Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Roberta Baer, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Carol Bryant, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Daniel Lende, Ph.D.

Committee Member

John Napora, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Claudia Parvanta, Ph.D.


exercising, obesity, physical activity, public health, women, workout


The Tampa Gym Study was an ethnographic examination of veteran women exercisers, their workout routines, and their attitudes towards the workouts that they undertake in two Tampa area gyms. The study’s principle objective was to study “fitness culture” in these facilities and the manner in which that culture is embodied in the language women use to describe themselves and their exercise behaviors.

The obesity crisis in the United States has been significantly responsible for an increase in membership in gyms and fitness facilities nationwide. The “culture of fitness” as it is embodied in these facilities has impacted women and their desires to pursue fitness and “the body beautiful” in the workouts that they undertake in these places. The Tampa Gym Study was designed to interrogate women about their perceptions of working out in facilities that were once rarely used or frequented by women. Key questions in this study focused on the place of women in the gym, the strategies that they use to remain committed to their exercise routines, the statements they use to describe themselves and their efforts, and the degree to which their statements represent a shared culture of fitness that are endorsed by other women who work out in such facilities.

The study was conducted in two parts. Part I was an ethnographic study using participant observer methods that was conducted in two gyms in the Tampa, Florida metropolitan area. The researcher engaged in working out, observing, and interviewing 26 Black and White women veteran exercisers who used gym facilities consistently at least two times per week. Interview data from Part I of this study was used to construct a survey that consisted of 77 statements expressing key elements of gym culture. A total of 76 women, 38 Whites and 38 Blacks, were surveyed and survey data were analyzed using binomial analysis to assess levels of shared agreement with statements about gym culture.

Interview and observational results from Part I of the study revealed a number of significant themes about gyms and about exercising. (1) Women expressed that they perceived the gym to be a place where they belonged. (2) They described their workouts as being “me-time,” that is, a period that they perceived to be devoted to their needs, their goals, and their fitness objectives. (3) They described the importance of clothing/workout gear as a means of measuring their progress in achieving their fitness and personal appearance goals, and (4) observations undertaken of women in these facilities revealed the importance of social media in the workouts that are undertaken.

In Part II of the study, both Black and White women survey takers expressed substantial agreement with all but 10 of 77 statements about fitness and working out. The lack of striking racial differences in survey responses suggests that socioeconomic status rather than race explains the levels of agreement observed among survey respondents.

The findings from this study represent an important contribution to the use of ethnographic methods to study fitness culture. Previous studies of women in gyms were undertaken before the development of social media platforms and before the use of technology like Smartphones were widespread. The findings of this study contribute to an understanding of the role of such media in promoting the pursuit of fitness. Observations of exercisers in workout settings revealed the economic impact that products such as Athleisurewear and Smartphones are having on advancing participation in gym culture. Additionally, the lack of significant differences in the survey responses of Black and White exercisers in this study was highlighted. In view of the upper middle-class status of both White and Black respondents in this study, these findings suggest that social class more than race explains the high rates of concordance between Black and White responses to statements about gym culture.

Results from the Tampa Gym Study also suggest that the judicious use of social media to engage women in becoming more physically active might succeed in positively impacting the nation’s crisis with obesity and sedentary behavior. Alarmingly, however, study results also suggest the existence of a “feedback loop” in which the desire to consume more and more food is offset by the option of “working it all off in the gym.” This loop cannot be sustained, it was noted, because exercise cannot keep pace with the increased consumption of calorie dense foods that are such an important part of the American diet.