Getting Your Guys to Exercise.

Meg Sharp, Msc.  Director of Training and Education WFCC

What drives men to sweat? 

In celebration of Father’s Day, we thought we’d explore that very thing!

Lazy young man playing video game while lying on sofa at home

Whether it’s your son, best friend or partner, we all have a man or two in our lives who we would LOVE to encourage to be more physically active.  It’s an extremely worthy endeavor.  Regular exercise – as you well know! – lowers risk of diabetes, high cholesterol, colon and prostate cancers; decreases levels of depression, anxiety and anger; encourages stronger muscles, bones, and health weight; boosts performance, concentration and memory; keeps testosterone levels healthy, improves bladder control and reduces risk of erectile dysfunction.  We also know that social support is one of the top predictors of exercise enjoyment and adherence.  So the more you coral the people around you – the more YOU and your fitness and health benefit!

Beautiful, fit young family jogging together outdoors along a paved sidewalk in a park pushing a stroller at sunset

LOADS of good reasons for the men we love to get moving.  So it should be simple?  Ha.  Nothing in life is ever simple.  Even when we know something is really good for us…  it can still be tough to embrace a new habit.

It’s also important to remember – as we try to encourage anyone to start exercising – that we are all unique.  And so, what drives you to get your sweat on, may well not work for someone else.

For a long time, we’ve thought that men are more likely to workout for health and fitness reasons.  There’s quite a bit of compelling evidence to show that – these days anyways – this may not be the case.  In fact, more and more men are motivated to start exercising based on being unhappy with their body image.  Specifically, they are worried or self-conscious about body fat and lack of muscle tone.  Some of this is due to a constant exposure (barrage?) of “ideal” (unrealistic?!) body images in social media

Handsome bald man looking stressed and bored while holding a hand to his face in a studio with copy space

These motivations are crucial to note.  Because we know for certain – for men and women – motivations to exercise based on changing body image – be it weight loss, weight gain, changes in circumference or muscularity and tone – are finicky, flighty friends.  That is such motivations will tend to incite HUGE commitments to crazy exercise regimes initially and then – as the desired results remain elusive in the short term – the exercise program is dropped completely.  Becoming sedentary again is never a good thing.  But even more concerning is the feelings of failure, frustration, lowered self-esteem and self-confidence based on these truncated, failed attempts.

Unrealistic expectations can ultimately foster a “why bother” attitude.  Exercise is work after all!!!  And, as we know, there are so many incredible benefits that are far more important than physique.

So how can we encourage them to dig in and commit?

If your guy is motivated to start exercising because he wants to lose weight or build muscle that’s ok.  Getting started is key.  We need though to help them frame these goals a little differently, potentially moderate expectations and layer in additional motivation which will keep their fire lit.

  • If they’ve committed to doing cardio 3-4 times a week in order to burn calories and lose pounds, have them also focus on the cardiorespiratory benefits of those activities. Also, remind them of the importance of strength training to support metabolism!
Senior man training on treadmill at home
  • If they are striving to lose fat pounds, encourage them to get their body composition checked and then emphasize lean tissue/muscle gain instead.
  • Encourage goals that center around strength gains: more pushups, greater range in their pullup, more weight or reps squatted or rowed.
  • Encourage distance and power goals.
  • Encourage them to commit to activities they enjoy rather than activities they perceive will garner the best results.
Senior Man and woman exercising with bicycles outdoors, they are a couple
  • Encourage them to set a great example for your kids. Better yet – get active with your kids!
  • If they are open to it, encourage resistance training in the mix of activities. There are so many cool things that happen when people start to get stronger and more mobile.  My favourite being they start to feel better about themselves.  More comfortable, competent and confident in their bodies.  And this will lead to encouraging more health decisions and habits.
adult man and mature senior at the gym working his body with dumbbell – one man hapy training indoors sitted on the bench
  • Also, many men LOVE a little friendly competition – with themselves or others – so find something positive to measure change and encourage them to compete with themselves, with you or a peer.
  • Have them join Strava and post their bike rides, hikes and runs. They can set goals to best total distance every week, or connect with, support and compete with their peers.
  • Get them a FitBit or other smart device so they can set step goals for the day and the week
  • As restrictions continue lift encourage them to join a local sports team or pick up games in the community.
  • Sign up for a road or trail race together
Active and healthy aged couple running in natural environment on summer morning
  • Pick an activity – simple and short – that you can commit to and do together. 10-minute walk after dinner every night.  10 minutes of mobility before breakfast.  A 30-minute hike or bike yard every Saturday.
  • Praise effort. Celebrate achievements of distance and strength-based goals.  Openly notice the positive changes in their mood.  Encourage them to do something – anything every day.  Results take time.  Habits form best when they are daily.  And ultimately – when exercise does become habitual – the results do start to appear.
Senior man in health club


Caudwell K.M. & Keatley D.A., 2016.  The Effect of Men’s Body Attitudes and Motivation for Gym Attendance.  J Strength Con Res.  Sep:30(9):2550-6

Fatt S.J. et al., 2019.  Links between viewing fitspiration posts, muscular-ideal internalization, appearance comparisons, body satisfaction, and exercise motivation in men.  New Media & Society Vol 21(6).

O’Hara S.E, et al., 2014.  Emphasizing appearance versus health outcomes in exercise: The influence of the instructor and participants’ reasons for exercise.  Body Image Vol 11(2):109-118