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A Study of the Culture Surrounding the Gym Community


While in the elementary school, kids in my class were more or less my size. Then we came to the middle class. At this level, my peers had grown taller and bigger. As they grew taller and bigger, I did not. At some point, I asked my parent whether I would ever grow like my peers. They would keep me hopeful. However, this did not happen quickly. Many rhetorical questions crossed my mind. As time went, my friends started going to the gym. I felt a little embarrassed about my size; therefore, I would not accompany them to the gym. This is because I thought gym is for the energetic only. I thought other gym-goers would make fun of me due to my inability to exercise. At college, I noticed some changes and I decided to visit the gym for personal training. Every time I went to the gym, I found different people. Before, I knew gym was for “meat-heads” and well built individuals. However, with my experience, I now understand that anybody can attend gym sessions. Both men and women go for personal training at the gym.

I have always been curious about the gym room community. I felt it necessary for me to find out more about personal training and the culture around personal training. My objective is to know what personal training at the gym entail. Besides, I would like to know the effects of personal training on the body. I am curious to establish the changes that occur in men and women after going for personal training sessions at the gym.

I am excited to begin my study on personal training and the culture around it. In this paper, I will present analyses of the culture around personal training. In addition, I will discuss the importance of personal exercises alongside the persons who frequent gym rooms the most. I will also discuss how women negotiate for their gym space during personal training at the gym. I chose to study this because I felt literatures in sports and physical fitness have not addressed the issue satisfactorily (Atkinson, 201; p. 210).

Further, the study will analyze the way men and women utilize their spaces during personal training. It will dig deep into the cultural matrix and its effects on men and women. I noticed, for instance, that the societal mandate for personal health and pressure to realize a functional and natural body influence women to exercise. Surprisingly, there has been little research focusing on these influences as well. If you visit some gym facilities, you will notice some gender difference. Therefore, I will argue that idea that all and sundry should go to the gym may seem impractical. For some men and women, the idea of going to the gym is quite inconceivable; perhaps because to them, gym appears like an unnatural practice. Thus, many prefer personal training activities like running, hiking, kayaking, etc. (Gardner and Martin-Jones, 2012; p. 167). This calls for the need to examine outdoor/indoor exercises and artificial/natural exercises. Gym room is the ideal place for carrying out the study on how personal training affects the bodies of women and the gym culture.

In my study, I will employ several gym and the personal training theories. First, from cultural geography, it is evident that gym space is a social space for both women and men. All movements, actions, and behaviors of men and women mirror and create this space. Remember, gym space is instrumental in understanding body fitness and culture. Secondly, Foucault’s work on “disciplinary space,” will aid in theorizing how gym movements and practices affect the body. It will also assist in understanding the culture around personal training. Normally, in sports and sociology, researchers use theories to explain the effects of personal training on the body and and the cultural aspects. Lastly, I will draw from the work of Henri Lefebvre, “The Production of Space Theory.” On top of that, I will consider Michel de Certeau’s work. Michel de Certeau work is instrumental in the gym and personal training related studies. From Michel de Certeau work, I suggest that people recognize personal training at the gym as a “cultural product” (Longhurst and Johnson, 2014; p. 277). The emergence of Zumba dance and the decline of Reebok’s step aerobics, for instance, is clear indication of evolution of the gym culture (Thompson, 2016; p. 133). Zumba dance has been widely adopted by women across the globe. This is a show of what women want in regards to personal training.

My project will focus on 3 gym facilities and 25 participants comprising of women gym-goers, aerobics instructors, and personal instructors. Sport studies, cultural studies, and cultural geography will help in examining physical training and its effects on the body. Besides, sports studies, cultural studies, and cultural geography will aid in exploring the gym culture. The fundamental questions awaiting theoretical and research thoughts include How does physical trainicng affect the body at the gym? What is the essence of physical training? What is the culture around physical training? This paper will answer these questions.

Theoretical Framework

In answering the framing questions, this paper will critically examine physical training at the gym. Focus will be on the effect of physical exercises on the body and the culture around personal training among women. Researchers claim that physical exercises form the basic part of human health and fitness. Thus, it is important to understand the fitness practices that women engage in more during personal training at the gym. Remember, perception about certain fitness practices can define the culture around physical training.

In this paper, ethnography will provide an enlarged platform for reexamining personal training at the gym in the context of the culture. Hence, it will become easier addressing the shortcomings and existing gaps. This paper will take the argument further by exploring how ethnographic methodologies can widen our understanding of physical training and culture around it. Maxwell (2012; p. 99) affirms that, ethnographic perspectives provide platforms that facilitate examination of the complex world of “lived experience” from the perspective of those who live in it. Throughout the paper, the term culture will be used in the broad sense to indicate of various variables among them ethnographic, demographic, and status.

Discussion of Methodology and Methods

Answers to the research questions as well as the issues that popped up throughout the formulation of this study will dictate the methods and methodology I used. My unstructured moments of explanation and the need for narrative elucidations will guide my inquiry into gym culture and the effects of personal training on the body (Lapan, Quartaroli, and Riemer, 2011; p. 67). First, during the study, I did not need to know the exact number of women and men in the facilities to determine the gender with the highest attendance; I wanted to know why. Secondly, I did not need to determine on a scale of 1-5 how comfortable women were whenever they entered the male-dominated facilities; my focus was to understand how they dealt with the discomfort. In the light of this, qualitative research involves “involves an interpretative, naturalistic approach to its subject matter…. qualitative researchers study aspects in their natural environments, to make sense of or interpret observable facts regarding the meanings people bring to them” (Maxwell, 2012; p. 43).

Of course, one of my objectives was to determine the effects of physical training and exercises on the body. Qualitative research paradigm seems appropriate for my project. Remember, I not only intended to use this study to question gendered physical activities but also to establish the culture around the gendered physical activities (Andreasson, 2014; p. 67).

Initially, it seemed suitable for me to pay attention to ethnographic methodologies given Gardner and Martin-Jones (2012; p. 132) argument that ethnographic research is “hauntingly personal.” While thinking about the most appropriate methods for this project, I had in mind “the paradigms shaping men and women personal training. These paradigms are entrenched in the ever-changing cultural matrix whereby, both genders approach fitness practices through various aspects that define their sexual orientations. For instance, a woman will approach physical exercises and sport through her body, model of femininity, and in conjunction with the gender bias in an incomprehensible society.

It is evident that gym culture and personal training are different from the sports culture, which for long has sidelined women and girls. Sports cultures have always trivialized, marginalized, and prevented women and girls from participating or contributing. Participation of women in sports is suboptimal. In the light of this, there is a notion that aerobics are for women and gym is for men. Therefore, using various multi-sited participant observations alongside semi-structured interviews, I sought to know how women have intersected personal training discourses and spaces with their personal histories and sexual orientation. I focused less in their socialization and more in how the gym culture had influenced their thoughts of going to the gym. Thus, my preference for methods established in the area of Anthropology (Longhurst and Johnson, 2014; p. 54). Sparkes and Smith (2014; p. 138) assert that “while anthropological inquiries mirror the consequence of the institutional framework within which socialization processes occur, it also takes analysis a step further by recognizing the ways in which those cultural limitations are manifested in the qualitative experiences of the participants themselves.”

I used semi-structured interviews and observation simultaneously in exploring the topic. These approaches enhanced my ability to see and question while at the facilities. I was able to gather sufficient data through interviews with participants. From my observation, the frequency of women at the facilities was suboptimal. I learned that gym instructors bring women to the facilities purposely through their efforts. Besides, I found it necessary to interview the instructors as well regarding issue.

I further divided this section into two parts as follows:

Participant Observation

In participant observation, I focus on Spradley’s (2016; p. 87) comments about ethnographic perspective on cultural matrix. I selected participant observation for this study with an intention of expounding gender, personal training, and gym culture. Otherwise, it would have been hard to comprehend both gender’s fitness practices and the gym culture. My participant observation method is reflective of the transience physical training culture. Of course, I would not have managed to live in the gym exercising and making observations. However, I spent considerable time in the gym. I noticed during fieldwork that many gym-goers think about personal training even when they are not around the gym. This was also evident during my casual interviews with some participants.

Though sometimes personal training can be a personal endeavor, there is a version of the society. Normally, as time goes, gym-goers tend identify each other as a community not forgetting that people attend physical exercises at the gym for different spans of time. Some will even stop abruptly without notifying anybody. It is easy to note that a certain person who has always been at the front line in aerobic sessions not around. When he or she is missing, the gym community normally starts asking themselves many questions. The gym community will start questioning the whereabouts of their most active member. The questioning culture is common with the gym community. Besides, during the study, I could not manage to talk nor listen to everyone. This established the culture of transitory members enabling me to fit in. Personal training occurs in gym rooms. It means the culture of transient members is common with the gym community. It is obvious that people will come and leave. Some attend personal training at the gym for a few days and leave (AllenCollins, 2011; p. 187).

During my study, I kept separate notebooks for the three gym facilities. I would record notes based on demographic, ethnographic, and status variables. I did this in the field and in the gym rooms, and later compile them. I transcribed part of my written notes to form part of my software-assisted analysis. The three facilities I chose to undertake my research at were in line with the needs of my study. I engaged participant observation for approximately a year. I spent much of my research time at the facilities and in the field.

Qualitative Interviewing

I was not new to personal training and the gym. Besides, I was not new to activities at the gym. Qualitative interviews form an important part for my project. Qualitative interviewing allowed me to access some crucial aspects about gym culture. I had no idea about these aspects before I began the study. Several Atkinson’s (2011; p. 21) reasons pushed me to start using qualitative interviews. Among the reasons are the needs to create comprehensive descriptions to accomplish, integrate several positions in order to understand the cultural matrix, and outline the processes that individuals should use to determine routine. Further, there are the needs for holistic description of systematic functions, to interpret events, and to establish other people’s experiences.

Interviews are essential for any form of work that requires deep analysis of various readings. In this case, my analysis is not based on text but personal training at the gym and the culture around it. In my sample, I wanted women and men who had experienced personal training and gym cultures in many ways. Besides, I wanted men and women who understand the significance or rather the effects of personal training on the body. For the trainers, I did not anticipate to treat them as part of my sample population. However, I wanted them to act as contributions based on their experiences and understanding of the effects of physical training and the culture around it. I conducted interviews after establishing solid contacts with respondents. I had formulated a list of questions to guide my interview. I altered the questions depending on the interviewee. Altering of the interview questions was important for my interview to be effective. Besides, it was necessary to enable me to gather sufficient data for my project.

Fieldwork Site

I interviewed the participants after making contacts with them. My areas of focus were the time, date, and location. Respondents decided on the best locations to meet. Therefore, interviews took place in the following areas: the gym, my home, respondents home, and public places such as cafeterias. My interviews lasted for between 45 and 90 minutes. Participants saw these places as the most suitable places.

Data Analysis

I conducted the analysis after completing my fieldwork and interviews. I had to review my fieldwork notes as well as interview notes to establish the areas that needed revision. While I remained reflexive, I avoided altering the findings. Qualitative software analysis software, Atlas.ti, helped me in the analysis of my field and interview notes. I began with a thematic analysis of all transcriptions as well as my notes. My focal point was description, analysis, and construal of culture-sharing group and effects of physical training on the body (Friese, 2014; p. 16).

I undertook systematic analysis of each document that I had. I determined the various divisions using two essential coding techniques in aggregating and analyzing my data. First, open coding technique helped me in preparing a list of codes such as “physical training” and “gym culture” among others. This was based on the themes I noted during my first review. Through revision and coding, I was able to determine the code families as well. The code families would later play a significant role in outlining the sub-themes mainly in codes with large densities. I reviewed each document thoroughly to ensure that it applied the codes I established in the process. Secondly, I used vivo coding technique to mark expressions that indicated project’s themes.

After completing the coding process, I used my software to query my data based on the assigned codes. For instance, I could generate reports based on the code “primary source” whenever I wanted an overview of my sources from which the respondents received physical training knowledge. Atlas.ti enabled me to scrutinize the concurrence of codes across the documents and sources. Based on the codes, I was able to examine different moments when participants mentioned about the effects of personal training on the body. I would extend my querying to aspects of culture relating to the gym and physical training. I continued with my data analysis throughout my study (Harvey, Vachhani, and Williams, 2014; p. 41).

A Reflexive Moment

At the outset of this study, I was aware of my experiences academic interests. My experiences and academic interests shaped my views gym practices as well as my opinion on the effects of physical training on the body. I want to believe that I upheld high degree of reflexivity about the subject even when the study was in its nascence. I did not forget that this was important during my fieldwork. Lapan, Quartaroli, and Riemer (2011; p. 121) notes that making ethnography quasi-objective would necessitate reflexivity in all ethnographic practices- throughout the processes in an ethnographic study. As a researcher, I made sure truth, facts, and stories comprise this study. I consciously chose what to include and what to exclude from the study.

The instructors of the three facilities were aware that my areas of interest were women, men, and physical training. I stumbled upon many people during the study. When they asked whether I was new in the facility, I would answer yes. In addition, I would explain to them that I was a researcher. Interviews were productive. With the methodology, I gathered adequate data for my study about the physical training culture and its affects each group. Besides, my methods enabled me to understand the culture around physical training. I was able to understand the culture better. Throughout this study, I included instances where I attended the gym and joined the physical training team. Following that is my effort at reflexivity without “absolute self-absorption” (Atkinson, 2011; p. 226). From the findings, I would conclude that the results supported the theories I employed in the study. It was able to understand the aspects of the culture around personal training spaces in the gym rooms.


From my study, I realized that men frequented the gym rooms compared to women. Additionally, personal training at the gym is an important aspect that has contributes significantly to the health and wellness of individuals. An analysis into the physical training space provides valuable insights on culture. There is also a discussion how women transgress literal and oblique boundaries during physical training. The gendered fitness exercises are also evident. If this study was a pilot study for my major project, my main project would have revolved around the spatial analysis of physical training to provide a new perspective on physical training that would have changed the culture of men frequenting the gym room more than women.

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