A workout you could sleep throughFor women on a diet (and there are plenty of them), here’s a dream scenario for fitness: Forget about pain. Swear off sweat. And feel the burn while relaxing to the sounds of New Age recording artists on labels like Wyndam Hill.
Normally, I wouldn’t pick Wyndam Hill for a workout. Too boring. I like to listen to something a more upbeat when I hit the gym, something like Prodigy.
So it’s with some trepidation that I pack my sneakers, shorts, singlet, sports bra and socks into my bag and head to Health and Slim, an “auto fitness center” near the Apgujeong subway station in southern Seoul. The center, which opened just two months ago, promotes skin and body care. For body care, there are dozens of machines to do the working out for you. Each machine is devoted to different body parts, like the arms, abdomen, chest or inner thighs.
Is this for real? It’s almost like paying somebody else to do crunches for you.
There are two other Health and Slim centers in Korea ― in Busan and Bundang, Gyeonggi province ― with three more set to open in Seoul and one each in Ulsan and the Haeundae area of Busan. Apparently auto fitness has its devotees.
On the fourth floor of a building that also houses a beauty school, a glass door slides open to reveal a luxurious reception area. A large chandelier hangs from the ceiling and sofas line the wall.
The manager, a svelte woman named Kim Young-ju, signs me up and gives me a pair of pants, a T-shirt, slippers, a small towel and a locker key. Most clients, she says pay 2 million won ($1,675) for a one-year membership; there’s also a six-month option for 1.2 million won.
I leave my gear in the dressing room and, in my soft new outfit, walk into the main fitness room. Ms. Kim, a former aerobics instructor, asks if I’m interested in developing strength or toning muscles. I opt for muscle toning. She scribbles on a chart and hands it to the attendant.
The first piece of equipment I try is the ab toner. “Push back with your shoulders and tighten your abdomen when you’re going back up,” Ms. Kim tells me. “Inhale when you’re going down and exhale when you’re coming back up.”
She pushes the start button, and puts the machine on the “slow” setting. Every machine is set for six minutes of exercise. One of the benefits of using these machines, according to Ms. Kim, is that you don’t have to think. Just push the buttons and adjust the setting. As simple as these pseudo sit-ups may be, after six minutes of pushing with my shoulders and tightening my abs, I feel the burn.
Next I try out the gluteus maximus toner. All I have to do is sit, keep my knees together and my legs steady. The problem is that the seat moves. “You should start to feel a burn along your inner thighs as well as your butt,” Ms. Kim says. She deftly lifts her right leg, gestures and says, “Each machine is designed for a specific body part. This one creates more shapely legs.”
Which brings me to an aside. Normally, when I’m working out at my gym, my friends and I eyeball the female trainers and instructors. The more fit one looks, the more likely we are to take her class or get in on her training session. Ms. Kim looks very fit.
I move on to the thigh toner, where again, I have to push and pull with the machine. This is taking more concentration than I expected. About a dozen other young women are working out, too. After choosing a machine, most of them close their eyes for the six minutes that it’s putting them through their paces. I also close my eyes and think about the proper movements and breathing.
And then I hear someone call my name. I look up to see a family friend smiling at me. “I hate working out,” she announces. “This seemed like a good alternative to going to a gym, and so far I’ve been getting the best sleep of my life.”
She’s not the only one. Just around the corner, another client has fallen asleep on one of the machines. I point her out to the attendant, who says, “Some of the machines are good for stretching and massaging muscles.” Another client is embroidering while a machine works out her legs. I start feeling pretty girly, but then there’s that slow burn in my muscles.
The entire circuit takes two hours, but the time flies.
Later, I call Joe Jung, a trainer at a local fitness center, to ask him what he thinks about auto fitness. “It’s like going to a session with a chiropractor or getting a sports massage,” he says. “There, someone else does most of the work for you. When lifting weights or while doing sports, we expend and burn our own energy. There’s no way you can fall asleep while playing squash or swimming.
“Don’t expect big changes,” he adds, “but there are results, like relaxation, stretching and some toning.”
When I finally go home and hit the hay, sleep comes quickly ― just like after a good workout.
by Joe Yong-hee