Why are gym rats so called?

someone who spends a lot of time exercising in the gym, and who cares very much about the shape and condition of their body

Is it an analogy between a rat living in a gym and the muscle freak visiting the game and spending an awful lot of time there?

  • 1
    I think @fattie's answer in the question posted above is insightful …rats tend to scurry down pipes, tiny lanes, and gutters in order to avoid populated areas… and (hyperbolic as is his custom) …a pointless, animalistic, disease-ridden subconscious scampering: in filth.… – Mari-Lou A Nov 4 '18 at 8:09

Merriam-Webster provides this sense of the word in its definition of rat:

4 : a person who spends much time in a specified place
// a mall rat

Interestingly, Oxford Dictionaries indicates this sense is specifically North American—and it provides many more examples of other words that it's used with.

In the following, the emphasis is mine.

‘After spending a long, hard winter as a gym rat shut-in, you're probably hot to trot outdoors.’

‘I'm a 46-year-old Ohio river rat who's gone there half a dozen times to mountain bike and ski.’

‘Rhyming, however, is the favourite sound effect of slang, as in boob tube television, frat rat member of a US college fraternity.’

‘Shouldn't we at least insist she sells some records like, this decade, before she gets any more coverage for her sex romp/love rat lifestyle?’

‘Peralta ripping in back of Mar Vista Elementary School - the first playground he was officially kicked out of as a young skate rat.’

‘Then or course there's the biggest closet rat of all, me.’

‘And the bag boys all seem to be happy, happy surf rats, with funny haircuts and pretty smiles.’

‘That bum sitting on a heating grate, smelling like a wharf rat?’

‘Mali, while seeming sophisticated, wanders in and out of ghetto rat behavior, especially when it comes to her man, Tad Honeywell.’

‘Some eighteen year old street rat from Paris, France… I wanted him so badly in my world of glitz and glamour… what am I saying?’

As to why the word came to be associated with frequenting a locale or, it seems, a lifestyle, it's not clear.


Rat in the sense of someonev who regularly frequents the same place is from the mid-19th century:

Rat has even become a suffix to create words that mean “person who frequents” such and such a place: dock-rat, bar-rat, rug-rat, etc.


Gym-rat is an expression from the ‘70s:

[1970s+] (US, also gym bunny) a sports enthusiast; usu. one who frequents gyms and training grounds; often used of young gay men obsessed with body building.

(Green’s Dictionary of Slang)


1978 US, an exercise fanatic

(The Routledge Dictionary of Modern American Slang and Unconventional English)

_____-rat, "person who frequents _____" (in earliest reference dock-rat) is from 1864.



Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.