When you begin teaching in Korea, you will quickly realize upon your arrival that Korea is one of the leading fashion capitals in the world. The Korean influence has been spreading from their Kpop music, Korean movies and dramas, and Korean fusion food. One thing that you will notice in Korea, is that many Koreans try to keep in shape from the youngest to the oldest in Korean society. With all of the soju drinking and Korean BBQs, you would think that Koreans would be so unhealthy. However, this is not the case for many people. In this blog I will write how to sign up for a gym membership. If however want to learn about how to workout in non-traditional gyms, such as at a yoga studio or at a bouldering gym, feel free to also check out Linda's recent blog.
Body image is a huge here in Korea and Korea is still one of the leading societies that performs plastic surgery. For those who can’t afford plastic surgery, gym memberships are the safer and more cost efficient alternative. Since moving to Korea, I have joined 4 different gyms, all in my neighborhood. I definitely don’t fit the typical Korean standard body type, but I have lost 35 lbs (16kgs.) since moving here. I love biking the numerous trails around the Han River and climbing the different mountains around Seoul. But for me, it wasn’t enough and that’s why I continue to join different gyms.
In most areas, you can find gym memberships that run from 120,000won/3 months all the way up to 850,000won/9 months. Gym memberships can fit many different budget types here. And again, if you are budget conscious, there are small outdoor gyms (workout areas) along the Han and in many of Seoul’s city parks.
For me, the latest gym I joined was SpoAny Fitness. This is similar to 24 Hour Fitness in America, in that it is price-friendly and it is open 24 hours/day-365 days a year. Most gyms are non-chain, however there are chains like Curves Korea, CrossFit, and Witness Gym. The previous gym I had been going to was much more expensive and would be closed on Korea’s long holidays. Korean holidays are all about the food and drinks so even on those days, I needed to do some type of exercise to keep my body weight.
I find that all of the gyms that I’ve signed up for, most of the attendants don’t speak English too well but they are always friendly and will try to make you feel relaxed. Also, they definitely did not put any pressure on me to join as competition for gym memberships in Korea is fierce so customer service is a must. But the one thing that I do like about Korea is that many of the gyms offer some type of workout clothing services. If you are like me and go to the gym 5 days a week, doing laundry is a chore. So it is nice just to just go in with your work clothes, change into their workout clothes, then shower and leave. I find that this is a great service that I was not able to find where I am from in the U.S. Another thing that I liked was that many gyms have small lockers that you can rent out. All the gyms that I’ve been part of had large lockers that you can store your clothes and backpacks for free, but these smaller lockers are useful for keeping your shampoo and other toiletries so you don’t have to keep bringing them back home.
Another nice thing is that many gyms offer different type of aerobic classes. For instance, mine offers zumba, dance, and yoga all for free.They will post out the workout schedule on the doors and entrance of the gym so that you can feel free to join as you want. Even though the class is done in Korean, it is easy to just follow along and copy what others do. You may even make a friend there also! Just be aware, some gyms offer pilates and spinning classes too but these classes are not part of the normal membership fee. My gym also has a golf driving range that members go to for an additional price.
Signing up for a gym membership in Korea is really simple (it’s always best to go in person so they can take your picture for your card). As you are walking, you may run into one of the members handing out flyers or find a poster at the bus stop. Just grab it or take a picture and show it to they gym attendant. Finally, don’t forget to bring your Alien Registration Card (ARC) and if possible, pay with cash so that you can get a discount. After that, the attendant will understand what you need and they will take care of the rest!
Marc Gonzales has been living in Seoul working at the ChungDahm's Gangdong Branch for 5 years now. During those 5 years, he worked his way up from being a teacher and is now a faculty manager for that location. He majored in Finance and Marketing at the University of Nevada Las Vegas while working as a manager for a national bank. In his spare time, he enjoys outdoor activities like hiking the numerous mountains around Seoul and biking along the massive Han River. To know more about him and his adventures living in Korea, follow Marc on Twitter @geonmakku and on Instagram @geonmakku.