Exercise Culture in Hangzhou, China

Written by Alexandra Hansen, (Kenyon College) Student Correspondent Middlebury School in China: Hangzhou, Spring 2016

As a varsity volleyball player at my university in the US, I spend a lot of time working out. Outside of class you can usually find me at my school’s athletic  center, either at practice, talking to athletic trainers or lifting. As such, I like to think that I am very familiar with American workout culture. Now being a few weeks into my gym membership, I can reflect on my experience so far. Overall, I’m really enjoying myself, not just because the facility is good, but also because it’s a great place to people watch and understand a little more about Chinese culture (there are so many cultural differences).

My first and most obvious observation is there are far more men than woman at the gym. As of right now (from what I can tell) I am the only girl using the weight equipment (aka dumbbells, pull up machine, squat bar, etc). After talking to my new gym buddy, a male Chinese roommate here, he said that it is very rare to see girls lift in China. He noted that of course some do, but the main culture is that it’s a more of a man’s activity. After hearing this, a lot of the past week’s happening’s made more sense.

During my first day at the gym, I was one of two women in the gym working out (and was the only ‘foreigner’ in the gym). Just within my twenty minutes of being there and using a lot of the weights and lifting equipment, I had three people come up and try to talk to me, ask if I spoke Chinese, ask as to what I was doing in Hangzhou, and even note on how “vigorously” I was working out. In fact, I’ve also been subject to pictures. Just a few days ago, I had a man (not so subtly) take a picture of me using the squat bar.

I’ve also noticed that people (men and women included) tend not to lift their max amount of weight, or run as hard as they can on the treadmill. Comparatively, Hangzhou residents seem to take a more relaxing approach to working out compared to the US. I mostly see people lift very light amounts of weight, and walk *very slowly* on the treadmills. Granted, this could just be specific to the gym I belong to, but it’s something I’ve definitely picked up on.

In all, I am excited to see what other differences I find! Hopefully I’ll join a spin class too, the one I watched yesterday looked really fun.