No Gym? No Problem.
Maybe you want six-pack abs and biceps worthy of their own superhero movie. Maybe you want to be able to run a mile without stopping. Or, maybe, you simply want to stay healthy.
Everyone has their own reason for wanting to work out. But wanting and doing are two different things—especially when you don’t have access to a gym or traditional workout class and the intrinsic motivation they offer. Say when you’re stuck at home or on the road. (While sitting in your living room and flying around the world may seem like opposites at first glance, it’s equally difficult to get your sweat on in both situations.)
As several of us here at Pack Hacker have spent years as digital nomads—or working from home—we have tons of experience about how to stay fit when you can’t drive to the gym and hop on the elliptical for an hour. Through lots of trial and error, we’ve found what works for us and what doesn’t. So, in this post, we’re covering how to motivate yourself to create and stick to a workout plan when you can’t get to a gym.
Note that what works isn’t universal. Even the preferences on our team differ. For example, some of us find fitness motivation first thing in the morning while others find the idea of sweating before noon laughable. But despite those differences, all of us recognize the mental health benefits of sticking to a workout regime. (And there are many studies to back that up.) That said, we’re not doctors or personal trainers. We’re not qualified to discuss the medical reasons you should work out. We’re simply sharing what has helped us feel good.
So let’s dive in.
How to Find the Fitness Motivation to Work Out
Motivation is half the battle. (For some of us, it’s approximately 99% of the battle.) Finding fitness motivation without a regularly-scheduled workout class or gym is a tough obstacle to overcome. Let’s put it this way—everyone knows a few sit-ups and pushups will build muscle, the difficult part is actually doing the sit-ups or pushups.
Everyone is motivated by different things, so it may take some time to find what works for you. Here are a few tips that work for different members of our team.
Plan your workouts: We’ve found the best way to stick to a workout regimen is to plan it out in as much detail as possible. Pick the days of the week, the time of day, and the type of workout ahead of time. Of course, life happens and you may have to switch things up, but it’s easier to do that abs video you found on YouTube if you have a time slotted for it than if you tell yourself you’ll do it at some vague point in the future. Planning also prevents you from going too hard and either burning out or injuring yourself.
You can also take this a step further and plan where you’ll do your workout. This sounds extreme but can help whenever you’re planning to workout while traveling or outside the house.
While training for a marathon, one of our team members went on numerous trips, including an international trip to Europe. She found the best way to stick to a training schedule was to plan not only what days to run a certain mileage, but also to pick out where to run that mileage ahead of time (You can do this by Googling the best running spots in whatever area you’re traveling to. Yes, the internet is a magical place.) That way, it becomes almost a feature of the trip, while limiting the number of pre-workout obstacles. Let’s be real: if there are too many obstacles—no matter how small they are—the workout isn’t going to happen.
Look at your plan every day: Stick your workout plan on the wall, refrigerator, or another place you’ll frequently see it. Every time you complete a workout either check it off, highlight it, or draw a smiley face over it (whatever works). There’s something super satisfying about physically checking off an accomplishment. It’s also motivating to visually see how many workouts you’ve already completed like the badass you are. Win, win.
Use technology: Take advantage of the fact that we live in the 21st century. There are numerous apps—some of them free—you can download with great workouts and routines you can complete at home. Several of them also gamify working out, which can be highly motivating. There’s also a ton of free content online—YouTube videos, blogs, etc. And all it takes to find them is a quick search. Of course, not all apps and programs are created equal, and you’ll have to find one that works for you. We’ll discuss specific apps and programs later on in this post. Note that a number of fitness apps are offering longer free trials than usual—or even free subscriptions—at the time of posting.
You also might consider investing in an Apple Watch or an alternative smartwatch to help you track your workouts and set goals.
Set goals: Speaking of goals, it may help you stick to a workout schedule if you have some. You’ve probably been lectured about goal-setting numerous times in your life, so we’ll keep this tip short. Make your goals specific and achievable (that’s to say, not too extreme for your fitness level). Say you want to be able to run a 5K in three months. Or you want to be able to touch your toes in three weeks. If you have something to work toward—as opposed to the vague goal of wanting to work out—it’ll help on those days that you’d rather not stop watching Netflix.
Challenge yourself with a challenge: A workout challenge is basically goal setting on steroids. There are numerous “challenges” you can pick from. Yoga with Adriene puts out a yoga calendar every month—challenge yourself to follow along every single day for the entire month. Or do the 100 Pushup Challenge and go from being able to do one pushup to 100 in two months. Check out the Blogilates #100GluteChallenge. And you don’t have to go big. If a month-long challenge is too intimidating, start with a week. And if none of the options online look good to you, create your own. One week to the perfect waltz, anyone?
Find a workout that you like: Some people love to run. Some people love pilates. Some people love (*cough* are obsessed with *cough*) CrossFit. You’re more likely to keep working out if you like whatever it is you’re doing. Keep trying new activities until you actually get excited about working out. They don’t even need to be “real” workouts. If you get the most joy out of dancing around the house with your pup then do that (you know, as long as your pup doesn’t mind). The same goes for online fitness programs or apps. If you don’t connect with a specific program, find one that you do like.
Workout with a buddy: The awesome thing about the internet is that you don’t need to physically be with someone to…be with someone. So regardless if you have a partner/spouse/child/parent with you, you can likely find an accountability buddy. Not only will this person help you stay on track of your fitness goals, but you can send each other hilarious workout memes, uplifting workout songs, and cookie recipes to reward yourself when the workout is over.
Use the proper equipment: While you don’t need to buy anything to workout at home, the proper equipment can help you have a better time. Weights can amp up difficulty. Mats can make working out on the floor more pleasant and keep you from slipping around. And clothes, well it sounds shallow, but working out in clothes that make you feel good (and feel like you look good) can be a huge motivator. We’ll be sprinkling in some of our favorite gear throughout this post.
How to Workout When You’re Stuck Inside
Alright, let’s say the above tips have you salivating for your next workout. But how can one workout within the confines of their home? Good question! Let’s discuss.
But wait. Before we dive in, remember that “stuck inside” is vastly different for different people. You may be in a 5-bedroom house with a lavish garden, a studio apartment in a high-rise, or somewhere in-between. (This pertains to travel too. Since your hotel room or Airbnb is essentially your temporary home on the road, we’ll be using the umbrella term “home” to keep things simple.) While we’ve tried to keep our tips as universal as possible, you’re going to have to tailor your workouts to your space. And sorry studio apartment dwellers, this is going to be a little more difficult for you (#TheTruthHurts). But difficult doesn’t mean impossible. Some of us have lived, currently live, or stayed while traveling in studios and have been able to make it work.
Regardless of the size of your house, there are actually some benefits to working out at home. One major benefit? You can look as ridiculous as you want. You can make odd grunting noises and weird facial expressions when you squat. You can add your own creative twist to dance moves. You can awkwardly tumble out of a yoga pose…And no one is there to judge you. (Unless you have roommates, but for argument’s sake, they don’t count.)
The bottom line is there’s a sense of freedom that comes with getting your sweat-on at home. Take advantage of it! Try something you’re bad at, push yourself until you’re red-faced, sweaty, and panting; wear an outfit that’s not acceptable in public; listen to 80’s pop ballads; do all of them at once. You also don’t have anyone to impress (except perhaps your snobby cat). You can slow down, go back to the basics, and work on your form.
For most home exercises, we recommend picking up a mat. The Manduka eKO SuperLite Yoga Mat is great for both at home and when you’re on the road—it packs up smaller than average, but still offers great slip-resistance. And just because it’s a “yoga” mat doesn’t mean it’s just for yogis. Mats are nice to have for all sorts of exercise that requires coming into contact with the floor. Use it for push-ups, sit-ups, leg raises, lunges, mountain climbers, you name it. Or, if you don’t want to lug a yoga mat with you around the world, check out the ToeSox Bella Half Toe Grip Socks.
That said, don’t discount yoga. You don’t need to be able to do a headstand and levitate to be a real yogi. Yoga is a great way to get a full-body workout without putting too much pressure on your joints. Bonus—if you’re in an apartment with tissue-paper walls (like some of our team members)—yoga won’t bother your neighbors like doing dozens of burpees will.
Plus, practicing yoga is an excellent excuse for wearing yoga pants all day long. The prAna Stretch Zion Pants are a great option, especially since they work well for outdoor adventures too. One pair of pants, endless possibilities.
If you’ve never tried yoga, we recommend putting on a YouTube video and giving it a go (it’s handy to have someone show you what to do onscreen).
Yoga still not your thing? This is where the workout apps we mentioned earlier come into play. You can download any number of class styles from dance to boxing to HIIT (high-intensity interval training) workouts. Several apps offer live classes too, which may help you create and stick to a schedule.
We’ve had great experiences with the Nike Training Club App (at the time of this post, Nike is offering a free subscription to U.S. residents). We like that each move has a reference video you can watch to make sure you’re doing the right thing. We’ve also heard good things about Freeletics, Obé, and Openfit. The Workout.Today is another great program that sends a written workout (with clips demonstrating the moves) to your inbox three times a week.
If you plan to use an app on your phone, it’s helpful to pick up a phone stand like the Nite Ize QuikStand, so you can easily see your phone while you’re working out. You can attempt to set your phone against a stack of books or a coffee mug, but—and we speak from experience—you shouldn’t be surprised if your phone falls on its face the moment you need to see the virtual trainer the most.
If you’d prefer not to use an app, and you have stairs, go and do 20 minutes of walking/running up and down. Think that’s too easy? We think you may be surprised! The added bonus of this type of exercise is that you’ll be able to impress people with how not-winded you are next time you have to ascend some stairs in public.
Not interested in using an app and don’t have stairs? Well then, you should just give up and live your life on your couch. Kidding! Determine what muscle groups you want to work and then determine the ways you can work them based on the equipment you have on hand (you can Google exercises that work specific muscle groups). As far as equipment goes, you can simply use your bodyweight or check out something like the Serious Steel Resistance Bands and TRX Suspension Trainer, both of which we’ve done full reviews on. They’re both versatile and highly packable—great for working out at home and on the road.
To add intensity to your workout—regardless if you’re following an app or doing your own thing—throw wearable weights on your wrists or ankles. Or, since you’re at home and don’t care about looking ridiculous or traveling without extra room to pack weights, think outside the box when it comes to equipment. Use a book/water bottle/plant as a weight. You can also add intensity with volume and speed. For example, a squat is a pretty easy move, but if you do 5 rounds of 30 squats followed by a sprint across your apartment then you have yourself an epic workout.
Now, remember, you’re still putting in a ton of work—and sweat—even if you haven’t left the house. So make sure to keep hydrated and fill up a nice big water bottle to keep by your side! We recommend a Hydro Flask or YETI water bottle, which will both keep your ice water icy no matter how long your workout lasts.
And, finally, try and stay in the moment while working out at home…Which we recognize is easier said than done. Maybe halfway through that arms video, you’ve realized that you need to start dinner. Or you’ve run out of clean clothes and should quickly toss a load in the washer. Or your kids could use your help with whatever.
Because you’re at home—and there are a million distractions or other things you can be doing—it’s easy to take your head out of your workout. Do your best to stay in the moment, focus on your workout, and finish what you set out to do. Pretend that you can’t hit that pause button and end yoga class early (just like you wouldn’t walk out of a yoga class at a studio, regardless of how long your long to-do list is).
How To Exercise Outside
There’s a whole new world of exercises available to you if you’re able to venture outside. Starting with the obvious, you can go for a run or a walk. You can also go hiking if you have the terrain nearby (we like the Matador NanoDry Towel for wiping the sweat off your brow). And if you have access to a bike, you can go for a bike ride too!
While traveling, you can also sneak in workouts without even trying. Instead of an open-top bus tour, opt for a walking tour. Ditch the taxi ride for a bike ride. You can probably see where we’re going with this. Plus, we’ve found that exploring a new destination by foot or on a bike turns out to be a better experience overall—you’re up close and personal with your surroundings, exploring at your pace, and you typically find interesting things you would have rushed past in a car or bus.
If you have the time for a long walk, hike, or bike ride then great, but if you’re looking to sneak in a quick outdoor workout, our favorite way is to run. You can run for less than 20 minutes and still get in a solid sweat. And this doesn’t have to be a flat out run, it can be a light jog mixed in with running, whatever your fitness level allows you to do.
There are also numerous running apps to help you out. If you’re new to running, the Couch to 5K Program is a great way to get started. We’ve also had great experiences with the Nike Run Club App. One of our team members has run over 200 miles (330km) using this app and highly recommends it. The app features guided runs from experts and celebrities. It’s also reliable all over the world. Additionally, we’ve had good experiences with Runkeeper where you can lowkey brag where you’re running (beach in Bali, the streets of Paris, etc).
Some people can run without music, but we’ve found having an upbeat playlist really helps to get you going. Podcasts can also be motivating. And, if you’re really iffy on the whole running thing, try the app Zombies, Run! Essentially, this app turns your runs into missions. You have to run to avoid the hoards of zombies chasing you. It incorporates musical breaks from your chosen playlist, walking breaks, and sprints. It’s a highly immersive and fun way to trick you into running.
Of course, to listen to music or zombie audio-dramas, you’re going to want to pick up a good pair of headphones. We recommend the Bose SoundSport Wireless—one of our favorites for running since they’re sweat-resistant and the wire helps you not lose them if they ever fall out—but Airpods or Jabra Elite 75t Wireless Earbuds work too.
Additionally, you’ll want to invest in a good pair of shoes. We’re split here at Pack Hacker—some of us love to run in barefoot shoes (like the Earth Runners Elemental Sandals or Xero Shoes Prios) and others like the support in more traditional sneakers like the Asics Gel Kayano (which are constantly rated among the best running shoes worldwide). Running shoes also work well as walking around shoes, though you may sacrifice a little bit of fashion.
If you’re in a sunnier climate and enjoy long walks, we suggest taking a look at the Tropicfeel Canyon Sneakers. While they’re not great for running, they’re a versatile shoe you can travel with and workout in.
You’ll also want to try to find clothing that plays double duty. Take the Coalatree Trailhead Shorts—you can wear them for a long run or bike ride and to the bar later that night. The Knix 8-in-1 Evolution Bra acts as both a sports bra and a t-shirt bra. We also recommend checking out clothing made from Merino wool. Merino wool is naturally antimicrobial, as well as quick-drying and sweat-resistant, so it’s great for both workouts and travel.
Now, we should note that if you’re traveling it doesn’t mean you can’t access a gym. While it is trickier, it’s not impossible. If you’re within the U.S., there are several chains that allow you to go to locations across the country. You can also book a hotel with a gym or an Airbnb apartment inside a condominium with a gym. Additionally, you can use sites like ClassPass or Hussle to go to a nearby gym on a pay as you play basis.
Hit the Mat
We hope you’ve been able to glean some valuable tips on how to stay active when you don’t have access to a gym or equipment. Remember, figuring out what works for you is a process. Don’t give up. Even if you slip up and forget to workout for three months, it’s never too late to get back up on that horse (or get back into that squat). And make sure to keep a healthy diet. It’s easier to run a mile if you’ve been feeding yourself the proper fuel. Until next time, happy sweating!
By the way, if you’re interested in any of the products we mentioned in this post, but don’t want to slog through the entire thing again, here they are in a convenient list form:
- Apple Watch
- The Manduka eKO SuperLite Yoga Mat
- ToeSox Bella Half Toe Grip Socks
- The prAna Stretch Zion Pants
- Nite Ize QuikStand
- Serious Steel Resistance Bands
- TRX Suspension Trainer
- Hydro Flask 18oz Standard Mouth Water Bottle
- Yeti Rambler 18oz Water Bottle
- Matador NanoDry Towel
- Bose SoundSport Wireless
- Jabra Elite 75t Wireless Earbuds
- Earth Runners Elemental Sandals
- Xero Shoes Prios
- Asics Gel Kayano
- Tropicfeel Canyon Sneakers
- Coalatree Trailhead Shorts
- Knix 8-in-1 Evolution Bra