Weight Training and the Curious Case of Korean Gyms

Your body is going to change when you come to Korea.  It may be for the better or worse, but it will change.  The food is different and your lifestyle will change and somehow the combination of these things will impact your appearance.  So, finding a gym is going to be something you’ll want to do eventually.  The thing is, you don’t know anything about gyms in Korea or what to expect.  Well, neither did I.

The gym experience is definitely different, and by some standards and experiences – unique.

The first thing I realized is that there are no mega-franchise fitness centers that I have come across here in Busan.  Maybe in the super-tropolis, Seoul, you’ll have luck finding one, but given the space issue in Korea, it’s unlikely.

Prices are also going to be a bit higher in general than back home in the States, unless you go to a luxury or Executive facility.  Some of the comments I received on YouTube about this topic prove that some people are working out at fitness centers for a steal.

I’ve been at three gyms total since being in Korea.  The first was owned and operated by a professional bodybuilder.  Side note: it’s funny to see what pro bodybuilders look like in the absence of HGH and PEDs.  In America, you have to go out of your way these days to find clean professional athletes, let alone bodybuilders.  I digress.  The cost of that gym was about $80 USD per month.  The second gym was actually a Cross-Fit gym and was right down the street from me.  At $50 per month, I feel this was probably the best deal.  Unfortunately, it’s far from me now.  However, for $50 per month to receive coaching and run of the facility (albeit rather snug), the price can’t be beat.  The third place is where I’m currently working out.  It’s a full-facility fitness center with weights, Olympic pool, dance/aerobic hall and basketball court (used for badminton!).

One last thing to keep in mind for Korean fitness centers is etiquette.  There are some rules that are basically universal, though not everyone abides by them regardless of the country you’re in.  For example, putting weights back, not slamming your 40 lb. dumbbell down like you’re Dwayne Johnson using 100s.  Those kinds of things.  But the grey area things will make you scratch your head.

If you’re accustomed to doing a set and then walking or shaking it off between sets, you better check that at the door.  In Korea, people use a machine, ALONE, and do not share.  If you think you’re gonna nonchalantly walk around between sets, think again.  You will lose your station.  And when I say lose it, good luck getting it back or even working in.  Even if you do speak the language.

Anyway, I’ve learned to adapt and now it doesn’t even phase me to sit on a leg extension machine without moving to finish all my sets as my legs cramp up and my feet go numb.

I jest.

So is gym life in Korea.  I’m going back to judo soon to prepare for my 3rd degree black belt exam, so it’s all behind me now.  But I thought you should know.


  1. I love the way you always have insightful posts.

  2. Avatar Ian Leclerc says:

    Tom! your videos are the reason I applied to EPIK — I just got accepted to teach in Gyeongbuk yesterday. All of them are extremely helpful and entertaining.

    Im looking to stay the course on my strength training when I get there. Do you think it will be likely that I can find somewhere thats comfortable with me doing squats, overhead press, deadlift, bench, and rows? (free weight compounds).. Does the fitness center you described above in your video, for example, have equipment like a squat rack and a barbell?

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