There are many ways to stay fit while in Bishkek! Below are suggestions for gyms and training clubs within the city that students on SRAS programs in Bishkek have found and would like to recommended.
This resource is part of the much larger SRAS Guide to Living in Bishkek.
On Fitness, Yoga, Jogging, Dance, and More in Bishkek
Gyms: There are several gyms offering aerobics, weight training, and swimming. The closest facilities to the London School is Fitness House (monthly subscriptions for $30) and Flex KG which is located in Vefa center. Karven Club offers generous discounts to International Student Card holders. Lovely Mama, a chain of women-only fitness clubs, offers yoga classes for $5 each, less with a subscription. They also offer kickboxing and other interesting fitness classes. Also close to the London School is Yoga Dom Atmi, which is popular with those who routinely practice yoga and are looking for classes with a range of yoga types and degrees of difficulty.
Clubs, Team Sports, and Socializing: There is a jujitsu training facility also not far from London school. You can take dance classes quite inexpensively in salsa and zumba. You can occasionally find pick up basketball and soccer games on the Expat Facebook page. Rumor has it that the students at the American University in Bishkek have some intramural type teams that anyone can join. Runners can join the Kyrgyz running club on the Strava app.
Sport Club Reviews for Bishkek
Geological Street, 17
(It’s the first alley on Baatik Baatura after you pass Vefa walking from the School)
When I first arrived in Bishkek I decided that I’d like to continue my martial arts training. I had done a few different forms before, but I had always been interested in Jiu-Jitsu. Luckily, I found a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Dojo not far from the London School. I contacted the coach and asked him if I could start training even though I’m not fluent in Russian and had little jiu-jitsu practice previously. He said “of course!” He told me where I could buy my uniform, and told me to come to practice the following day. I’ve been training at Top Team three days a week for three months now, and it is an incredible experience. The main trainers speak a little English, although in general I converse with them and the rest of the dojo in either Russian or Kyrgyz. Everyone is very friendly, helpful, and supportive. It’s a great way to practice Russian, but also to train in martial arts while making great friends. Some of my closest friends in Bishkek are from this Dojo now and my Jiu-Jitsu ability has improved immensely this semester. It costs roughly $12 a month to train and lift after practice. I will definitely continue training next semester and I recommend the dojo to anyone who studies in Bishkek.
67/1 Baatik Baatura Street
Although I have many hobbies, my favorite pastime for the last seven years has been lifting, especially powerlifting. When I came to Bishkek, I was honestly worried that it would be difficult to find a decent gym, or at least a decent gym near my dorm. Luckily, I found Fitness House – an incredibly nice, modern, and comfortable gym only two blocks from the London School. The gym is fully stocked with modern equipment, free weights, and cardio machines (although I never use those). There is also an upstairs where classes like yoga are taught. For roughly $30 you can buy 12 gym visits to use over a one-month period. You can also pay extra for a personal trainer. Everyone in the gym is friendly and speaks Russian, but honestly gyms aren’t great places to socialize so don’t expect to make many friends. I’ve gotten to know a few guys who train all the time, but we haven’t ever gotten closer than just talking about lifting in Russian. In general, if you want to stay in shape, Fitness House is perfect since it has good equipment, a clean locker room with showers, and a sauna, all for a fairly good price.
Thanks to a couple of local friends, I had the opportunity to check out an extreme sports place called On the Wake, which I don’t think I would have ended up finding otherwise. I was told by my friends that this was an indoor trampoline park, which was true, but there was also a lot more to it – with rock climbing and gym equipment also available.
The place is not easy to find and going with a local person made it easier. Their address is 1/31 Ankara Street, located in the northeast corner of the city. However, to find it, you must first turn left onto Vinogradnaya Street and then off a small side street to your right shortly after turning left onto Vinogradnaya. There, you will find On the Wake on your left-hand side.
Upon first glance, it did remind me of a Kyrgyz version of America’s Sky Zone indoor trampoline parks, which usually attract multitudes of little kids with moms waiting passively as their children jump. There were a few little kids there, but I wondered if a parent or relative also worked there because these kids were all so good at gymnastically jumping that it seemed like they frequented the place.
The entrance fee was 800 soms per person, or approximately 12 USD, which is a bit steep for most locals. Thus, this is not likely to be an entertainment that many take often. My one friend, Luiza, who I was there with is considerably younger than me, about 15 years old, and some other friends of hers, who are around my age, were there. The older girls weren’t as fond of jumping. They seemed to find it exhausting, so I proceeded to jump with my younger friend. Since I have not invested in a gym membership during my time here, I used this as an opportunity to fit in a mini workout in, which was made even easier by the other equipment offered in this center.
I noticed that rock-climbing was available, but I wasn’t sure if this included an additional cost and didn’t see anyone else doing it, I didn’t pursue doing it. At the end, however, when I took their business card, the card boasts that they are the largest rock-climbing site in Kyrgyzstan.
In addition to rock climbing walls, the trampolines fed into a foam cube pit, which brought me back to the days of childhood gymnastics. There were also high-rise blocks lining the walls, in addition to a runway that you could jump from and into the cube pit.
On the other side of the trampoline and rock-climbing segment, there was a ping pong table and a mini gym. I played ping pong with my friend for a while. At a slow point, I decided to start utilizing the dumbbells and sit-up equipment available there. There was also a balance board, which resembles a very small surf board that you needed to balance with a rolling, hard foam cylinder underneath. While I am normally terrible at these, I was able to place it under some hanging gymnastics rings for support, and was able to get the hang of it. There was also a vault, which, too, reminded me of my days of gymnastics. In this area, there was also a rope you could climb, or swing on, as my friends liked to do.
Luiza found it strange that I felt comfortable exercising and using the gym equipment in front of men. I then remembered that the reason why this was a shock to her was because gyms in Kyrgyzstan are divided by gender, which is common in dominantly-Muslim countries. I explained to her that gyms in America are co-gender, which was why I didn’t even think about it when exercising.
After finishing another round of sit ups and bicep curls, everyone was about ready to leave. I jumped on the trampoline one last time with my friends before we all headed home for the evening, sometime around 8 PM. We had been there in total for about four hours.
Although considerably smaller than Sky Zone, I enjoyed my time both on the trampoline and utilizing other exercise equipment at On the Wake. I appreciate that I had this experience with locals, because it allowed me to learn a variety of new vocabulary words in Russian contextually, such as those for trampoline (батут), jump (прыгать), arm wrestling (побороться руки), etc. It was also interesting to be able to compare this type of experience with the ones that I’ve had in America and how they are alike and different. For that reason, I would recommend visiting some sort of sports complex for anyone abroad long term. Not only does it help with contextual language learning, but also with cultural understanding.
By Mikaela Peters
Guide to Running in Bishkek
Running in Bishkek isn’t always easy. The most difficult thing is that there are no truly pedestrian roads for running. A bike trail was recently built at the south side of town, but it’s not very extensive. Therefore, like anything that doesn’t already have infrastructure in place, there is not a culture surrounding urban running, bike riding, or being very active in general, unless we’re talking about a weekend outing to the nearby mountains.
There are also specific local apprehensions about exercising outside. One is exercising in the cold. If 40° F or below, you are likely to be met with expressions of confusion. Another is if you are woman. Conservative Muslims (Muslims are a majority in Kyrgyzstan), look down on women exercising in public. So, you may encounter looks of downright disgust. It’s also expected that you’ll avert your eyes as a woman when passing strangers, even if they are staring at you. To avoid having to constantly keep this in mind, I wear reflective sunglasses when running. But the awkward stares definitely make you run faster!
One last challenge is smog. Because Bishkek is situated in a valley and because Kyrgyzstan has few emission standards for vehicles, pollution is a problem. I recommend checking the air quality daily, and doing your best to run only on days where the air quality is moderate. Avoid rush hour – between 8 and 9 AM and 4 and 7 PM, when cars put a lot more pollution in the air. The colder months from December and February are also poor, as air inversions are more common.
Because I’ve been to Bishkek multiple times, I have different routes which have become part of my daily routine depending on where I’m based in the city. However, Bishkek isn’t so big, and so most of these should be fairly accessible no matter where you are, if you are looking for some variety.
There is also a free track at Kyrgyz State Academy of Physical Training and Sports.
– Midtown: Mаленький парк
This one will probably be most convenient for SRAS students at London School. Although I only ran here once, if I would have had a full spring semester in Bishkek (it was cut short by the coronavirus), I would have made this my new spot. Malenkiy Park (The Little Park), as it is named, is a ten to fifteen-minute walk south from London School and is behind the Kyrgyz State Academy of Physical Training and Sports. When we have practice with our conversation partners for an hour each week, we often walk here and back. During these walks, I noticed a track. While it is not in the best condition, it is fully functional, free to use, and a full 400 meters long. Therefore, this is a great place to go if you want to get an interval work out. The roughly one-and-a-half-mile jog there and back from London School provides a great warm up and cool down. Although not as aesthetically pleasing as some other places, it is generally the most peaceful spot I’ve found so far. Regardless of the time of day, there are never many people here – and those that are usually here are school children, college students, and moms.
– North: Парк Держинка/Эркиндик
This is another park that is not so far from the London School. It spans about five blocks and is somewhat removed from main roads. However, it can get crowded on a really nice day, making your run feel a lot like a game of Frogger. The best times to run here are during the changing of seasons when it is cool out, when both the people and pollution are comparatively limited.
This run is interesting because there are so many parts to it. First, head north on the main road, Baitik Baatyr, where the London School is located. You could turn left on Lineynaya St, and take in the train station, a gorgeous piece of Soviet architecture near the park, which also has bathroom on its lower level in case you need a mid-run pitstop. Or, you can go another block up and make a left on Bokonbayev, where I’ve found there are fewer potholes to dodge.
Once at the park, continue on Chuy Ave – a main street considered to be the city center which will take you to Ala-Too Square, Bishkek’s main attraction. Run across the square before turning around and heading all the way back to the London School. Ala-Too Square really is something to marvel at, usually making it the highlight of my run.
– South: Парк Любви/Здоровья
The first time I lived in Bishkek, it was for two summer months across from this park. During this time, the park was my designated running spot. The old name of the park is Park Lyubvi (Love Park). It has recently been renamed Park Zdorovya (Health Park). Like many places and roads in Bishkek, it seems to have kept both names after the renaming. It features a giant, brick track with a lot of interesting attractions in the middle. There is restaurant, volleyball sandpit, and a lake for fishing or wakeboarding near the entrance, for instance. In the evening, the benches lining the track will be filled with couples and parents with babies in strollers. In the morning, however, especially round 7 or 8 AM, everything is still shut down, without a soul anywhere to be found. Both variations are nice – depending on whether you want to enjoy some peace and quiet or entertain yourself by people watching during your run. My favorite part about this park, besides the lake in the middle, is the view of the mountains, especially in the morning on a clear, summer day. This remains the most aesthetically pleasing spot I’ve found to run within the city
– All material above by Mikaela Peters
Central: E. Gareyev Botanical Garden
If you love walking outside, and enjoy gardens, butterflies, birdwatching, or running, the E. Gareyev Botanical Garden is a must-see destination when traveling to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. In my short time in Bishkek, I have spent many enjoyable early mornings and late afternoons strolling around this garden. Given its proximity to central Bishkek, a brief walk in this garden provides a much-needed respite from studying and from the stuffy indoor air.
The garden is in southeast Bishkek, on the south side of Akhyunbaeva Street. It is free to the public. I have seen a lot of people come to the garden to look at the wildlife, walk, run, exercise, or take in a nice view of the mountains on a clear day. However, please do keep in mind that this garden has no public restrooms or concession stands; make sure to bring a bottle of water with you, especially if you plan to exercise or run.
During the summer many flowers are in bloom, making an evening stroll in the garden a wonderful and fragrant experience after a day in the summer heat. You can even see several types of butterfly flutter throughout the garden, along with bees, cicadas, and other wondrous insects. The botanical garden is one of my favorite places in Bishkek because it is one of the few places in the city where nature is successfully kept separate from civic infrastructure. Whenever I enter the garden, I feel as if I’ve left the city behind. The air smells so clean and fragrant that it is hard to believe that I am actually in the middle of Bishkek. The E. Gareyev Botanical Garden is an urban paradise for those who need a break from the fast pace of city life and intensive Russian study.
I first came across this verdant gem while I was staying with a host family who lived a ten-minute walk from the garden. After visiting the garden that first time, I’ve gone back regularly to enjoy peace and quiet. It’s a place I can go to meditate in peace, gaze upon the gorgeous mountain scenery surrounding Bishkek, and admire the many species of butterfly going about their business.
Another great thing about this garden is that it is open to everyone and is welcoming of runners. There are also some other parks around the city, but they are not as big as the E. Gareyev Botanical garden. I have also heard that a few of the other gardens and parks around also cost some money as well as have less space to run. There are many slogans written on the paved trails urging people to run and be healthy. Inside the garden people, young and old, are encouraged to take care of themselves and be immersed in nature. I couldn’t agree more –the best tonic for stress is a break, however long or short, from our fast-paced lifestyle.
– Kathleen Connell
Central: Oak Park
The other day on a run, I got lost. Normally, getting a little turned around isn’t a big deal, but normally I’m not on my third day in a new city in Central Asia. Oops. Fortunately, like the other times I’ve been lost while running, I eventually found where I was supposed to be going, and before finding my route, I found something that made the whole debacle worthwhile.
I ended up a lot further away from my house than I originally planned – near Bishkek’s main square, where there is a very pleasant park that I’ll be returning to once I can muster the distance again.
It’s called Oak Park, which is something I learned after describing it in detail to my host mom, who was concerned about why I was out so long. (“Oak Park is not nearby! Olivia, you should pay attention to where you’re going!” “Sorry, Mira…”) It’s similar to a typical park you might find in other parts of the city – it’s got fountains, cuddling teenagers on every couple of benches, people walking dogs in sweaters, and some old Soviet busts. What really makes it more interesting than other Bishkek parks (there are many Bishkek parks) is its collection of stone sculptures and statues. From a distance, most of the sculptures look like large rocks, scattered amongst the trees and next to the pathways. As you get closer, you realize the tallish, orange rock is a woman wearing a headscarf, and that oblong one is a kind of rhinoceros, and he’s crying. There’s a woman hugging a fish (or maybe it’s part of her?), an infinity symbol, and plenty of other pieces depicting I’m not exactly sure what.
At one end of the park is a monument to Kurmanjan Datka, an important Kyrgyz military and political leader of the 19th century. She stands elevated in the middle of an arch of columns and looks over a small square that seems to be a popular meeting place for young people. On another side of the park looms the Red Guard Memorial, a tall, red obelisk topped with the classic Soviet hammer and sickle.If you wander Oak Park long enough, you also might find an oversized Marx chatting with an equally large Engells, just opposite the American University of Central Asia.
For more about the park, check out this article from fellow student Stephen Foley on Museum Studies Abroad.
The park is a peaceful place to run, chat with friends, or ponder how exactly you’re going to find your way home. Whether you’re interested in planning a quick walk or a long afternoon in this park, you can find it off of Abdumomunova or Pushkin street, in between Tynystanov and Razzakov streets. It’s open 24/7, but is probably most pleasant in the daylight, either covered in snow or in the summer sun.
– Olivia Route
Why Run in Bishkek?
Running provided me with a great way to give my brain a break from all the Russian I was learning and a time to reflect. On a good air quality day, I was able to get some fresh air, especially during the warmer months. Running in Bishkek is a great way to explore the city and keep yourself in shape without burning a hole in your wallet.
– Mikaela Peters
Language and Staying Fit in Russian
Sports and fitness can be great ways to integrate with local society while abroad. To help bridge the language barrier, you can start with these free language lessons!
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This resource is part of the much larger SRAS Guide to Living in Bishkek.
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