One of the things I love to do when I’m in a foreign country is work out, whether it’s in a normal fitness center or participating in a workout at a CrossFit affiliate. In either case, I find working out a great way to step away from the major tourist attractions and interact with the locals. Don’t get me wrong, I still love visiting attractions, but it’s a nice change from the long lines and crowds.
So if you’re on the same page with me, step away from the tourist sites and hit a work out. You’ll feel energetic, refreshed, and good about yourself for not falling completely off the horse from your normal workout routine. Plus, you get another level of local culture.
One thing I’ve noticed, worldwide, is that CrossFit affiliates welcome out-of-town visitors. The only time I couldn’t be accommodated was when I wanted to attend an affiliate in Singapore, because they were hosting certifications. For anyone thinking about dropping in on a CrossFit affiliate, it always helpful to contact the affiliate before your intended visit. If there are no CrossFit affiliates, there is usually a group of like-minded athletes meeting up to do CrossFit-type workouts. It can be a challenge to find these groups, but the CrossFit discussion forum can help in this aspect.
But before you head off to the nearest fitness center or CrossFit affiliate in whatever country you happen to be in, you should consider some of the “gym culture” you might be accustomed to stateside. I’ve been extremely fortunate to travel abroad and experience the gym cultures in other countries. I’ve also been lucky enough to connect with like-minded travelers who I’ve asked to share their own observations. As such, I’ve learned there are some outright differences that appear in the gym culture abroad. They are as follows:
A glaring difference I’ve noticed, as has my friend Joanna Gail, who’s documenting her epic global CrossFit tour, is the predominately male attendees at CrossFit affiliates abroad. This might not be a surprising fact because even in the U.S. this incongruity may hold true at some CrossFit affiliates, but I feel the gender gap is more consistent abroad.
Despite this, female travelers wishing to work out shouldn’t be discouraged or intimidated by the ratio. It hasn’t stopped the solo traveling Joanna. One great thing she observed about the CrossFit culture, “is the environment of universal acceptance. As a foreign CrossFit-goer, I’ve experienced incredibly warm welcomes at every box I’ve visited.” Joanna also noted that “most were completely committed to bringing CrossFit to their fellow female family members and friends,” which grows and diversifies the community, so it’s win-win situation for everyone.
For anyone who has traveled abroad, you’ve encountered some language barriers. Although most coaches at a CrossFit affiliate abroad are bilingual, in their native language and English, they tend to speak the local tongue in explaining the warm-ups and the workout.
Don’t let language discourage you. Once you see the WOD written on the whiteboard, you’ll be in familiar territory as to what you’re going up against. A fellow traveler, Jamie K. summed it best when he told me, “I only speak English, but love how that doesn’t matter in CrossFit. A deadlift is a deadlift and a squat is a squat no matter where you go, so it’s easy to follow along.” I agree one hundred percent with her statement. There have been times where I’ve stood there and just stared with a blank face while the coach was explaining everything in a language foreign to me, but as soon as the coach went through the movements, the language barrier didn’t matter. It all made sense.
If you’re still uncomfortable, you’ll usually find one or two athletes who speak English. My advice is to stick close with them and if any questions arise, you can ask your new friend to fill you on as to what’s going on.
If you’re in a fitness center most of the universal machines are similar to those found in the U.S. The major glaring difference is the metric units versus the English units. Most of the world uses the metric system, but I was surprised to see some weights listed in pounds versus kilos on my visits to CrossFit affiliates and fitness centers. In either case, it’s always helpful to remember the conversion: 1kg equals 2.2 lbs.
Dining customs differ from one culture to another. What we may think of a pair of chopsticks standing vertically in a bowl as harmless is, in fact, a sign of bad manners to the Asian culture. Like these dining customs, there are some customs that carry over to the gym and if a visitor is not familiar, they can very easily violate them. One risky area in particular is the locker room.
Have you ever noticed nearly all Asians remove their shoes before they enter their homes? This is done because the house is considered a clean area and they don’t want to make it dirty. This custom carries over to the locker rooms or changing rooms in the gym. Most of the gyms in Asia I’ve attended, required taking off your shoes before entering the locker room, because the locker room is like a house and considered a clean area.
The biggest tip off to this custom is if you see a pile of shoes before a boundary or if you see a stockpile of slippers. It’s usually a good indication to remove your shoes before entering. If you’re unsure, just ask.
In the Western world, workout clothing leaves nothing to the imagination. It tends to be revealing and form-fitting, showing off every curve of the female body. What may seem like appropriate workout attire at home might not be abroad.
A particular experience stands out from when I visited CrossFit Gangnam in Seoul Korea. At this affiliate each member changes into a uniform consisting of a grey T-shirt and navy blue shorts. Imagine a CrossFit affiliate in the States imposing a uniform! Additionally, imagine the reaction if a (foreign) female entered this affiliate wearing skin-baring attire amongst the uniform drab of other (mostly male) athletes. It’s difficult to avoid this faux pas, but researching cultural norms and bringing several different apparel options is probably the safest bet.
For all those traveling workout buffs tired of the tourist attractions, or if you want to meet some locals, try hitting up a gym. You never know what you may experience. I can certainly say that as a result of my gym visits I’ve been invited to join in on some social gatherings afterwards and it made my journeys much more memorable. Happy travels!