The Gyms, Boxes, Studios, and Classes Shaping Up Bangkok
We’ve come a long way since the reign of “California Wow.” These days going to the gym can mean myriad things. Are you doing CrossFit? A boot camp? Or are you into TRX, the suspended cables allowing workouts and movements eerily similar to the deltoid-busting acrobatics of Circque du Soleil? There are now more options than ever to burn belly fat and boost red blood cells. With health and wellness guiding lifestyle choices—and not everyone so keen to run lap after lap in Lumpini—it’s a good time to explore the ever-expanding options of gyms and fitness programmes in Bangkok.
High-intensity, dynamic workouts that stimulate mind and body are the current craze, CrossFit in particular. The beauty of CrossFit programmes is that beginners can work out alongside advanced athletes, since each session—typically incorporating a warm-up, skill development, and a high-intensity effort often called the WOD, or “workout of the day”—can be modified. There’s little room for intimidation when the playing field is determined by your personal limits. Besides, everyone lets out the same guttural grunts, the same hair-raising screams, when performing a clean and jerk.
Located beside the Chinese cemetery on Silom Soi 9, CrossFit Ten500 is as much about community as it is getting in a good workout. Small and intimate, with classes led by highly active and vocal trainers, all athletes in effect receive plenty of personal attention. That sense of community lingers long after the WOD. From family-style picnics to post-workout photo ops—in which everyone looks as shattered as moviegoers emerging from “Fifty Shades of Grey”—Ten500 verifies that misery truly loves company. Classes last an hour, and a few hours each day are allocated to open gym. For those still wary of the CrossFit credo, Ten500 offers free one-week passes. Get your feet wet. If it’s for you, the rates (B3500 for one month, B9000 for three) are reasonable, if not downright affordable.
Across the city, Ari CrossFit has gained a loyal and fun-loving clientele thanks to the gym’s equally loyal and fun-loving trainers. Many patrons are (or were) true beginners, getting into CrossFit as a more engaging alternative to running, swimming, or Muay Thai, and often having discovered the box from the Internet or by word-of-mouth. And then they’re hooked. Ari CrossFit’s social media is filled with testimonials. For example, one member named Franklin, who had never tried CrossFit but wanted to give it a shot as a way to trim weight, says he finds inspiration in watching (and no doubt hearing) other members “grind and improve” around him. Besides CrossFit classes, the box also offers “whole life challenges,” eight-week-long programmes helping individuals make healthier lifestyle choices, from getting better sleep to drinking more water and meditating each day.
Training Ground in Phra Khanong is perhaps most representative of the warehouse zeitgeist of Western gyms. Opened in 2014, the self-declared largest CrossFit and strength and conditioning gym in Asia features squat racks, chin-up bars, and medicine balls carefully placed on a spacious mat spread across the floor and a smattering of graffiti on tall white walls. Training Ground is home to East West CrossFit, a platform emphasising Olympic-style weightlifting and strength development. But that’s not all. Patrons can sign up for yoga, personal training, and boot camps. From functional strength to Olympic lifting, this massive, airy space has all fronts covered. Plus, they’re not afraid to let loose—Beervana hosted its third anniversary at Training Ground. Why not live a little?
Much like Ten500 and Ari CrossFit, East West provides fundamental training for newbie CrossFitters (i.e. learning how to lift weights and perform exercises with proper form). This, thankfully, is now a common practice the world over; in its early years, CrossFit gained notoriety for damaging injuries—and a nasty condition called rhabdo in which dead muscle tissue enters the bloodstream, sometimes causing kidney failure—from an all-too-common emphasis on repetition without concern for form.
Around the rapid rise of CrossFit, other alternative fitness and strength programmes have emerged. At the Aspire Club, the gym visible from the Asoke BTS station, while its CrossFit Bangkok remains a popular option, many regulars prefer the long-standing boot camps (quite likely the first true boot camps in Bangkok), or the targeted training for golfers. Aspire also boasts an altitude chamber for sports performance. That’s right—high altitude simulation in a city barely above sea level. Training at elevation has many benefits, above all for endurance athletes, as it vastly improves oxygen delivery to muscles. But altitude training, by boosting overall fitness, is also helpful for weekend warriors.
Kids aren’t forgotten about, either. Aspire offers developmental training for speed, agility, and fundamental skills for young athletes. The classes are designed by specialists, ensuring safety while adding an educational element to sessions for hopeful footballers, runners, swimmers, and more.
Moving away from free weights and high-intensity interval training, internationally acclaimed Physique 57 brings a barre- and ballet-inspired regimen to Bangkok. Popular in the US, but only just emerging in Asia, this kind of exercise utilises that ubiquitous ballet prop, the mirror-fronted barre, in a mix of cardio, stretching, and strength training intervals to help trim body fat and sculpt lean muscles. Apart from the barre, the programme uses little or no other props. Only bodyweight here.
With an entirely different perspective on exercise, Surfset takes the board from the waves to give you a good burn. Inside the studio, customers use a surfboard (not waxed) as an instrument of exercise (waterless, of course). Partly inspired by yoga and high-intensity interval training, the Surfset programmes are designed for strength and flexibility. They’re separated by Balance, Burn, Build, and Blend, each with a specific goal, from building core strength to improving flexibility and focus. If you’re the type that needs a dash of vitality in your workouts, Surfset is a fine choice.
Of course, these represent but a small sampling of the many gyms and programmes re-shaping the city. The rapidly rising popularity of alternative fitness has started to shift from the fringe to the mainstream, and the number of internationally-qualified Thai trainers increases by the day.
There’s pilates, yoga, TRX at New Moves, spinning just about everywhere, kettle bells, all kinds of non-stop action going on at The Lab—even Zumba and swing dancing—out there to try. But if you don’t know what you like, and you don’t want to shell out for a pocketful of one-week passes, fear not. The Guava Pass offers access to many dozens of classes, studios, and gyms citywide for only B2999 each month. So you can do yoga on Monday, CrossFit on Tuesday, and the Surfset specials on Wednesday without paying additional fees. To learn more about the deals, visit guavapass.com.