Is the Gym a Community or a Workplace?

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Posted on 13 Apr 2013 08:15

Is the Gym a Community or a Workplace?

George Basaly

April 12, 2013


In my course of study, I decided to analyze whether a simple place where thousands of people go, a gym, is a discourse community. Many people are in and out each day, and sometimes I stop and think whether these people see themselves as part of a community or just using this building to better themselves. I took a closer look at the online forums involving the community, and even interviewed people that are a part of the community to get a better understanding, and then compared them to Swales and Johns' models of discourse community. I found that from online blogs and from peoples responses, the gym is indeed a discourse community and the results match up to Swales' model almost perfectly, with the backing of Johns' model as well.


A discourse community is a term that has been loosely defined by many different authors and scholars. One of the most prominent definitions is given by John Swales, where he gives six characteristics of a discourse community. The six characteristics include: “a discourse community has a broadly agreed set of common public goals. A discourse community has mechanisms of intercommunication among its members. A discourse community uses its participatory mechanisms primarily to provide information and feedback. A discourse community utilizes and hence possesses one or more genres in the communicative furtherance of its aims. In addition to owning genres, a discourse community has acquired some specific lexis. A discourse community has a threshold level of members with a suitable degree of relevant content and discoursal expertise.” Moreover, Ann Johns introduces the difference between discourse communities and communities of practice. Discourse communities focus on text and language, which are the genres and lexis that allow members maintain their goals, regulate membership, and communicate effectively (she then lists Swales criteria for a discourse community). Communities of practice refer to genres and lexis, specifically to the values and practices that hold the communities together or separate them from each other. We know what a discourse community is made up of, and we know the definitions, but we don’t quite know if certain communities can fall under than category. I believe that through the studies of a gym as a discourse community, I can properly achieve the explanation and categorize it as a discourse community. My study of the gym fulfills a discourse community because not only does it fit swales’ six characteristics, it also can be seen as a discourse community according to Johns’ model. First and foremost, members of the gym share a common goal, whether its weight loss or muscle building, fitness in general is a shared goal by members of this discourse community. Moreover, members of the gym intercommunicate through TV, radio, blogging, and by even just calling a friend “hey are you working out today?!” Next, the participatory mechanisms used by members of the gym provide feedback by portraying results of the hard work put in. Furthermore, there are many different genres to help someone learn about this community—could be a DVD, a blog, an educated personal trainer. While the gym has its own genres, there is a specific lexis that goes with it as well. One must learn the workouts, the muscle names, anatomy, and physiology. The gym community has members with expertise such as athletic trainers and personal trainers, who are certified to teach beginners or anyone who needs help in this discourse community.


In order to complete my research of the gym as a discourse community, I first read the blogs on, a very prominent website amongst active community members. On this blog, topics ranging from which type of egg to eat, to how long one should run backwards with a weight tied to one’s leg. People are typically very helpful with either sources cited or their own personal insight. There is very specific lexis in this blog that an outsider might have trouble reading. For example, the names of workouts could be confusing (i.e “perform a pec dec for 3 sets of 10”). What the hell??? But if one is persistent, it’s quite simple to learn the language. Moreover, after reading online forums, I then turned to a perfect example of this discourse community, LA Fitness in Lake Grove, NY. It is a very large gym, with hundreds of people and thousands of square footage. As a member of this gym, I was able to interview people on their way out, as well as even interview a personal trainer to gain professional insight. I formulated a few questions for the members, and then a few questions for the personal trainer.


I stopped a few members of the gym and asked them a series of questions (attached at the end), and it helped me get a better understanding of whether a gym is indeed a discourse community. From these interviews, I discovered that people have built friendships at the gym. They meet people who share the same goal, and begin talking to them. From there, a sort of community feel develops. However, out of the ten people I’ve asked the same question, only seven shared the same answer, while the other three people just went to the gym and didn’t know anyone or discuss their workouts with anyone. I then asked them whether they talk about progress or diet, and they did. Although spoken outside of the gym, they did discuss dieting habits and they even did read online blogs and forums. The same ten people felt that when they first started, the lexis and terminology was a blur. However, with the help of employees and the online forums, these people found that it was easy to become an avid member of the community.
I decided to interview one of the personal trainers at my LA Fitness gym, a long time member of this discourse community. It helped me get a better understanding on why the gym is a discourse community. After interviewing a personal trainer, Mike, I got a better understanding from a professional’s point of view. One of my final questions was asking him if he thought the gym was considered a discourse community after briefly explaining what a discourse community is. He believed that after dealing with many clients, he’s created a close knit friendship with many of them, and there is networking amongst the clients even after they discontinue the personal training.


I found it highly interesting that some people didn’t feel that the gym was a community. Once a person develops a habit, they make it a routine and they’ll typically go the same time every day, and after a while, you see the same familiar faces as if you guys are a team. Eventually, in my opinion, you develop an unspoken bond, eventually leading to a friendship. That to me, is the main reason I feel the gym is a discourse community. From the interviewees’ responses, using Swales’ model and Johns’ analysis of communities, it furthers my hypothesis that a gym is indeed a discourse community, and not just a place of exercise. Johns describes a discourse community as “focusing on text and language, which are the genres and lexis that allow members maintain their goals, regulate membership, and communicate effectively.” This is definitely applicable to the gym community because people are required to learn the lexis to help develop their membership in the community. Moreover, the criteria as already stated fits perfectly into Swales’ model; despite the few people that disagree, overall the gym is a perfect fit for a discourse community.

Works Cited

Johns, A. (1997). Discourse Communities and Communities of Practice: Membership, Conflict, and Diversity. Text, Role, and Context Developing Academic Literacies (pp. 51-69). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Swales, John. “The Concepts of a Discourse Community”. Genre Analysis: English in Academic and Research Settings. Boston: Cambridge UP, 1990. 21-32. Print


Interview Questions:
• Do you speak to people at the gym?
• Do you have a workout group?
• How often do you go, and do you go at a set time?
• Do you feel comfortable talking to people at the gym?
• Outside of the gym, do you talk about working out at all? If so, with who?
• How hard was it to learn the terminology?
• Were you able to adjust smoothly to the community?
• Do you see the gym as a community or a workplace?

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