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The Exercist

The Exercist

Of all the things that I anticipated missing from America, I didn’t think that being fit would be one of them. Since I was plopped in my apartment in Seoul two months ago with no help from my school on adjusting to basic life (like advice on where to go to the grocery store, what’s the closest subway station, how I can make my bathroom stop smelling like cigarette smoke and vienna sausages), I had gotten super out of shape. And I felt bloated and constipated all the time. Looking back now, it was silly of me to think that my work would help me find a gym. Nope. Despite putting out lots of feelers and asking questions, I got nothing. It was super cold outside though, and I figured that I could get by doing the 7 Minute Workout app and some yoga videos in my apartment every once in a while.

I eventually realized that this wasn’t going to cut it. I noticed a significant change in my body composition and I didn’t like it. So, a gym membership was a must if I was going to avoid gaining a Buddha belly. There are forums for expats that I scoured looking for some foreigner-friendly gym that would hopefully be nearby. I found multiple Crossfit gyms that were only a short bus or subway ride away. But, I was shocked by the cost of a monthly membership at these places. The prices were comparable to those of “boxes” in DC, one of the most expensive cities in the U.S. The class times didn’t really line up with my schedule either. I know in theory I could wake up early and go to Crossfit before I go to work at 1 p.m., but I know this is unlikely to happen in reality.

Two months worth of walking the streets of my neighborhood helped me realize that there were two second floor gyms super close to both my apartment and my work. One morning, I finally decided to scope these places out by myself. I was nervous because I expected no one at either place to speak English and I know nothing about discussing gym memberships in Korean. The first gym was closed, I think permanently. The second place was cheap (about $20 a month with a four-month membership) but it was really cramped and dusty. And it looked like they didn’t even have one complete weight set.

I walked out of the second gym feeling super defeated and sad (I was missing those exercise endorphins). I just wanted to work out. Was this my only option? I vowed to wander the streets everyday until I found a promising gym. A few minutes into my walk of self pity, I saw a sign that looked promising right next to an Outback Steakhouse. I followed it into the building basement where a very nice Korean guy helped me. He didn’t speak much English, but he grabbed two random people from the gym to explain the membership process to me. I came back the next day and bought a four-month membership for about $40 a month.

As part of my membership, I apparently got two free personal training sessions. I was told it was just an orientation, so I was confused when I showed up after work and got a full body composition scan complete with a polite lecture about how I should gain more muscle. “Nick”, my personal trainer according to his name tag, was super cute and did speak great English. However, I think I would have preferred an ugly person telling me to work out more.

Nick was really nice about helping me my first few times at the gym. Although I had done weight training in high school (believe it or not), he walked me through the free weight exercises and gave me pointers on how to improve. He knew a lot of body terminology although he did say “niffle” (for nipple) and “scaffula” (for scapula). Typical Korean-English mistakes, but that made him that much more endearing. He even helped me bench press one time after I had used up my two PT sessions, but I think that was more embarrassing than anything.

It’s now been about a week and a half since I’ve joined the gym. I’ve been a handful of times and things are going really well so far. Here are some things that I learned about Korean gym etiquette, which is different than my experience in the American fitness world:

  1. Koreans lack the same personal bubble that I am used to back home, and the gym is just one example of this. Nick was very up in my business while helping me. When I was bench pressing and he was spotting me, his thighs were basically squeezing my temples. And I’m 1000% ok with that. You know, cultural immersion and all. 
  2. A lot of gyms in Korea provide clothes for you wear when you work out. It might be gross to some people to wear public property clothing, but it saves me from having to do more laundry or bring more stuff to the gym. They do smell really strongly of bleach though.

    Here's what the clothes at my gym look like.
    Here’s what the clothes at my gym look like.
  3. ^^Do you see that guy walking behind me?^^ Do you see what’s on his feet? Ok, that brings me to my third point: Korean people sometimes work out in flip flops. Around those heavy weights? No thank you.

    This guy went a step further and took his flip flops off. #barefootcontessa
    This guy went a step further and took his flip flops off. #barefootcontessa
  4. Everyone gets 100% nake nake in the locker rooms. And they don’t just get undressed and hide behind a towel right away. Their towels are the size of washcloths, so that’s not really an option. But, Koreans overall just seem to be way more comfortable being naked. They stand in front of the mirror and blow dry their hair for like 10 minutes naked, and no one cares. I love that. (I also love the way their blowdryers make my hair look). Sure, I’ve learned a lot about Korean anatomy (which I will cover in a later post about my first experience at a Korean bathhouse), but I also just feel confident that no one is looking at my body. And if they are, it’s because they’ve never seen a dick as pink as mine. 

So, I love how my quest to find a gym finally worked out. I love the body confidence of Korean guys. It doesn’t hurt that my gym’s close to a university so a lot of the guys are young and attractive. Many of them are also in good shape too. Thanks mandatory Korean military service!

Here are some more pics of JFIT Korea:

It’s no VIDA, but I think that’s probably a blessing.