Just when you think you're tough enough

Cross Train

No Gym? No Problem!

Unless you are lucky enough to work in a gym, have a gym at home or live literally next door to a gym, there are going to be times where getting to the gym to workout is going to be difficult. Maybe you don’t have time for the commute, perhaps your gym is closed for a day, you might be stuck at home minding the kids or are on a road trip; whatever your circumstances, being away from your usual training venue can make getting a workout difficult.

However, do you REALLY need a gym to get or stay in shape? Respectfully, I say no.

In my time in the Royal Marines, one of the branches of the UK’s armed forces, I spent a lot of time working in inhospitable places that didn’t have running water, let alone gyms. But, despite not having any “real” exercise equipment, I still kept fit and strong which, as well as being important for my physical and mental health, made sure I was still up to doing my job.

Even now, and despite having easy access to a gym, I like to go “no-frills” from time to time and revisit some of my old gymless workouts from back in the day. If nothing else, it gives me a break from that mindless Euro techno-pop music CD that always seems to be on when I’m training!

Your body; your gym

While the treadmill at a gym provides a convenient means to elevate your heart and breathing rate, “real” running where you actually drive your body forward through space is arguably more effective and certainly more natural. Exercise bikes, ellipticals and rowing machines are very handy when the weather is bad and you don’t want to run out of doors but are they essential for developing fitness? Nope – they aren’t. For a real equipment-free cardio workout that can be done in just a few feet of space, try doing 100-burpess as fast as possible.

In reality, you don’t need a whole lot of fancy gym equipment to provide your heart, lungs and muscles with a great workout. Your body, as marvellous as it is, cannot really differentiate between a state-of-the-art leg press machine and doing squats with one of your mates on your back. It only knows tension and overload and if there is enough overload, your muscles will get stronger irrespective of the cause of the overload.

As for overloading your muscles to increase strength, size or endurance, you have everything you need right with you now – your body!

Bodyweight exercises, often called calisthenics which comes from the Greek for beautiful body (I’m not joking!) are a fantastic way to work your muscles and contrary to popular belief, are not just suitable for beginners. There are literally hundreds of exercises to choose from, many of which are really very demanding; one-legged squats (pistols), L-pull-ups and one-arm push-ups for example.

By shortening or lengthening levers, increasing or decreasing your base of support or changing the angle of your body, you can increase or decrease the difficulty of most if not all bodyweight exercises. With a little imagination you should have no problem creating a full-body workout without the use of exercise equipment except maybe a gym mat for comfort.

Of course, just because you don’t have access to a gym doesn’t mean you are limited to bodyweight-only workouts. There are several easy to obtain workout tools you can keep at home or in your car so you can work out just about anywhere…

  • Suspension trainers
    Literally a gym in a bag, you can use a suspension trainer anywhere you have somewhere to anchor it. There are several good quality suspension trainers available including TRX, all of which provide an extra dimension to bodyweight training.


  • SUV tire
    Flip it, drag it, push it, jump over it, lift it, carry it…there are a lot of things you can do with an old SUV tire. You can usually pick them up free from your local tire dealer although you may have to pay a delivery charge if you cannot take it away yourself.


  • Sledgehammer
    Swinging a sledgehammer is one of the best upper body and core exercises around and it also makes for a fantastic cardio workout. You’ll develop strong shoulders and a vice-like grip with sledgehammer training but make sure wear work gloves if you plan on doing high reps. Hitting an SUV tire with a sledgehammer is not only good exercise; it’s an awesome stress buster!


  • Jump rope
    Jumping rope is great cardio and, ironically, the worse you are at it the more effective it is! Jumping rope is a very athletic activity that develops eye/hand/foot coordination and rhythm as well as agility. Great for warm ups, interval training and even steady paced cardio if you are so inclined.
  • Big rock
    Lifting, carrying, pressing and throwing a big rock is as primal as it gets but if you want to develop strength, rock lifting is a great form of exercise. Take care when lifting a rock overhead – for reasons that should be obvious.


  • Sandbags
    Whether you buy a commercial sandbag or simply load an old duffel with sand from the builder’s merchants, a sandbag is a very useful tool for developing strength. The unstable contents moves as you exercise which means you’ll have to use your core to keep the load stable. A clean and press with a sandbag is much harder than the same exercise performed with a barbell. Unlike a rock, you can safely drop a sandbag so they make a good choice if safety is on your mind.

Not having a gym is no excuse for not getting or staying in great shape. In fact, in evolutionary terms, gyms are relatively new and man managed to stay fit and strong long before such places existed. Don’t feel deprived if you can’t go to the gym. Instead, feel liberated!

Article by Patrick Dale
Images: Writer’s Own