It’s somewhat comical when I think about hypermasculinity. “Hypermasculinity” is the notion that there are certain things that are more “macho” and legitimate for men than other things, and that those things should determine and somewhat dictate societally how much of a “man” a particular guy is. It’s been a cultural phenomenon for quite a long time, actually. You can seriously take a look back to the early 80’s to see very real studies and opinions surface about the subject; studies about why men feel the urge to measure other men to a figurative measuring stick. In that regard, the thought behind it is kind of outdated—it’s been thirty years or so since that time, and a lot has changed culturally.
Yet, in the world of fitness, hypermasculinity is very much still a thing. It still lives in the minds of dudes wanting to lift and get fit all across the world.
Is hypermasculinity in fitness a bad thing, or is it warranted for men looking to be physically active?
Take a walk down your Barnes and Noble. No, really—go to your nearest Barnes and Noble, and go to the fitness magazine section. I’ll even let you go to the workout/fitness books section too, if you feel so inclined. What you’re going to see is astounding, especially if you’re a guy. Racks of front covers and titles like: “Lifting to Get Jacked”, “Real Muscles for Real Men”, “How to Get That Body Every Woman Wants”. It won’t even be simply the titles that catch your attention, either. Prepare to see a lot of half-naked dudes, flexing their biceps and abs; prepare your mind to see creepy smiles mixed in with swole bros looking to straight up murder you with their eyes.
I mean, I’m intimidated by no one (but God), but I would be lying if I didn’t say that those magazine covers freaked me out. Stop looking at me like that, man. I like six packs as much as anyone, really. But that magazine cover needs to be turned around facing the other direction, for my soul’s sake.
The mind of an average guy going to the gym
Although I’m a competitive B-boy, and I train practically every day for the sake of staying in competitive shape, hitting the weights is not my favorite activity. Sure, I can tell you all about counting macros and the science of high reps and light weight versus low reps and heavy weights; we can talk about how to gain muscle, get gains, and cutting. Those are all subjects I know, have done, and am deeply passionate about. I’m one of the most motivated, fired up, workout-until-you-die, success driven dudes in an athletic scenario.
What I am not, however, is “swole”. I am not the most jacked up, nor am I huge and muscular. I don’t have veins bulging out of my neck; I weigh less than the average guy in the gym (and sometimes less than most average women); and although bench pressing my body weight is totally doable, it’s not the easiest time for me. No, in the weight room I look pretty darn average, actually.
The truth is that most guys who go into weight rooms and gyms are the same. And if you’re reading this, average-joe-gym-guy, I feel you.
You’re not going into a gym trying to show off how bulky you look in a sleeveless, or how over-the-top dedicated to your regimen you are. You simply want to go in and make progress. You want to reshape your body in a safe, yet challenging and effective manner. You want to feel like you’re getting legitimately stronger physically, and see the results in a tangible manner. You want to lift because it feels good; you want to work out because you want a healthier you.
The measuring contest and “gym bros”
Still, often times when I’ve gone to the gym throughout my life, I’ve seen and heard guys use fitness as a means to boost their own egos while putting down others’. Maybe that one guy who is only lifting the bar on bench press because he is new to lifting is getting snickers from the guy across the room. Another small guy like me is squatting only 100 pounds, and when he stops, he looks and sees another gym-goer adding more weight to his squat rack while staring him down. One dude might even talk mad crap. Yeah, ladies and gentlemen, that totally still happens—not just in America, but the world—we men still feel the need to have a…lower area measuring contest. Just to make us feel like we’re doing something “right”, or something “good”.
I’ve heard this term thrown around a lot, and I tend to agree with it: those guys who feel the need to demean weaker or possibly newer athletes are “gym bros”. It’s this weird culture of taking that high school, pubescent mentality of “jockism” and multiplying it times ten into adulthood. You gotta get swole to rat out the weaker ones. You gotta lift more, jump higher, run faster to show who the “real man” is and assert your place.
Real talk: often times those gym bros are guys that have life problems and are overcompensating for some area of their non-fitness life. They just want to feel powerful—to feel worth it—and that’s unfortunate because in the process they’re rotating that cycle for others. They’re tearing their fellow brothers down—who just want to get fit for their own sake—and giving them an excuse to work hard and get huge, just so they can tear down someone else. Worst case scenario, they’re robbing someone of the joys of getting fit; they take the fun out of exercise, and make them want to quit.
What being a “man” in fitness is, and good gym culture
So what should guys strive for then, if they want to work out, lift, or train and be a man in society? Here’s a pretty simple answer: strive to get stronger and feel confidence! It’s not wholly a negative thing to want to get bigger muscles or reshape your body, don’t get me wrong. For a lot of men, that’s a great motivator. But you shouldn’t be lifting to fit a stereotype. You shouldn’t be lifting or training just for acceptance, or for your own vanity.
You should want to get in a gym or a fitness routine because you want change for yourself. You want to feel and see yourself change for the better. You want to achieve things you never thought you could do, feel good, and have fun doing it. Being a “man” in the world of fitness, truthfully, is less about how much or how great you do it, and more about how hard you work at it to get better.
Real men respect other men who are showing the grit and determination to get it done. Just like anything in life, if you show the heart for it—the will to conquer your goal—your brothers are going to show you real support and real respect.
That’s good, proper gym culture. When you see guys who have been lifting for years and are very jacked, helping give tips to the newbie and spotting him; when you see the elder gentleman encourage and push the young guy; when one man running sprints slows down to run alongside a less athletic man and converse and take his mind off the toil—that’s the athletic facility you want to be a member of. You want to be in a place where the majority of men are placing manly character above “masculine” muscle size and ego.
My brothers, getting swole, jacked, or whatever you want to call it isn’t a bad thing! If you want to get ripped, and change your body in a specific way, do it! Believe in your goals in the gym and go after them wholeheartedly.
Just remember that—even though the words “man” and “muscle” both start with “m”—that doesn’t mean they define each other, or need each other to be true for the guy working out next to you.
Written by: Michael “Bboy Roach1” Roach