Fitness in public: 3 rules for exercising anywhere

Applying equal parts dedication and don’t-give-a-d*mn to embracing physical activity in unusual locations.

When you think of exercise, maybe you think of going to a large gym full of equipment and weights. Or, maybe you visualize a group class where you’re all performing movements in unison under the guide of an instructor. Or, maybe you’re picturing your favorite video-based workout routine done in the comfort of your own home.

One thing these all have in common is that these are all in private spaces, or spaces designed for the explicit purpose of exercise. But movement is something we can do no matter where we are, even if that idea seems strange. For example, I doubt during your thought exercise you were picturing pushups in a park, lunges in an airport, stair climbers at a conference, or jumping jacks in the parking lot. But why not?

In some cases, exercising in a non-traditional location is a great way to get out of a routine and add a fresh perspective to activities you already do. Many group classes in are already taking advantage of this by offering formal workouts in parks, breweries, or public squares. There are pop-up- meetups all over the place where likeminded people gather to move together in public.

But another benefit to public exercise is that it provides a great alternative for busy folks who don’t have the time or means to get to a gym, workout class, or even a dedicated home workout. Public exercise doesn’t have to be a formal event, and it doesn’t have to be a group event either! After all, we’ve got our bodies with us at all times, and the best way to take advantage of that is learning how to utilize minor moments throughout the day.

Rule 1: Create some routines in advance

If you’ve spent any time with me over the last couple of years, you may have noticed that I’m habitually moving my body in different purposeful ways when I have a certain span of free time. But the thing about habits is that they’re better curated prior to actually needing them. I don’t know about you, but if I need to come up with something on the fly and execute on it right at that moment? That’s where I struggle with ideas and my mind draws a blank. So, I’ve spent some time beforehand thinking about the types of movements I enjoy, the types of situations I tend to find myself in with free time, and what my fitness goals are, and wrote out some routines and movement options that aligned with those circumstances.

My personal travel and event schedule means that I find myself alone in public places with about 20-30 minutes of unscheduled downtime. So, I’ve put together a couple different bodyweight exercise routines that take 10-20 minutes each, which require minimal amount of space to complete, and that I can do in a fairly normal outfit (like a tank top and stretchy jeans). Because my fitness goals include strength and endurance, my predetermined lists cycle through a set amount of upper and lower body weight-bearing exercises (lunges, squats, pushups, tricep dips, sit-ups, etc.) which I can go through on auto-pilot, depending on what I have available to me (chairs, steps, walls, etc).

Rule 2: Work with what you got

Sometimes time, space, circumstances, or even your outfit will determine the type of workout you can do. No one wants to work up a sweat when they need to look presentable at an event, or try to do complicated movements in a crowded space, or lie down on a dirty floor in nice clothes, or walk really long distances in uncomfortable shoes.

Of course, a little bit of advance planning sometimes helps. If I know I’m going to be spending the day in airports with long layovers, and know I don’t have to do anything important as soon as I land, you can bet I’m going to wear comfortable, stretchy clothes and find a spot on the floor to do a fifteen minute ab routine or other bodyweight exercises. Or if I’m going to be at a conference and unable to wake up early enough to get to the gym, I’ll wear layers or pack a change of clothes so I can be comfortable enough to exercise in one of the extra rooms.

And if sweating is out of the question? Since I’ve got full use of my legs, I personally find ways to do a little bit of extra walking. Maybe that means pacing around the luggage area instead of standing still while waiting for my bags, or doing laps around the airport terminal instead of taking a seat. Maybe that means getting away from my desk at lunch to walk a mile around the skyway. Maybe that just means parking farther away, taking the stairs, or any number of minor things that add up to a fairly active day when they’re all put together.

Rule 3: It’s OK to be weird

If you’re going to be doing sit-ups on the airport floor, whipping out some resistance bands in the break room at a professional event, or doing some lunges outside on the sidewalk, you’ll have to be prepared for a few odd looks. I’ve personally built my brand on standing out from the crowd, so being noticed doesn’t bother me much, but I understand that it’s a bit intimidating for people that are used to blending in a little more.

As long as you’re being respectful of other people using the area (not blocking walking areas, giving people a reasonable amount of personal space, keeping your own music, motions, and noises to a reasonable level for the location, etc.) you have as much of a right to your activity as anyone else does (institutional biases notwithstanding). In fact, it can often be a great conversation starter with friends or strangers alike, and can get people thinking about incorporating movement into their lives too – bonus points!

If you’re really worried about what people think, I recommend reading about how to let go of fear of judgment and dealing with gym anxiety. The goal is to focus more on your own health and wellbeing, and less on conforming to a fairly arbitrary set of social norms – which, to be honest, are still encouraging people to be sedentary and put themselves last, and where’s the fun in that?

Have any of you tried working out in non-traditional spaces? Yoga at the beach? Sprints at the park? Resistance bands in the break room? Sit-ups in the courtyard? I’d love to hear about your experience!

2 Responses to “Fitness in public: 3 rules for exercising anywhere”

  1. Mitch Silverman

    This is great, Michelle!

    But I haven’t exercised in forever. Could you do a post about how to start a cheap exercise plan? Being weird in public (yay!) isn’t a problem for me either–I just don’t know where to start.

    • Michelle Schulp

      There are tons of resources for doing exercising using your own body weight, and I’d recommend seeing what personal trainers and other people with that level of experience have to say. But I’ve gotten this request a lot, so look for some content like this in the future.


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