Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Gym and Physical Fitness

I was a serious gym rat before I left for Tanzania. I was a serious gym rat while I was in Tanzania. I still love working out now that I'm back, but now it's back to the basics.

You go in any gym here in London (Ontario) or the GTA or pretty much any commercial gym in Canada, you're going to get reasonably good equipment. At most universities in Canada, especially the new fitness and wellness centres (what's a wellness centre anyway?), you're going to get top of the line equipment. UWO recently opened their multi-million dollar centre and a few years before that, UTM did the same.

I won't even lie, but these gyms or wellness centres or fashion show runways or testosterone farms or whatever you want to call them, are great. I mean some of the best facilities you'll find anywhere in the world. Hands down. And the kicker is that all students can use them free (well free meaning you've paid for it in your tuition whether you use it or not). Tuition dollars well spent.

So there I was, a staple at UTM's brand new gym during my undergrad, then a staple at UWO's new gym during my MA and the first couple years of my PhD, and before that spending years of my life at York's Track Centre. Let's add to the fact that I've collected enough equipment over the years that I have a pretty decent gym in my parents' basement in Mississauga. Right before I left for Tanzania my bench was well over 300 pounds, my squat was pushing 400, and my deadlift reaching up to nearly 500 pounds. I'm not the tallest guy in the world (shoot I'm not tall by any standards), but even if you scroll through some of the pics from January and February, I had some size on me. I loved (love) the gym and spent hours a day using most of that multi-million dollar equipment.

I get to Tanzania and all that changes. Not just did my gym frequenting habits change, but how I see physical fitness and getting fit.

First off, you don't need a gym, nor do you need a personal trainer, the fanciest pair of Nikes or Reeboks that will magically slim your Big Mac Bottom into an Apple Bottom. (Some of the best workouts I had in Tanzania were either barefoot or walking through the streets of Arusha wearing my 15,000TSH or 10 dollar used Kill-A-Man-Jaro hiking boots.) You don't need a New Year resolution or an office rec league or a made for TV diet.
All you need is to get up and do something. Go for a walk in the mall. Work in your garden. Cut the grass. Ride a bike. Watch TV all day and force yourself to walk to the fridge or your bedroom during every commercial. Just do something.

I used to joke before I left that all I needed to have a good workout were some big rocks strapped to my back. Mind you I never got close to that here at home, but outside of lifting car parts and steel rods in Mwanza, I was working out with paint cans full of concrete in Arusha.

I'll admit I've been to some pretty high-end gyms in Tanzania (I have to thank IFBB - professional bodybuilder - David Nyombo for letting us stay at his house while we were in Dar es Salaam and highlight his new state-of-the-art fitness centre). They've got all the equipment you need to turn you or your special lady from a toonie into a dime.

Yes, they cost more to use than the African Gyms I described in my earlier posts, and yes they do have more and "real" equipment. And no, I don't feel like there's something wrong with these gyms, including UWO's new facilities. I really think they are great and money well spent.

But on a personal level, watching some really fit, big, and cut dudes lift and workout while sharing a bench with 15 other guys, on a diet of ugali na maziwa (ugali and milk is the meal to eat to get big - mass gaining protein powders are pretty much unheard of for the average person), or using Cold War era equipment barefoot so you won't dirty up the area rugs (that was actually the best gym experience I had in Tanzania while I was in Arusha. Gotta thank Eric, Alex, Hamsa aka "Little Chris", and Godson aka "Son of God"), really made me realize that I don't need all that Goodlife-esque equipment to stay in shape.

This goes back to an underlying theme to my post - Tanzanians working and making do with what they've got.  Not just making do, but excelling with the whole "lemons made into lemonade" mantra.

Some concrete and wood and you're good to go

Ultimate Frisbee

Go for a run

Play soccer with a goat

Or push a car out of some rocks in the road


  1. LOL soccer with a goat.
    How about get a dog.
    If your dog is fat, you're not getting enough exercise.

  2. Yea! Who needs gyms and working out!




  3. Or you can do the anti-gym workout and just have some really good genetics, lol.

  4. Pushing a car out (or up a hill) is a really good workout. Someone got greedy with the gas. Or you can run with one of these. LOL