The Absurdity of Gym Culture

“The strange thing about the gym is that no one is getting in shape for anything. The only reason people are getting in shape is so that they can get through their workout.”

– Jerry Seinfeld

The quote above is quintessential Seinfeld. He takes something that is a very mundane and normal part of everyday life, and puts it in a context that makes you realize how absurd and funny it is. It’s a fun activity to do when you are bored, and it’s a pretty cool way of looking at life. The gym is such a predominant part of male culture that it’s worth looking into further, beyond the scope of a Seinfeld bit.

All gym-going males are aware of the stigmata that surround going to the gym. They’re aware of the “gym stereotypes” that apply to almost everyone you will encounter during your workout.  Here is YouTube video courtesy of the guys at Dude Perfect on the topic if you feel like checking it out.

My question is: Why do males treat the gym as a place to assert their dominance, or to validate their own strength by noticing whenever someone is doing less weight than they are? Most predominantly, why do we pass judgement on literally every single person in there?

I went to they gym this morning, and as I went through my workout (strictly pre-natal yoga), I noticed two very muscular guys holding down the squat rack. They were there for at least 30 minutes, which is an eternity in gym time. These two guys were the epitome of meatheads. Slamming down the weights, grunting, loudly exclaiming what their max was. It was tough to watch, and it honestly was pretty annoying.

I thought to myself, “Would these two guys have the same attitude if they were squatting 90lbs?” I’m pretty sure we can all agree that the answer would be no. I don’t want to paint all meatheads with one brush, but these two obviously didn’t painstakingly improve their squat max over the years for no one to notice.

Becoming an absolute animal in the gym when you aren’t training for anything seems like an act of narcissism when you look at it closely. If the goal of the weight lifting is aesthetics, you can have your god-like body by working out regularly and following a strict diet. But these guys are aiming more towards Hulk-like physiques.

Meatheads seem to want my eyes to widen in a mix of shock and concern when I see them squatting three times more than our joints were designed to bear. They want me to cross the street when I see them barreling towards me on the sidewalk. When they are in the gym, they want to be the alpha male.

In the context of the gym, the two gentlemen I encountered this morning would be easily able to dominate me in every demonstration of strength possible. If it came down to it, they could probably kick my ass. That’s what they strive for, to be able to lift the most, look the biggest, and yell the loudest. It’s a very primal demonstration of male dominance.

Do you feel superior yet? Are you thinking, “Yeah, those guys are pretty much the same as gorillas! I’m way smarter than that, I only work out to stay in shape!”

Well, pump the brakes. Even though you may just be going to the gym to get back in shape when you realized the “Dad Bod” was just a phase, I bet most of you still exhibit many of the same behaviors detailed above, although perhaps in a more subdued fashion. I know that I am 100 per cent guilty of it.

I consider myself to be in pretty good shape, the pre-natal yoga comment earlier was a joke. I lift weights and eat well. I would categorize my overall strength as above average. Now although I’m not one of the super-humans detailed above, I’ll be damned if I don’t feel a sense of satisfaction when I see someone bench pressing less than I can. When I see someone who is obviously new to working out, I automatically assume that I’m higher on the food-chain.

Now, I would never, ever make fun of anyone who is doing less weight than I am, and if someone new asked for my help, I would do it happily. But still, this almost inherent response of satisfaction and pride occurs every single time.

How can this behaviour be rationalized? Well I have an idea. Men live in a world where there are thousands of ways to define success, to find out who is the alpha male. Who makes the most money? Who is the best looking? Who is the funniest? Who has the biggest hog???

In the gym, all these factors take a backseat to a cold, hard measurable fact. Who is the biggest, and who is lifting the most weight? In the gym, it’s easy to spot who considers themselves the alpha male, or males, in the case of the two gentlemen this morning.

Every single guy wants to be the alpha male, everyone wants to be the guy that people look up to, or even fear. The gym gives people a very straightforward way of achieving this, something that isn’t offered to them in their day-to-day life.

I hope that upon reading this, you realize how ridiculous this whole ritual is. At the end of it all, who the hell cares? If you can lift the most weight in the gym, good on you, I respect the work that you put in. If you’re the weakest one there, good on you for just being at the gym.

The inherent feelings of pride or dominance are natural, and you’re not a bad person for feeling them, as long as you don’t act on them and put someone else at the gym down. After all, I think 90 per cent of us are just there to look good for girls.

  • Dan Tyler


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