6 Ways to Work Out Korean Style

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


26 Comments Add yours

  1. haha. what a great idea for a blog post!


  2. Kevin Augstraten says:

    This is stupid. You think westerners don’t work out for status, vanity? Don’t preen? Don’t exercise incorrectly? Also, you got taught one way to exercise so everyone else is doing it wrong? doing a hundred reps of something can be useful, the equivalent of a 400 meters, where you’re fighting oxygen dep to finish. Aww…you miss your rage against the machine? Are you shy in the shower? You go to a crap gym, perhaps. But maybe you just think people should do things like you do.

    This is really Americentric stuff.


    1. Jason Jarred says:

      No Kevin, you’re simply wrong. There is a *right* way of doing things, and a wrong way, especially with exercise. It has nothing to do with American/Western ways, it has to do with the best method available to humans of figuring out what works and what doesn’t – the scientific method. Sure high reps are useful for endurance performance, but not *100* frigging reps – that’s an aerobic workout, and not very efficient one.

      Loved the pics and supplementary videos Brent, I’ve seen some very kooky stuff in my time in Australian gyms but would love to get the chance to see how this varies around the world. Great post!


  3. Kevin— The last paragraph was written for people like you. As G-Dragon would say, “Why so serious?”


  4. dude says:

    kevin, you sound like a blast to party with


  5. prodikl says:

    YES hahah number 5, man. Gym has two benches and of course monday it’s ram packed. Curles in the squat rack! cruches on the benches! I was doing deadlifts yesterday looking towards the mirror, some guy comes up between me and the mirror, puts one knee on a free-bench, doing dumbbell lifts, his gaping ass hole RIGHT in my face, jesus… had to de-rack the entire bar and move it right up next to him, ugh.

    Also you forgot number 6, always practice golf swings in the middle of the freeweight area


    1. Golf Swing, that is rich and oh so true. I might have to add that in. Do you know of any pictures of articles that talk about Korea’s obsession with golf?


    2. pretzelzetzel says:

      It’s also important to hold a towel and then pretend it’s a tennis racket to practice your overhand swing…


  6. pretzelzetzel says:

    A personal trainer at a gym I used to go to tried to help me towel off after showers from time to time. I find it difficult to explain to people how nonsexual it was. He just thought I was a handsome, cool foreigner and that helping me dry my nude body was an acceptable way to forge a friendship. He came in to the dressing room once and said “Oh, pretzelzetzel, 섹시 힙” and grabbed a towel and jumped right in. It was the only time he was successful. I couldn’t stop laughing, which I suppose didn’t dissuade him any.


    1. I can totally relate. There is nothing homosexual about it! Men often squat naked, play on your cell phone while other men are drying off all around. It’s very common. Thanks for sharing, that gave me a good laugh.


  7. Haha. Very funny. I used to go to the gym in Korea a lot and totally relate to this. Having said that, even though Koreans will stare at a foreigner for hours anywhere else, in the gym I was wonderfully invisible.


  8. I’m glad you found solace in the gym David lol. Thanks for reading and commenting!


  9. boxofphotos says:

    Hilarious! I find most of this at my gym too. My favorite is when I finally can get control of one of those benches only to find the trainers and others playing darts in the open space right by my head…Umm, okay, I will move this bench and get out of your way, No problem.


  10. Mike C says:

    This is all so true…


  11. I love this post! So entertaining and really brightened up my day! Especially that infomercial about the ab machine! #death!! I was crying I was laughing so hard


    1. I wrote this last summer but there are so many new readers I figured to give it a share. I’m so happy you got a kick out of it. I wanted to use some dumbbells today, but I had to wait for something to quit jump roping when they had access to an empty aerobics room.


  12. Mimsie says:

    Too funny! I’ve never been to a Korean gym before but a lot of this seems to apply to jjimjilbangs… especially the hair dryers. Good Lord.


  13. Turkish says:

    Ya know, saying “just kidding” after a six-part tirade doesn’t make you seem like any less of an ass. It’s not always bad to be an ass, but maybe you were a bit too much of an ass in the particular article. That said, I have heard Adele in the gym in Korea, but I’ve also heard her in the gym in the US.
    Really, with the elephant picture? Dick move.


    1. I appreciate your point of view; humor can certainly be taken the wrong way. To some it’s funny and harmless, to others it is offensive. You always take a risk when you write something like this but we all find funny things about each other. Btw, I really hate Adele! Any gym that plays her music should be ridiculed, but I doubt any gym plays it as much Korea.


  14. Cale says:

    Flippen Classic


    1. Justkickinit is classic my friend


  15. Turkish says:

    I don’t think it’s significantly harmful. My main complaint would be that you are laughing at the habits of another culture, and I think that is more hurtful than helpful in the grand scheme of things. Is that such a big deal? No, not really, especially because these are not main tenets of Korean culture.


    1. Hahaha, politically correct humor is not my style.

      Listening to Adele is a habit of culture? Using the bench to do abs is a habit of culture? Sorry, I think having an extra blow dryer to blow dry your private areas is funny. It’s even more funny because I used the wrong one on my hair.

      It’s not laughing at another culture, it’s finding humor in life. Our misunderstanding of other people can be very funny – it seems like a lot of people agree.


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