It’s easy to be lazy when travelling. If that’s what you want to do, no problem. Enjoy it. For many people, a leisurely lifestyle is one of the main advantages of long-term travel. But if you do want to stay in shape abroad, local gyms are the only serious option. Granted, you can make use of your hotel room floor for bodyweight or isometric exercises, and jogging or swimming are also options. I’m certainly not discounting the value of these possibilities; in fact I have an Al Kavadlo ebook saved on my iPad in case I need some calisthenics-based inspiration!
But as I see it there are two problems with ‘home-based’ exercises. First, for most mere mortals they simply demand too much dedication and commitment. Unless you’re on a boot camp (which is unlikely) you’ll probably associate your accommodation with relaxation, not hard physical exercise. The mental ‘switch’ to a concentrated, committed mindset is all to easy to put off and even if you do begin, cutting those 100 crunches down to 50 is all too easy. Getting out to a gym requires initial commitment to get out the door, but once you’re in the gym environment you’re far more likely to follow through with a good exercise session, simply because you’ve invested more in it up front. And you’ll want a return on that investment.
Second, there are simply too many distractions in your room. If you’re in a shared room in a hostel (and even if you’re not self-conscious) it’s still going to be well-on impossible to ignore the sniggers/stares of other guests as you push for one more crunch. Things are somewhat easier in a private room, but the ease with which you can head down to the lounge/bar/beach is an ever-present temptation.
For these reasons, I tried out a couple of local gyms in Colombo whilst spending a month in Sri Lanka. The first was ‘Grand Fitness Kingdom’ on Galle Road, Ratmalana. The name was a little over-extravagant. But that’s the way of things in Sri Lanka; the more ostentatious a name, the better. Especially when it’s particularly run down. Perhaps the owners are under the impression that an overblown name compensates for a total mess inside.
Not that Grand Fitness Kingdom is a mess. OK, the crosstrainer doesn’t work and a few dumbells are missing, but overall the place is fairly well kitted out and has a good selection of resistance training machines. The personal trainer, a young fitness enthusiast called Thinesh, is genuinely welcoming. He speaks good English, compensating for my non-existent Sinhala, and even gets all the guys in the gym together for a group photo! Sri Lankan hospitality is almost never lacking. And with a day pass at 150 rupees, or about 70 pence, it’s hard to argue with the price.
The second place was the more modestly-named Lifeline Fitness Centre in Wattala. It was twice the cost at 300 rupees, or about £1.40, but also twice the size. The older man in charge, speaking perfect English, made some well-intentioned training suggestions before I politely told him I would be using the crosstrainer. 35 minutes later and a litre of sweat lighter, I felt absolutely spent. Under a cold shower with mosquitoes buzzing around in the gloom, I wondered why Sri Lankan gyms don’t have more fans.
Apart from the fitness benefits, I found that another advantage of getting out to local gyms is that you escape the warm, fuzzy tourist bubble for a couple of hours. You meet normal local people living their normal lives, and no-one tried to sell me a cheap room or a temple tour. I’ll definitely be heading back to Grand Fitness Kingdom one more time before I leave Sri Lanka next month.