The Atlantic

The Consumerist Church of Fitness Classes

Gyms provide ritual and community, serving as a sort of religion. They also promote values American culture already worships—capitalism and overwork.
Source: Alexander Tamargo / Getty

You pay a regular tithe to support the community. In public, you wear symbols that identify you as one of the faithful. When you gather with other adherents, it’s often in small, close rooms. Breathing gets heavy; bodies sweat. If anyone speaks, it is to moan, or occasionally to shout in triumph.

Exercise classes often function just as much like a church as they do like a gym: They gather people into a community, and give them a ritual to perform. The comfort of clipping your shoes into a beloved SoulCycle bike or landing the first blow on your favorite heavy bag at a boxing gym is not so far off from the reassurance of arriving at temple on a Friday. You know who will be leading the evening; you can anticipate the general contours of its energy. You know you will recognize familiar faces among the participating crowd.

As more Americans have moved away from organized religion (a 2015 found that 23 percent of the adult population identified as “religiously unaffiliated,” up from 16 percent in 2007) they have also moved toward new forms of community building, as well as new ways

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from The Atlantic

The Atlantic4 min readPolitics
China Is Cutting Tariffs—For Everyone Else
Lobster is Maine’s top export. Like many Americans with something to sell, Maine’s trappers benefited from positive turns in China’s economic development. The movement of tens of millions of people out of poverty and into the middle class increased d
The Atlantic3 min read
The Adam Sandler Netflix Experiment Continues With Murder Mystery
The star’s latest movie is familiar, formulaic, and mildly amusing—making it a perfect fit for the streaming service.
The Atlantic13 min read
The Surreal End of an American College
Small schools across the United States are facing budget short falls and low enrollment—leading some to shut down in the middle of students’ higher-education experience.