Gym Rats

Addiction is a factor for some gym aficionados, but with the right perspective, it can be a place for healthy exercise.


April 5, 2022- A high school student poses at Planet Fitness, in Casper, WY, after a four hour workout. His advice for anyone wanting to work on themselves through exercise is “Don’t be afraid of what people think, just keep up the grind and prove them wrong.”

Hunter McDaniel, Reporter

I was like most people when it came to joining a gym: awkward, shy, and intimidated. In reality all my mixed feelings about getting “in shape” came down to self worth. How much did I care about myself to put forth that effort and time? I found myself asking myself questions like that all the time, and eventually it dug a hole in my soul, leaving an emptiness. Soon I figured out that that emptiness came from a lack of achieving my potential, and goals.

Luckily, I had a distant friend (to preserve the student’s confidentiality, we will use the fake name Brian) who was labeled by his peers as a “gym rat.” A gym rat is someone who spends their free time working out, typically to achieve self goals. I was nervous, not only because I felt weak in his presence due to his large muscle mass, but because I was asking him if he could be a mentor in my “gym awakening” as he put it. 

The first day we planned to meet up, I was lacking everything. I had a pair of sweatpants that barely fit, no knowledge about exercise, no set goals for myself (I just knew I wanted to be healthier) and most importantly no confidence. Some studies show that nearly 50% of the U.S population are too intimidated to exercise in a gym. Brian was definitely not the type to let intimidation take control over his life, but when he saw that I was he told me, “Don’t be afraid of what people think, just keep up the grind and prove them wrong.” Those words were a relief, as I stood awkwardly in Planet Fitness, in Casper Wyoming, surrounded by muscular people wearing headphones and saturated in sweat. Brian walked me over to his favorite machine, the high pulley extension rope, which targets the triceps. As he easily did 10 reps, and explained the proper form used to get the best results, I grabbed my right tricep feeling weak. He finished his set, lowered the weight and gave me a shot. As I pulled the pulleys over my chest, Brian stopped me and made me change my footing and straighten my back. “Form is the most essential part in any workout you do,” he said, as I started my corrected reps. 

He walked me through his recommended runtime, that was focused on getting tone, after he asked me my basic goals. Though I had a goal in mind, what he did was far more intense then what I was planning on doing. He wanted to bulk up, which comes from “determination, lots of proper exercise, several healthy meals a day, and a decent amount of rest.” 

To maintain his goal, he works out anywhere from 4 to 7 hours a day, when an average adult is recommended to only do about 2.5 hours worth of exercise in one day. This was something that not only had me feeling intimidated, but made me worry. If I was supposed to fill 7 hours a day with hard exercise, to succeed, my goals would be pointless. It wasn’t until after a few more visits to the gym that I realized what this behavior actually meant. He was “addicted” to the gym. Although exercise addiction is not considered a mental health disorder, it could lead to mental and physical health concerns. Like most addictions, the more someone does whatever it is the more it takes to get the feeling they craved in the first place. In this case, what “gym junkies” want is a pump, which is a rush of blood flowing through muscles, making them feel full and burning.  This can lead to an excessive and unhealthy amount of exercise, and people commonly tear muscles by overextending themselves.

As an inexperienced gym rat, I wanted the best for myself, so after learning proper form and doing my research on health I went to the gym on my own. Brian was a great help in my future growth, but this is where the real challenge was. For weeks I had someone correcting me, and giving me verbal motivation, but  in the large purple room of Planet Fitness, I had to be my own motivation. A pit of fear boiled in my stomach as I began my first reps: everyone was looking at me, judging me, and probably laughing. That overwhelming feeling of self consciousness made me cut my workout short and leave the gym. I spent the next week coming up with excuses like; being too tired, not enough motivation, and the most commonly used excuse “I don’t have enough time.” These excuses lead to guilt and wasted potential that had been brewing inside of me. 

Finally, I decided to stop making excuses and spend more time at the gym. I worked out on my own most of the time but would sometimes introduce a friend to my new environment. They all had the same intimidated look as I did, but eventually started to enjoy going. Now I didn’t spend 7 consistent hours working out, but I worked harder every time. Soon, I realized that all the people judging me before, were not even worried about what I was doing. (to preserve confidentiality, we will use the fake name William) a young man who goes to the gym roughly 2 to 3 times a week told me, “even if you are scared to do something, if you push yourself to the limits there are always more limits to reach.” He was tall, visibly strong and one of the nicest people I have met. His kindness made me understand that no one cared about what I looked like or what I was doing, because everyone has different goals they set to achieve, and personal reasons they thrive off of to do so. “My main goal to keep coming is to better my mental health and physical health. It lets me know that if I keep pushing myself and bettering myself towards my goals, I can help others as well,” says William. I had never been guided by such a nice person when it came to exercise and understanding that the majority of people at the gym were either too caught up in their personal goals made me wonder why I was even intimated in the first place. 

I spent weeks on the “grind” pushing myself harder and harder. I picked up tips from people I would’ve been scared of a week earlier. One former Marine told me to work on “time over tension” which causes muscles to stretch slower and properly, with better results. I targeted that technique in everything I did, whether it was arms, chest or legs. Though I was gaining strength and confidence, I ran out of motivation midway through reps on the high pulley extension rope. I was there, discouraged and angry when a shorter man with a red hoodie and a backwards hat ((to preserve confidentiality, we will use the fake name Peter) came up to me and offered advice– “keep your arms straighter and remember, it is how you do it, not how much you do.” He was built, and genuinely seemed to care about others achieving their maximum performance, and later offered to meet at the gym and workout together. He, along with most of the people I talked to at the gym, worked on their mental health through exercise. “Everyone has their own way of how they motivate themselves, and how often they exercise. Some people spend hours in the gym, and some spend forty five minutes. What matters most is nutrition, discipline, and consistency,” Peter suggested. This made me think about Brian and his behaviors to achieve his goals. In return for all the advice he and others had granted me I respected their way of doing things. 

Since I had moved past discouragement, I wanted to show people a new perspective on the gym. Instead of it being intimidated, I showed peers a confidence that they never thought they could have. Gyms get a bad rep when it comes down to comfortability, but in reality they tend to be a welcoming environment where people all have similar goals in mind. The judgment is gone when people respect one another’s goals, and ways to achieve them. Not to say that there aren’t the stereotypical “gym rats” who show off in a way that puts others down, but that can be found anywhere. 

Eventually I wanted to share my experience, so I roped (to preserve the student’s confidentiality, we will use the fake name Tony), a close friend since elementary school, into coming to the gym and he was just like most people starting off. We helped each other grow as motivators and achievers. It didn’t take long for Tony to find himself emerging into the gym environment, with a humbled confidence for his efforts. 

Not to say that I am a full fledged “gym rat” like Brian or anyone else I meant, but watching people come together and achieve similar but different goals was an experience others should not be intimidated of. “The gym doesn’t only teach people how to exercise, but it gives them knowledge and skills that they can use in everyday life, such as determination, respect, responsibility, and self discipline. The gym has bettered my life in all aspects, and no one should use excuses to miss out on such a wonderful experience,” says William.