Why Gym Culture is Uniquely Enchanting

Andre is 6’3”, 220 lbs.

He wears a black do-rag, double striped track pants and a white sleeveless shirt revealing his 19-inch tatted biceps.  Bronx born and raised, he earns a living co-managing a pizza parlor.

Amy is 5’3”, 115 lbs.

She wears black Lululemon shorts and a purple Lulu top. Amy is a private school bred trust fund baby whose “fashion PR” paycheck ain’t covering her handbag obsession, let alone the $9000/month rent bill.

At what crossroads in life do these two become friends?  Or even get the chance to meet each other?

The corner bar?  Unlikely.

The DMV?  Doubt it.

The subway?  LOL.

I look around the train: Suits reading the paper, bums sleeping in their own piss, elderly gasping for another breath, 12 year olds off to school, unemployed surfing twitter, pretty girls, well groomed dudes and sloppy hipsters.

All packed elbow to elbow and not a single exchange. Not one “hello”. Not one smile.  Complete isolation.  No acknowledgement that another human being is literally on top of you.

Guard wallet, check.  Avoid eye contact, check.  Would this damn thing hurry up?

It’s a cold, isolated environment, like so many public venues are.


Ding. Ding. Ding.


the squat rack

Conversation unfolds effortlessly.

Depth, foot angle, hip drive and bar placement.

Crazy rep schemes and quad vs hamstring activation.  Sweatin’ and pumpin’ out sets.

They gravitate to one another like Cory and Topanga, Mikey McD and Worm, The Fox and The Hound.

The gym brings people together that simply wouldn’t meet in the real world. Something about the atmosphere makes the invisible borders that guide our real life interactions – class, status, gulp, race – nonexistent in the gym.

The gym is a place where a high school drop-out and PhD learn from each other.  Where a 24 year old meathead and 77 year old retiree can joke and laugh and intellectualize and trash talk.

It’s a place where outcasts are welcome. The lost souls find themselves. Barbells and comradery replace the leather chair and stuffy therapist.

It’s a place where men and women learn more about themselves than school or work or plopped near the television.

It’s a place where broken hearts go to heal, tiny muscles go to grow and confused minds develop toughness and clarity.

The gym is a special community. People are open and friendly.  They help each other.

Veterans help rookies.  Girls help guys.  Rich help poor, and poor help rich..

Money doesn’t matter.  Status doesn’t matter.

Gays help straights. Christians help Muslims. And deep squatters help everyone else avoid the smith machine.

Who you are in the outside world simply does not matter.


Maybe it’s the endorphins.  Maybe it’s the shared love of chalk and iron.  Maybe it is the pre-existing understanding that you and your company are striving for a better life.

I’m not sure about the why. And it doesn’t matter – it just is.

As for Andre and Amy, nah, they never did run off into the sunset and make beautiful mixed race babies. But they were open to one another, learned a few things, shared a few laughs and each gained a friend.

The gym is my breath of fresh air in a polluted concrete jungle.



Comments for This Entry

  • Tiny Buddha

    Loved this text!! (tmhodne on fito) Inspiring and heartwarming. :)

    July 30, 2013 at 10:42 am | Reply to this comment

  • Katie

    Nice post! I agree...I was very overweight and out of shape when I started going to the gym. While I expected people to judge me, I found them surprisingly nice and intimidating. It can be very easy to imagine the gym as a place only "the chosen few" go, so I'm glad you are putting the word out for others who haven't figured this out yet.

    August 3, 2013 at 11:42 am | Reply to this comment

  • Mikkael

    "private school bread" is served in canteens. "private school bred" are people who come from/in private schools. : )

    August 5, 2013 at 3:39 am | Reply to this comment

  • Andrew Jones

    When I first started working out - the most inspiring person in my gym, even though I was there to put on muscle, was an older guy who was technically morbidly obese. What was inspiring was that, as I learned from the staff, he weighed about 150lbs *less* now than he had when he started. He did his weights and cardio with an intensity and dedication that put the football and hockey players to shame. He would finish his workouts drenched head to toe, but there wasn't a soul in that gym who who have even *considered* ridiculing him for being a "fatty" (I've heard about this in other gyms, sadly) because he put more of himself into every workout than any other person there. I changed gyms due to schedule issues the next year, but I'm certain he was still there, getting leaner and fitter and *still* putting the jocks to shame. That is the real gym mentality - when someone is willing to put in the work, they are an equal, no matter who they are.

    January 14, 2016 at 3:34 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Rachel Balota

    This was the perfect thing to wake up to on a training day. Especially after the last couple of months of needing to actively avoid big media just so all the ugly news stopped getting me down. :) Somehow it gives me hope that one day as a human race we'll be able to expand our colour/gender/sexuality/status-blind outlooks to the rest of the world too. <3

    July 8, 2016 at 6:22 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Alexandra Eyle

    My first inspiration in fitness came when I joined a gym and was working my 3-lb weights doing delt reps. I was 46-year-old 5'1 white lady, with a pot belly, and thirty pounds to lose. Standing next to me, also working out in front of the mirror was a Mr. T double. Huge, black, tattooed, and cut, and he was standing right next to me, working 50-lb weights in each hand, doing crunches. He looks over at fat lil' ol' me and gives me a huge smile, and says, "You go, girl!" I was stunned! And excited. If this huge, fit, guy thought I was worth encouraging, than maybe I could get fit! Every time we met in front of the mirror, he gave me the same push. And it worked. I hired a trainer, and two years later, owned my own gym for women, and became a personal trainer myself.

    August 17, 2016 at 12:40 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Emma Bond

    "Deep squatters help everyone else avoid the smith machine." LOL so true though. I know for me, the gym is a place to escape from everything that is going on and to just focus on myself and my health. And I'm sure most people in the weight room are there for that exact same reason. It gives all of us weight lifters kind of this "secret code". Let alone it's always great to be around people with similar interests and passions. Great post Mike, as always.

    September 9, 2016 at 12:44 am | Reply to this comment

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