There was “Judo, Personal Training, and Crossfit” written in massive neon letters across the wide circular building. I had just moved to Korea and was thrilled to see something like this so close to my apartment. I don’t really enjoy judo and didn’t speak much Korean at all at the time, but I was excited about crossfit and headed over the first chance I got. There was an army of young children in middle of class, all looking very intense and official as they stood facing each other in pairs but the whole class paused when I came in. It seemed to take a very long time as the instructor walked over to where I was standing and began to speak in Korean.
“Crossfit?” I asked.
He looked incredibly confused.
After uselessly repeating it a few times I pointed up at the sign which didn’t help his confusion at all. He motioned one of the students to come over and help him communicate more. An Elementary student ran over and easily said hello and asked what I wanted. I asked yet again for crossfit which the student told his teacher. After shy, “Wait here!” the instructor ran to his phone and hurredly began discussing something. The army of small children looked between their flustered teacher and the now very confused me.
The end of the story is that there was no crossfit involved at all. And no personal training other than Judo related training.
1. The label on the gym is not always correct. This episode was the beginning of my struggle to find a gym and was not the first time I realized that the English labels on Korean things are not always accurate. (My friend once opened up a package labeled sandwich and found only cheese. It was a crushing moment.) Since my attempt to join the Crossfit gym, I’ve learned a bit more about finding fitness centers in Korea.
2. The gyms here can be outrageously expensive. My gym back home was $10 a month and came with plenty of weights, a wide variety of cardio machines, and a swimming pool. If I want a gym like that here it’s $350 a month. All Koreans I have talked to are not at all surprised by the price that I am completely agahst at. There are cheaper options but they are not easy to find.
3. Language Barrier. Let’s say you find a wonderful deal on a gym like I did: 170,000won for three whole months. The treadmills barely run, the weights room is a bit cramped, and there is no pool, but it works. They may not speak English. My Korean friend helped me set up a membership the first time and I studied Korean really hard before I tried to renew it three months later. This may be different in bigger cities but it’s hard to find a gym with English speakers where I live and I’m guessing that’s true in many smaller towns.
4. There are outdoor gyms as a cheaper (aka free) option. Brightly attired ajushis and ajummas can be found there at all times of the day doing the stretches and cardio-like excercises. When I do these machines I often feel (and definitely look) like a kid goofing off. I don’t know how many of the machines are supposed to help and I don’t find all of them very challenging. BUT they often have a variety of pull up bars as well so that’s always fun. Since my new years resolution is to do 10 pull-ups by the end of the year (I can’t do one at the moment), I’m pretty excited about this! So these outdoor gyms are great free alternatives to the ultra expensive indoor ones and great for summer (or great all year around for those immune to the cold).
5. There are all types of gyms in Korea. It may take a while to hunt them down (my gym is on the fourth floor of a side street building and the entrance is tucked behind a restaurant), but they do exist. There are crossfit gyms, boxing gyms, ones with swimming pools, and pretty much anything else you could want. There are lots of other active options two like dancing, archery, teach sports, and yoga. Again, many people I have talked to say they had to look a bit before they were able to hunt one down but they are there if you keep looking. I’ve found the volleyball club I joined to be one of the best things ever! The language barrier is a bit annoying (for my coach much more than me) but Koreans are kind and have been super helpful in teaching me how to improve!
Exploring how to achieve my fitness goals in a new country has just been another part of the adenture and I’m excited to make some gains this year!