The Beginner’s Guide to Korean Fitness Culture and Trends


Fitness is a newer concept in Korea, but it’s catching on in surprising ways.

If you’re looking for challenging home exercise programs, this post is for you.

I’ll cover:

  • the history of fitness culture in Korea
  • popular Korean workout YouTube channels for Pilates, lifting and stretching
  • Korean workout clothing brands
Lingua Asia Korean Workout

Korean Workout Related Words/Neologisms

  • 헬스 (Helseu): “Health” in Korean pronunciation meaning working out at the gym
  • 헬스장 (Helseu Jang): “Health club” in Korean meaning gym
  • 헬린이 (Helrini): “Health + eorini (child)” that means a newbie at the gym
  • 헬창 (Helchang): A Korean version of a gym rat
  • 홈트 (Home Teu): An abbreviation of Home training that means home exercise
  • 근손실 (Geun Sohnshil): Muscle loss in Korean which Helchang (Korean gym rats) are most afraid of. They even say “don’t cry, you’ll lose muscle mass (울지마 근손실 나니까)”.
  • 득근 (Deuk Geun): Muscle gain in Korean. Helchang use the expression, “deukgeun deukgeun (득근득근)”, as an onomatopoeia of an excited heartbeat (dugeun dugeun 두근두근).
  • 3대 500 (Sahm Dae Oh Baek): Ability to max out at a combined 500 kg over 3 workouts (squat, bench press, dead lift). Koreans joke about how only those who can are worthy of wearing Under Armour.

***Disclaimer***

These workout channels are presented for informative purposes. Consult a physician before beginning an exercise regimen.

What are the most popular Korean workout YouTube channels?

Here are the 6 most popular fitness YouTube channels in South Korea!

1. Physical Gallery (피지컬갤러리)

  • @physicalgallery_official
  • 3.12M subscribers

The most popular workout YouTube channel in Korea for obvious reasons.

Mr. Egg (Kim Gye-ran) or Mr. Bald (Ppakppaki Ajeossi) with his white beard and sunglasses is the main character of this channel.

Despite his funny costume that looks like Master Roshi (or Kame-Sennin), he’s a former UDT (Korean special forces) with some crazy athletic ability.

Physical Gallery provides useful info on body correction, rehab (physiotherapy) and workout methods with a team of experts.

Now, it focuses more on entertainment videos with workout elements.

2. Gym Jong Kook (김종국)

  • @GYMJONGKOOK
  • 2.8M subscribers

Workout with a celebrity and his friends!

He may look like a gym rat, but Kim Jong-kook is a singer with a high-pitched tone, and a member of the super popular 90’s duo Turbo.

You probably know him from the variety show, Running Man.

He started a YouTube channel in 2021 to share info on working out and PT (personal training). Also, he works out with other celebrities and famous YouTubers.

His channel became a gathering place for helchang from all over the country.

3. Thankyou BUBU (땅끄부부)

  • @thankyoububu
  • 3.06M subscribers

Thankyou BUBU is a dieting and home fitness channel run by an ordinary married couple in their mid-30s.

The couple focuses on easy-to-follow workout routines for beginners in a comfy setting like their living room.

Their thumbnails look a bit too much like a diet pill commercial that says you’ll definitely lose weight, etc.

But, it’s worth checking out as a beginner who needs motivation!

4. Hip Euddeume (힙으뜸)

  • @euddeume
  • 1.36M subscribers

The most famous female workout YouTube channel.

Euddeume is a fitness model, Pilates instructor and YouTuber who used to be a bodybuilder.

She’s known for her uh.. squats.

5. FITVELY (핏블리)

  • @fitvely
  • 1.25M subscribers

FITVELY is a YouTuber who uploads workout routines for women and men. He literally became a star overnight with an interesting gimmick.

When he was planning to start a gym in 2020, he had to shut it down before even opening because of the strict social distancing policy.

Feeling desperate, he filmed a mukbang inside his gym, eating fried chicken and cheese balls.

He devoured them like someone who had naughty food for the first time after living off protein shakes for a year.

So, the video went viral and he was nicknamed the “fallen helchang“.

He now focuses on workouts that are probably too difficult for 99% of the population to follow.

6. SomiFit (소미핏)

  • @somifit
  • 968K subscribers

SomiFit covers everything, including home fitness, stretching, yoga, Pilates, and body shape correction.

Her most popular videos cover body posture correction like solving asymmetry, hip dip, and rounded shoulders.

I like how she explains muscle parts before getting into the workout or stretch.

I saw a lot of “testimony” comments saying her program gets tremendous results.

#오운완

오운완 is an Instagram hashtag short for 늘의 료, meaning today’s workout is finished.

Yes, the Korean MZ generation likes to brag that we worked out today, and we want you to KNOW IT!

Do Koreans work out a lot?

Most of my Korean friends and family members go through phases of intensive workout, followed by prolonged breaks. This cycle starts around the new year and picks up in summer.

I work out about 4 times a week now, but I didn’t have time to exercise in middle and high school as an average Korean kid studying for Suneung.

Like in most countries, Koreans don’t get educated on proper fitness techniques, so many turn to YouTube for answers.

According to the study, the prevalence of insufficient physical activity in Korea was 54.4% in adults and 94.1% in adolescents in 2020.

Korean Fitness History: National Gymnastics (국민체조)

National Gymnastics (국민체조) was enacted by the Korean government in 1977 during the military dictatorship period.

Every Korean citizen recognizes this song and the corresponding moves. (If not, they might be a spy!)

I remember doing these in school, especially elementary, during morning assemblies, field day and PE class. It’s super easy and fun. Even adults had to do this at work for a while, even though it was considered “voluntary”.

New Millennium Health Gymnastics (새천년건강체조) was made in 1999, since the original one felt too much like the **ahem** military.

But it didn’t really catch on.

What is the average BMI of Koreans?

The average BMI for Korean women is 22.6, and 24.9 for men according to a national survey in 2022.

The world ranking of South Korea is also pretty low at 183rd.

This has a lot to do with the Korean diet and active lifestyle of walking, hiking and taking public transportation.

Which workout clothes or outfits do Korean women wear?

Nike and Adidas

Lingua Asia Adidas Leggings

The classic workout clothes brands!

Korean women also shop at Nike or Adidas when starting to work out.

Adidas leggings (yoga pants) sold out when Son Na-eun from Apink wore them in their choreography practice video.

She became an Adidas brand ambassador soon after.

Xexymix

Lingua Asia Xexymix Leggings

Xexymix has a lot of cute designs and pretty pastel colors at an affordable price.

My yoga instructor friend introduced me to this brand.

Xexymix focuses on smoothing out the Y-zone (a nice way of saying “humped desert mammal” toe) and hiding muffin tops.

A little tip for shopping at Xexymix is that their small size really means small! It’s TINY!

Andar

I’ve personally never tried Andar, but my Korean friends say it’s comfortable.

They also sell winter leggings with a fleece lining.

If you’re looking for a comfy pair of yoga pants, Andar is the brand for you.

Lululemon

Lingua Asia Lululemon Store

Koreans call Lululemon, the “Chanel of yoga outfits“.

After trying some pieces on, I was handing over my credit card without even realizing it.

Lululemon is the MOST COMFORTABLE workout outfit I’ve ever used.

A brief history of fitness and exercise culture in South Korea

Modern exercise culture in Korea developed a bit later than it did in the states and other western countries.

Koreans never needed to work out just for the sake of exercise, because most were farmers for the last thousand years.

The Korean diet of mainly rice, Kimchi, and vegetables made sure that only a select few could gain weight.

Industrialization along with refined sugar and processed food started changing things in the last few decades. A modernized economy where office jobs became the norm made it necessary for people to start a fitness routine.

In 1977, Park Chung-hee instituted the “National Gymnastics” that every Korean grew up doing in elementary school and at companies to increase loyalty and heart rates (more on this later).

Following in the footsteps of Jane Fonda, Richard Simmons, and Suzanne Somers, a model named Lee So-ra made “Super Diet” videotapes for the first time in Korea in 1998.

She sold a million copies and started a fitness craze that got many women into exercising.

Koreans have gone all in with fitness in recent years and YouTube is a popular platform that’s leading the charge.

COVID-19 and shorter working hours have kicked things up a notch and people have become more health conscious.

Lingua-Asia_Line_Lotus

How much do Pilates classes cost in Seoul?

Prices vary depending on promotion, frequency, group/private, duration, etc.

Private sessions cost $40 to 65 (50,000 to 80,000 won) per hour.

For example, 10 private lessons will cost around $488 (600,000 won) on average.

Semi-private lessons under 4 people cost $28 (35,000 won), and group classes will cost around $20 (25,000 won).

Are Korean Pilates classes good?

It really DEPENDS on the instructor.

Korean Pilates instructors will not only teach you, but also control your diet (optional).

All of my Korean friends tried Pilates at least once, and a few continue taking classes. They say it’s worth it.

Korean Pilates seem to skew towards achieving a slim body with a strong core.

Pilates classes in Seoul are a great way to stay in shape and meet locals!

How to stay in shape in Korea?

It should be easier to lose weight and keep it off in Korea, especially if you live in Seoul. You’ll be busy and walking more than you’re probably used to.

Be sure to take advantage of the many free public gyms in parks and green spaces.

If that’s not enough, you can always join an MMA or boxing gym.

Did we miss anything?

I hope this was a fun and informative POV on Korean workouts.

Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below!

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