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Outdoor Exercise Equipment: The Unofficial National Treasure of Korea

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Free, outdoor fitness equipment in Korea may be more like a dysfunctional playground than a gym. You can twist your torso on a rotating circle. You can swing laterally from side to side. You can turn a huge wheel like you are the captain of the USS Enterprise. You can traverse parallel bars like an Olympian–or at least try to swing on them as impressively as an 할아버지. You can elevate your heartbeat on a poor-man’s elliptical machine, or you can hang from pull-up bars – they’re used more for stretching in Korea than as a resistance exercise. Although foreigners initially mock the unorthodox equipment, it eventually becomes a source of joy and even inspiration for those who exercise outdoors.

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, then 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, on any walk or bike ride next to any stream, and 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.  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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The best way I can describe the equipment is like this:  If God told a joke, you’d have to laugh, but you’d also have to take it seriously.  Every time I run, bike or walk pass the equipment, some of the things I see make me want to laugh.  But seriously, why should I laugh?   People on the equipment are exercising every day – they’re killing it.  It’s inspiring, and my laughter has slowly been replaced by a fondness in my heart for motivated people who care enough to train every day.  They inspire me, and this crazy outdoor equipment has come to represent how they inspire me along with their 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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6 thoughts on “Outdoor Exercise Equipment: The Unofficial National Treasure of Korea

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