Joining a Gym in China
Ten or fifteen years ago it might have been a bit difficult to join a gym in China. There just weren’t that many. But in recent years they have taken off in a big way, with new gyms opening and closing every month. In fact, you need to be careful about that because it’s quite common for a gym to open up and close down within a few months. And when they do that you don’t get a refund on your year membership.
This happened to me just after Christmas; I’d paid for a year, used the gym for three months and then overnight they suddenly moved out all the equipment. Luckily the gym was a chain so I just went to the next nearest branch and used that. It was still very annoying because the next nearest branch was an hour away. My friend was even less lucky when his gym just ran off with his money, so if you’re joining a gym in China I suggest looking for gym that is a chain, has already been open a couple of years, or has lots of members and seems to be doing good business.
a notice informing me of the gym closure
Another thing you need to watch out for when joining a gym is that the cost is almost always negotiable. So if you walk in and ask how much it costs to join you will rarely, if ever, be given a straight answer. They will usually call a sales person over, who will waste a hell of a lot of time before finally giving you an inflated price and trying to sell sessions with a personal trainer.
If, like me, you already know what you’re doing in the gym and just want to sign up to use the free weights then I strongly suggest you simply walk in, ignore everyone because they will just waste your time, and check whether or not they have a squat rack. It sounds like a joke, but I signed up for a very nice new gym in Shanghai and only later found out there was no squat rack. There was also no refund.
I have since been to multiple gyms that have swimming pools and saunas but no squat racks. Basically, don’t assume they will have a certain piece of equipment just because it’s standard in your country. Check they have the equipment you want and then ask the price.
I had to replace squat sessions with deadlift sessions
Gyms in China normally charge per year, but if you’re only sticking around for a few months they will usually be willing to make an exception as long as it means they get money out of you. As I mentioned, the price is almost always negotiable, but if they seem really desperate to sign you up then it could be an indication that their business isn’t doing too well, which brings us back to the risk of them suddenly closing down with no refund.
Once you’ve signed up to the gym you might one day turn up for a session and find someone else is already using that much coveted squat rack. What do you do? When I was working out at a gym in Hangzhou I once had a guy walk up to me in between my sets of squats, point at the squat rack and say yī qǐ, kě yǐ ma? 一起，可以吗？ Which is literally “together, can?” or “together, okay?”.
I’ve since used this phrase in multiple Chinese cities and each time it works perfectly. The other person always understands it to mean “can we take it in turn to do sets on this piece of equipment I’m pointing at?” Don’t try to complicate things by describing things like “I do one set you do one set” in Chinese. Just point at the equipment they’re using and say yī qǐ, kě yǐ ma?
In China people often fail to put things like dumbbells away after using them. It’s therefore common so see a guy standing next to a dumbbell or a pile of weight plates and you don’t know if he is still using them. In this situation, you can just point at the piece of equipment in question and say nǐ yào yòng ma? 你要用吗？which means “you want use?”
I sometimes want to use the bench press but there will be someone sat on the bench playing with their phone, so I just point at the barbell and say nǐ hǎo, nǐ yào yòng ma? (hello, you want use?) after which they will normally vacate the bench and let me use it. Of course, if it turns out they are still using it then you can always follow up with yī qǐ, kě yǐ ma? And then the two of you can alternate on sets.
If you find yourself alone on the bench press and lifting some heavy weights you might like to ask someone to spot for you. In Chinese they use the verb bǎo hù 保护 which means “protect”. I normally say nǐ hǎo, kě yǐ bǎo hù wǒ ma? 你好，可以保护我吗？(hello, can protect me?) whist pointing at the bench press. This works perfectly every time for me.
Of course, it might also be nice to tell your spotter how many sets and reps you plan to do. The measure word for sets is zǔ 组 and for reps it is gè 个. If you plan to eight reps you can just say wǒ yào zuò bā gè 我要做八个 (I will do eight reps) before you start the set. If you want to do three sets of eight you can say wǒ yào zuò sān zǔ 我要做三组 (I will do three sets) and then follow it up with měi zǔ bā gè 每组八个 (every set eight reps).
I hope this post is of interest / use to other gym goers in China. Comments are open below and I would be happy to hear about your experience of Chinese gyms and any gym related vocabulary/phrases you find useful.