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[Herald Interview] Aussie lawyer spreading passion for CrossFit

‘Sense of community is secret behind CrossFit craze in Korea’

Jan. 14, 2015 - 19:29 By Korea Herald
Even if you are not an exercise buff and don’t keep abreast of the latest fitness trends, you’ve probably heard of CrossFit.

Combining good old movements such as push-ups, squats and lunges with Olympic lifting, rowing and a lot of jumping and running, the super-intensive, full-body workout has taken the global fitness world by storm, creating a lot of buzz in the past few years.

Korea, too, has caught on to this craze, with some celebrities pinpointing the notoriously grueling workout regimen as the secret behind their perfect body. 

Lachlan Winner, cofounder and co-owner of Reebok CrossFit Sentinel. (Chung Hee-cho/The Korea Herald)

But this may be only the beginning. CrossFit has the potential of growing into something more than just a fitness fad and bringing about a cultural change in a country where people sit for hours at a desk without a healthy way of relieving their stress, said Lachlan Winner, who introduced CrossFit to Korea in 2012. 

The country’s first affiliated CrossFit “box (gym)” in Seoul’s Hannam-dong was the product of the Australian laywer’s passionate love for the high-intensity workout, which he shared with two other friends.

“It wasn’t set out to be a commercial venture. We just really wanted to bring like-minded people together,” said the cofounder and co-owner of Reebok CrossFit Sentinel in an interview.

What started as a “haven” for Winner and his friends is now a major franchise. It operates in five locations, including the world’s largest CrossFit box in Yeouido. The total membership exceeds 2,000.

Sentinel’s rapid growth draws interest even from the U.S., CrossFit’s home turf, he said.

“Korean people really enjoy working out together. It was the little piece of magic that nobody knew,” Winner said.

“They enjoy sharing hardship. They enjoy feeling that sense of comradery afterwards ― ‘We did this together,’” he explained.

The community spirit is a lesser known, but critically important aspect that sets CrossFit apart from other workout regimens.

A typical CrossFit session involves a group of 10-20 individuals executing a series of exercises known as WODs, “workout of the day,” under the direction of one or two coaches. Participants push and cheer for each other to fulfill the day’s goal.

On top of this togetherness, CrossFit gyms foster a new kind of relationship amongst its members, Winner said.

“If you’re ‘daeri’ (a low-rank employee) or CEO, you work out together, you high-five together and feel like you’re just one team. The sense of hierarchy becomes flat and people become friends.”

Other than CrossFit classes, Sentinel offers Bootcamp, which Winner described as a “less intimidating but still very effective workout” and “acts as a stepping stone to CrossFit.”

Bootcamp, too, shares with CrossFit the same magical communal element for Koreans, he added.

For Winner, who first came to Korea in 2004, Sentinel isn’t just a commercial business. “It has the opportunity to change the Korean culture ― the way people work out and enjoy their lifestyle.”

He believes that the fitness market will evolve, as more Koreans seek a better work-life balance and a way of staying fit despite a static office life.

“Sitting behind the desk, working for 12 or 14 hours in the office every day ― it’s really bad for your back, hip, neck and shoulders. People have to have balance,” he said.

By Lee Sun-young (