Dan Grover: Consider joining a ‘cult of fitness’ next year

Looking to get healthy? Join a cult!

It’s the end of the semester, and the end of the year. Come 2016, we’ll have resolutions for all sorts of things – and most of us will choose to try and get fit. No gym is busier than in January, when everyone rolls in to see if they can finally get around to cutting off a few pounds, and students are no different. We can probably all think of someone we’ve seen in the Lerner Health and Wellness Center who’s absolutely killing it.

So as everyone’s trying to stay healthy, it’s interesting to see the rise of what I call the “cult of fitness.” These are companies like SoulCycle, Crossfit, Flywheel and any other chain organization designed to get people in their doors and classes. From the outside, these groups may look scary. But they actually come with a lot of benefits, and it might be good for students to consider adding a fitness group to their list of resolutions this year.

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Dan Grover

When they first started popping up, it seemed like these companies couldn’t possibly be successful. The cost associated with them – almost $200 for a Crossfit D.C. membership – prevents plenty of people from taking them. Others might be deterred by the reputation of a place like SoulCycle, which is known for gimmicky themes and taglines in its classes.

Seeing students voluntarily give up their hard-earned cash to work out sounds like a work of fiction – but it’s happening more and more often. People are joining the “cult of fitness” because it provides them with an identity. For example, my family members are all serious Crossfitters. They talk about it over the dinner table, they schedule family outings around it and they discuss workouts and other members of their gym like they were part of our immediate family.

It isn’t really too strange that my family is super into their gym and the people in it, since everyone falls in love with some kind of club, group or organization. What’s noteworthy is the way they talk about it. Everything involved in a set includes plural nouns – “we” did this or “we” lifted that.

Certainly, some of this is just semantics. How else do you say what you did in a day? But it’s indicative of a powerful mindset. My parents tell me that one of their favorite things about their gym is the community. Even if you’re the last to finish a workout, everyone will cheer for you. Members organize barbecues or baby showers, and compare recipes for the Paleo diet – an ultra high-protein diet popular in Crossfit gyms. They act, in some ways, like a heavily involved student group, or like a Greek chapter focused exclusively on working out together.

So OK, there’s a community. I’d say that’s a big deal, especially because working out with others is always better than flying solo, but that’s not the whole picture.

A friend of mine, who’s big into SoulCycle and Flywheel, said that part of the allure of Flywheel was the ability to see how everyone’s doing on the group competition boards. Members are inspired by seeing how they stack up against the “competition,” and driven to do more to climb in the rankings.

Studies compiled by The Atlantic show that people are more interested in competing against their peers than the general public, so putting a bunch of athletes who spend a lot of time together in the same room is going to naturally inspire peer competition. And that competition in turn takes the scariest thing out of fitness: Nobody in one of these groups feels like they’re working out alone.

But if the community and the competition are part of the appeal, what on earth are students doing there? After all, many students hardly have the disposable income to spend on expensive fitness classes.

Part of the appeal is the ability to identify as someone who works out in one of these organizations. They are particular about cultivating a brand and a name. It’s the most confusing thing about SoulCycle: In addition to paying for classes, it feels necessary to own the T-shirts and the tank tops to tell the world exactly where you belong. For people needing identities, such as college students, the ability to literally buy into a label is incredibly appealing.

The draw to these classes isn’t just something that 20-to-30-somethings with disposable income feel. Students are just as likely to feel the need to both compete and to belong to a community – the main selling point of these organizations. Like a more aggressive club sport, these places offer everyone who walks through their doors, including students, a place to be healthy and be part of something bigger.

So, if you’re looking to try and get in shape this new year, maybe try out one of these “cults.” They absolutely have faults, like a tendency to constantly ask for more – more weight, more money, more gear – but at the very least, they seem to be working for the people who love them. And if it works for them, well, maybe it can work for you, too.

Dan Grover, a senior majoring in English, is a Hatchet columnist. Want to respond to this piece? Submit a letter to the editor.

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