A Research Paper On Body Builders Subculture In Contemporary South Korea

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The gym was near the Annam station where my friend and his team regularly train. As I walked in to the gym, I encountered a group of people who were working out hard and their entire body were super big, not looked like regular people. The gym covered with huge dumbbells and other sort of training stuffs, focused more attention on fitting room and I saw some builders were having protein to be powerful. I recognized that the gym was extremely enormous comparing to others, it could approximately manage about 50 body-builders at the same time. However, even though the gym was full of people, I faced few foreigners and my friend was among them too. It is known as we live in South Korea, probably we could be less than them in every single place, but it is really great feeling when see foreign people among them and their attitude is also quite kind to foreigners. Other than that, as I watched them from side of gym, they all have extraordinary will to gain something through doing this gym work. My friend imitates prominent Jeff Seid all the time, he has been training since his young age. He has big muscles as similar with other famous body-builders.

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As it is known, the global massive expansion of body building has been globalized since 1970s in the fitness industry. The International Health, Racquet and Sport Club Association (IHRSA), has been estimated the global movement of fitness club industry by $75.7 billion in revenue in 2012, afterwards the number of clubs were increased by 153,000 and reached 131.7 million members. As a matter of fact, in Great Britain the number of fitness clubs enhanced during last couple of decades, in the beginning of 2000, 14 percent of population joint a gym and among them there were a lot of people professional body-builders. In the United states it was not that much popular but late 20th century people became interested and they created some sort of competitions such as Arnold Schwarzenegger organized an international competition. In Uzbekistan, it is also well-known, we have a champion Mikhail Volinkin who recently won Arnold Classic body-building price so I can say that it is developed in my country too. I actually recognized the enhance of body building, as my friend has been in this life for almost four years now. I had a question why people are interested in this sport and I tried to find out the answer for this. Basically, in Korea people does not have spare time as other non-developed countries but there are enough convenient sides. However, as I started to take part in this sort of subculture, I found out that how this subculture is populated by foreigners as well as Koreans. Other than that, I yearned for learning more, and comparing the Korean body builders with foreigners. With the main focus on why there is a difference between them, how they differ from each other. The sort of difficulties which could emerge whilst foreign people attempt to start this sport. In this paper I will examine body-builders lifestyle in the literature part, and the differences the lifestyle. Therefore, I will stop by the methods used to observe and learn about bodybuilding in Seoul, afterwards by the results from my observation, and how they really connect to my examined question.

Bodybuilding Lifestyle

Bodybuilding lifestyle is one of the hardest things, it is a form of activity where special attention is paid to subcultural aspects and gender issues as they relate to a hyper-muscular male body. Moreover, this subcultural perspective allows analysis of cultural capital dimension, how body perception is evaluated and how the subculture members alter their “aesthetic disposition”. The lifestyle is mostly based on diet which helps them shaped excellent all of time. It is taken into consideration as a masculine eating practice by most of the gender literature while the research on body images of men are becoming a rather interesting topic. Although most people eager to reach fitness goals, certain variables such as diet, training, and recuperation, it should be regularly managed day in and day out. Smoking is one of the worst things that stay as an obstacle in fitness success so that avoiding from these bad habits are main point of doing the activity. Hence, there are several beneficial healthy lifestyles through bodybuilding, it is endless itself that many key ways for success, not only in bettering one’s own health, but putting one’s whole life way of living, are readily provided, when one faces and joins to bodybuilding life.

Bodybuilding in South Korea and its Popularity

Korean Bodybuilding and Fitness Federation (KBBF), one of the oldest federations among others, there are lots of athletes who attend in the international competitions regularly. As it can be clearly seen that it has a specific role in Korean society because it has a long history. Basically, South Korea is not that much popular by this growing trend of gym and fitness as other countries. Therefore, the gym and fitness take time so that Koreans are adopting to work out at home, it is actually rising as a trend among busy modern consumers. If they train at home, then the demand for exercise equipment increases gradually. It is not hard to realize that people in Korea are more productive in every field by doing some sort of activities at home especially fitness, it is fabulous. One thing can take your attention which is Koreans put etiquette in fitness centers, there are some rules which are basically universal, though not everyone abides by them regardless of the country you are in. for instance, putting weights back, not slamming your 40 lb. dumbbell down like you are famous bodybuilder using 100s. If you’re familiar with doing a collection and so walking or shaking it off between sets, you higher make sure at the door. In Korea, folks use a machine, ALONE, and don’t share. If you think that you’re going to nonchalantly walk around between sets, re-examine. you’ll lose your station. And once I say break down, sensible luck obtaining it back or perhaps operating in. whether or not you are doing speak the language. Anyway, you can easily learn to adapt and how it doesn’t even part you to sit down on a leg extension machine while not moving to end all your sets as legs cramp up and feet go numb. Throughout my research I used two different methods: Observation and Interview. Observation so I was able to get an impression about how the subculture works, its participants, and how they interact one another. As well as getting an impression on how the subculture’s public spaces look like. However, interviews were so useful to find out selected bodybuilder individuals, and their own opinion regarding certain aspects of the subculture.


I started the research with observing the subculture without facing with the participants. I went to two different gyms located in different areas throughout Yongsan-gu, as well as one boxing place near my house. I could say, Yongsan is more populated with foreigners rather than other places, so I had more opportunities to observe in that area because of foreigners that is why I chose to obtain more information and find out answer for my questions. At each location, I checked the interior look and how they garneted, so observing the surrounding. Afterwards, what kind of impression did the place gave me, how is it populated with, who were the main people, who were the customers, was that place easy to find as a non-member of subculture and more. I would write this down in a notebook or at my laptop, so I could remember my impression later on.

The interview was started based on a couple of prepared questions regarding participants’ background to get the basic information and how they became interested in it. Their age, occupation, purpose of training, reason of doing it and so on. Other than that, the interview followed the direction that the interviewee took it. Since my purpose was obtaining their opinion regarding specific topics, I decided to add these kinds of question throughout the interview and as I expected that Koreans and foreigners’ answers were different for sure; “is there any difficulties while you are training in Korea?” or “How do you manage your time equally with your job study in Korea?” and sort of questions. Thus, the interview was very helpful to get to know about the purpose and usage of their time, and I noticed that they were all happy and satisfied with my questions. Because of my friend I was able to do interview with all participants otherwise It could not be done.


I actually checked out four different types of gyms in Yongsan, as well as boxing place. There were lots of foreign attendants rather than Koreans in Yongsan because it is known that populated with foreigners. Moreover, the price of gyms was dissimilar by measuring their comfortableness and interior designs, but almost the same price you can be a member. However, I faced and checked by starting from gym located in Itaewon, I just watched their activities and people who were with big muscles but I could not encounter with them because my purpose only just checking around, so then I left with full of expression and knowledge about that side of bodybuilding. One thing was more interesting during my adventure through Yongsan, they all have taking some sort of protein and drugs to be more muscular as soon as they can. In terms of Itaewon gym, it was full of bodybuilders and of course not all of them were professional, but it is what they regularly do after school or work.

After I left Itaewon, I went to boxing training hall and saw different types of environment, people and subculture. I interact with big muscular sportsmen which were similar with bodybuilding gym and asked manager with curiosity how they are big as long as they are doing boxing, and I got an answer: they all are not boxers rather some bodybuilders also attend consistently in order to reach their goal. A day after, I had a meeting with my friend Nurik who I mentioned above several times. He took me his gym, introduced with his team and friends. They all were so kind and bigger than ordinary people which was extremely odd feeling at first. They spend more than four hours there without stopping and keep a diet in their own discipline. Hence, they did not do the ordinary work out, it was something different and interesting at the same time. More than that, my friend did show me inside of the gym, introduced the stuffs how to use and more significant one was rules which was instituted by coach. The environment was fully international and local spirit oriented, half of them were foreign bodybuilders. Meanwhile, I was witness of their will and hard work, pursued future success as well as healthy lifestyle through daily trains. They all pay 120,000 won in every three-month included bath and massage machine. It is a great opportunity and good condition for people who are willing to attend. After my visit, I had also a special keen awaken to start this sport as my regular hobby with my friend.


From the six conducted interviews various information was gathered e.g. about the interviewees’ bodybuilders, their general story choosing the vegan lifestyle, and most significantly their participation in the South Korean Bodybuilding subculture. At first, all six interviewees shared throughout the interviews their lifestyle regarding doing training with Koreans, and in general having to adapt to social situations centered in terms of gym activities in Korean gyms. Interviewee 1 expressed how he got used to his sport to enjoy his social life around Koreans. As most of his friends and own interest leaded him to this life and he utters his body shape how beautifully. There is a time for both study and training as gyms work twenty-four hours are available here for foreign students. Therefore, he thinks it has a balance between Korean bodybuilding life and home country life so in both places have certain difficulties and advantages. But he more likes Korean lifestyle because he feels that more globalized and cozier around international environment. He also says it is not hard to work out or do whatever with Korean people they all are so kind and heedful to foreigners.

Interviewee 2 was my friend; he has been doing this sport since his young age. He says that there is a different lifestyle which he needs and in Korea, it is the place where he should do this sport even, he studies. As I know him closely that he attempts really hard, copes his time equally and does everything punctually. As he said sports like bodybuilding makes him motivated and brave, so he is really proud of doing this sport with full satisfaction especially in Korea.

As I took next interview, the participant is a manager of company in Gangnam. He shared his own lifestyle and opinions about spare time activities; working and living with Korean environment is much more harder and pricing than his home country but it is more convenient and high quality in Seoul. That is how he expressed his life and satisfaction in here, so doing both at the same time makes him more individual and motivated. Basically, he enjoys spending time and working out around Korean people, more than that he does not like the rule which is made in fitness; there are basically universal, though not everyone abides by them regardless of the country you are in. Another thing could emerge is that he should use dumbbell one time each and stay in the line to use. He said he cannot use or work with Korean people at the same time because of typical Koreans.

Interviewee 4 is also student in Korea, and his opinions are almost same with others. He is sure about having fun and enjoyment but also there are some drawbacks which could appear while living in this life. Moreover, there are several gyms around him, but they all are not available 24/7 so he has a difficulty with distance gyms. He comes from Yongsan to train because he is available after 5pm. But there are good sides that he can see his friends and 24/7 serves system in this gym. I also asked into why or why not he moves to Annam to be closer, but he wants to be closer to his school rather than gym.

Korean bodybuilder had different opinion and lifestyle. She has been doing this for several years and now she is a professional bodybuilder and coaching in that gym too. She is into this life and became part of her life. She is very positive about foreigners around her, she is very happy to help out them by giving useful advises. Since Korea is becoming populated with foreigners for several years, she has enough experience with them and worked lots of times. She also makes a different kind of atmosphere in her team that is why she is attracted by foreigners, her attitude against foreigners is more similar like foreigners.

The last interviewee was also very helpful for me to conduct my research clearer. He is not professional sportsman, but he is doing it just for work out and especially with foreigners is more awesome. Other than that, he is a Korean, so it is easier for him to adopt Korean life. During the interview, I asked about the way he works out; he said that he usually goes to gym three times in a week which is pretty common for regular person. He also has some protein, helps him to gain weight easily so after all I compared with foreigners and they all do in same way, but their lifestyle is much different one another. Hence, I eventually got the answer; gym and bodybuilders life in Seoul is harder and tiresome for foreigners rather Koreans are in this life since they were born so adoption is needed for them and needed to be ready for expensive life in Seoul.


Based on the observation and interviews, it can be concluded that the bodybuilding subculture in general are populated by foreign participants. As observed, bodybuilding and gym industry is becoming prominent in Korea by foreigners. Throughout interviews, I obtained enough answers and opinions based on their life and also, I compared foreigners and Koreans lifestyle by bodybuilding. More than that, I also compared gyms in different areas and their qualities also how they are populated with foreigners and their relationship with each other. Basically, subculture is emerged inside of the small groups like bodybuilding or boxing, it does not require nationality or race. South Korea tend to be a place where all nations gather and do some sort of activities. In some gyms, it is really hard to find foreigners, especially a bit far away from school or city. If bodybuilding keeps spreading throughout Seoul and become more popularized and less marginalized, maybe in the future, it will be populated by foreigners. Thus, Korea is already developed country so that it has enough high quality with gyms and others. I am happy that I have conducted and collected the result which was really helpful for future life for foreigners.

Reference List

  1. http://lnu.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:742709/FULLTEXT01.pdf http: //lnu.diva-portal.org/smash/g
  2. https://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/fitchett3.htm
  3. http://koreajoongangdaily.joins.com/news/article/article.aspx?aid=3063698
  4. http://www.koreaherald.com/view.php?ud=20180410000861
  5. http://www.reddragondiaries.com/2014/02/weight-training-curious-case-korean-gyms.html
  6. http://www.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:1222866/FULLTEXT01.pdf
14 May 2021

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