Cambodia is still reeling physically and emotionally from the devastation of the brutal Khmer Rouge years, and it shows in every aspect of life here. People here are basically still in survival mode, and planning and modernization lag far behind that of neighboring nations. This is evident in terms of physical training and workout facilities.
Many gyms in Cambodia are extremely primitive, utilizing equipment which might have been sold for home gym use in a Sears store in the 1950s. Aerobic equipment in gyms is often non-existent or equally primitive. Olympic bars are mostly a western pipedream. Many gyms are essentially open air edifices, a roof with open side walls, with no form of cooling present to protect against the fierce Cambodian sun. In the dry season, clouds of dust blow in unabated. Workouts are most tolerable in the early morning before the broiling sun has fully risen.
Weightlifting in Cambodia is almost exclusively a male avocation, while women who work out commonly do aerobic dance workouts. Many, if not most of the men who lift weights are untrained or poorly trained, and poor lifting form is rife. The training of legs or back is rarely seen, and “squatting” is not only a foreign word, but a foreign concept. Some gyms do not even have a squat rack. Another foreign concept here is that of racking one’s weights after using a station, something which irritates this westerner no end.
A contrast to the primitive gyms is found in many of the larger towns and cities, where at night, private aerobics instructors set up with boom boxes and speakers and conduct classes in a park for a fee of 25 cents a head. The classes draw widespread participation from both men and women, and from all age groups. A common form of music here is recordings of popular western music done by a Cambodian singer or group that sounds something like the original artist.
The main exceptions to this pattern are found in the capital city of Phnom Penh, where gyms often more closely resemble a luxury gentleman’s club, and the focus is more on business networking than on serious training. In a country where many families live on $200 a month or less, memberships in these elite bastions can easily run $100 a month or more. There is also a large park which runs along the riverfront with a wide variety of fitness stations, and in the evenings, when work is finished and the sun has gone down, literally hundreds of families can be found here utilizing this equipment. There are often waiting lines for the more popular pieces of equipment.
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