Health and Fitness Guide: South Korea PT 1
Finally! You have made it to South Korea! You are in your apartment, hostel, hotel or guesthouse in Seoul/ Dague or Busan, waking up after travelling on buses, taxis, trains and planes the day before. You are well rested and well fed after last nights mega meal of the foreigner favorite Jimmdalk ( Stir fried Chicken , vegetables and glass noodles in spicy sweet soy sauce). But, your bones are a bit stiff and your muscles are a bit soft from the countless hours of sitting in butt numbing public transport seats. So if you are like me, one thought will come to mind:
” Time to get active!”
But how? How do you get in your daily dose of exercise induced endorphin in this foreign land of deep fried chicken and cheap liquor? and most importantly how do you do it while experiencing the authentic Korean culture and still having as much fun as possible? Well for all you budding fitness fiends out there, here is a basic overview that will give you an idea on how to stay fit in South Korea.
Physical Training SOUTH KOREA 101:
Run, Waegook, Run!
Lets begin with the easiest way to stay fit anywhere in the world, RUNNING! That means lacing up those running shoes, plugging in your headphones and hitting the streets to earn some sweat. Running is a great form of exercise for travelers because all it requires is sturdy legs, self-motivation and a will to run, that is it, no fancy equipment or preparation classes necessary. Plus its the best way to discover a new area! Explore South Korea’s bustling streets and city parks filled with ridiculous art structures, glitzy water features and quirky tourist attractions. You might even come across a derelict old Hanok or two ( Traditional style Korean Houses) in one of South Korea’s airily safe alley ways. Then, if you get tired of the brigade of building blocks, run to the river! Most major cities are split by large rivers with well paved running tracks along side them. The river paths are brimming with a conglomerate of colorful flora intentionally designed to appease the eyes. It is a great way to get outdoors and feel the vibe of the country. and for those of you wanting to step up your running game there plenty of half-marathons, full-Marathons and even ultra-marathons offered through out the year in various regions of South Korea.
(Click here to check out South Korea’s Marathon calendar).
Pedal, pedal and pedal some more
In addition to running paths, South Korea has a network of sprawling cycle paths that start in the busy cities and branch out through the calm countrysides . In fact, South Korea is so well connected by bicycle paths that, if you have the inclination, you can literally cycle from the top of the country to the bottom following the 4 rivers cycle routes. All the cycle routes differ in difficulty, ranging from casual park pedaling to thigh thrashing mountain ascending! So there is something for everyone. And getting a little or BIG bicycle to call your very own is as easy as following the cycle paths themselves. You can either hire one at the starting point of some of the more popular cycle routes, or just buy one at a bicycle store in the same area. A secondhand bicycle goes for the same price as a return Train or Bus ticket from Seoul to Busan. So why not take the route less traveled and save the world from excess air pollution at the same time. Grab a bike, saddle up, and whether its ruff rugged mountain biking or high speed wheel spinning road cycling, South Korea will cater to all your pedal pumping desires.
( Click here for South Korea’s scenic cycle routes information).
Pull ups and Press ups among the Pines
Okay, okay enough cardio, its time to build some Ajima-tossing , soju smashing strength, but ,unfortunately, shoulder pressing old ladies and their shopping carts is frowned upon in Korean society. Luckily, the South Korean have accounted for this misfortune by building a gazillion outdoor gyms in random locations all over the country with open access to all athletes and couch potatoes alike, and seriously there are outdoor gyms everywhere! Next to cycle paths, nestled in schools and parks, tucked between apartment blocks, in the middle of four way road intersections, set in sandy shores of the beach, with the best of them hidden deep in the hiking trails of the charming mountains. These “Health Clubs” will sprout up upon you when you least expect it, and they are not to be overlooked. Ranging in size and apparatus, they can be equipped with everything from stationary spinning bicycles, air walkers, bench presses, free weights, squat racks, pull up and dip bars, to 80’s style hip twist machines, abstract art like stretching devices and somethings that looks like a child’s jungle gym accessory. At first glance some of these gyms may be quite humorous, but with some imagination they can become a calisthenic haven, and the more serious mountain gyms will definitely have all the weights and machines you wish to have your way with.
” But it’s hot outside and the bugs…”
Yes, alright don’t get your fluffy headband in a knot. If you prefer the more conventional style of gyms, with treadmills, soft floors, yoga studios,state of the art weight machines and air conditioning, South Korea has those too. Most, if not all, cities have your run of the mill gyms, usually located in one or two of the Lego block buildings around town. Average in size, but decent in price, they can be identified by their abs and arms advertising posters and billboards ( a poster boasting a Korean or Western looking body builder flexing like their life depends on it). These gyms are easy enough to find and provide all the basics you need for your daily sweat. But I put it to you, why spend your well earned cash on something you can get for free and that is so much more… well, fun! Trade in the comforts of a regular gym and race up your nearest mountain to train like martial arts master monk. Where the cool mountain wind is your AC, the rustling of the leaves harmonizes with the chorus of the local fauna conducting a naturalistic motivational music orchestra, and the old Ajushi ( Elderly Korean man) / ex-Taekwondo champion or the retired bodybuilder are your personal trainers. These mountain gyms create one of the best workout environments I have ever experienced and transform your training into something spiritual as well as physical.
Even the more tame local outdoor park gyms improve your training experience by giving you a sense of being part of the local community. Everyone is always friendly, interested and willing to offer advice, or even just give praise if you pull off an impressive feat of strength. But, at the same time, they will leave you alone if you just want to plug in your earphones and lose yourself in your training.
SO GET PHYSICAL!
That’s right, enough sitting in front of your computer! You have been given the most basic, simple and easy to do methods of staying fit and training in South Korea. Yes, There are still a ton more adventurous training activities on offer, but they deserve an entire article for themselves so we will venture into those in my future blogs. In the mean time, I challenge you! Splash your face, munch a banana, jump out that door and see how fast you can cycle to your nearest mountain, run up the hiking trail to the highest “Health Club” you can find, pump out a crossfit super-set on the pull up bars and bench press and run back down, cheered on by the applause of the wild pine trees.