I have not visited very many gyms/fitness centers/health clubs (whatever) in Korea, but I’ve been to one in Sangju and one in Gumi. I also have friends that go to various gyms, but from what I hear they’re all pretty similar around here. On that note, they’re also pretty similar to what’s available in the States, but with some fairly noticeable differences. **I’ve never been to a gym with a pool. I assume it’s the same, but I don’t know for sure.**
Operating Hours: Very few gyms are open 24-7…I’ve seen one. Almost all the gyms are privately owned, so they are always closed on Sunday. (weird, right?) Gyms are open, on average, from about 6am-midnight.
Membership Fees: There are options to pay for a day (3,000-7,000 won~$4), a month (35,000-50,000won~$45), or 6 months(150,000-300,000won~$200). It seems you have to pay upfront with whichever method you choose. What’s kind of nice is you can usually get a discount if you pay with cash instead of your card.
Shoes: Most gyms seem to require that you buy/use shoes that are only meant for the gym. As in, you do not wear them outside. To me, this is pretty odd but it does mean that mud and whatnot aren’t all over the floors/machines.
Work-Out Clothes and Towels: All the gyms that I have seen in Korea offer/issue work-out clothes and towels whenever you step into the gym. This doesn’t mean it’s yours to keep; it means you can wear it for the duration of your work-out and then you just drop them into a hamper/basket before you leave. So I guess it goes without saying that there are washers and driers in the facility. One of the gyms I went to required an extra 10,000 won (about $10) per month if you wanted to wear their clothes. My current gym includes the clothes in their membership fees. Do people really wear these clothes? Yes. Some wear the outfit (t-shirt and shorts), while others choose just one of the pieces, and others bring their own clothes. Oh, there are two sizes: one for women and one for men. (Roughly a men’s Small and Medium)
Lockers: All the gyms seem to issue you a locker for no additional fee. These lockers are typically inside the changing rooms or just outside of them. My current gym has extra shoe lockers in the building’s stairwell leading to the gym. As for the lockers, they are not very big but the locks are provided. Also, they’re usually made out of wood.
Changing Rooms: Obviously they are gender separated. There is one large room for men and one large room for women. There is an open floor area (sometimes with benches) where everyone changes. There are no individual places to change. As I said, there are usually lockers here. Oh, and there are usually NO hot-tubs or saunas. There is also a notorious hair-dryer–notorious because of the older people that use it to blow dry…let’s just say ALL the hair on their body.
Showers: The showering area is attached to the changing room. Sometimes there’s a door barrier, sometimes it’s just an entry way. There are only public showers available with a few shower heads around the perimeter of the wall. Shower shoes are usually provided…if you dare.
Toilets: At the first gym I went to, there was a stall in the shower. I think the normal thing, though, is to have a separate unisex toilet room that anyone can access from the machines/weights.
Machines/Weights: The gyms are pretty standard…treadmills, ellipticals, stationary bikes, machines to target certain muscle groups, and some free weights (including a free-weight bench press).
Classes: Some gyms offer different classes and some don’t offer any. If they have classes, they’re usually publicized on the outside of the building: Yoga and Dance are the most common, but there are a few for different fighting styles (MMA, boxing, Muay Thai). The classes range anywhere from 75,000-150,000+won/month ($75-100+).
The People: What’s nice is people don’t try to chit-chat with you. They also don’t usually peer over your shoulder to see how far/fast you’ve been running. What really irks me though is the people on the treadmills. (Ellipticals and bikes are rarely used.) Almost all women and most most men get on the treadmill and walk…and not speed walking; they walk a very leisurely pace. In all the times I’ve been to the gym, maybe 1/4 of the time I’ve seen someone break a sweat (other than me of course). Ridiculous, right!? Also, almost no women venture to the weight-room portion of the gym.
Well that sums up my observations of the gyms in Korea. If I think of anything more to add, I’ll be sure to update. Also, feel free to comment if you’ve noticed anything different!