ANNA J. JAMES
Gyms have become modern-day water coolers, a place where young men converge in an unstable world.
23-year-old Bodie Sorensen works on his “ideal body” for four hours a day at the gym, counting calories and macronutrients and uploading his progress online.
Sorensen is a ‘spornosexual’, a gym bro who defines his success through aesthetic gains; the weight of his lifts, the girth of his biceps and Instagram hearts.
In a new study published in the Journal of Gender Studies, ‘spornosexuality’—pursing the buff physique of sports and porn stars—is a young man’s response to economic uncertainty.
“Austerity has eroded young man’s traditional means of value-creation so they have become increasing reliant on their bodies as a means of feeling valuable in society,” wrote study author Jamie Hakim, a professor at the University of East Anglia, in the United Kingdom.
“We need something to stand out in the crowd, whether it be money, power, or in this case, looks,” said Sorensen, who cites confidence is the main reason for working out.
Since the 2008 market crash, young men have flocked to gyms in record numbers. The study founded the most significant increase in gym attendance from 2006 to 2013 was among 16- to 25-year-old men, however ‘gym bro’ culture dates back to 3,000 years.
The first gymnasiums date back to Ancient Persia. Gyms in Ancient Greece were multi-purpose facilities; to bathe, socialize, exercise and study. From the early 1900s, educational institutions (mainly universities and schools) built gyms, and during 1960s and 1970s, public gyms boomed, starting with Gold’s Gym chain established in 1965.
Gold’s Gym, profiled in the 1977 film, Pumping Iron, established gym bro culture, when gyms became muscle meccas where young men met and exchanged advice. Pumping Iron introduced the original gym bro; Arnold Schwarzenegger, seven-time Mr Olympia and future Governor of California, who, at 69, continues to be the poster boy for bodybuilding.
The 1990s brought the 24-hour fitness boom, and the 2000s welcomed outdoor gyms from China, re-establishing working out as a group, rather than an individual activity.
In the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, S. Motschiedler provides an anthropological explanation of gym-going culture: “People do bodywork to represent the neo-liberal ideal of a healthy, valuable citizen; that is, to secure and symbolise belonging to a particular social class and hopefully (albeit often unrealistically) to attain the ideal body images depicted in the media,”
Over 4.6 million gym memberships are sold every year in Australia, however roughly 70% of Australians do not get enough exercise. Australians spend $8.5 billion each year on gym memberships, sports equipment and the latest fitness trends.
According to the Heart Foundation, males between 15 and 17 are the most active, becoming increasingly sedentary with age. Small wonder boys are turning to the gym at 18 en route to manhood, with many turning regular exercise into a full-time body building quest.
Every three months, Sorensen undergoes a DEXA scan to measure his bone density, fat and muscle. Logging his food into the Fitnesspal app, Sorensen breaks down his consumption into ‘macros’ or macronutrients; dividing the calorie intake into fat, protein and carbohydrates values. His consumption is dependant on which ‘cycle’ he is entering.
Gym bros undertake intensive cycles of muscle-building or ‘bulking’ exercises defined by high calorie consumption and lifting heavy weights.
Following ‘bulking’ is usually a ‘cutting’ phase centered on cardio training and lean proteins and leafy greens designed to ‘shred’ the bulk. This stage can involve dehydration or starvation.
This is the forking point for gym bros. Once definition is achieved, some are satisfied. Others head back to the gym and attempt perfection.
“We know about 10 per cent of men in the gym may have muscle dysmorphia,” said Rob Wilson, chair of the Body Dysmorphic Disorder Foundation.
“Muscle dysmorphia is a preoccupation with the idea that one isn’t big enough, isn’t muscular enough,” said Wilson in a BBC Newsbeat investigation.
Described as the opposite of anorexia, ‘Bigorexia’ can lead to depression, steroid abuse and suicide. Symptoms of the anxiety disorder include: over-exercising and controlling food consumption; obsessive behaviours that spornosexuals, like Sorensen, advocate.
“I don’t want to say gym first but generally, gym first,” said Sorensen, who is in his final year of a double degree in business and commerce. “Last semester I had an exam in the morning and one at night, in-between I went to the gym. Most people take gym off when it comes to exams but I never have. I just know how to study more efficiently,”
Dispelling the meathead stereotype, the modern gym bro balances barbells and books.
According to a study by the Victoria State Government, adults with a high education level (those who’d attainted a year 12 certificate and higher), were fitter than those with a lower education (those who’d finished year 11 and lower).
High income earners visited the gym three times more than low income earners, according a survey by the healthcare charity Nuffield Health.
And the Governator and gym bro forefather, Arnold Schwarzenegger, is worth $300 million. Hasta la vista, baby.
According to Katherine Marin, head of U.S. dictionaries at Oxford University Press, the term bro has become a “conventional guy’s guy,” and a bro is “relatively affluent, he has been to college but is not too intellectual, he is light-hearted and likes enjoyable pursuits, and he hangs out with other men of the same ilk,” Martin told the Los Angeles Times.
Perhaps bros are flocking to the gym for the brotherhood and camaraderie once found around the water cooler? Sorensen’s theory is evolutionary-based, if not superficial.
“Most men go to the gym for the same reason women wear make-up… Humans need to attract the opposite sex just like animals do,” said Sorensen.
“By increasing their physical appearance, men are able to increase their confidence and therefore resulting in greater success with women,”