In Iran, Traditional And Commercial Fitness Cultures Clash

The old mixing with the new.

One of the most developments in in bodybuilding has been it’s exportation into foreign cultures. Of course, exercise practices exist everywhere, but the advent of internet fitness culture and the spread of commercial gyms have had fascinating effects on traditional forms of exercise.


According to a recent article in Borneo Bulletin, gyms in Iran now fall into one of two distinctive breeds.

One example is the new Sport Plus Gym in Tehran. It sports European house music, a juice bar, neon lighting, and aspiring Instagram fitness models.

Ten minutes away, “zurkhaneh,” meaning “house of strength” – features traditional percussive music and religious chanting. Exercise is performed in an octagonal pit with equally traditional equipment, most of which is modeled on medieval weapons: huge clubs and metal frames meant to imitate large bows and shields.

Athletes manipulate these objects, do various calisthenics, and wrestling. As one might imagine, the physiques yielded from this type of training differ greatly from those created at the Sport Plus.


Zurkhaneh exercise dates back to Persia’s pre-Islamic martial societies, and there are still around 1,000 zurkhanehs in Iran. They survive thanks to small donations from members.

Ali Masoumi, 38, said “In old times, those doing this sport had a special kind of honesty, a gentlemanly behaviour. I’m not saying it’s not there now, but it’s faded.”

His grandfather was the local “pahlevan” (a wrestling champion), which carried a crucial social status.


Sadegh Ghasemi, 33, has won numerous local bodybuilding shows, and steps between worlds. He says the main attraction of commercial gyms is money.

“You can make money… offering training and diet programmes or selling supplements.”

According to him, the zurkhaneh events, represent a different level of physical virtue.

Laughing, he added “It’s too difficult for me. If I tried to lift those meels 200 times like they do, my shoulders would hurt.”

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