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Workouts Don’t Have to Be Perfect, Just Do Something (Like This Upper Body Workout)

I’ve been in the fitness game long enough that working out is as deeply a part of me as an ingrown hair. I make it a point to make fitness part of my routine, wherever I travel. Some days, though, I pull every excuse out of my ass to not work out.

“I deserve a little break because it’s going to be a full moon tonight.”

“I don’t have my lucky sports bra on so my circumstances aren’t perfect and I’ll just put off my workout ’til tomorrow.”

I blame it on my narrow definition of what it means to “work out.”

For a long time, I worked out purely for vanity. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone here. Since I used to work at Bodybuilding.com, I chased after a certain muscular look. Based on those experiences, I was convinced that a strong, shapely body could only be forged in the gym, with weights and a predetermined number of sets and reps. Anything not resembling a barbell, dumbbell, or kettlebell would be a waste of my time (and gains). But when I took off for a life on the road and I no longer had consistent access to a gym, it actually felt like I had to give up on my fitness.

That wasn’t the case. God, no.

Give up on–rather, postpone–being able to deadlift 300 pounds, sure, but completely throw away my source of magic (fitness)? No whey.

Think of it like a concession: you aim high, realize you’ve overstretched yourself so you go from something you know is awesome to something that’s just good enough. That’s not a bad thing.

Instead of tossing in the gym towel, I leaned heavily on bodyweight workouts throughout this past year and discovered how effective they were at maintaining my strength. The more I did it, the more I became convinced that they allowed me to get stronger in ways that weren’t quite possible in the gym. Well, they probably were, but I’d be too focused on deadlifts or squats to see it.

READ: No Gym, No Weights, No Problem: How to Stay in Shape While Traveling

But maybe it’s really just a shift in my own goals. Because instead of focusing on training so that I can be better in the gym, I want to be better at keeping my legs straight when I cartwheel. I want to be able to hike up waterfalls and fight to keep my balance on muddy trails. I want to not be totally wiped out after surfing for only 30 minutes. I want to work on pistol squats and my crow pose just because. Every one of these things challenges the body in ways that the gym never could (but could still definitely support and improve).

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All of the time I’ve spent on the road, feeling like a fitness MacGyver, has helped me ditch these ideas that a standard workout should always be a list of exercises with sets and reps for a set number of days. So when I don’t feel like working out because a “work out” traditionally consists of something like the upper body workout (using a suspension trainer) below…

1a. Floor push-ups 4 x 10 reps
1b. TRX rows 4 x 12 reps
1c. Bodyweight squats 4 x 20 reps

2a. TRX bicep curls 3 x 12 reps
2b. TRX Alligator pulls 3 x 10 reps
2c. TRX rear delt flys 3 x 10 reps

3. Plank holds 3 x 30 seconds

4. Bicycle kicks 3 x 30 seconds

…then I’ll just reframe this whole thing and ask myself, “What can I fall back on?”

Well, if I don’t want to do that upper body workout, I’ll just walk 2-3 miles along the beach, while watching insane surfers re-enact David versus Goliath, where the giant, crashing waves are Goliath, and trudge slowly through the sand because it’s sand and sand sucks. This way I feel better knowing that even though I’m technically feeling lazy, I’m still out there moving my body.

In other words, the next time you feel like you’d rather bury yourself in your couch, reframe your idea of what a work out should look like. It’s not always going to be six exercises with 3 sets and 8-12 reps each. Sometimes eight to 10 100-meter sprints in the sand is just swell. Just do something. Anything that doesn’t make you regret inaction.

For goals related to how your body looks, conventional lifting programs are clutch. For those times that demand a lot of physical strength and stamina in unorthodox ways, like vagabond about the planet with my 20 to 30-pound bags in tow or successfully standing up and surfing on my first try, I am so thankful for any and all time I spend on my fitness, in any form.

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