“Performance-Obsessed” Exercise Culture Misses the Mark


For most people, “performance-obsessed” exercise misses the mark.

What’s happening: In a survey of 2K Brits, a majority of respondents said exercise culture is too competitive, causing them to feel intimidated. Instead of inspiring participation, an emphasis on finish times and rep counts keeps people sidelined.

  • 68% of non-exercisers feel “too embarrassed” to go to the gym because they don’t “fit the mould”.
  • 78% do not find sports adverts motivating; 55% are more likely to exercise if campaigns feature everyday people.
  • 42% said boastful exercise posts on social media make them feel like a failure.

Top of mind, 77% of interviewees know exercise supports mental well-being — and most have, or know someone who has, a mental health problem. But, by failing to provide an alternative to performance-obsessed exercise, sports and fitness brands risk alienating this demo.

Changing the Game

A collaboration between sports brand ASICS and health charity Mind, the survey is part of a broader initiative that attempts to reframe “personal best” as a feeling, not a time. According to ASICS EVP Gary Raucher, change starts with rethinking their approach:

“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.”

Backtrack. Grassroots campaigns favouring inclusivity over athleticism have been gaining ground in the UK.

  • Badass Mother Runners, for running mums, gained a following for its supportive community.
  • The haveagos (HAGS) tackle gymtimidation and social media illusions of perfection, championing mental health over aesthetics.
  • Sport England’s This Girl Can holds UK-wide classes for beginners, actively welcoming those who lack confidence and are fearful of group exercise.

Takeaway: While the “finish lines not finish times” mantra is embraced by local community groups, it hasn’t yet hit the mainstream. But, more brands like ASICS/Mind rallying behind could help inspire more to move for that runner’s high or post-gym buzz.

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