Can Bangkok’s Fitness Craze Makes Gains Across Class Divides?

Celebrity actress Khemanit "Pancake" Jamikorn, middle, poses for a promotional image of Adidas exercise kit in Bangkok on June 13, 2017.

BANGKOK — Bangkok will host the 11th Asia Fitness Conference (AFC) in October amid a burgeoning fitness craze. But is fitness in Bangkok the preserve of the middle class and wealthy?

The conference from Oct. 10-14 will feature 200 different fitness classes, as well as what AFC organizer Suzanne Hosley bills as the “biggest Saturday night party of any fitness event in the world.”

The conference comes amid a blossoming fitness craze in Bangkok, with Hosley estimating that there are around 780 fitness studios in Bangkok alone. The AFC organizer has also noted the emergence of protein-rich food stalls at some more upscale BTS stations and the proliferation of 24-hour fitness centers.

An opening ceremony of the 11th Asia Fitness Conference

Hosley insists that AFC is for anyone into fitness, not just the well off – though a three-day pass will cost between 14,250-17,450 baht, or roughly the monthly earnings of a recent university graduate. The conference will be held at a park, rather than a posh gym.

“Exercise doesn’t have to happen in a gym. Lumpini [Park] is full, with a lot of younger people,” said Hosley.

Still, there are some signs that the fitness craze is trickling down in Thailand. Calling itself a “Thai-price gym,” for example, Chob Gym Fitness in Pattaya offers a day pass at 50 baht and charges only 3,600 baht in annual membership fees – many times less than those found in Bangkok’s upscale fitness centers.

The Bangkok-based Hosley says AFC is Asia’s biggest fitness conference, with last year’s gathering drawing attendees from 35 countries. This year the organizer expects over 4,000 visitors.

Future Forward Party leader Thanathorn Juangrungruangkit goes out for a run at Lumphini Park in Bangkok on Oct. 27, 2018.

The conference will introduce new workouts such as the PowerWave Games, which relies on a new training device, and new fitness instruments at reduced prices. Participants can also seek a tailor-made fitness regime according to DNA tests. Five types of certificates will be awarded to those who successfully complete fitness courses during the conference.

Those needing advice about fitness-related injuries can seek it at the event from Bumrungrad International Hospital’s Vitallife Wellness Center. The conference will also host a dance competition with all types of dance accepted – except one.

“No strippers,” said Suphatchaya Lattisophonkul, a dance school manager and a judge for the AFC 2019 dance competition.

A breakdown of participants at past AFCs shows that 53 per cent were personal trainers, 11 per cent fitness facility owners or managers, and seven per cent general fitness enthusiasts.

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