Bizarre Outdoor Exercise Equipment: Korea’s Unofficial National Treasure

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When you arrive in Korea take some of your first steps outside you may notice it; Korea is full of  strange, outdoor exercise equipment.  When you first see it being used, you may break a slight smile or enjoy a hearty laugh.  The equipment is. . .  kind of goofy.  There are huge wheels you can turn side to side like you are steering a ship.  There’s this contraption that you stand on and swing your feet side to side.  There’s the miniature merry-go-round where you twist your lower torso.  There are pull-up bars that most Koreans just hang from.  There are poor man’s ellipticals.  My descriptions fail to do the equipment justice; it’s weird stuff.

I attempted to research the origin of all of the exercise equipment — I couldn’t find any answers.  Who mandated the placement of the equipment?   How did Korea get so much of it?  Most importantly, who designed this stuff?  Most  of the machines lead users through humorous, non-functional movements.  Additionally, the resistance provided by the machines fails to challenge the most novice of those inclined to exercise.

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At the same time, the equipment is awe-inspiring.  Even if a piece of equipment is not that functional, if it induces someone to consistently exercise, it’s worth its weight in gold.  These white pieces of metal and plastic exist on every trail in Seoul.  You’ll pass the equipment on any hike up any mountain or any bike ride next to any stream. You’ll find the equipment in most parks or even on a short walk to work.  This outdoor equipment inundates Korea and it’s ALWAYS being used.

When first arriving in Korea two years ago, the equipment seemed like a bad joke, especially as someone who was a certified NSCA-CPT (An extremely difficult personal training certification to obtain that demands a solid understanding of exercise science and kinesiology).   However, as you run, walk, bike or exercise in Korea over the years, the equipment becomes an integral and unique facet of fitness in the ROK.  In American cities, the equipment would be ignored or vandalized.  In Korea, it’s a source of pride and fitness, especially for the older generations who frequent the equipment more than anyone else.

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Every time I run, bike or walk pass the equipment, some of the exercises I witness make me want to laugh.  But seriously, why should I laugh?   People on the equipment are exercising every day – they’re killing it.  My laughter has slowly been replaced by a fondness in my heart for motivated people who care enough to train every day.  That crazy outdoor equipment has become a representation of their motivation and dedication to self-improvement, even if it looks a bit quirky at times.

With this in mind, I wanted to honor this exercise equipment.  I wanted to take photos that represented both the humor and the sheer awesomeness of the equipment.  This equipment is free for the public to use and it’s uniquely Korean.  In fact, I hereby nominate all the exercise equipment in Korea to become Korean National Treasure # 317.

I would like to give a special thanks to my two fitness models, Paul Wiltshire and Kayla McColl.  I highly recommend Paul to any company or modeling agency in need of a fitness model.  I also highly recommend everyone to check out Kayla McColl’s fitness blog, Kabochas and Coconut Butter.  Finally, I’d like to give one more special thank you to John Caulfield for helping me with the photography.  I had a blast meeting and working with all of you!

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