A ritual, defined by Dictionary.com, is; “ A religious or solemn ceremony consisting of a series of actions performed according to a prescribed order”. Going to the gym does not apply to this definition, but this activity can be seen as a ritual in its own way. When one goes to the gym, there is not one telling them what exercises they have to do, but most gym goers have their own rituals they perform in this space. The gym can be a place that people can grow, change and improve. The significance of this space can also been seen throughout the community of this university. There is clearly a specific culture associated with going to the gym, as well as certain rituals that occur, which builds a community within this space and in the school.
My observation began on a hot Friday afternoon in South Florida. I walked out of my final class for the week and hopped on my skateboard. I rode across campus, past the lake, past my dorm, down the handicap ramp next to the dining hall, and up the sidewalk until I reached the entrance to a large, sand colored building. I walked though the doors into the lobby where a staff member swiped my cane card and let me through a gate. I turned left and walked through the entrance to the fitness room. I showed the staff my towel and was allowed to enter and then I walked down the path that divides the gym in half. I sat down on a bench and began taking notes.
The gym was a whirlwind of motion. On the cardio machines, participants ran on treadmills and ellipticals, rowed the rowing machines, walked up the stair masters, and pedaled the stationary bikes. On the weight side, others lifted using all kinds of free weights, machines and cables. Others could also be seen doing yoga activities…5PM was a busy time in the gym. I only counted seven cardio machines not in use, and I witnessed up to five people standing around waiting their turn for a bench press or squat rack.
Culture in this space can be defined through how the people participating in this space all share common ideas and values.
As the gym goers went about their workout, I noticed that almost everyone in the gym was dressed in the same style. As I looked at the participants feet, I noticed almost all of them wearing similar colorful running shoes; most showing the Nike swoosh or Adidas 3 stripes. In addition, almost everyone was wearing either a t-shirt or tank top. The designs on these shirts were interesting to me. Some contained Greek letters, others broadcasted gym supplement companies, and yet others looked like high school sports apparel. These different types of t-shirts, it could seem that gym goers enjoy having a individual style in the gym, and do so by wearing clothes unique to themselves. Although these observations were mostly of college students, the few older participants I noticed seemed to dress similar in the sense of what style of clothes they wore. One difference was definitely how revealing these clothes were. Many of the student gym goers had skintight spandex pants or shorts and very well fitting shirts, while the older gym goers clothes seemed much more covering and looser fitting. One inference I made from observing this is because the older participants had less to show off, most looking less physically fit than the students.
It was very clear that the clothing involved in gym culture was unique, mainly because wearing a shirt that is cut all the way down the side to expose half of your torso may cause one to earn some in another environment. The style of workout clothes also could stand as a symbol for some of the values that people that work out share, since that they are mostly not worn outside the gym. When one sees someone
Many of the people exercising at the gym were sipping their beverage of choice through a plastic shaker cup. These cups are almost seen as a symbol of working out since they have few other uses besides those associated with the gym. Other accessories I noticed on people lifting were weight belts, straps and gloves.
These accessories can also be seen as cultural capital in this space. Cultural Capital, as defined in Julia Alvarazes’ book Once Upon a Qunicenra, means anything of value within the culture that is not money. These items have value because they show skill and expertise in this space, since they show the owners skill and dedication to working out.
Later, when I was interviewing participants as they were leaving the gym, I inquired if they believed that the gym has a specific culture. 13 of them replied yes and the other two did not believe it was a thing. Most seemed to agree about the culture of the gym, but there were also outliers. I inferred that those that did not participate must be either be beginners to working out, or are older participants who are not as interested in the culture.
After that, I asked how often they worked out. Two said they went every day, five said they went more than 4 days a week. Three said they go less than four days, and then five more said that they it depends on their schedule. From this question I was able to have more insight about how serious some participants are about working out.
One interesting event that allowed me to see what are some of trhe values of the people that use the gym are. I was looking around the weight machines, and one of them caught my eye. Not because of the machine, but because the guy using it had a cast on his foot. If participants of the gym will still come exercise while injured, it shows that dedication is a value that these people share.
Another value that was observed in this space was respect. At one point, one gym goer asked another if he could spot him. I had not seen the two interact before this, so I inferred that they both just happened to be working out at the same time. Also, not once did I see a staff member have tell a participant that they were breaking one of the rules posted around the gym. Based on the fact that those that work out are willing to help out another gym goer that they do not know, and also follow the rules, respect is clearly another value that defines the culture here.
The effect of this culture is also made visible throughout society. Many people in Miami value looking fit highly, especially with year round warm temperatures. Therefore many individuals, both in and out of college, pursue it. Not only do But in order to achieve this goal of being, one must continuously come back to this place to see results. This is almost as if it was a ritual to the participant.
The act of habitually coming to and from this space could be seen as a ritual to gym goers. The moment that I realized going to the gym was like a ritual was when I began to wonder what these peoples routines were, or what they did during their time in the gym. Although everyone in this space uses the same facilities, almost no two peoples workouts are exactly the same. Some may lift weights for 30 minutes than run for 30 minutes, some may only do cardio, some may just do yoga or participate in the classes that the gym offers 7 days a week. No matter which form of exercise people participate in, they mostly seemed to have a clear, defined plan of what they will do at the gym.
As I watched the mostly men in the weight section, they all seemed to follow a similar pattern in their workouts. They would do repetitions of a certain exercise; wait anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes, and then do the exercise again. Once they did a few sets of this exercise, they would pick up their stuff, and go on to another exercise that worked out a similar group of muscles as the previous one. Although almost all of the gym goers routines varied, they are all sort of a ritual to the user as they continuously repeat these workouts that they have chose on their own to do.
When I surveyed participants as they were leaving the gym, this idea was reinforced by the participant’s responses. Out of the 15 I asked if they had known what they were going to do at the gym before they got there, only one told me they had not. Even the one person that told me they did not plan out a routine still follows similar rituals as the others, such as wiping down machines, swiping their Cane card to enter, showing their towel to the staff, and drinking from water fountains. By sharing these similar rituals with all of the other gym goers, a community is formed at the gym.
“A social group whose members reside in a specific locality and share common cultural or historical heritage” (Dictionary.com) can define a community. Although I observed an array of people from different cultures at the gym, these diverse people are able to share the culture of the gym with other gym goers to form a community here.
Who was using which equipment was another aspect of the gym that reflected the community. There were also a few participants over 30 scattered throughout the facility, but besides that everyone here was a college student. In the free weight section, there were only two women that I counted and almost 40 men lifting. The machines located next to the weights had similar demographics. There was a small area in the back corner past the machines that contained a few more free weights and a mirror that a few more women were using. On the other hand, women greatly outnumbered men on the cardio machines. This difference in who uses what kind of workout equipment may show how people come to the gym with different goals in mind, but still are able to bond in the overall activity of working out. By bonding, I mean that multiple times I observed people from either side of the gym walk over to someone in a different area to talk to them.
Even though these gym goers stopped to go talk to others at the gym, these people could be seen as functioning in an “ego-centered network”. This idea, described by Rebeka Nathan in her book My Freshman Year, states that college students have a group of friends, but those friends have different groups of friends. I observed gym goers working out, going to say what’s up to different groups of friends, but those groups they interacted with did not interact with each other. This example reinforces Nathans idea of this, and shows how interactions at this university are similar to the ones discussed in her book.
Overall, while I was observing the gym the atmosphere felt serious, but friendly at the same time. The staff was very attentive and was seen helping whoever needed it. I did not observe anyone breaking any gym rules and everyone was respectful to the equipment. There were many gym goers who were working out with their headphones on by themselves, but I also noticed a good deal of people working out with a group of two or three others. Some of these groups I observed them standing around talking more than actually working out. Besides this, many times I noticed someone helping load or unload weights, giving someone a spot, or sharing machines. Some of these interactions also seemed to take place between two people that had not planned on working out together. These conversations that just begin with a “can you spot me?” could end up turning into lifelong friendships. This example shows how this ritual functions in the community life. In this unique community, the participants are mostly completing different rituals at the same time, but still come together to help each other out.
Another example of one helping another out was seeing more experienced gym goers assisting those that were relatively new to working out. While I was there, I witnessed one gym goer who looked experienced giving tips on form for an exercise to someone who looked like he just took up this activity. This shows how the people that go to the gym are willing help others who are working toward a similar goal.
Other responses from my survey also apply to this. I asked participants if they preferred to work out alone or with others. Nine responded that they preferred alone, and the other six said they have to workout with someone else.
Even the people I noticed working out alone were still observed interacting with other gym goers. I saw multiple times someone stop their workout, go have a quick conversation with someone, then the two separate and return to their workout. Clearly at the gym, the community is well knit and all participants are able to come together through the shared culture of this place
After filling up a few pages of notes on what I had seen, I decided to end my observation. I walked through the lobby and back outside to the tropical Florida sun. Looking at the gym as an observer gave me new insights to this space that had previously never thought about. The rituals that occur in the gym are the routines its users create as well as other basic activities in the gym. The clothing and accessories that are used at the gym are very unique to this place and connect its users. There are also aspects of this space that stand as cultural capital, such as the accessories, designs on shirts, fitness or strength. This culture also builds a community within this place, and it has a beneficial effect on its members. In the world, the effect of this space can be seen in the positive impacts it has on its members. The gym is a place that the users can improve themselves physically as well as grow mentally. There is a long list of benefits to those who exercise regularly, and those who participate in the gym all enjoy these benefits in all aspects of their life. In a society where it seems like unhealthy temptations are available at every corner, it is refreshing to observe a community that is dedicated to keeping themselves healthy.
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