One of the pleasures for us when on the road, is finding different ways and places to keep fit. Both of us enjoy cycling and swimming, we are both members and regular users of a gym at home, as well as being members of our local open air pool, Portishead Lido, where we enjoy early morning swims three times a week during the season. Jo used to be a big runner before her operation (and is picking it up again now she is well) and we have both completed triathlons and half marathons. As we get older we find that staying fit becomes harder but more important in terms of our overall health and so we enjoy working out together, particularly outdoors. In no way are we ‘gym bunnies’ or ‘fitness freaks’ though! We also like to practise yoga most days as we find this helps us no end with our flexibility and mobility and wards off aches and pains!
Obviously keeping this up when we are in the van presents challenges. We don’t have access to a gym and all the equipment one finds there, and there's a limit to what we can carry with us. Oddly though, the Covid-19 pandemic has opened our eyes to how we can be more flexible and creative with our exercise regime, as Lockdown has meant gyms and swimming pools have been closed for months. This has made us realise that we can manage without these facilities - which fits well with ‘Vanlife’ - and has actually made us question whether or not we need to spend £60 a month on gym memberships, especially when we are once again able to travel more widely. The only disadvantage we can see is that many friendships have been made via personal contact at the gym!
In the past we’ve travelled with hand weights and kettlebells, but these are by definition heavy and cumbersome and have a dramatic impact on our payload. However, over the past few months we have started using High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) workouts, and body weight resistance exercises and we have invested in a couple of sets of resistance bands, varying from very low to very high resistance. These bands weigh a fraction of similar resistance hand weights and kettlebells and pack very neatly in a small bag. So along with a couple of mats, we now find that this is all we need! And one thing that is accessible to us pretty much all the time, and we have rediscovered a love of during the period of lockdown when it was initially our only form of exercise, is walking. We’ve walked more than 500 miles over the last couple of months! We’ve even had to invest in new walking shoes having worn out the ones we purchased in Decathlon on our first trip to France in Frank!!
We've found some great places to train, including this clifftop in Galicia
We’ve found that there are so many sources of on-line training programs. YouTube is awash with them. For HIIT and Abs training that require no equipment at all we find that one of the easiest to access is The Body Coach. This prodigious producer of training videos might not be everybody’s cup of tea, but for us, at our level of fitness and expertise, we find his circuits work well, and if you give it your all, even a fifteen minute workout is exhausting and beneficial.
Resistance band workouts are not as easy to find but we use HASfit and ACHV PEAK. Both of these are American fitness ‘experts’, but again, their videos are easy to access and follow, and we find them quite effective. The main thing with all of these is that they can be done anywhere. We have done workouts in some amazing locations, on clifftops, beaches, beside lakes and rivers, in vineyards and more. Pretty much anywhere that we are able to park the van and slip our trainers on, makes a suitable ‘gym’.
Our ideal scenario is a workout, and the ability to jump straight into the sea, river or lake - absolute bliss!!
One of our passions is to swim in the open air. Not just open water, like sea, lakes and rivers, but also open air pools. When we were in Australia in 2019 we discovered that the place was really well served with fantastic outdoor swimming pools, both conventional pools and sea pools, and always free of charge. Jo had the idea to make them a focus of our trip and so we worked our way up the east coast of New South Wales and Queensland actively seeking out these pools and swimming in as many of them as we could!
Swimming pools on the continent aren’t quite as accessible as they were in Australia, but they are available in most reasonable sized towns, and we’re always happy to discover an open air pool. One thing we have learned though is that continental pools often demand swimming hats and ‘proper’ swimming costumes, so we always have these in the van.
Another big plus for pools (and many sea and lake beaches) is the availability of showers. A boon to every ’Vanlifer’ seeking to conserve their water supplies!!
We both love cycling as another way to keep fit. We carry a pair of bikes on the van, so they are always with us, and we actively seek out cycling friendly locations. Our ‘Van Bikes’ are road orientated hybrids, Jamis Coda Sports, which are suited to tarmac and light gravel paths (such as canal towpaths etc.).
On the continent there is a massive network of bike routes, in France in particular (Voie Verte), and we search for them and suitable stopovers to enable us to have days in the saddle. We often cover long distances, and recently added good quality handlebar bags to our bikes so that we can carry food and drink and therefore extend our days out on two wheels.
Probably the easiest and cheapest way of keeping fit, and also of seeing a lot of the places we visit at a more leisurely pace.
We have rediscovered a love of walking decent distances during the pandemic, and have both said that we would really like to try some longer and more challenging ‘Hikes’ on our travels in the future - so watch out for Blog Posts where we will surely document any interesting ones.
Jo has an ambition to walk at least some parts of the Camino de Santiago so we will be seeking opportunities to tackle this over the next few years!
Jo loves her Yoga and Pilates classes at the gym, and even more so alongside the van in the fresh air, under a blue sky, surrounded by the sounds and smells of nature. We have really found that it helps our flexibility to do a session after exercise, but also it’s nice for our ‘headspace’ as well.
There are obviously loads of online apps and tutorials, and some of them can be very challenging for people with our level of knowledge and skill in the discipline. We therefore use an app called Yoga Studio, which is pitched just right for us, and we can select ‘Beginner’, ‘Intermediate’, or ‘Advanced’ classes depending on our inclination at the time, and also classes of 15, 30 or 60 minutes duration. We’ve yet to attempt ‘Advanced’ classes!
Similarly to the HIIT sessions, these classes can be undertaken almost anywhere we park up, limited only by our level of self-consciousness in front of an audience, and of course, the weather!!
When we travel in the van we're frequently drawn to stopovers alongside water and many of these have become firm favourites over the years with happy memories of swimming and canoeing with the kids.
We love to river and lake swim in particular, but we have also discovered Stand-Up Paddle-Boarding (SUP). This adds another aspect to our keep fit regime. We picked up a bargain inflatable board last year in, of all places, Lidl, for about £180. It's made by a company called F2 PaddleBoards, and although their entry level board at a normal price of around £400, we think it's great. We're hooked and are looking for another board so that we have one each to paddle up rivers, and across lakes.
It provides a surprisingly good workout, lots of core strength and balance required. We'll be searching out Paddle-Board friendly stopovers in future!