Why I Look Down At People Who Tell Me They Go To The Gym

There are many ways out there to make me think less of you. I mean let’s face it, I don’t like people very much. But one of the surest is to tell me you are going to the gym. The instant these words will leave your mouth, my opinion of you shall immediately drop. I recognise I have many friends who attend gyms regularly, and I apologise to them for this, but, it is the truth.

There are two reasons for this, both of which are explainable in economic terms: signaling, and trade-offs. Allow me to elaborate.

Signaling is essentially the idea that one party conveys meaningful information about itself to another party. For instance, having a degree is more often used as a signal that you are a certain type of person to a prospective employee, than it is used in terms of knowledge acquired. Wearing goth or hippy clothing signals you are part of a specific subculture to other people, and that you have certain traits associated with that culture. A visible tattoo makes a very strong statement to the world on who you are, and having a luxury car signals that you’re wealthy.

We all signal constantly. Our choice of clothing, the book we carry around with us, little things we do on a daily basis. Sometimes it is conscious (the contents of my bookscase for instance is specifically designed to covey certain things about me), sometimes it is unconscious. But we all do it (Tyler Cowen’s Discover Your Inner Economist book has a good elaboration on this if anyone is interested).

In the present case, if you tell me you are going to a gym, you are not simply telling me you are going to the gym. Rather, you are signaling that you are the type of person who goes to the gym. This I think is quite an important point, because regularly attending a gym does convey with it a wide range of associations about your lifestyle, your priorities and so on. If all you know about someone is that they go regularly to a gym, you would be able to make a number of assessments about them, with some accuracy. Usually, this is intended as a positive signal. To me, however, it signals little more that you’re a vain, pretentious, arrogant douche.

The second is one of trade-offs. Time is a rather limited resource, and we all need to make choices as to how to best use the limited time we have. By going to the gym, you are not reading a book, you are not writing a paper, you are not doing anything, well, productive. In fact, going to the gym is one of the least productive things you can do, because all it does is improve your physical appearance – something which I place virtually no import upon whatsoever.

So, by telling me you’re going to the gym, you’re saying to me that you think your physical appearance is more important to you than cultivating your mind. This is fine, and I think most people would accept that there’s nothing wrong with trying to balance such things. Not me though, I tend to be rather absolutist about such things. And if you are willing to trade off inner growth for outer beauty, you are not the person for me.

Now, if you go to the gym and don’t tell anyone, and spend your time on the treadmill reading (yes, it’s possible, I mastered the art when my high school forced me to do various sporting things), then this post doesn’t apply at all. Similarly, if you need to go for health reasons, that’s fine also (and there is a correlation between physical and mental health in later life). But if you’re under the age of 35, healthy, and tell me you regularly attend the gym, be prepared for me to respond with derision, contempt, and scorn.

PS: Stay tuned for my next post on why I hate cheerful people.

Update: I should note that this generally applies to first/initial impressions. You obviously can be an intelligent person I like who attends a gym. I’m talking about a situation where I don’t know someone well, and thus have to use proxies to make determinations about them.

Update 2: Okay, some people apparently might have difficulty grasping I’m shit-stirring for a bit of fun (further proof that regular gym goers have neither brains nor a sense of humour). So, don’t take this too seriously, and I await a good rebuttal 🙂


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8 Responses to “Why I Look Down At People Who Tell Me They Go To The Gym”

  1. Stefan Says:

    I don’t even know where any gyms are located in my area. I think there’s one somewhere on my campus but I can’t be bothered to find it.

  2. Dan Nolan Says:

    Cardiovascular exercise tends to keep you alive, though. Gyms are for fgts though, if you want exercise, go for a run.

    Also Audiobooks + Running = great success.

  3. MK Says:

    “In fact, going to the gym is one of the least productive things you can do, because all it does is improve your physical appearance – something which I place virtually no import upon whatsoever.”

    That isn’t true at all. Being in a good physical condition and doing regular exercise is one of the most important aspects of a healthy lifestyle. It not only boosts your immune system, reducing risk of various diseases, but also increases your capacity to concentrate and even your general mood, thereby making the rest of your day more productive than it would otherwise have been.

  4. Rachel Says:

    Disclosure: I do not currently go to the gym.

    But I have in the past. And while some part of that was vanity, yes, there is also a certain thrill to getting your heart rate up really high and pushing your body to new levels.

    I’m still addicted to it, and while I don’t have time to go to the gym at the moment (because – and you will be proud, Tim – I’m too busy writing and studying), I do still make time to do an hour’s physical exercise every day, even if that’s usually travelling a little over an hour home on foot rather than public transport. It’s also excellent for relieving stress, clearing the mind, and contemplation – get me away from my usual stimuli and I enter a sort of meditative state. Plus, the body just feels better when you move it regularly.

    So I don’t think it’s wise to altogether dismiss physical exercise. But I ‘get’ that you’re saying here that you absolutely privilege the mind over the body – which is a statement I’d challenge in and of itself (reminds me of anorexics and depressed people).

  5. Jacques Chester Says:

    Dear Tim

    I write to seek your indulgence for gym attendance. I dabble in olympic-style weightlifting. In order to maintain and expand the strength required for this demanding sport, I must go to the gym.

    However you may remain assured that I signal mostly that I am a giant fatty boom sticks, as I fall into the super heavyweight class of Oly lifters.

    Sincerely &c &c


  6. Jake the Muss Says:

    Awesome Jacques,

    What are your current PBs?

    Have you been to a meet yet? If not, are you aiming for that or is it less about actual competition?

    How long have you been doing it?

  7. Tim Humphries Says:

    Where’s Daryl Eastlake when you need him? 😀

  8. Jacques Chester Says:

    Jake – funnily enough I’ve had an injury-plagued year and haven’t had a chance to compete yet. I’d like to though. First tried my hand at in about March but have only gotten around 20 weeks of total training in 2009.

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