You Make the Call #3: No Gym Available

You Make the Call is a series of posts aimed at answering real-life situations with various possible solutions ranging from bad to better to best. You may remember this series of commercials from the 1980s NFL TV broadcasts.


You are an active duty Soldier who works out regularly during your mandatory unit physical training as well as on your own time. You utilize the free gyms on military installations to do CrossFit-style workouts using running, rowing, pull-ups, kettlebell swings, Olympic lifts, Power lifts, etc. In a few weeks, you are going on holiday block leave (20 Dec – 3 Jan) at your parents’ home. You want to not only maintain your physical fitness level but improve it with all the free time you will have. You know you will not have access to the facilities you are used to and the only gyms available are 24-hour Fitness/Gold’s Gym types where bodybuilders in spandex and elliptical machines run wild. What do you do? YOU MAKE THE CALL!

You Make the Call

Option 1: The Bad Idea.

Try to do what you do with the facilities available. This is a bad idea because you will be in a new environment that is unfriendly to dropping weights and rapidly switching from one thing to another in one workout. There is an established order in these gyms and you are swimming upstream the whole time. You may do something but it won’t be optimal. You’ll probably leave aggravated each time. I’d recommend just resting versus this option.

Option 2: The Better Idea.

Use this time as an opportunity to do creative and new things. You can think of some really simple workouts you can do with your bodyweight. Sprint up a hill. Snowing? Even better. Do 150 burpees as fast as you can. Do some every minute on the minute bodyweight movements (10 mins of 10 push-ups on the minute, 10 mins of 15 squats on the minute, 10 minutes of 10 sit-ups on the minute). Carry something moderately heavy in your hands for a short distance (bag full of books or cans for one mile). Carry something heavy on your back for a long distance (50lb backpack for 5 miles). Walk really far over terrain off road (1 hour into the woods, 1 hour back).

Option 3: The Best Idea.

Building on the Better Idea above, purchase a minimalist equipment set that can be used at home for extra work or when your gym is closed. In option 2, the assumption is you don’t have any actual fitness equipment available. In this option, you purchased these key items that are low cost, easy to store, easy to transport, durable, and versatile:

  • Kettlebell – I recommend a 53lb for men, 35lb for women. I think the three KBs every man should have are 35, 53, and 70lbs. 53 is heavy enough to do some heavy things with yet light enough to use as part of a longer workout. Rogue kettlebells are my recommendation. Any one with the cast iron finish is good. Some lower quality ones have a glossy, smooth feel which I do not like.
  • Jump Rope – The better the quality, the more useful. Rogue SR-1 or SR-2 series are amazing. Yes, that’s $60+ for a jump rope. Well worth it, especially if you can do a lot of double unders with a basic rope.
  • Sandbag – Ton of uses, very durable and highly functional. With the handles, you can use it like a barbell. You can use it like a slam ball or med ball too. You can empty it, put your jump rope in it for travel, then fill it at your destination. I recommend GoRuck Sandbags. I currently use a 80lb bag filled with 100lbs of sand. One small one (40lb) and one large one (80+) is probably ideal.

With these implements, you can do sustained low level cardio (jump rope for 20 mins), high intensity sprints (KB swing short sets or rapid short jump rope sets), carries (KB and sandbag in a ton of positions), presses, rows, squats, etc. In addition to all the workout ideas in Option 2, you can now do some more formal “exercises” since you have some basic implements. All can be used indoors and in small spaces. Once again, you can use this stuff at home even with regular gym access. This is how my home gym started. I just got some KBs and a med ball, then 2 years later, I had a whole gym.

QUESTION: What do you do when you are going to be without your normal physical fitness gear for an extended period of time? Post thoughts to comments.