As you know by now, I recently moved to Turkey. Traveling and going to a new place means new experiences, new routines, and saying goodbye to old structures. That also implies that whatever workout schedule or routine you have built yourself is not going to work in the same way.
Being away from home is one of the oldest excuses for slacking off in the athletic department: “But I need my equipment! How do you expect me to work out without [insert workout machine]?” – “I never even get on a treadmill without being instructed by my personal trainer.”
I hear ya. In my apartment in Berlin, I have built myself a home gym, complete with a bench, dumbbells, barbells, and a kettlebell. All of that – gone (excuse me one moment, I think I’m tearing up). But going without exercise is not an option. Regular workouts are one of the cornerstones for my health, productivity, and happiness. So what am I gonna do without my gym?
Well, let me tell you something: The gym is everywhere.
The traveling warrior mindset
Staying true to your workout routine and athletic goals is more a matter of mindset than it is a matter of finding opportunities. If you are committed to get your exercise session in, there will be ways to do it. You just have to make a few shifts in your head in order to adapt to the new circumstances.
Staying in shape is a priority
While on the move or in a new place, there are plenty of excuses for not working out: lack of time, lack of routine and local knowledge, more important things to do. But it is really a matter of priorities. When you deem other things more important, exercising will naturally take second place. It is therefore crucial that you plan time for it into your day. Work out first thing in the morning. Make a commitment to allocate one hour of every other day to staying in shape.
You don’t need shiny equipment
Don’t be fooled to think that without exercise machines, weights, and the Total Gym you can not get a proper workout in. Our ancestors had no access to any equipment and your grand-grand-grand-grand-grand-(…)-grandfather would probably seriously kick your ass, even after coming back from an exhausting mammoth hunt. With a little foresight and improvisation there are plenty of opportunities to get you sweating in no time.
Doing a little is better than doing nothing
I love it when people postpone things because they see themselves unable to do them 100% correct. Like when you want to go to the gym four times a week, then miss your first appointment and cancel the other three because you won’t be able to make it to four. It’s the same line of perfectionist thinking that makes people abort their diet because they had one Mars bar and the diet is now “ruined”. Doing something is better than doing nothing at all (especially when that something can be a full-body workout).
Repeat after me: The Gym. Is. Everywhere. This is your new mantra. You are welcome. Now let me show you around my current fitness palace.
“Wait a minute”, I hear you say, “that’s not a gym, that’s a picture of a living room, a park, and a hill!” Yes, right you are. But that’s absolutely sufficient to fulfill all your fitness needs. As I said before, with the right mindset you will find opportunities to work out everywhere, even in a completely new environment.
Improvised indoor fitness
Through body weight exercises, it is absolutely possible to get a full body workout in within the four walls of your hotel room. All you need is some space and commitment.
There are plenty of exercises to choose from: Push-ups in many variations, crunches, planques, lunges, squat variations, and ever since I read this book about the training of the Navy SEALS, I have become a big fan of flutter kicks. Hell, here’s a whole youtube channel full of exercises with just your body weight.
And don’t make the mistake to think that this type of exercises is not enough (because it doesn’t involve shiny equipment). Do three sets of pushups to exhaustion and see how your arms feel the next day. Or how about this ab routine which doesn’t carry its name for nothing:
You can even use your furniture in order to stay in shape:
Hell, a couch is enough to get a full workout in:
And might I remind you that there are guys in prison who are fitter than you? That’s right, felons. No income, no personal trainer, no pink weights or exercise bikes. And I’m thinking they have even less space than you (also check out this prison cell workout).
The great outdoors
If you don’t want to be confined to your room, you don’t have to. There are plenty of exercise opportunities outside everywhere. In my case, Istanbul is the goddamn hilliest city I have ever been to (no joke, riding around in a taxi here is like being on a roller coaster). For example:
What’s bad news for road safety is great news for your waistline (in this case my waistline). Hills are perfect to get some HIIT-style training in. It goes as follows:
Sprint up the hill. Slowly walk back down. Repeat. Boom, natural intervals. Crank up the intensity with each sprint, do as many sets as you like and I promise you will be able to tell the next day.
Doing sprint training on a hill is also much better than doing it on a flat surface. Gravity keeps you from going all out, while the incline has you leaning forward, thereby protecting your hamstrings. You also can not hit the ground heel first but have to land on your toes and the balls of your feet. That and an automatically shorter step range reduce the impact on your feet and legs.
Doing this on the street in front of your house will also give you bonus points with the neighbors. Especially with the ladies (it really doesn’t). Btw, if the images of hills made you wanna sprint up there too, you should immediately me so we can embark on a wonderful friendship.
Besides hills, stairs (especially the long and steep kind ) are an awesome way to work your leg muscles and get some cardio. You can walk up two steps at a time for some lunges (dig in your heels for those bums of steel). I have this prime example directly next to my house:
In my student dorm in Beijing I was living on the 11th floor. Everyday after school I walked up all eleven floors as a mini (to medium) workout. Until the day my Brazilian neighbor sprinted past me in the stairway. Smiling a “nice workout, right?” at me. While eating. With chopsticks. Bastard.
Surrounded by opportunity
Even if you don’t live in a city that is completely made up of mountains, you can still use your natural surroundings. Consult the map and find somewhere to run: a track, a park, a trail. You can even use your workout to get to know the area better by jogging around the block.
About five minutes from where I live there is this beautiful park. I use it to for running, sprint training, and stretching exercises. It’s awesome. It enables me to get out of the house in the morning, get some fresh air, run from some rabid stray dogs… I can even see the Bosporus from up there.
Oh and it gets better. In the same park I found these little treats:
Ok, I’ll be the first to admit that much of the equipment is not the most effective, that it is in some cases dubious, and in others downright laughable. But to quote Bruce Lee “adapt what is useful, discard what is useless”. Pull-ups, chin-ups, dips, and leg raises are fair game with this stuff, and those are serious exercises. If you don’t have access to one of these beauties, use a real playground and do some pull-ups on the jungle gym.
Don’t think you can get an effective workout in on a playground? Maybe you should ask this guy about it:
Let me reiterate: The gym is friggin’ everywhere.
A few extra points
Plan ahead and pack accordingly
Gym/running shoes, shorts and two extra t-shirts fit in every suitcase. I stored some shoes here in Istanbul on my last visit. These days I never go anywhere without packing for a workout. Even if I visit my parents over the weekend, I make sure to be equipped.
Within two weeks of being here, I found a beach volley ball group that is meeting twice weekly. I can always swing by and hang out with them. I also staked out a ninjutsu dojo and I’m super excited to check it out (brought minimum equipment for that – see the last point). Google “[your location] + [your preferred sport]” to find opportunities. Expat communities are also a great resource.
Gyms are (literally) everywhere
No matter where you go, there are health clubs, fitness studios, and gyms in every hamlet, town, and city. Many hotels now have their own place. Just put in “gym + [your destination]” into Google and you are sure to find something.
However, the point I wanted to make is that you don’t need a gym, you can work out everywhere and anywhere. You are only limited by your imagination and laziness. And after reading this, those just aren’t good enough excuses anymore. Now tell me, where is the gym?