There’s a whole book about the culture of body and body image in Rio de Janeiro. Though, in my opinion, you could probably fill a whole library on the topic. Blame it on the heat, but Rio is an incredibly body-conscious culture.
For active tourists or athletes visiting the city, that means there are a wide variety of options to choose from if you want to sweat in the cidade maravilhosa. Aside from just standing outside under the sun, that is.
While Rio has the image of being a care-free, relaxing place, I’ve done most of my training in this city. Technically, I did my first Crossfit class in New Jersey. However, that was quickly followed by a six-month stint in Rio. I started training seriously and competed for the first time here.
As a somewhat-local – my friend has me listed in her phone as the “Gringa Carioca” – and as an athlete, fitness and Rio go hand-in-hand for me. Because of the safety issues, there’s not always a ton to do. Over time, the default for me became working out. Not sure where to go at night after work? Might as well head to the gym.
Without Rio, I’m not sure I would have become as active or as passionate about my own athleticism.
Things to know
Despite being such a fitness- and appearance-centric culture, most gyms in Rio open late on the weekend and remain closed on Sundays. If you’re following a training program, it’s helpful to keep that in mind as you plan out your week.
Because Brazil is a social, relationship-based culture and personal space is not really a thing, don’t be surprised if people are working out in areas that seem completely unreasonable to you. Much like the cat meme mantra – “If it fits, I sits” – if there’s space, someone will use it. Gustavo literally got kicked the other day because someone was doing single-leg deadlifts next to the squat rack.
Likewise, there’s often not a lot of equipment. In US gyms, it’s common to have multiples of the same machine. In Brazil, because of import issues and taxes, it’s not usually feasible to do the same. Be prepared to have someone ask if they can “work in” with you in between sets. And if you say no, be prepared to have some nasty looks.
For my fellow women, I find it helpful to note some differences that I found a little shocking as another lady gym-goer. Athleticism isn’t as common in Rio. Kids don’t participate in sports growing up, unless your aim is to be a football (er, soccer) player. Because of that, there’s even less of a culture of female athletes here. So the cult of body building, plastic surgery, and beauty standards reigns supreme here.
People won’t judge you for showing up to the gym however you normally do. However, it’s common to see a lot of makeup, a lot of silicone, and a lot of matchy-matchy outfits. The gym is a social activity here – especially for single men and women. Don’t be surprised and don’t feel pressured. Brazilians will tease you endlessly, but they expect the same in return. A more laid-back culture when it comes to social interactions never existed.
For the CrossFitters
I’ve tried a lot of different CrossFit boxes in Rio. As an American who wanted more serious athletic training, I struggled to find a coach that I connected with for quite some time. In the past year, I finally found my go-to coach who’s programming I trust.
When I’m in Rio – particularly, in our apartment in Tijuca – I go to Koutí. They only opened about a year ago, but their head coach is great. I worked with him one-on-one for about six months, as well. He does a good job of programming workouts that you think you can’t do and then he motivates you to do it. The majority of the staff also speak some English and they have a neat outdoor space they use for extra workshops or large classes.
In Barra, you can find CFP9. They’re probably the most famous CrossFit in Rio because they’ve done such a good job of programming, developing elite athletes, and marketing campaigns. (They were also the host of our first OUTWOD Rio!) Frankly, working out there can be intimidating – they have some of the highest caliber athletes in Rio. Their classes are well-organized, challenging, and a lot of fun. I usually visit their Casa Shopping location, which is literally in a mall, but they have a number of other locations as well – including one in Miami!
Lastly, I’ve never actually been to one of the Crown Crossfit locations, but I’ve come across their coaches and athletes. They have a ton of locations throughout Rio, including Ipanema, Botafogo, and São Conrado. So no matter where you may be staying, they’re likely to be one of the nearby options where you can get a good, quality workout and training session in.
Regular ol’ gyms
If you’re looking for a commercial gym, SmartFit is your best bet. They are everywhere and cheap. It’s a little bit like the Planet Fitness or LAFitness of Brazil. They have decent equipment, are usually pretty spacious, and often offer classes, too.
For something a little different, there’s a really cool outdoor gym right between Ipanema and Copacabana, near Arpoador. All of the equipment is made from cement, so I’m not sure how accurate the weights are, but it’s a unique experience. There’s an amazing view and, best of all, it’s free.
Santander (yup, the bank) also opened Rio Academia pretty recently. Another outdoor gym on the beach in Ipanema, this one has full-fledged equipment. It’s a bit like a newer Muscle Beach. They offer classes as well. You can schedule your visit via the Mude app linked on the site.
If you’re training for a weightlifting or powerlifting meet, there are specific weightlifting centers in Rio. I’ve never been, though, so they’ve never seemed like the most accessible option to me. Instead, most CrossFit boxes here are relaxed enough that you can do whatever training you want, as long as there’s space.
Excluding the hellish temperatures of summer in Rio, the weather is pretty amazing here. Some days I get so angry that I’m working out inside when I could just be soaking in the sun. If you’re looking to load up on some Vitamin D, there’s a few really great options.
First, on the weekends, the street next to the beach from Leme to Leblon is closed to cars. You’ll find people walking, running, biking, roller skating, and anything else you can think of during that time. Just load up on sunscreen. Trust me.
Itáu, a Brazilian bank, launched a bike share program pretty recently. Much like CitiBike in New York, you can sign up for the program via the app and then reserve a bike anywhere you find a stop in the city. When you finish, just drop it off at another stop. They’re everywhere. And for 5 Brazilian reais per day (about $1), the price is hard to beat.
Lastly, Rio is full of beautiful hikes. It’s a city on the coast with amazing mountains – it’s pretty hard to go wrong with simply walking up one of them. I’ve done the Pedra Bonita hike which, according to most Cariocas, is easy, but I don’t think that word means the same thing here. I found it to be a pretty moderate hike, so keep that in mind when researching.
It’s also worth double-checking the safety level of any hikes you’re interested in from Facebook groups or via local contacts. From time to time, a particular trail may be targeted as a hot spot and you’ll see some dangerous things, like robberies. Confirming ahead of time and bringing as little with you as possible can help make sure you’re as safe as possible.
Rio is an interesting city. It’s hectic and chill all at the same time. Whether you’re visiting for fun or here for a longer stay, it’s a great place to focus on staying healthy – as long as you leave some room for chopp (beer).