Has 'Go Hard or Go Home' Left the Building in 2023?

young man showing his muscles in the local park
Has 'Go Hard or Go Home' Left the Building in 2023milan2099 - Getty Images

Some people thrive on a bit of no-BS gym banter. Others, however, prefer friendly encouragement to PE teacher admonishments. Many trainers and coaches have noted – and welcome – a move away from excessively punishing language (‘Pain is weakness leaving the body!’) as well as the immediate assumption that gym attendees are motivated by a desire to lose weight – although that’s still a valid goal.

Meanwhile, the burgeoning anti-body-shaming movement (see Jonah Hill and Dr Alex George) is gathering momentum, while a new wave of fitness influencers such as Joey Swoll have seen their audiences explode in the past year, thanks to posts calling out those who are disrespectful to less experienced gym-goers, as well as PTs who prescribe starvation rations or unsustainable programmes.

Our fitness writer, Kate Neudecker, says:

Gone are the days where we would scroll our feeds to see 'No excuses' and 'No days off'. Now it seems the fitness pendulum has swung in the alternate direction. However, is this for the better? New evidence has shown that a more compassionate approach to your fitness training could mean more motivation for your next session.

A study on athletes found that the more they experienced sport-specific daily stress, the more likely they were to feel guilty and ashamed, which would negatively impact their motivation for their next training session.

If our goal is to see the results we want, and ultimately have fun doing it, then perhaps our habits of self-flagellation after a missed PB should be swept to the side.

In the study's findings, 96 athletes reported their level of self-compassion and evaluated their training over three weeks in terms of experienced stress, guilt, shame and subsequent training motivation. It was shown that stress was associated with more negative self-conscious emotions and reduced training motivation. Moreover, self-compassion weakened the effect of stress on shame.

male athlete doing arm workout with barbell in gym
AleksandarGeorgiev - Getty Images

With more of a focus on an improved body image, it seems that the fitness industry is moving away from guilt and shame as a motivator. And for good reason. These types of extrinsic motivators can have a negative effect on motivation and goal striving.

Another study on 100 male exercise participants has shown that those with negative body attitudes may still show motivation in relation to gym attendance but concluded that minimising extrinsic reasons may be of importance to establishing long-term, positive health behaviour change. It also mentioned that 'given the poorer psychological and health outcomes associated with forms of controlled motivation, trainers and coaches should shift focus from external appearance to more intrinsic elements of exercise in the gym or fitness centre.'

So perhaps it is (thankfully) an improvement that instructors are ditching deprecating slogans in favour of a gentler approach. Of course, everyone motivates themselves in their own preferred way, and who are we to dictate what gets you in the squat rack. But a compassionate approach could be the stress-free way to get you under the bar more swiftly.

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