Call the exterminator: the rise of gym rat culture


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Weight training has long been used as a way to gain muscle mass. Scientific research recommends that individuals continually increase the intensity of their workout, exercise all muscle groups and frequently exercise to fully reap the benefits of their training.

The phrase “gym rats” may bring a certain strange image to mind — furry, four-legged critters scuttling around a gym floor, climbing on equipment and gnawing at weights. However, the fitness community has coined this term to imply something else: adrenaline-pumped gym-goers addicted to the satisfaction of exercising. 

“I think I started going [to the gym] because I wanted to look better, and it was fun for me,” Fares Sakaan (12) said. “It started being a habit. Every day, I needed to go to the gym, or I felt like I missed out.”

From treadmills to take a light stroll on to 25-pound plates to weight-lift with, gyms provide a wide variety of equipment for a full-body workout suited for people at any level of fitness. Students continue to push the boundaries of comfort as health culture becomes a larger, more prevalent topic, and gyms continue to pop up around Memphis. 

“Each day looks different,” Luke Mallory (11) said. “Erick [Gonzalez (11)] and I have specific workouts for arm, chest, leg or back day that strengthen those areas.”

Strength training not only builds muscle and burns calories but also has a positive impact on mental health. Physical activity has been consistently reported as an economical and accessible way to improve physical fitness, prevent mental illnesses and alleviate mood problems.

“[Weight-lifting has] definitely improved my confidence, and overall, I feel happier,” Sakaan said. “Every day, after I’m done with the gym, I feel ten times better.”

Everyone is motivated a little differently. Whether it’s from a personal desire to improve, a friend yelling “one more, one more” or seeing an influencer’s #Fitspo before and after, motivation is crucial for those who may be struggling to reach their desired goals.  

“It’s really one of those feelings like ‘I really need to go to the gym today, or I need to go on a run, or I need to do something to stay active,’” Allison Totty (9) said. “I’ll tell myself I’m going to the gym today, and I can’t change my mind. I can be tough on myself, so I think that pushes me to do the extra lap or do the extra set.”

After a personal record deadlift or an intense cycle class, the body is flooded with a rush of chemical endorphins, causing many to get hooked on the feeling. Some may see the treadmill as torture or think exercising everyday is just another tedious task, but experienced gym rats can testify the feeling of euphoria after accomplishing a workout. For gym rats, exercise and nutrition are not just a habit, they are a way of life. 

“The most important thing for beginners is consistency,” Sakaan said. “It’s doing it over and over again, [and] that brings results. I found that I saw progress following a routine and a good schedule. Sometimes I have physical therapy for my knee, but I still go, and I adjust my schedule.”

Grit is not something that can be taken as a vitamin or found in a gym rat’s bag; it’s the discipline to go before the sun’s even risen, it’s the effort to finish the last set, it’s the dedication that’s been programmed into their minds. 

“Going into the gym, it’s hard to do something without thinking someone’s watching you or judging you,” Totty said. “All the people in the gym have been where you are, and they’re not going to judge you, so don’t be nervous.”