When I first decided to move to the ROK one of my largest concerns was that of physical fitness and more specifically my access to a physical fitness center. I was a bit skeptical of how the gyms would look out here. Would they carry up to date equipment? Adequate weights? Would they kill my bank account every month?  I began to ask the few friends I had in Korea their take, and the general consensus made two things clear: gyms are expensive and not nearly as equipped as those found back home. So I am here to shed some light on the topic based on personal experience, I’ve held a membership to a Health Club/Sauna in a small rural town as well as a Health Club in Seoul. I’ll provide a little heads up on what to expect whether or not you land in a big city or small town.

“As you can imagine the employees here were not the avid fitness fanatics associated with gyms back home, but rather older women who simply had a job. “

First off, gyms in Korea are generally pretty easy to find wherever you go; a few exceptions would be extremely isolated rural areas such as mountain based towns or villages. My first experience with a gym was actually in the countryside in the Yeongdeok (영덕) county located in the Southeast province of Gyeongsanbuk-do (경삭북도). I lived in a small fishing town named Ganggu (강구), fifteen minutes south of Yeongdeok city by bus. As you can imagine the employees here were not the avid fitness fanatics associated with gyms back home, but rather older women who simply had a job. This particular gym was found on the basement floor of a jjimjilbang/sauna. As far as pricing went they offered a few options ranging from single day use up to weeks or months. They maxed out their offers at three months and as one could imagine that was by far the cheapest option for someone who would be regularly attending. The cost for three months came out to 110,000 원, so not as overly expensive as I imagined, then again it was a small countryside town. I headed downstairs to look upon the area where I would spending four or five days a week over the next year.

Spot me? How I felt the gym in Ganggu was at times.

Spot me? How I felt the gym in Ganggu was at times.

I can still remember it so clearly because of how underwhelmed I was, the left side of the wall was lined with small lockers to keep personal belongings at the gym. They also had about 8 treadmills, a tiny free weight section, a single bench, one warm up area no bigger than two yoga mats lying side by side, and one Smith machine. These were the most noticeable features of the small gym area but of course there were also two bikes and perhaps four other various machines. The free weight section included two curl bars and a set of dumbbells that ranged from 2kg to 25kg. The bench and smith machine had an adequate amount of weights to be used. To the side was a small locker room for changing purposes that led to a shower. Yes this gym was tiny but that didn’t mean you couldn’t get a good workout in, that all depends on the person, not the equipment.

When I moved to Seoul I was sure my gym expenses were about to skyrocket. I had friends telling me of prices near 600,000원 for a year near Hongdae. The other side to the equation was that there were more options, larger facilities and heavier weights. Located near Taereung Station (태릉입구역) I was guided to a gym by my landlord, walking distance to my house in a fairly clean area neighboring various newly opened cafes and shops. Once again located in the basement level of the structure Winner Gym was a fresh breath of fresh air into what I had grown accustomed to over the past year. Keep in mind what I am about to describe does not apply to every gym in Seoul. Winner gym is an extremely clean gym that is about three years old. The staff are friendly and all relatively young, with personal trainers available for paid sessions. The Taereung location has a studio for yoga, a glass-walled room for their Spin classes, the main “Health club,” section as well as a Golf area to bring in your clubs and work on your swing. The free weight section consists of a squat rack, bench, dumbbells up to 40Kgs, a dip machine and more. There are up to 16-20 treadmills, two ellipticals, four bikes, as well as a plethora of various machines. They actually also have a large warm up area with a fair selection of equipment. There are a few foreigners that attend daily including myself. Winner Gym gets busy but in my opinion never to the point of annoyance, and the people that do tend to frequent the place are quite nice. The equipment is far more up to date than my older gym along with lockers that can be purchased for 5,000원 a month. This particular gym is also a chain, having at least two other locations at nearby stations.

While vastly different these two gyms do share similarities that are characteristic of gyms in Korea. Most notably is the clothing that the facilities will offer to the paying patron. Men and women are both provided “work-out clothes” to change into in the locker room before exercising. The shirts are usually color coded for male and females. However, if you feel these clothes are not really your style, you are more than welcome to wear whatever you like. All Korean gyms also tend to carry the old timey waist trimmer belt machines, as well as a few stretching machines I have no name for. The two types of gyms also have a electronic back stretching machine; the one that holds you by your ankles and flips you upside down. Korean gyms will almost always provide you with at least one or two towels for your workout and shower. No matter where you end up just remember, you are in a foreign country and the gyms here will likely fail to meet every lofty expectations of what you perhaps once had at home. However finding gyms in Korea should be relatively easy despite where you live, even if the prices are slightly inflated.

Photo Cred – Nagyman


Looking for health supplements like whey protein and creatine to boost your workout? Check out our article here on obtaining health supplements in Korea. Looking to work out at home instead? We’ve got an article on that too!

About The Author

A California native with a passion for travel, JT has been living in Korea for the past two years. A health fanatic and a seeker of knowledge, JT co-founded SeoulSync because of a desire to create something larger than he could ever become alone.

Comments

  1. Joseph Conte says:

    how much weight is adequate weight? 300lb? How hard will it be to find gyms that let me bench and squat 300lb?

    1. JD Jaceon says:

      Shouldn’t be too hard the gyms will have the free weights available if they have bench and squat rack. In bigger cities it’ll be real easy.