The Urban Dictionary defines the Gym Bro as “a person usually a male who spends most of their time in the holy temple of gains (AKA the gym) a gym bro is the alpha male where ever he goes, he fucks ye hottest girls and is usually cocky” (SEALZROCK, 2018).
If you go to a gym regularly, you will have most likely seen a Gym Bro, but what does it really mean to be a Gym Bro? How does one need to express themselves in terms of looks and behaviour, in order to become part of this identity group? On online platforms, such as Instagram and Reddit, large communities of self-proclaimed Gym Bros can be found producing gym-related content. Pictures of physical progress, pre-workout meals, and workout tips shared to inspire others, can all be found under Instagram hashtags such as “fitspiration”.
To be seen as a Gym Bro, one must adhere to certain standards in order to obtain “enoughness”. When someone strays too far outside of the borders of the behavioural norms set in an identity group, they risk being seen as an outsider (Becker, 1963) by the other members of this group. This article will analyse how the Gym Bro identity features on Instagram to gain comprehension of what requirements need to be met in order to reach a sense of enoughness and become recognized as a full-fledged member of the Instagram gym bro community.
Gym Bro pictures as a starting point
For this article, a data set of eighty pictures of self-proclaimed Gym Bros was used for the analysis of Gym Bros' characteristics on Instagram. The pictures were publicly posted on the social media platform Instagram, where they were retrieved from the hashtag “#gymbro”. To analyse the pictures three subcategories were created. These categories were selected because they cover the most relevant parts of the selected pictures, surroundings, and the physical appearance of the Gym Bro.
The physical appearance aspect of the analysis was split into two parts: their bodies and their attire. Since the latter can be much more easily altered these two physical aspects have been isolated. The first subcategory is environment. In this category the pictures are analysed based on the location where they were taken, focussing mainly on the extent of privacy of the place, and whether the pictures were taken alone or with multiple Gym Bros in a group.
Once a Gym Bro has collected enough emblematic identity features, they can call themselves a Gym Bro
The second category is poses. This category analyses the pictures with a focus on what part of their bodies the gym bros are attempting to emphasize, whether there are similarities surrounding what part of their body is the central point in their pictures and the way in which they show their body implies. The third subcategory is clothes. This category analyses the clothes in which the gym bros pose for their photographs, with a focus on the fit and the style of the clothes they wear, what these characteristics promote and whether they sport certain brands.
The separate analyses of these subcategories are then utilised to create a conclusion as to what characteristics need to be met for someone to obtain enoughness. Enoughness is a theory of contemporary identity developed by Blommaert & Varis that states that identities are constructed out of a particular portion ("enough") of emblematic identity features: "The benchmark for being admitted into an identity category (as a ‘real’ or ‘authentic’ member) is ‘having enough’ of the features specified for them. This is slippery terrain, because ‘enough’ is manifestly a judgment, often a compromise, and rarely a black-and-white and well-defined set of criteria (…)." (Blommaert & Varis, 2015). Once a Gym Bro has collected enough emblematic identity features, they can call themselves a Gym Bro and equally as important, be recognized as such by others, which validates the identity that they have worked to achieve. This analysis-based conclusion creates a framework for recognizing a Gym Bro and the boundaries of the Gym Bro community on Instagram. Furthermore, it also creates learning materials for aspiring members of this community.
Inside the Gym Bros environment
In order to understand how Gym Bros represent themselves on social media, it is worth looking at the environment in which Gym Bros are most commonly found. The environment in which Gym Bros present themselves is an important emblematic feature of the Gym Bro identity (Diggit Wiki 2019). The online-offline dynamic plays a significant role in this analysis. While the act of uploading an image to social media and making it visible to the public is often seen as an ‘online’ activity, this is directly linked to and influenced by the offline environment the image is situated in (Varis, 2014). It is therefore relevant to consider both the online and offline environments that Gym Bros inhabit. To contextualise the environments we will be looking at the specific location, the publicity or privacy of said location, and the individuality or community of the environment.
There is a wide range of online environments in which Gym Bros can be found. Instagram, Twitter, Reddit, and TikTok are just a few online platforms that facilitate Gym Bro communities. Instagram is the most popular social media platform for photo-sharing and visual self-representation (Vainikka et al. 2017), which explains why so many Gym Bros gravitate to this particular medium. Gym Bro posts uploaded to Instagram are inherently public because millions of people can access them and interact with them. The act of uploading an image to Instagram is usually done by one person, which makes it an individualistic process. However, Gym Bro posts are uploaded to initiate interaction with other members of the Gym Bro community. The online environment Gym Bros are found in, particularly Instagram, can therefore be characterised by its publicity and community.
Encouragement and friendly competition between Gym Bros are emblematic features of the group identity
Similarly to Instagram being the dominant online location Gym Bros are drawn to, there is an offline location that is popular among Gym Bros as well. As the name Gym Bros already implies, this specific group of people is mainly seen posing in or around gyms. An overwhelming majority of Gym Bro posts include the gym as the backdrop for their flashy poses. Merely a handful of Gym Bro images are taken in other locations like bathrooms or beaches. Taking part in gym activities as well as posing in gym environments are emblematic of the Gym Bro identity (Enoughness, 2019). A gym is a public place, which implies Gym Bros do not shy away from posing in front of other people.
The ‘Bro’ in Gym Bro refers to the communal nature of Gym Bros. Encouragement and friendly competition between Gym Bros are emblematic features of the group identity (Young-Saver, 2014). Therefore, it is common to see two or more Gym Bros posing together. The 'Bro' in Gym Bro also refers to the hegemonically masculine and heteronormative aspects of this community. People who identify as Gym Bros generally also identify as male and straight. The number of Gym Bros posing alone versus the ones posing together is fairly equally divided (see Figure 1 and 2). It is relevant to note that even though a substantial amount of Gym Bros pose alone in offline environments, they are still able to find a community in the online environment. The offline environment Gym Bros present themselves in can therefore be characterised by its publicity and community.
Posing in public environments and the sense of community between Gym Bros, both online and offline, are emblematic of the Gym Bro identity. Gym Bros define themselves through publicity and group formation.
The Gym Bro pose
The pose, how they position themselves in an image on Instagram, is another feature emblematic of the Gym Bro identity (Diggit Wiki, 2019). The pose can be identified by different specific categories: ‘upper body pose’, ‘lower body pose’, or ‘full-body pose’. Each pose has a highlighted body part which is displayed in a way that draws the viewer’s attention to that particular body part of the Gym Bro. The images analyzed can thus additionally be labeled according to the sub-categories: ‘arm focused’, ‘leg focused’, ‘abdomen focused’, ‘back focused’, or ‘chest focused’. Based on the objectification theory, the ideal of muscularity and the isolation of specific body parts in these images may imply a correlation between Gym Bros and self-objectification (Deighton-Smith & Bell, 2018; Murashka et al., 2020; Seekis et al., 2021). In their images, they then present their body parts almost as objects rather than presenting themselves, the person as a whole (Deighton-Smith & Bell, 2018).
This essential feature, in which body parts are made prominent by Gym Bros to display authenticity, comes in a large variety (Enoughness, 2019). They do this through the exact positioning of the body part, the overall stance or posture of the Gym Bro, or the cropping of the image. Emphasis is also placed on certain areas employing actions such as the flexing of certain muscles, the “undressing oneself” by moving or lifting clothing, or angling the body in a certain way. It must be noted that these previously mentioned strategies and actions can be seen as visual objectification cues (Murashka et al., 2020).
Based on the images analyzed in this article, the most common pose was the ‘upper body pose’ that was either ‘arm focused’, ‘chest focused’, or ‘abdomen focused’ and the most common strategies used were the ‘angling of the body’ and ‘flexing’. Previous studies have stated that muscular culture prioritizes “gaining muscles in body parts from the “waist up”, which may explain why Gym Bros show a preference for upper body posed pictures on Instagram (Murashka et al., 2020). These studies have also suggested that focusing on the arms and abdomen has led to more body-related discussions (Murashka et al., 2020). The dosing of ‘arm focused’ and ‘abdomen focused' poses may be a strategy to, not only be considered ‘enough’ of a member but also to encourage discussions and comments from other members of the Gym Bro community (Diggit Wiki, 2019).
The strategies previously mentioned each have their function. When lifting the shirt one would draw attention to the abdomen or when hiking up the shorts the focus is placed on the legs. In terms of the flexing in arm or chest focused poses, Gym Bros may fold their arms at a certain angle (e.g. arms crossed) to flex the bicep or the tricep muscles. On the contrary, when the arms are resting at the sides of the body or placed on the hips, the focus lies on the entire upper body frame. Through angling the body, the Gym Bro can control where the viewer’s attention is placed. By angling the body to one side, one can see the size and definition of the pectoral or arm muscles better (‘arm focused’ and ‘chest focused’ poses). When the body is angled to the front, the image becomes ‘abdomen focused’ or ‘full body focused’, when angled to the back, the image becomes ‘back focused’. Lastly, by cropping the image, the viewer is forced to pay attention, in most cases, to the upper body by cropping out the lower body. Typically bodies are more likely to be seen as objects when there is no face attached hence cropping becomes an objectification cue, however, a significant amount of Gym Bros keep their faces visible in their posts (Deighton-Smith & Bell, 2018). This might be to identify one another and therefore be able to create a sense of community (Enoughness, 2019).
Based on the posing feature of Gym Bros, the objectification of Gym Bros could render the body as a sexual object, especially when speaking of suggestive or revealing poses, or the exposing of a body part such as the chest (Deighton-Smith & Bell, 2018; Murashka et al., 2020). If this is the case, the Gym Bro group may have an added feature, aside from the emblematic posing feature. The social group may also have a homoerotic feature.
When looking at the clothing style of gym bros, it is striking that the gym bros are mainly worn with training pants and no outerwear. Many Gym Bros do not wear a shirt and the reason for that is that you mainly see most of the muscles that way. For example, you can 'show off' by showing abs, arm muscles, and back muscles. As mentioned, this is due to a correlation between gym bros and self-objectification (Deighton-Smith & Bell, 2018). When gym bros exercise shirtless, they can optimally show their body parts. It is mainly about being able to see the muscles. This is especially essential if you want to be part of the 'Gym Bros' community (Enoughness, 2019). So you train without a shirt or a loose-fitting shirt/tank top, so other people can see your muscles. For example, if you train in a thick sweater, that person will not be seen as a gym bro by definition, while you can’t see the muscles.
If a Gym Bro does cover his upper body, it's often with a tank top. This is a low-cut and loose-fitting shirt, so you can still see your muscles very well. A must for gym clothes is especially comfortable and fairly loose fit. With Gym Bros it does not really matter what the clothes are from or what brand you wear. Ultimately, it's all about the muscles. A brand that comes up a few times is Gymshark. This has been one of the fastest-growing and a well-known sportswear brands in the world in recent years. They make comfortable and fashionable sportswear, which gym bros also like to pose in and then share on social media (Haemers, 2016).
In terms of accessories, it is noticeable that many Gym Bros wear caps and watches. With watches, athletes can also often track their training and monitor certain saws such as heart rate. A cap is perhaps a fashion item, which gym bros put on because it's beautiful. When gym brothers train outside, a cap naturally has a function, because in that case, a cap protects against the sun. However, when exercising inside a gym, a cap has no function and is mainly worn because it is beautiful (and according to many more masculine).
So what you need to do is...
This article looked at how Gym Bros present themselves and what requirements someone must meet in order to be a member of this community. A number of photos were analyzed based on environment, poses, and clothing. When taking into consideration the environment in which Gym Bros present themselves, there should be an emphasis on both online and offline environments. Publicity and community in the online and offline environments are two emblematic features that signify enoughness within the Gym Bro identity.
Looking at the posing of Gym Bros, one may find that Gym Bros self-objectify, however, one should also take earlier mentioned counter-arguments into consideration. The focus on the chest, abdomen, or arms to incite body-related discussions is seen as an objectification cue. On the other hand, Gym Bros make sure their faces are visible in their pictures, which is a feature just as important for community engagement.
When it comes to the clothes, the most important thing is that the clothes are comfortable, but through which muscles can be seen. There are popular clothing brands, but you do not necessarily have to wear a particular brand to be part of the community.
Becker, H. S. (1963). Outsiders; studies in the sociology of deviance. London: Free Press of Glencoe.
Deighton-Smith, N., & Bell, B. T. (2018). Objectifying fitness: A content and thematic analysis of #fitspiration images on social media. Psychology of Popular Media Culture, 7(4), 467–483.
Diggit Wiki. Enoughness. (2019, January 21).
Haemers, I. (2016). Success story of a young fitness brand: Social media influence as an indicator of success in the fitness industry.
Murashka, V., Liu, J., & Peng, Y. (2020). Fitspiration on Instagram: Identifying Topic Clusters in User Comments to Posts with Objectification Features. Health Communication, 36(12), 1537–1548.
SEALZROCK. (2018, April 7). Gym Bro.
Seekis, V., Bradley, G. L., & Duffy, A. L. (2021). Social networking sites and men’s drive for muscularity: Testing a revised objectification model. Psychology of Men & Masculinities, 22(1), 189–200.
Vainikka, E., Noppari, E., & Seppänen, J. (2017). Exploring tactics of public intimacy on Instagram. Participations: journal of audience and reception studies, 14(1), 108.
Varis, P. (2014). Digital ethnography. (Tilburg Papers in Culture Studies; No. 104).
Young-Saver, D. (2014, September 13). Gym bro culture lets young men share the weight of workouts.
Link to our data set: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1bSCqzh3SqdSMD3kjWYEfZHl18F0O66gCjxD5...