For the first time in my life I actually committed myself to one of my New Year’s Resolutions. This year I joined a gym near my work. Pure narcissism drove me to joining. A more toned body, less weight and higher fitness levels were the desired objectives and had been put off for too long.
I found that this Korean gym was very much like the gyms back home and in some ways better. Just for starters, there is a range of bikes, a selection of work-out clothes, clean towels, extensive weight lifting equipment, a sauna room and powerful showers. Each of the treadmills is equipped with a TV offering over 70 channels. Admittedly, 95% of these channels are in Korean but the thought is there
The biggest difference between here and back home is the clientele. I had assumed that my motives for using the gym would be similar to that of the other members. But I was grossly mistaken. Whilst there are a quite a few who make full use of the gym and all of its facilities, these regulars are outnumbered by those members who appear to lack any motivation whatsoever when using the equipment.
From a westerner’s point of view, Koreans have no body shape. In general, the women’s breasts are much less developed and the same applies to the buttocks. Obviously, the males are even more lacking in these physical protuberances and share with the females a common national mentality that freakishly skinny is more attractive.
From this you are quite right to think that most Koreans do not need to lose weight – rather that they should put it on. Be that as it may, many are still overly ambitious to achieve those extreme ‘paper thin’ sizes.
But what is the best way to do this? As most of us know: to lose weight you simply ensure that your daily amount of calorific intake is less than your body needs. Once this happy state is accomplished your body will burn excess fat to produce energy.
One clear way to speed up the process of burning off excess fat is to exercise. However, this solution is rarely seen at the gym which I attend. Within this supposed temple to fitness I have witnessed a couple of young women in their early twenties who have not quite grasped the basic principles of losing weight. For instance, they start their workout on the treadmill set at the lowest possible setting. As they move their legs they throw their arms up and down to maximise the slow motion crawl.
This almost hypnotic choreograph of limbs continues for about ten minutes. That is to say, until about the same calorific value of a small banana has been burned off. Then after this herculean effort there is a rewarding visit to the water cooler before moving to the weights machines. Once there they perform a repetition of two undemanding exercises.
Pausing from this unaccustomed physical effort, they switch to an activity that comes more naturally and is less energy consuming. That is to say, they go on to their mobile phone to indulge in some finger exercise. Most likely this will be to text their friends with a fulsome report about the hard workout they have endured. Finally, after another water break with attendant calls to friends, the decision is made to call a halt to all this exhausting action.
From what I’ve observed, this strain-free attitude to fitness mainly applies to the younger set. Surprisingly, it is the elders who offer a somewhat more aggressive approach to fitness by upping the pace on a treadmill to a brisk walk accompanied by a vigorous flailing of the arms.
As in virtually any gym throughout the world, at the end of a workout it is customary for people to shower. The gym I attend has a medium-sized shower room which can comfortably accommodate up to nine people and showering is carried out just as showering is anywhere. But it’s on leaving the shower room that the similarities end.
Many male Koreans – probably females, too – prefer to air dry. Almost immediately after stepping from a shower, towels are quickly superfluous to needs. Now is the time for a good five to ten minutes of naked preening in front of the large communal mirror. Then having finished his initial grooming, the Korean male dresses whilst taking frequent glances at his reflection in the mirror. During this drawn-out performance his expression, hair and physique have not changed but simply reconfirmed the adoration of himself.
In my experience, there are quite a few notable differences between a Korean gym and a gym in the UK. One of these is the lack of motivation amongst most members and another is the unabashed love the average individual has for his own body. It’s all harmless enough and easy enough to ignore when you keep in mind all of the modern facilities, cleanliness and service that the modern Korean gym has on offer. And don’t forget that ever-popular large communal mirror.
© John Brownlie 2010