Fitness Clubs Jogging Upscale

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Fitness Clubs Jogging Upscale

In a country where a home away from home is the office, fitness clubs cum drinking establishments cum leisure centers are gaining ground as the next -generation retreat. The Marquis Thermal Spa and Fitness Club is banking on what is known as the "third-place principle" to put it on the top of the fitness industry.

The third-place principle "recognizes that one's club, along with the home and office, is one of the cornerstones of life," according to Peter Berry, leisure director of Marquis at the JW Marriott Hotel in Seoul.

It's a place to entertain colleagues, relax with families and spend time in a social and sporting atmosphere, he said. Mr. Berry was previously with the American Club in Singapore.

Today's fitness centers are much more than just gyms with exercise equipment. The centers embrace all aspects of leisure, from fitness to socializing. They woo clients by offering a variety of expertise and facilities. People head to a leisure center to map out an exercise regime with a trainer, to train for a sporting event with a friend, to consult sports medicine specialists, to wine and dine business partners, to play snooker and even to sing karaoke.

The posh Marquis includes a spa, medical facilities and even a lounge with dart boards and a karaoke club.

"We're catering to the local clientele," Mr. Berry says, smiling. The fitness center opened in July.

One result of designing a fitness center as a "third place" is an increase in cross-training options. The Marquis, which covers 45,717 square meters on three floors, takes cross-training beyond mixing aerobic classes with weightlifting. A members-only club, Marquis offers wall climbing facilities, a scuba pool, under-water aerobics equipment, more than 200 exercise machines and a 86-meter circular indoor jogging track overlooking the pool atrium.

"Cross-training is an exciting way of keeping in shape," says Mr. Berry, 48. While there were no climbers to be seen during the interview, he said people do brave the winter temperatures to climb the 12-meter wall, which is partly outdoors. The Marquis also offers certificate-level training for scuba divers.

For people interested in more mainstream exercises, Marquis offers a variety of aerobic classes, indoor golf, squash and swimming.

The club also combines fitness with medicine and beauty. B & I Clinic takes a holistic view of fitness and offers a trained staff of physicians.

The spa opened Sept. 5. Joey Kang, a therapist, describes the European-style spa as a "paradise retreat within a city." Later this month, the spa will introduce O-LYS Light, a fiber optics-based skin treatment. Currently, aromatherapy is one of the most popular treatments, especially calming scents. "Our clients want to relax. After all, we are a city-based spa," Ms. Kang said.

Espopia, a sports center at Apgujeong-dong, is another fitness center that aims to make sports a lifestyle. Open until 2 a.m., Espopia, covering 11,550 square meters, offers outdoor and indoor basketball, outdoor in-line roller skating, outdoor roller hockey and a cafe. Clients range from children to adults.

Facilities at California Fitness Center may not be as diverse as those at Marquis or Espopia, but the center recognizes the importance of community, whether participating live with other gym members or joining them online ( The link is in English; a Korean-speaking online community has not yet been set up.

"Our clubs are designed to reflect the future of fitness with the creation of a spacious, extremely clean and well-managed environment," the Web site says.

California Fitness Center, which opened in July, is reputed to offer training that is even tougher than at Crunch gyms in the United States. Located in Myeongdong, the fitness club is part of a 24-hour fitness network of more than 431 centers worldwide. California Fitness Center offers group exercise classes, cardiovascular and strength-training equipment and personal trainers.

Older and more established, Seoul Club's mission statement includes fostering "friendship." The Seoul Club, which opened in 1904, provides family, business, social and recreational facilities. There is even a children's area with a playhouse and a computer room. The club offers Sunday brunch in the Kumkangsan Dining Room, full course meals at the Atrium restaurant, private rooms for business or social needs, and a library.

The club sponsors holiday parties, fun runs and children's summer camps. Club members recently celebrated New Year's Eve with a show by Rainbow Circus.

Fitness equipment is also moving with the times. The latest treadmills often include a personal television with a headset or a CD player with a headset. Those hesitant to leave their home for fear of missing their favorite sitcom can cocoon at a fitness club. This fitness equipment makes it possible to watch television while exercising.

Carrying the idea one step further, the concept behind Inchon International Airport, dubbed "The Winged City," is that it should be "a community, a metropolis of sorts, to serve not only Korea but the entire region of north-east Asia," according to vice-president and chief operating officer Kim Hyo-joon. The Winged City will have shops, restaurants, hotels and business and recreation facilities.

The airport is scheduled to open this month.

by Joe Yong-hee

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