Training at the Gym, Training for Life: Creating Better Versions of the Self Through Exercise
Department of Psychosocial Studies, Birkbeck College, University of London, London, United Kingdom
The present study draws on Scott’s (2011) notion of the Re-Inventive Institution and explores how gym members make sense and give meaning to their exercise regime. Overall, it is argued that for many participants gym exercise is more than physical training; it is also training for life. Based on a thematic analysis of 32 semi-structured interviews it is argued that gym workout is a means to create better versions of the self on mainly three levels. First, gym participants perceive themselves to be efficient and productive in general. Second, gym training is believed to increase the control they have over their lives. Third, gym members associate their gym workout with amplified emotional resilience, believing that fitness workout makes them not only fitter in a physical sense but also fitter and better equipped in a psychological sense. Surprisingly, a small group of regular gym users displayed more critical sentiments and distanced themselves from the images and values the gym stands for. The results of this study can be linked to broader political discourses on health and fitness that make use of corporate managerial vocabularies and are based on ideals of rationalization and efficiency.