Gym Weight Lifting Ritual

Informant Data: My informant is an International Relations major here at the University of Southern California. He is African-American and does not identify with any religious system of belief. He goes to the gym 5-6 times per week and considers himself well-versed in weight lifting, strength training and conditioning techniques.

Item: The custom of counting your final set of an exercise differently than the rest. The following quotations are direct transcriptions of my dialogue with the informant, while the additional information provided is paraphrased.

Contextual Data: My informant was first introduced to this custom about a year ago, when he began intensively weight training. His friend, who is a self-proclaimed “gym-rat”, served as his personal trainer and taught him the best methods and techniques with different exercises to get the best results. “When I first started out, I was pretty clueless. But [my friend] got me started. One thing he shared with me is the ritual of counting your last set differently. Instead of the normal “1-2-3-4-5” you count “1-1-1-1-1” until you are done.” When asked to further explain, my informant details, “Well on your last set you are extremely fatigued. If you’re not, you’re doing it wrong. But getting through your final repetitions is a mental battle more than anything. So, by counting “one” repeatedly on each rep, it’s almost tricking yourself by saying “you’ve only done one? Keep going!” He continues on, saying that this helps finish off your set strong, which in and of itself is reaffirming and feels encouraging. The informant touches on the point that exercise is often considered more mentally straining than physically, a common acknowledgment among gym members. Therefore, customs like this item are rather common in this setting, with individuals fabricating new ways and relying on old customs of tricking or distracting the mind while the body carries on performing. Additionally, it is very clear to individuals who work out religiously (my informant included) that the gym is a community in and of itself. There is a shared identity, with individuals driven by similar aspirations who share tips, tricks, routines and encouragement.