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When westerners first move to Korea, there are several things they may find odd or funny.  Exercising in an older Korean gym is the best way to amplify those situations.  There is nothing superior about being a westerner, but there is also nothing wrong at laughing at things that seem odd.  While there are reasons for most things in life, it’s ok to take a step back and laugh at our misconceptions as we learn to adapt.  Below, I compiled a list of 6 ways to work out like a Korean.  It’s all in good fun so try not to take it too seriously.  This is dedicated to my Korean and Western friends alike who enjoy training heavy and training hard.

6.  The Right Soundtrack

The proper soundtrack is essential for a Korean workout.  Put away your anger filled rock. Leave your happy dance music with its excessive beats-per-minute at home.  Don’t even touch your Gangnam Style, G-Dragon, Girls Generation, FT Island or other K-pop sensations.  To work out properly in Korea, you must listen to the mad ravings of an overweight women complaining about reaching menopause at a significantly early age.  What’s the problem?  You don’t have this in your i-pod?  Don’t worry, any gym you choose in Korea is guaranteed to play Adele once every hour.  They’ve got you covered!


An Adelephant.

5. Use the only bench press in the gym to train abdominals.

Sure, there are another dozen pieces of equipment for you to efficiently train your midsection.  There are also dozens of mats and often an abdominal section provided solely for you to pursue the dream of that revered six-pack.  However, why lay down on the floor when you can work your abs at a slightly higher altitude of distinction?  Don’t worry about the Wayguks or awesome Koreans who desire a strong chest, shoulders, and triceps.  Take your time and spend 20 minutes performing your reverse crunches on the only place that is safe for us to push our upper bodies to the limit.  You might not be able to lift the 45-pound bar above your body, but you will undoubtedly be ab-for-ab the strongest person south of the DMZ.

When it’s all said and done, at least you didn’t buy this.  But please watch, it’s the funniest piece of workout equipment ever invented.  Ride on!

4.  Live in Repetition City 

In the West, we are taught to train until failure to promote muscle growth.  If you can lift a weight more than 12 times, you should increase the weight until you can’t complete the 12th repetition.  This overloading causes muscles to adapt strengthening them to handle the new workload in the future.   However, your duty is to ignore this.  You must perform 100 repetitions of every exercise.  Working out is not about results; it’s about status.  When you perform a hundred lifts, there is no doubt that you are indeed in the gym “working out.”  Find a weight that looks good in the mirror and go to town.  Just look at yourself glisten.

3.  Mirror, Mirror

In Korea, people love mirrors.  Someone placed full size mirrors in the subway so Koreans can double-check their wardrobe and symmetrical faces.  Koreans also enjoy constantly taking pictures of themselves to vigilantly monitor the daily changes of their faces.  Lucky for you, a gym is your best friend.  There are so many mirrors!  Don’t use it to check your form during lifts or to admire your muscle pump between sets.  Instead, check your nose, eyes, hairline, and acne.  Don’t forget to double check where you had plastic surgery to ensure the swelling is going down.  Do you see yourself in the mirror?  That’s o.k., other people see you looking at yourself, too.  You are such a badass; keep it up.

2.  Lion Mane and No Lion

We’ve covered etiquette on the gym floor.  Now it’s time to cover the shower and bathrooms.  First, it’s polite to stare.  Take a good, long, look at the blessing (or curse) of another’s life.  Don’t worry about how it makes them feel, they don’t mind.  Furthermore, you might not notice anything.  It’s not that the rumors of small lions are true; it’s just that small lions require a large jungle to survive.  If Koreans need an umbrella to protect themselves from the sun and rain and two layers of clothes to protect themselves from frigid 60-degree weather; then jungle lions need an ample forest to feel secure and protected.  Remember, it’s not the size of the lion that reveals his status; it’s the size of his mane.  If you work out in a gym in Korea, you want to be king of the jungle.


Korean Style Lion Mane

1.  The mystery of two hair dryers.

After showering, you must blow dry your hair and your body.  Be careful, for there are two hair dryers.  One hair dryer is for your head; the other is for lion manes.  Make sure you discern the use of each hair dryer before you proceed.  This is one time in life when you do not want to learn from experience.


Disclaimer:  These are just a few observations I’ve made working out in Korea.  Let me clearly state, there are some hardcore Koreans that can run circles around me in the gym.  I love these guys.  There is also a healthy, growing, Crossfit community.  Additionally, I could not even begin to compare how much healthier Koreans are than Americans.  This is not meant to air an aura of superiority, it’s simply observations that a westerner finds amusing when working out in a Korean gym.  Humor is often based on our misunderstandings of each other and this is not an attempt to be politically correct, so just relax.  It’s all good fun!  Korea is an awesome place to live and I’m blessed to be here!


Additional Links

The Wanderlust Project – Your Guide to Working out in a Korean Gym