How to know you’re a Vanderbilt gym rat

You know the Rec center’s hours better than your YES class schedule

About a year ago, people started to know me as “that tiny girl who always beats the crap out of the punching bag.” And while that reputation still sticks, by now, most of the staff members and Rec regulars have taken the time to look past my flying snap kick. They’ve accepted me as one of their own.

Part of going to college is shedding your high school persona and discovering your true identity. For some people, that means finding a passion, a potential career path, or a new hobby. For others, it means becoming a full fledged gym rat.

Here’s how you know you’ve got a gym reputation.

Every Rec employee knows your secrets

Friendly faces as you arrive and as you leave

Friendly faces as you arrive and as you leave

They not only notice when you cheat more than one day…they get worried. Fair warning: when you finally get back into your gym routine after you recover from strep or finish your grueling monthly round of tests, papers and presentations, expect to be bombarded with both hugs and questions.

And the relationship doesn’t just consist of smiles at the front desk. You have deep personal conversations with the staff members and other gym rats. By the end of the semester, your fellow fitness enthusiasts know the most intimate details of your life, from your study habits and social calendar to your relationships and biggest dreams. Honestly – you start to think they know you better than your family does. Which makes you feel even guiltier if you never quite caught their name the one time they told you.

You experience extreme workout withdrawal

If I'm gonna sweat, can it at least be from exercise rather than nerves?

If I’m gonna sweat, can it at least be from exercise rather than nerves?

One skip day a week is fine, but any more than that and you start to feel…let’s just say that taking days off for midterms, illness and school breaks hurts more than any cramped muscles, bruised knuckles, or black eyes you get during workouts (I speak from personal experience on all three counts).

Think back to summer vacations in high school when three and a half months of freedom from tests would have been a gift straight outta heaven. After a year of college, though, sunny days at the beach suddenly seem less relaxing and all you can do is whine about how you can’t wait to get back to school. While you definitely miss your friends a little, what you actually miss the most is the high quality gym – the free one – that’s within walking distance of where you live.

Freshman 15? No comprendo


Before (left)…after (right)

If you’re a real gym rat, you can either eat super healthy to build up those Baywatch-worthy muscles or you eat whatever junk you want because you know for a fact that you’ll sweat it off by the end of the day anyway.

Now, most girls at the gym prefer to keep their physiques toned but not bulky, so other than shirt sleeves feeling tighter or waistbands feeling looser, girls don’t have to worry about not fitting into their old clothes.

On the other hand, for guys who spend every free minute pumping iron, they may need to buy a new wardrobe by the end of the year (unless they wanna keep ripping their shirts Hulk-style every time they flex to put on their backpacks). Know why? Because you don’t just hear those “scrawny kid to muscle man” or “I lost X pounds after I started going to the Rec” stories…you become living examples of them.

You sweat off your stress

Can't stop, won't stop

Can’t stop, won’t stop

Forget cleaning your room or watching Netflix or scrolling through Snapchat when you want to relax. After just one trip to the Rec, you learn the beauty of sweating off your stress (and I ain’t talking about a sauna).

Any true gym rat’s exam week is about 1% memorization and 99% perspiration. You’ll find yourself stumbling into the Rec after a grueling test looking like an extra off The Walking Dead, eager to burn off some steam after sitting in a chair and staring at papers for hours on end. And, if the gym’s already closed for the night, you can always just go out for a midnight run instead.

Your class schedule always leaves time for a gym session


For somebody like you, that famous biannual tradition known as course registration involves accounting for academic requirements, extracurricular activities…and workout time. This shouldn’t be too hard, though, considering you know the Rec center’s hours better than you know your relatives’ birthdays.

The average gym rat’s thought process when registering for classes goes a little something like this: “Will this class count toward my major? Will it interfere with my club meetings? How heavy is the workload? Does it allow me to get to the gym by a certain time?”

You wear workout clothes because you actually work out in them


Don’t wanna be late for yoga

You don’t put on those skin-tight, curve-hugging leggings and bright, overpriced Nike sneakers just to look cute. You actually plan to use them…and I mean for something more than just a Zumba class with your sorority sisters.

If it were an option, you’d probably live in your sweats and sneaks, which you pretty much do already since most of your closet is packed with workout apparel. While having so many t-shirts, tank tops and Nike shorts may seem like overkill to someone who is not quite so fitness-minded, they clearly haven’t seen how quickly your laundry bag overflows with all your sweaty clothes (especially during the hotter seasons).

Your friend group consists purely of ‘muscle-head’ buddies

They call this exercise "gravedigger" for a reason

They call this exercise “gravedigger” for a reason

You spend so much time around buff guys that, especially for girls, your workout habits and dating standards can’t help but change to fit with your new friend group.

On the upside, you and your buddies never have to arrange hang-outs ahead of time since you know you’re gonna see them at the Rec in just a few hours. Fair warning, though, if you’re only used to seeing them in the weight room, it can be a little unnerving seeing them outside the gym for the first time (like when you see a professor outside the classroom).

There is no better way to bond than through blood, sweat, tears…and frustration after returning from a break because the gym is packed with people who are only there because they ate too much home-cooked food or downed too much booze. Luckily, they’re only a temporary nuisance. After a week or two of this “new health regime,” it’ll be back to you, your buddies and the other regulars.

You spend more time at the Rec than in your dorm

My phone thinks that going to class is going to "work" and going to the Rec is going "home"

My “home” according to my phone’s GPS tracking

Forget the library – the gym becomes your best homework spot. You find yourself getting easily distracted in the average study locations, so you grab your textbooks, laptop and running shoes and it’s off to the Rec.  In fact, you’re there so much that you’re practically a Rec center employee…only without the paycheck or the black and neon yellow polo shirts.

Actually, if someone were to check the log of how many times you’ve swiped your card at the door, they’d probably think you’re there more than a Rec center employee. The staff members even tease you sometimes about how your dedication makes them look like slackers. But, hey, it’s not that hard to be dedicated when the route to the gym is ingrained in your muscle memory.

You step out of your dorm, turn in the direction of the football stadium and your feet do the rest. You don’t even have to look up from scrolling through your workout playlist on your phone to make sure that you’re going the right way…except to check for incoming cars at the crosswalks (being a muscle-head doesn’t mean you’re an idiot).

Now, working out isn’t just about buffing up and/or cutting weight. Being a gym rat means you not only understand, but embrace the benefits of living an active and healthy lifestyle. Plus, you get to meet tons of people with whom you share at least one common interest: working up a sweat.