This Russian-language public service announcement reads "The Choice is in Front of You" (The Choice is Yours).

Fitness and Health in the Russian Language

Published: March 27, 2023

This bilingual resource hopes to build students’ vocabulary skills as well as provide them with a window into concepts of health and fitness as viewed from Russian-speaking societies.

Hover over the bold Russian to reveal its English translation.

The Language of Gyms in Russian

The тренажерный зал in Russia can also be called, colloquially, “качалка.” “Качалка” is derived from the Russian verb “качать”.  However, “качать” can also mean “to pump” or “to exercise” – as in “качать мускулы. Gyms are becoming more and more popular among Russians. Moscow has plenty of gyms at different prices, but other big cities, such as Yekaterinburg, still lack gyms с приемлемыми ценами as the market is still developing.

As a visiting foreigner, if you decide to записаться в тренажерный зал, it would be wise to ask, “Есть абонементы на месяц/на одно занятие?“. Some gyms only have годовой абонемент, and thus might be “overkill” for someone looking for a one-semester commitment.

Some gyms have a large минимальная оплата (for example, of 32,000 rubles – or about $1,000 for six months) but don’t charge monthly fees. The minimum charge then might cover access to some facilities like бассейн с детской зоной, турецкая баня, финская сауна, зал боевых искусств, студия йоги и пилатеса, and зал групповых программ.

Smaller gyms, especially those located in спальный район, are often more affordable. These might offer месячный абонемент for about 3000 rubles. However, they are less likely to have бассейн or сауна, and additional services are more limited, although, for example, finding a персональная тренировка and сплит-тренировка is generally possible at such facilities at extra cost (often about $20-30 per session).

A newcomer should ask, “У вас есть скидки/Вы предлагаете скидки?“. Many gyms do not have any, and if скидки предоставляются, they are quite small. Some discounts that do occur include: студенческая/школьная; городская; пенсионная; семейная; some gyms might even offer поздравительная which might be good for одно посещение on your birthday. Some gyms offer discounts for attending в дневное время – when most people are in offices rather than at the gym. In Russia, скидки в дневное время are more widely practiced in swimming pools than in gyms.

A newcomer may ask gym employees, “За какие групповые занятия нужно платить отдельно?“, since some group workout sessions are платные групповые занятия, не входящие в стоимость абонемента. Such extra sessions can include эстрадные танцы, бокс, йога,  кардио классы, and групповые аква-программы.

Человек, который записывается в тренажерный зал, might want to ask about personal trainers. “Сколько стоит занятие с тренером?” or «Какие есть тренера и какой у них опыт работы и специализация?». Some trainers are quite qualified, they can be КМС – кандидат в мастера спорта or призеры соревнований, and have большой профессиональный спортивный стаж.

Another good question to ask is: “Какие часы работы спортзала?“. Most gyms operate from early morning till evening, and close at night.

There are two types of fitness equipment: кардиотренажеры, such as беговые дорожки, велотренажеры, эллиптические тренажеры or орбитрек, степперы, and гребные тренажеры; and силовые тренажеры, such as гантели литые and разборные гантели. When поднимать тяжести, kilograms are used, so a Westerner should be able to convert the weight from kilos to pounds by multiplying the kilos by 2.2.

Sport was highly valued in the USSR and many Russians take sport and physical fitness very seriously. Many of the old training halls are very Spartan, but still in use and some are now some of Russia’s most affordable work out facilities. However, the market is growing and maturing now and new, commercial facilities are constantly opening to serve a range of needs and price markets.


Gaining and Losing Weight in Russian

Many words referring to being overweight have positive lexical connotations in Russian. Before the revolution, only the well-to-do could afford enough food to grow plump, and thus it was a sign of success. Throughout Soviet times, the ideal woman was usually presented as a stout working woman. To this day, being heavy remains much less stigmatized in Russian culture than in Western culture. That said, this, like all culturally-sensitive topics, is not one to discuss in reference to someone within earshot unless you know the person very well and are confident you will not offend them with any words you choose.

Study Abroad in Russia!

The word “полнеть” is roughly equivalent of “to fill out” in English, but can be used in Russian to describe even someone who is becoming overweight. The verb’s adjective form: полный is usually defined as “containing in itself as much as it can or should hold”. and is often used to politely describe “full-bodied” people or those с избыточным весом.

The verb “поправиться” also has distinctively positive connotations. In addition to meaning “to gain weight”, it also means “to be cured”, “to have improved health”. Interestingly, it is also not uncommonly used to mean “to take the hair of the dog,” meaning to cure the hangover by taking another drink.

Even the adjective жирный, which is rude to use when referring to people, can carry positive connotations. Ushakov’s Explanatory Dictionary defines it as “saturated with useful substances, juicy,” and gives the example “жирная земля”.

Frequently, gaining weight or even being overweight is associated in Russian literature as a sign of being successful and living “the good life.” For example, Ivan Goncharov writes in his An Ordinary Story of Aleksandr, a young man who is living life to the fullest, “Она не могла нарадоваться, глядя, как Александр полнел”.

Even in harsher instances, the references are often forgiving. For example, in Fathers and Sons, Turgenev writes: “Управляющий вдруг обленился и даже начал толстеть, как толстеет всякий русский человек, попавший на ‘вольные хлеба”.

The noun “толстяк” is generally rude, but innocuous enough that there is a chain of “plus-sized” clothing stores in Russia called “Три Толстяка” (which is also a reference to a well-known tale in Russian). One would not expect such a store to do as much business if its name were derived from the even ruder жиртрест or жирняк.

It is also interesting to note that a respected Russian last name, one associated with nobility and great authors is “Толстой”, derived from the word “толстый” meaning “fat/overweight”. There is even the last name “Жириновский”, which one of Russia’s best-known politicians, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, adopted for himself, replacing his original, Jewish last name of Эйдельштейн with something more ethnically Russian. Even his supporters sometimes refer to him with the nickname “Жирик” – a diminutive that would also mean “fatty.” It’s even the title of his Russian Wikipedia entry.

In contrast, the last name “Худых”, derived from the word “худой” is very rare. Худяков is more common, and is associated with some famous figures (including at least one famous artist and a modern director of music videos), yet undoubtedly pales in fame if compared with Толстой.

The words related to недостаточный вес are more frequently given negative connotation.

In literature, “худоба” is often associated with “нездоровье”. In Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy writes: “как ни страшен был брат Николай своей худобой и болезненностью прежде, теперь он еще похудел, еще изнемог”.

“Tощий” is word that means “thin” but also “empty.” To illustrate uses of its verb form, Dal’s Explanatory Dictionary gives as its first two graphic examples: “Не болезнь истощила его, а кровопускания” and “он истощил труды и состояние безуспешно”.

Another related verb is “тошнить” which means “to purge” or “to vomit” – the result of which, of course, is being “тощий”.

The word “худой” can also mean “bad” or “cheap.” For example, the saying “худой товар с рук долой”, means roughly “cheap goods should be dropped immediately” (i.e. not purchased). Another (better known) example is “лучше худой мир чем добрая война”.

“Polite” names to refer someone who is thin are also more uncommon in Russian if compared with polite names for someone who is heavy. One example is the relatively innocuous “худенький” which would refer to someone not unappealingly thin. There is also the adjective “стройный” which would refer to someone with a thin, yet still athletic build and is associated with the secondary definitions of “well composed” and “harmonious.”

A ruder version would be to call the person a “скелет”.

Attitudes toward weight are changing in Russia, with more and more people going to fitness centers on a regular basis, and following the latest diet fads. Today many young girls would like their boyfriend to be накачанный and хорошо сложенный, and guys prefer to have a стройная девушка. Meanwhile, a large percentage of Russians have a positive attitude towards moderate amounts of excess weight in themselves or other people. As they say, “хороших людей должно быть много” – which is play on words in Russian and roughly means “You can never have too many good people” and “you can never have enough of a good person.”


A Trip to the Gym in Russian

The following bilingual Russian MiniLesson is meant to build your vocabulary by providing an annotated, simplified Russian text for intermediate students of Russian. Hover over the bold Russian to reveal its English translation.

Я хочу быть сильным и иметь хорошую фигуру. А чтобы быть в хорошей форме, нужно регулярно тренироваться. Поэтому я хожу в тренажерный зал, 2-3 раза в неделю, и “качаюсь”– то есть даю нагрузку мышцам. «Тренажерный зал» на сленге называют «качалка» (the word also means “rocking chair”).

Я купил абонемент на 3 месяца занятий.

Когда я прихожу в «качалку», вначале переодеваюсь в раздевалке в спортивную форму. В спортзале есть весы, можно взвеситься. Я взвешиваюсь каждый раз, чтобы определить, какой эффект дают тренировки.

Потом иду в зал и делаю разминку, чтобы разогреть мышцы. Летом могу пробежать несколько кругов по стадиону, который находится рядом. Также могу побегать на беговой дорожке, походить на степпере, или размяться на велотренажере. Затем я делаю вращения руками, наклоны и другие разминочные упражнения.

Потом приступаю к основной части тренировки. В разные дни я делаю упражнения для разных групп мышц – рук (бицепсов, трицепсов), плечевого пояса (дельтовидные мышцы), груди, спины (широчайшие мышцы), ног и брюшного пресса. Это такие упражнения, как жим штанги лежа широким и узким хватом, разведение рук с гантелями в стороны, сгибание рук с гантелями, тяга штанги и многие другие. Если вес штанги слишком велик, когда я делаю жим лежа, я прошу кого-нибудь «подстраховать» меня.

Есть разные упражнения – на силу, на массу и на рельеф. Когда я хочу увеличить мышечную массу, я делаю упражнения по 4-6 подходов, по 8-10 повторений в каждом, в среднем и медленном темпе. Каждый подход выполняется «до отказа» – пока мышцы станут неспособны сделать хотя бы еще один повтор.

В упражнениях для улучшения рельефа мышц количество повторений – 15-20 и более, в быстром темпе.

Я надеюсь стать таким же, как мои кумиры – известные российские атлеты Александр Невский и российские чемпионы мира Сергей Цикунов, Алексей Себастьянов, Александр Балдин, Дмитрий Золин.

Думаю, что в будущем, когда кто-либо увидит мою фигуру на пляже, он скажет про меня: “Смотри, какой качок.

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SRAS specializes in study, research, and travel abroad to Russia and Eurasia. SRAS also maintains this site and provides free info for students studying Russia and Eurasia. Explore our resources to find out more!

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