Competitive bodybuilding has been gaining traction like never before over the last couple of decades. Although the sport of bodybuilding was born in the United States of America, it has now transcended borders and achieved worldwide appeal.
South Korea is growing into one of the hottest talent pools for bodybuilding. Some of the best professional bodybuilders of all time, including Arnold Schwarzenegger, Dorian Yates, and Sergio Oliva, are non-Americans. Although Korea is yet to produce a top-tier Mr. Olympia contender, writing off Korean bodybuilders would be a mistake.
Several Korean bodybuilders have made it big in the industry and have gained global recognition for their impeccable physiques. If you are a fan of bodybuilding wanting to learn about the best bodybuilders from Korea, you’ve come to the right place.
11 Best South Korean Bodybuilders
Here are the profiles of the 11 top Korean bodybuilders:
Hwang Chul Soon
Known as the ‘Asian Arnold,’ Chul Soon is the most popular Korean bodybuilder and is treated as a superstar in his country. Soon is as famous for his dance moves as he is for his giant structure. He has garnered over 1.5 million loyal followers on Instagram.
Born on Sept. 1, 1983, Soon was a skinny kid growing up. He was a meager 125 pounds at 20 and felt that he got pushed around for his small stature. Determined to change his physique, Soon started lifting weights. It took him 12 years to develop his size and strength, and he weighed 230 pounds at the peak of his career. Soon started his fitness journey as a personal trainer, and his grit, talent, and insane genetics turned him into a celebrity.
Although Soon has a hulking physique, he has a tight midsection. He did 3,000 sit-ups daily at the beginning of his transformation journey. Soon still trains his abs every alternate day for 30 minutes to an hour after his strength training workout. However, he has realized the importance of a nutrient-rich balanced diet in building a six-pack and prioritizes eating right. Chicken breast, brown rice, bananas, and protein shakes are a staple in his diet.
At one point in his career, Soon ate up to 1.5 kilograms of chicken a day, eating 250 grams every three hours. Per the bodybuilder, his monthly grocery bill sets him back by around $500.
Soon has competed in and won multiple bodybuilding competitions. The 2016 Musclemania Universe Pro Champion victory in Las Vegas, NV, has been the highlight of his competitive bodybuilding career. Soon has appeared in several Korean TV shows, commercials, and magazines.
Kim Jun Ho
Kim Jun Ho is a trailblazer. He is the first Korean bodybuilder to earn an IFBB Pro Card. Ho is the most successful Korean male IFBB Pro League bodybuilder. The IFBB Pro League is the most prominent bodybuilding organization in the world, which hosts the Mr. Olympia competition.
Per NPC News Online, Ho made his IFBB Pro debut with a silver medal at the 2015 New York Pro. He competed at the 212 Olympia the same year, taking a humble 16th-place finish. Ho competed at the Olympia the subsequent year, repeating his performance. The pinnacle of Ho’s competitive bodybuilding career has been winning the 2020 IFBB Monsterzym Pro.
Ho started training at the age of 16. He won the Mr. Korea title in 1991, five years after starting his bodybuilding journey. This should tell you volumes about Ho’s potential and pristine genetics.
Ho won his IFBB Pro Card by clinching a victory at the 2014 Ben Weider Diamond Cup in China. Ho’s bodybuilding career spans three decades, and he is the most decorated bodybuilder in the country’s history.
Ho has brain power backing his muscles and holds a Ph.D. in Sports Medicine. He also hosts the Kim Jun Ho Classic in South Korea, an Olympia qualifier.
Lee Seung Chul
Chul weighs 105 kilograms (230 pounds), making the 5-foot-8 bodybuilder one of the freakiest and most dense Korean bodybuilders and earning him the moniker “The Korean Mass Monster.” Chul turned an IFBB Pro by winning the Arnold Amateur Asia in 2016. The Arnold Amateur Asia took place exclusively in the year 2016.
According to NPC News Online, Chul won the Men’s Open division at the 2020 IFBB Monsterzym Pro. Chul competed at the 2021 Arnold Classic USA but had to settle for a 10th-place finish.
Chul train with Neil Hill at the seven-time 212 Olympia champion Flex Lewis’ Dragon’s Lair Gym in Las Vegas, NV. He is still looking for an opportunity to break into the upper echelons of the IFBB Pro League’s Men Open division.
Kang Kyung Won
The 5-foot-8 bodybuilder weighed about 196 pounds and competed in the 212 division. He placed 11th at the 2015 212 Olympia. His best finish in the IFBB was fifth place at the 2016 Arnold Classic, considered the second-most prestigious bodybuilding show.
He won the Mr. Korea title in 1999 and emerged victorious in several other competitions in the Asian and international circuits over the next 25 years.
Won started his athletic career in Taekwondo and hit the gym for the first time at the age of 16. He was hooked on the sport after he saw one of his friends compete in a bodybuilding show. Within a year, he entered and won his first bodybuilding competition in the under 65KG weight category.
Won had a vice-like grip on the 80-85 kilogram weight class of the National Spring Sports Festival and won the show for 12 consecutive years from 1999 to 2010.
Kyoung Yun Nam
Nam is a popular lightweight bodybuilder competing in the 75KG weight category in South Korea. He won his IFBB Pro card by seizing the 2014 Asian Championships throne in the under 75KG class.
Nam emerged victorious at the 2015 Mr. Korea contest, beating much bigger guys than himself. He followed it up with a Hong Kong Asia Olympia overall title in 2016.
Park Ki Seok
Park Ki Seok has been competing in bodybuilding shows since 2015. However, he entered the limelight after winning the 2013 Mr. South Korea title.
Seok started his competitive bodybuilding journey in the 75KG category. However, he started gaining success after moving to the 85KG weight class. Seok has won the National Sports Festival twice (85KG).
Young Joo Son
Born in the Jeju Province of South Korea, Joo Son competed in the Light Heavyweight category. He won the 2005 Border States Figure in his class and the overall title at the 2005 Tournament of Champions.
Son took a break from competing in 2006 and returned to the stage in 2007. He made his presence felt by winning the overall title at the 2006 San Diego Bodybuilding Championship. Son also triumphed in the Light Heavyweight class at the California State Bodybuilding Championships.
Seong Jun Choi
Jun Choi competed in the Middleweight division and is a three-time Musclemania World Champion. He also competed in the Classic Physique division. Jun Choi owns a gym and is passionate about helping people transform their physiques.
Although South Korean male bodybuilders led the way in international competitive bodybuilding circuits, women are catching up fast.
Jhi Yeon-Woo is one of the most popular female South Korean bodybuilders. Born on Apr. 26, 1984, Yeon-Woo joined the gym at the age of 12 to gain self-confidence and overcome social anxiety. Over the years, Yeon-Woo witnessed a considerable change in her physique, making her realize her potential in competitive bodybuilding.
Yeon-Woo entered and conquered her first bodybuilding contest at 26, the 2010 Korea YMCA. The following year, she started working with bodybuilding legend Chris Cormier, who helped her take her physique to the next level. She won the 2011 Muscle Beach International and narrowly missed her IFBB Pro card at the 2011 NPC Excalibur by placing second.
Yeon-Woo won the 2013 Arnold Classic Europe in the Women’s Physique division, making her the first Korean female bodybuilder to earn an IFBB Pro card. Her best pro show performance has been a bronze medal at the 2016 New York Pro show. Yeon-Woo is dubbed the “Devil Lolita” for her drop-dead gorgeous looks and muscular physique.
Jiblin Park is a three-time Olympian, competing in the Bikini division. She placed 15 at the 2022 Bikini Olympia. The highlight of Park’s pro career has been winning the 2022 IFBB Taiwan Pro, which is also how she qualified for that year’s Olympia.
Hayeun Kim has been competing in the NPC and IFBB Pro League since 2017. She earned her pro card in 2017 by winning the NPC Worldwide Amateur Olympia San Marino. Kim has two pro show wins to her name — the 2017 San Marino Pro and 2022 Asian Grand Prix Pro Bikini. She competed at the 2022 Olympia; however, she didn’t place.
Has a Korean bodybuilder ever competed at the IFBB Pro Mr. Olympia?
Yes. Korean bodybuilders have competed at the Mr. OIympia. Kim Jun Ho and Kang Kyung Won competed at the Olympia in the 212 division, whereas Lee Seung Chul competed in the Men’s Open division.
Has a female Korean athlete competed at the Olympia?
Yes. Several female bodybuilders have competed at the Olympia. Jhi Yeon-Woo competed in the Women’s Physique division. On the other hand, Jibin Park and Hayeun Kim competed in the Bikini divisions. The Bikini division seems to be the most popular among Korean female bodybuilders. Notably, no Korean bodybuilder has ever competed in the Ms. Olympia contest.
When did Chul Soon compete last?
Although Soon hasn’t officially retired from competitive bodybuilding, he last competed at the 2016 Musclemania Universe at Fitness Universe, where he secured the overall title. Soon is a very popular model, actor, and celebrity trainer, and he now spends most of his time promoting the sport of bodybuilding.
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Korean bodybuilding and bodybuilders are on the rise. There is a steady rise in the number of qualifiers and pro shows held in South Korea, giving more talented bodybuilders a chance to step on the biggest bodybuilding stages worldwide.
This article lists the 11 most popular and successful South Korean bodybuilders of all time. Some bodybuilders on this list are still competing, and their fans expect them to achieve big things in the sport, motivating more Korean youth to take up the sport. Competitive bodybuilding is undoubtedly growing by leaps and bounds in South Korea, and the community is closely watching the development and talent coming out of the country.