How to stay in shape abroad
Firstly; I'm no Mr Universe. I'm not even close, however I'm a strong believer that physical fitness is incredibly important for a number of reasons. Appearance isn't everything, however you can still make some valid judgements about a person depending on their appearance. It takes discipline to stay in shape and if you can't take care of your health, how are you going to take care of your family or anything else?
Physical fitness is also one of the core requirements within Sikhi, infact the second Guru, Angad, ordered that every Gurdwara (Sikh Temple) should have a gym attached to it and although this custom has fallen in some parts of the world, in the UK its still very strong with groups like Lions MMA, Shin Kin and various Gatka Akharas basing classes in Gurdwara gyms. I did Shin Kin when I was younger and then trained for a short while with Lions MMA when I was a little older and have a lot of respect for these groups. A Sikh is supposed to be 'Tyar bar tiyar' (always prepared) and the life of a Sikh is supposed to be geared toward protecting the innocent. It's pretty hard to protect someone else if you can't even protect your waistline.
I tend to go to the gym between 3-4 times a week, train in Thai Boxing and play football. To test my fitness I took part in a Tough Mudder (which I'd recommend for all) and occasionally do medium distance runs for charity. That being said, as a guy of Panjabi heritage, my diet isn't great, although its something I'm actively trying to improve.
I usually get a little cranky when I don't go gym for a few days, so going on longer travels presents a problem. However, during my first extended trip I found that just because you're travelling, doesn't mean you have to skip gym.
I can't stress this enough, Everyone needs their rest days. Usually before I'm going abroad I increase the intensity of my training and once I move within a few weeks I tend to switch from compound to isolation exercises. However, this increased intensity means that by the time I get on the plane, I'm ready to take a week or two off. The first few days of no gym feel very awkward but after the first week I usually have to be convinced to go back.
It's easy, especially if you are in a hot country to want to do a few press ups before heading out, however, its very important to let your body have some downtime, physically and mentally. The stress of training takes a big toll on the body and giving your joints, muscles and nervous system time to reset and recharge is never a bad idea. For the first two weeks, I won't even do body weight exercises.
Whenever I go away for a significant period to a new destination, I want to see everything and this usually means a lot of walking. Working at a desk 5 days a week means walking about and seeing new things compensates, to a large extent, for the lack of actually going to a gym. The best thing is, because you are seeing new things and having fun, you can easily walk for miles and not even realise. I have done this a lot and only realised when I get into bed at night and my legs and feet are hurting.
My climb to Machu Picchu was an excellent example of doing exercise without the need for a gym. The gruelling three day climb felt like a full body workout and by the time I reached the top, my calfs felt like they were on fire. Unfortunately, the combination of wearing the wrong shoes and perhaps pushing my squats too hard in the weeks leading up to the climb meant that on the way down I ended up injuring my knee.
Hikes in South East Asia had the exact same affect, and sometimes, its not even long treks or climbs. Spending a day walking the grounds of Angkor Wat, or the streets of Rio can also be a good workout. Cycling is another good way of doing exercise and seeing new place in a different way. Some of my favourite memories are from cycling in Lampang, or the three hour cycle ride around Chiang Mai, or cycling through the streets of Barcelona.
This is where I tend to fall down a little. As a natural ectomorph (this has both positive and negative points), I usually have to eat a lot to put on any sort of weight and sometimes that means I don't really distinguish between good and bad. Thats not so bad at 21/22 but in my late twenties its something that I need to begin changing.
On holiday however, I tend to eat very little (I know for others its usually the opposite). The combination of heat/humidity and the excitement of wanting to explore means that sometimes I end up eating a lot less than I usually would. Its especially important in these conditions to not skip meals, yet I sometimes do.
The heat usually strips whatever fat I have away, sometimes meaning I'm in better shape a few weeks into my adventures. The increased intake of water gives me the feeling of being full so for me diet abroad has never been too much of a problem.
I also find the food abroad to be better than the food I get back home. Ingredients are usually fresh, especially in South East Asia and food is cooked using healthy oils. I love trying the local cuisine; from favourites such as a Pad Thai to more exotic things like Scorpion, or Tarantula.
After a couple of weeks of letting my muscles rest, its always important to slowly get back into the gym. Gyms are quite easy to find in most places (not so much Cambodia) and unlike the UK where you sign to a rolling or 12 month contract with expensive day passes, gyms further afield are usually pay as you go and very reasonable.
In areas with a high concentration of tourists, you will get full classes and even things like Cross Fit. Thailand is especially famous for its 'fitness bootcamps' where you can train on one of the Thai islands and even learn Thai Boxing from its ancestral homeland.
One of my favourite gyms was in Ko Tao where for a couple of pounds I could get a day pass (£5 for a week) and use the weights. Gyms in Singapore, Brazil and Barcelona were also reasonably priced, however in certain locations gyms aren't needed.
Menorca, Barcelona, Rio and Lima all had outdoor gyms located in the city centre or close to beaches and I'm sure some of the other locations did too if I had looked harder. Rio especially had a great culture of working out in outdoor gyms on the Copacabana and every night the beach would be transformed into one of the largest open air gyms I have seen with multiple classes going on over a one mile area.
Staying fit and healthy when away for extended periods is important, but its also important to give your body a little time off and have some rest.
Diet can be a problem for a lot of people, but again, try not to be too strict, you are away enjoying yourself so make sure you try the local cuisine and not be too hung up with the amount or type of food you are eating. That being said, its never a good idea to gorge yourself no matter where you are.
Finally, after a few weeks off you can ease your way back in by starting with some body weight exercises before finding a local gym where you can usually join using a pay as you go system. It's also a good experience to do things a little differently and if your location as outdoor gyms I'd definitely recommend trying them.
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British Sikh, born in the Midlands, based in London, travelling the world seeing new cultures.