Self-conscious Brits too intimidated to join a gym

A third of 18-35 year olds (33%) feel too self-conscious to join a gym, according to a new survey, out today, from the UK’s largest independent not-for-profit health and wellbeing organisation, Nuffield Health.

One in five (22%) surveyed explained that seeing other people’s gym photos on social media makes them feel under pressure to look a certain way with close to a third (30%) wishing people took more realistic/less staged pictures of themselves in the gym. In fact, almost a third of Brits (31%) feel that social media is harmful rather than helpful when it comes to encouraging people to get fit.

But there is an appetite for social media to play a more positive role; with over two thirds of 18-35 year olds (69%) believing that more realistic images of celebrities or influencers in the gym on social media would encourage younger people looking to improve their health and fitness.

As many resolve to get fit in the New Year, we conducted a survey amongst 2,000 18-35 year olds to explore what’s holding people back from joining a gym – known as ‘gymhibitions’. Aside from feeling intimidated, almost a quarter (23%) are “worried I’m not fit enough”, 24% are “worried everyone will look at me” and 11% “don’t like getting hot and sweaty.”

Stephen Macconville, our Fitness Lead, said: “We wanted to find out what’s holding Brits back from commencing their fitness journey. The findings reveal that many people are put off the gym because they feel pressure from social media. 43% of Brits surveyed have witnessed their fellow gym users taking selfies or photos in the gym and although gym selfies and work out videos from fitness models can be motivating, it can also hold people back from taking their first foray into a gym.”

When asked what would encourage people to join a gym or attend more often, over a quarter (26%) said a tailored exercise plan, with one in five (20%) citing a regular Health MOT to track progress.

Stephen continues: “Getting fit is a journey which is personal to everyone. A Health MOT and regular check-ins with a personal trainer will ensure you’re doing what’s best for you and your body, no matter what your starting level of fitness is. This will help deliver better results than looking to other people or social channels for inspiration.”

Members of our fitness & wellbeing clubs receive a free Health MOT, which includes looking at resting heart rate, aerobic fitness, blood pressure, cholesterol, waist to hip ratio, existing injuries and sleep levels among other indicators, all of which can be used to plan a bespoke fitness programme based on a person’s goals. Progress is measured and workouts reviewed at quarterly follow-up Health MOTs.

The survey also explored peoples’ pet peeves in the gym with the top five answers being:

1.      People staring

2.      People hogging equipment

3.      People taking selfies/photos

4.      People not wiping down equipment

5.      People flexing their muscles and staring at themselves in the mirror

To help encourage people to start on their fitness journey, we are offering a 1-day trial voucher valid at any of its consumer clubs across the UK.

To encourage more positive and realistic workout imagery on social media, we have created an inspirational workout top which reveals motivating slogans as wearers sweat it out in the gym. The first 100 people to redeem a 1-day trial voucher from will receive a free heat-activated workout top.

About the research

The survey was carried out on behalf of Nuffield Health by OnePoll.  2,000 Brits aged 18-35 who have a social media account were surveyed online between 6th December and 12th December 2018.  

Last updated Thursday 29 April 2021

First published on Tuesday 8 January 2019