have a lot of sex." To be fair, sex may feel like a workout (you're even likely to burn a few calories), but it doesn't take the place of establishing a regular fitness routine.
Overcoming Your Concerns
Whatever you tell yourself about not working out, deeper concerns may be holding you back. Working out can produce a lot of anxiety at the gym. People acknowledging the things they perceived as being the most difficult were typically the same things that made them feel the most uncomfortable at the gym.
However, there are some things you can do to boost your fitness confidence. A quality playlist or new workout clothes could help you feel ready to tackle that cardio workout, as well as increase your days of exercise per week. Our previous study shows that the biggest pieces of advice from other fitness folks is to just "go," and to remind yourself that "everyone starts somewhere." With this in mind as well as some other strategies for overcoming gym anxiety, you'll be on your way to a more confident and fit you.
We surveyed and collected responses from 1,008 people about their workout behaviors and routines through a survey. Fifty-one percent of our participants were male, and 49 percent were female. The average age was 35 and ranged from 20 to 69 years old. The standard deviation age was 11 years.
Hypotheses were not statistically tested. We did not have a validated measure of comfort. Therefore, we created one using a scale of one to five, one being very uncomfortable and five being very comfortable.
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