Welcome to the first entry in HAN GANG MAGAZINE’S GYM REVIEW SERIES. In this series, we review the best gyms in South Korea and Seoul from a weightlifter’s and consumer’s perspective.
Gyms in Seoul for Foreigners
If you’re reading this, then fitness is important to you. The equipment, size, location of the facility, and price are all important factors in finding the best gym for you. You know what you like and need, and you want to find the best gym in Korea to fit your needs.
As a pretty serious weight lifter, I have spent the better part of a decade living in Korea trying to find the best gym in Seoul, with varying results. One thing is for certain: You can’t depend on marketing copy, ads, or websites to tell you the truth.
I’ve been through and seen it all pretty much, from old Korean men blow-drying their cough private areas to random dudes laying on top of each other as spotters to gym equipment all over the place. Yeah.
Although things have improved since I first came to Korea, finding gyms in Seoul with free weights beyond 30 kg remains a challenge. That is why finding the best gym in Seoul has become somewhat of a personal crusade of mine.
On a serious note, despite the humorous photos above, there are some legit really good gyms in Korea and amazing bodybuilders here. Since Seoul and Korea are so densely populated, it is very easy to run into professional bodybuilders and models if you go to a popular gym in Seoul.
And I’ve got the receipts to prove it: To my shame, I admit was a member of the infamous California Fitness, the first Western-style super gym in Korea. Fortunately, I was only duped into a 6-month membership for 1.2 million KRW at the time (learn from my stupidity) before they shut down.
I don’t blame the employees, but they were told to sell lifetime memberships until the day they shut down and apparently were not being paid for months. I was even a part of a failed lawsuit to get funds back. I still remember people breaking into the Myeongdong branch and stealing weights and equipment as the trainers looked on crying. Good times!
Best gyms in Seoul, Korea
Suffice it to say, I have learned a lot about the gym industry in Korea since then. I’ve struggled with being a foreigner and adjusting to the different expectations. And that knowledge and experience will be passed onto you.
In this review series, I assess gyms I’ve personally visited from the perspective of an amateur powerlifter (squat, bench press, deadlift) living in Korea.
I approached each one as I would if I was going to purchase a membership there. Some of the parameters I score for are as follows:
- Squat & Power Racks – Number and quality of racks. Smiths.
- Dumbbells & Barbells – How heavy? Fixed-weight barbells? New knurling on barbells?
- Machines – How new? Plate-loaded (Hammer-strength) or just stacks (Nautilus style)?
- Cardio Equipment – Quality of treadmills, bikes, ellipticals.
- GX Classes, Room & Equipment – I never take GX personally, but I look at room size, class variety, etc.
- Equipment & Facility – Age, maintence & cleanliness
- Lockers & Showers – Size, cleanliness, etc.
- Size, Layout & Spacing – How efficient is the layout?
- Open Hours & Days – Daily open hours. How many holidays do they take?
- Price – Absolute price vs value
- Writer’s Opinion – My personal impression based on 15 years of lifting experience.
Why Korean Gyms Are Worse
Please remember that gyms in the U.S. are going to be better in terms of equipment quality, size, price & pretty much everything else. You can’t fairly judge Korean gyms through a Western lens, as the West has had workout culture for decades.
Further, basic supply-demand economics combined with cultural views about what fitness centers are mean that Korean gyms will be more expensive. So, the goal should be to find a gym with a great location and has everything you want, with price as the last factor to consider.
Korean culture and especially older folks value and engage in holistic “health” practices and mindset more than Westerners, with elderly Koreans very active outdoors. While Westerners tend to take a more Descarte-like view of the world, Koreans are more Spinoza-like (thanks, philosophy minor!).
As a result, you have far less prescriptive remedies (do 30 min of HIIT) and more holistic things like (go walk outside on a mountain every day). For gyms, bodybuilding/powerlifting/gym bro culture is arguably only 10-15 years old in total. I know. I used to be considered huge in Korea. Now, I’m small.
Thus, all reviews are in the context of what you can expect in comparison to other Korean options.
Review List of Gyms in South Korea
- Bodystar Fitness – (multiple locations)
- Star Kali Fitness – (Hongdae/Sinchon/Ewha)
- Multigym Fitness Corea – (Sinchon/Ewha)
- Hongdae Bouldering Gym