Male gym-goers are motivated by shame about their body fat rather than health and fitness, a new study suggests.

The report, published in the Journal of Strength and Training Research, questioned 100 men on what inspired them to work out. All the men worked out two or three times a week and had a slightly high BMI. Perhaps predictably, 60 percent of them claimed health and fitness was their main motivation, with only 16 percent stating their appearance was the motivating factor.

However, the men then had their non-conscious motivation evaluated, by measuring the time it took them to associate particular words with themselves. Another test had them rate different statements from one to four on how accurately statements represented themselves.

The psychological tests suggested hidden fears about body image and body fat were fuelling men’s gym attendance, rather than a desire for health and fitness as they largely claimed.

“This study is important in showing that whilst they may be more unlikely to admit it, body dissatisfaction and dysmorphia can and do affect males as well as females, and therefore should be investigated fully,” said study author Dr David Keatley, from the University of Lincoln.

“Spontaneous gym-goers are more likely to be motivated by guilt, shame or pressure, so it’s important to turn this around and place a focus on positive feelings of achievement and pride, fostering a long-term healthier behaviour change.”

“Anyone can be affected by what they see online, the social cues images can give, and the popular conceptions of an ‘ideal body image’.

“With the recent growth of ‘selfies’ and the return of muscle-bound Hollywood hero icons like Vin Diesel and Hugh Jackman, there’s a real risk that males may be more influenced to attend the gym more regularly and workout to a point where it becomes dangerous or detracts from their wellbeing.”

In June, a gym in Thailand was opened for trans men to provide them with a safe and comfortable place to work out.