How to work out when all you have is yourself

You don’t need to have a gym to get a good workout. I do happen to have a gym membership; I really like it and would encourage you to get one. But I know that sometimes it’s just not convenient to where you work or live, or you just don’t want to spend the money, or you’re not anywhere near the gym. That’s happened to me on occasion, whether I’m traveling, or I only have an hour before I have to be somewhere and the gym is not an option. When that happens, I usually get annoyed and don’t have a good workout because I’m just pissed off at the world and just say, “screw it.” First tip: don’t do that, because it’s not good for you and it doesn’t burn any calories. The extra calorie burn from the elevated heart rate is negligible and will NOT counteract that bowl of ice cream you will definitely have to calm yourself down. Believe me, I know.

The Champ de Mars with the Eiffel tower in ParisSo I got to thinking about some options to get a workout in without a gym. The obvious one, of course, is to just go for a run. That’s good anytime, anywhere, for anyone. I did the Runner’s World Holiday Run Streak and one night near the end of the streak I ran a mile at 11:30 pm. While on a business trip, I ran through the streets of Louisville, KY and into Indiana. I’ve even gone for a run in Venice (that was weird. Nothing like dead-ending at a canal every 3 minutes). My family took a trip to Paris for 2 weeks (it was awesome!), but I had to get in shape for my first college soccer season, so I ran windsprints in front of the Eiffel Tower. Like I said, anytime, anywhere. Bonus points if Japanese tourists take pictures of you.

If you want to get some weight training in, though, your options are kind of limited. There’s a reason gyms has 1,001 machines – you can get resistance on whatever muscle you want. On your own, you don’t have the luxury, so you have to get a little creative. I’m going to try to give you enough for a good 30-minute workout, since that’ll get your heart pumping and some sweat rolling down your forehead but still allow you to be flexible enough to get it in whenever you can:

Let’s start with abs. Abs are easy, since you basically only use your body weight to do abs, even at the gym. So I’m just going to give you some of my favorites:

1. Sit-ups. Real ones, not crunches. Keep your feet (toes and all!) on the ground, stick your fingers in your ears, and sit up.
2. Planks. All of them. The classic is the 3-set of normal and each side, but currently I’m digging the up-downs: start in a normal plank position. Go up on one hand, and then the other, so your arms are extended. Then go back down the same way. Do it as fast as you can.
3. Leg raise with butt lift. Lay on your back with your legs straight and about a foot off the ground. Raise your legs to 90 degrees, then straight to the ceiling, lifting your butt off the ground. Return to the starting position.

Arms: Really, pushups are the best thing. They’re really good for you (yes, girls, you too!), and they work your abs as well, so that’s an awesome bonus! Arm exercises without weights are hard to do, because… think about it, your arms don’t support very much weight normally (unless you are a caveman). If you happen to find a bench or a chair, or something of that nature, you can also do tricep dips. In addition, some of the more cardio-oriented exercises make you hold yourself up by your hands, so that works too!

Legs: have you seen my post about why squats are awesome? Do them, any kind: regular, jumps, wall sit. They are your friend. And lunges, as well, front, side, and reverse. Again, if you have a bench or chair, you can put your back leg on it for the lunges and make them harder. I’ve found that jumping jacks really work your calves, too!

Cardio: these are honestly my least favorite exercises… probably because they are really good for you and a little brutal. But I guess that’s the point, right?

1. Burpees. My god, I hate burpees, because I am always pouring sweat and my whole body is shaking by the end. Bu hey, some people like them. Maybe. Start in a standing position, drop down to the “up” pushup position, tuck your knees up, and jump. Repeat. Want something harder? Add a pushup at the beginning.
2. Mountain climbers. These are really an ab exercise, but they really get your heart rate up. Hold in the “up” pushup position, then drive your knees forward in a “running” motion. Do it for 30 seconds or so.
3. Shuttle runs. If you don’t have a lot of room, you can just go back and forth between 2 objects. You can do anything: lunge, side-shuffle, sprint, hop… the possibilities are endless. Make it harder by adding pushups, situps, or squats at each end.

Last tip: walk as much as  you can. Unlike the US, the rest of the world walks everywhere. And it REALLY burns calories – one of the main reasons the rest of the world is so much trimmer than Americans, too. So give it a try! A mile will take you 20 minutes. If you’ve got a little extra time, or if you’re on vacation, you’ll get a much better feel for the local culture by being on the ground – and you might discover a hidden gem you wouldn’t have otherwise.

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