Family Magazine

How Do You Stay Fit While Cruising?

By Behan Gifford @sailingtotem

Cruising is a healthy lifestyle, where exercise is a natural part of every day. What a great lifestyle to stay fit and feel great! Right? Right?

relapse sailing
Yeah…it’s not quite like that. There’s truth in it, but staying physical fitness doesn’t just happen: it still takes effort, and commitment.

Before we left

Pre-cruising, I was in pretty good shape: jogging and practicing yoga a few times a week, and walking a lot (my commute to work involved a few miles every weekday). I traveled routinely for work and just tracked down local yoga studios or explored a new place on an early morning run. Traveling and fitness were easy, so I thought the segue into cruising would be a breeze too. I’d just stay in decent shape without having to think about it too hard. More time for running, and yoga, and lots and lots of walking, right?

My shorts shrank, I swear

That’s not how it worked out for me at all. We had been cruising for about a year when I looked very jealously at Jamie’s six pack, and my encroaching pudge, and though… huh.  What’s happening? And whoa, is HE looking so good! Jamie’s had gone from trim surburban dad to hot cruising husband. Why him, and not me? We were both walking a lot, but he did the brunt of heaver physical labor on Totem. I wasn’t running (have you seen the roads and sidewalks in Mexico?!). I wasn’t practicing yoga (it turns out having a class to participate in is a big motivator for me). On the other hand, I was eating a lot of fantastic Mexican food washed down with icy Pacifico beer. He was exercising more than previously. I was exercising less and definitely not fitter than our “old life.” Flabbier. It was a sobering realization.

cards again!

possibly afternoons of cards with calorie-laden snacks and a cocktail had something to do with it, too

Fitness equipment

Should you get equipment to help you with fitness on board? I don’t know; do you have a dusty NordicTrack in your basement? Before leaving, I had gotten elastic bands. They seemed like a great way to get some exercise in a small space, especially on a passage. I finally gave them away after they sat virtually un-used for two years.

If you can add gear and will actually use it, there are options ranging from portable stair-steppers that fit in the cockpit to kettlebells- some cruisers even manage a TRX system. I think it’s mostly superfluous: as Jan Irons (Commuter Cruiser) shows, your boat IS a gym: her companionway makes a fine built in stair-stepper. Or, take a look at the Facebook page for fitness afloat wonderwoman, Rebecca Sweeney: she knows how to get a workout anywhere, whether it’s the deck of a boat or the beach (while her charter guests are in the beachfront bar no less). She has some workout-specific gear, but overwhelmingly, simply uses what’s around her. She’s a phenomenal role model for fitness afloat, and I especially love how much she just looks like she’s having so much FUN- if/when we get to the Caribbean, I want to do workouts with Rebecca!

Now what?

It took me a while to find what worked best, and even then, it takes regular adjustment based on our location, or the weather, or other factors. Sometimes, there just aren’t roads to run on. Other times, we’re in places where it’s inappropriate to show a lot of skin by wearing a tank top and shorts to workout public.

Kokopo public market- veggies

It’s not socially acceptable to show a lot of skin here, and I can’t imagine working out in one of these tents

What works for me

I still run, although not as much as I’d like. My MP3 player and our ipod have both succumbed to salty air (RIP, but they did last more than seven years each!), and I don’t do well without a soundtrack. On the other hand, being tune-less gives me even more motivation to find running partners, because the best advice EVER is “if you’re running too fast to talk, you’re running too fast.” It’s a two-fer: good exercise, and time to catch up with a friend. And, it’s a huge motivator. When Kathy says she’s picking me up in the dinghy at 7:30 so we can hit the trails at the bottom of this mountain in Langkawi, I am ready to go at 7:30. I might be barely functional and toting my coffe mug, but I’m decent and I’ve got my shoes.

telaga beach days

I practice yoga whenever I can. We have a perfectly mat-sized spot on the bow, but it’s often covered with an awning- great shade to cool the cabin below but no room for me. So, I’m always looking for the alternatives: here in peninsular Malaysia, there’s a paucity of anchorages but many reasonable marinas, and those marinas often have attached hotels with fitness facilities. We’re currently at Puteri Harbour, Malaysia, where I can sign up for gym and pool time. My standing “booking” for a morning slot in the Fitness Center is another excellent motivator: I can’t miss it, so I don’t, and I get a great practice in with a pretty view besides.

yoga on the beach

I walk. A lot. I’m always looking for an excuse, whether it’s for fun or to get a job done. Is there a hill near the anchorage? I must climb it and see the view! No special equipment required, and often a new friend or two to make- like the two guys below who helped me find an obscure trail to a temple above Jayapura, Indonesia. And then, there are groceries to lug. Since we’re not piling them into the back of the van on a run from the grocery store, but carrying everything by hand, we shop more often and in smaller quantities. Little bits of exercise, all the time.

My impromptu guides

I get in the water: swimming is great exercise, and kayaking is good too. Sometimes (and lately, a lot) the water isn’t exactly conducive to a swim, like in a marina (stray current, and lots of nasty stuff being pumped over, deliberately and inadvertently), but we spend most of our time at anchor. Laps around the boat are a great way to burn up some energy and have fun at the same time. Maximizing down time on a pretty reef is even better: when we’re in a place with cool marine life, we all spend hours underwater most days, tearing through calories. Adding a SUP to Totem is high on my wishlist, in great part because it looks like such a fun way to stay fit on the water (bonus: additional yoga platform!).

boulder swimming

What works for you? You’ll find out. And maybe, like me, it will take a learning curve, and some tighter shorts, before you find the routine and habits that work best for you.

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