Lifting weights is an excellent lifestyle hack that can easily be integrated into a Phnom Penh lifestyle. At the lowest end you will find plenty of open-air local gyms. Most charge $1 entry, offer basic free weights and no perks (fans, towels or water). At the highest end a few places charge $180 per month for weights, cardio machines, steam, sauna and pool.
In between is a solid roster of mid-range options that we review as the basis of this guide.
Benefits of lifting weights over cardio
The average person is skinny-fat – not enough muscle mass and too much fat. The remedy for this starts in the kitchen: to lose body fat you have to eat less; to add muscle you have to eat more. In addition you need muscle mass – that’s the key.
Most out of shape people head straight for the treadmill when they sign up for a gym. This is because of the misconception that cardio helps in burning fat. In fact a cardio-only routine will render you skinny fat: lose muscle mass = resting metabolic rate declines = more energy getting stored as fat.
Instead, eat more and lift weights. By adding muscle you increase your energy consumption. While a pound of muscle burns between 75 to 150 calories every day, a pound of fat only burns three calories a day (fat does not need energy to maintain itself).
In short, the more you focus on building lean muscle, the more fat you will burn.
As an accompaniment to this article, we’ve produced a Google map showing all of Phnom Penh’s best gyms in a single view. It’s a super-handy way to get a birds-eye view of the best gyms in town. View the map: Phnom Penh’s best fitness gyms.
Alternatively, each listed gym in the sections below also links directly to their respective Google map: see pix, read reviews, get directions.
Core Explore is the best gym for working out in Phnom Penh. Reasons:
- Price: $2 per day, multiple use throughout the day permitted
- Equipment: quality free weights; several bench presses; a squat rack and a full range of weight machines that hits all body parts
- Atmosphere: friendly staff; no loud music; respectful clientele
As an added bonus, Core Explore is located two blocks east of the Russian Market, in an expat-friendly neighborhood with tons of places within walking distance for a cheap post-workout meal.
The Phnom Penh Sports Club is our second favorite spot for working out in the city. Prices are decent ($5 per day, or $60 per month). There is so much on offer (gym, pool, massage, restaurant, saunas) that you can easily while away 3-4 hours – perfect for lazy weekends. Facilities are as clean as you can expect for Cambodia, and the gym is nearly deserted during non-peak hours, which makes for very relaxing workouts.
On the downside, this is not the most foreigner-friendly gym in town. Many regulars are high-ranking government and police officials, and they have full freedom to do as they please. This results in a chaotic vibe in the gym: people hogging machines, intruding into your workouts, blaring loud music. On top of that the gym is poorly ventilated and has lots of mosquitoes. Finally, there have been multiple reports of creepers feeling up expat men in the saunas.
If you can deal with the downsides, this is a great place to grab a workout, enjoy the outdoors, have a long relaxing bath and then take a nap by the pool.
On paper, Superfit is one of the best gyms in the city, with the prices to match ($8 per day of $100 per month). On the main floor there is a pool, hotel-quality locker rooms and saunas. On the second floor there are three spacious gym areas with high-end equipment for weight training, crossfit, cardio and combat training.
The downside has to do with the vibe. Because of the price, this is very much a status-driven gym. Expect glamorous Cambodian women in the latest spandex high fashion, muscular alpha stallions and plenty of chatty personal trainers trying to score new clients – against a backdrop of blaring hip-hop. If you are an introvert (like this writer) you might find this gym feels more like a nightclub than a place to get into your workout zone.
Muscle Fitness is a reasonably priced gym ($4 per day or $45 per month) that offers modern lifting and cardio equipment in a clean, well-laid out space. There are two squat racks, a couple of bench presses, and enough free weights to get the job done.
On the negative side the place is small and the air-con weak. In addition it can get uncomfortably crowded during peak hours.
These two gyms taking pricing to a ridiculous level. Given the other gyms listed in this article, what you get for your money simply doesn’t add up.
The Place charges $180 per month for modern equipment, a swimming pool and saunas. It’s basically a swankier version of the Phnom Penh Sports Club for three times the price. It’s not a bad gym, but the pricing is hard to justify.
Formerly the Intercontinental Hotel, The Great Duke offers a dazzling pool, plush saunas and a tiny gym for a ridiculous $180 per month.
The gym lacks a squat rack but otherwise has modern equipment. It’s a small single room that is usually deserted – save for a bored trainer that will stare at you throughout your workout. If you want a crappy intrusive workout on limited equipment for a heft price, this is a great pick.
Let’s change gears from Phnom Penh gym reviews, to self-improvement for you:
A big issue many people face when starting a fitness routine is knowing what to do. There is an overwhelming amount of information out there, much of it conflicting.
It took this writer years of online research plus years of experimenting in the gym before putting the basics together. Now that we’ve provided a list of gyms, here is an easy starter guide for building muscle and losing fat.
To lose fat, you need to consume less calories than you burn in a day. Start by figuring our total daily energy expenditure (TDEE). From there, it’s simple math.
To burn fat, consume 500 calories less per day than your TDEE (consuming less will force your body to burn muscle for fuel). To build muscle, consume 500 more calories per day than your TDEE (consume more and it will likely be stored as fat) while on a weightlifting routine.
To calculate your daily calories easily, create a free account of MyFitnesspal.
Keep it simple by focusing on one of the big three (bench press, squats, deadlifts) each day, plus additional exercises targeting the same body parts.
Take at least one rest day before your next workout. If you really want to go to the gym on your off-day, go in and do 20-30 minutes of cardio.
|Core exercise||Body parts worked||Exercises|
|Bench press||Pectorals, shoulders, triceps||Flat bench press, incline bench press, dips|
|Squats||Glutes, thighs and quadriceps primarily; abs lower back and calves secondarily||Squats and any other weighted leg exercises|
|Deadlift||Back, glutes, thighs, hamstrings||Deadlifts, pull-ups, rows|
If you are working out, protein is essential for muscle growth. 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight (2.2g per kilo) per day is the bodybuilding standard. That means a 150-pound person would need 150 grams per day (or 11 eggs, at 13g each).
A typical Cambodian diet is healthy, but high in carbs (rice) and low in protein. Boost this easily by investing in protein powder. Optimum Nutrition is one of the best powders in the world (low carb, high quality whey). Luckily a few places in town sell ON products, including the centrally-located Bodybuilding Cambodia and Royal Mart in Tuol Tompong.
In addition to adding protein powder, consider a reverse food pyramid as the basis of your diet moving forward: