South Korea bans fast-paced music in gyms and limits treadmill speeds to a walk as COVID-19 cases soar

man on treadmill in South Korean gym
People exercise at a gym in Seoul on July 13, 2021, as South Korea announced implementation of level 4 social distancing measures amid concerns of a fourth wave of the coronavirus pandemic.

  • South Korea is seeing a spike in coronavirus cases.
  • Health officials have asked gym-goers to slow down in attempt to curb the spread.
  • Some experts are skeptical that capping music and treadmill speeds will be effective.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

South Korea is tightening coronavirus prevention measures as the country sees record-breaking daily case rates. Although Seoul is not yet going into full lockdown, residents are not allowed to go to nightclubs or large social gatherings for at least two weeks.

They’re also not permitted to work out hard and fast at the gym. Under the new regulations, treadmills are capped at 3.7 miles per hour, and music played over the gym speakers cannot exceed 120 beats per minute.

For reference, that’s about the tempo of “Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepsen, or the BTS hit “Boy With Luv.” Both songs would set the pace for a brisk walk or a really slow jog.

Dua Lipa’s “Levitating” also passes the test at 109 BPM, as does “MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)” by Lil Nas X, which clocks in around 89 BPM.

But anything more strenuous than a power walk has been deemed a transmission risk. (That means gym-goers will not be able to angry run to “good 4 u” by Olivia Rodrigo or bench press to the beat of Kanye West’s “Power.”)

Under the new rules, exercisers are also required to wear masks, even if fully vaccinated, and workout class sizes are limited. While those policies could help curb the spread of COVID-19, experts are skeptical that slowing down the music will have the intended effect.

Some infectious disease experts are baffled by the new rule

The goal of the new gym restrictions is to prevent heavy breathing and sweating on other gym-goers, according to health officials.

“When you run faster, you spit out more respiratory droplets, so that’s why we are trying to restrict heavy cardio exercises,” Son Young-rae, spokesperson for the Ministry of Health and Welfare, said in a radio interview Monday.

But some scientists and lawmakers aren’t buying it.

Dr. Kim Woo-joo, an infectious disease specialist at Korea University Guro Hospital in Seoul, told the New York Times the gym policies were “absurd” and “ineffective.”

“So you don’t get COVID-19 if you walk slower than 6 km per hour?” said Kim Yong-tae, a member of the main opposition People Power Party, according to Reuters. “And who on earth checks the BPM of the songs when you work out? I don’t understand what COVID-19 has to do with my choice of music.”

Other experts pointed out that slowing down the music won’t necessarily discourage people from working out at a high intensity. And other prevention measures, like ensuring good ventilation and spacing out gym-goers, have already been proven effective.

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