If there’s one aspect of American culture that I miss in France, it’s the abundance of fitness choices. That’s not to say that gyms don’t exist, but the ones that do (at least where I live) are few and far between and just don’t measure up to what I’m used to. So what have I had to do? Get creative and re-evaluate what fitness means to me.
Call me a fitness snob, but in New York City, I was pretty lucky to have access to just about every type of exercise under the sun. But here? Well, I try not to fret and have a totally new take on fitness in France. I just had to adapt my attitude.
To give you some background, exercise is a major part of my life. In college, I got hooked on my university’s gym and started taking indoor cycling classes. On school breaks, I joined my local YMCA to keep the fitness routine going. I even worked at a high end gym part-time my senior year of college. Once in the real world, I became a certified Spinning instructor on the side and just embraced a healthy lifestyle.
But flash forward to now: My fitness routine is something I’ve really had to adapt after I moved to France. In a former life back in New York City, I’d feel guilty if I wasn’t at the gym six days a week sweating it out to Gregg Cook’s spin class at Equinox or deadlifting my body weight or upping my unassisted pull up record.
Looking back, I was extremely dedicated to working out and I really enjoyed it. Working in a high pressure sales job, I used my workouts as a release to get rid of life’s daily stressors. After I started working in a non-sales position downtown, I discovered just how cool fitness studios were and enjoyed doing Pilates, working out at cycling studios, kettlebell gyms, the Bar Method and even pole dancing. The variety was really exciting to me and always kept my muscles guessing. I had gym friends and we’d take classes together. I was social and I liked it.
Going to the gym was part of me. But that changed.
Once I moved to France, I was in for the harsh reality that fitness as I knew it in NYC just doesn’t exist here. For some, just walking everywhere is enough fitness-wise, but not for me. If I’m not pushing myself to my limits, I can’t help but feel disappointed. And I was disappointed at first because I couldn’t find my groove when it came to fitness in France.
When I lived in a suburb of Paris, I enjoyed my 2 kilometer walk to and from the gym each night and even in sub-zero temps, I made it to my dance or Body Pump class. But where I live now, pickings are slim. There’s one gym in the immediate area that is dingy, old and leaves a LOT to be desired. There are no windows and the machines are from last century. The weight room has about three barbells and the class selection is boring. So it’s time to get creative when it comes to fitness in France. And of course, I know many people love working out outdoors, taking advantage of Mother Nature. I do that as well and enjoy going to the park with Dagny and going for a run. But when the weather’s bad and/or you want to weight train, it’s not practical to haul barbells and weights outdoors. I like having options like I did in New York. Boredom is not good for motivation!
Tips to stay motivated:
- Earlier is better: Unless you have a workout buddy who will hold you accountable, it’s best to work out first thing in the morning. Or at least not put it off until you’re too tired or busy to care. Working out early will become a routine and you’ll be more likely to stick with it.
- Get a buddy: Whether it’s your husband, a co-worker or a neighbor, working out with someone else is more fun. Even if you jog together in silence, just knowing someone else is there sweating it out with you can really help in the motivation department. And they’ll hold you accountable.
- Track your progress: If you’re looking to lose weight, hop on the scale at regular intervals to see the results. If you want to get stronger, come up with a goal then beat yourself. Examples: Number of push-ups until failure, time it takes to run a mile, how long you can hold a wall sit, etc. Seeing yourself improve will hopefully motivate you to continue and work on new goals.
- Look cute: Wearing old shorts from college and a holey t-shirt doesn’t exactly scream motivation, so at least look the part. Even if you’re working out in the privacy of your own home, rocking a pair of Lululemon Groove pants or something equally inspiring will get your head in the right place. And in France, if you’re going to be doing funny looking lunges or plyometrics in public (totally not weird but people in the country stare at me and Tom is embarrassed if I start doing walking lunges in the park), you’d better be sure to look cute.
Many expats may find what they’re used to from home in their new life, but I am not one of them.
So what do I do for fitness in France?
Adapt! I changed my whole take on fitness and do the following:
- My Bar Method DVDs which I adore. Based on ballet principles, these workouts will push you to your max. Back in NJ, I had a membership at my local studio but now I do the Bar Method DVD rotation several times a week and it never gets easier. As much as I love high impact cardio workouts, I also find the Bar Method exercise really rewarding because you can always push yourself harder. While I still crave the jumping around that kickboxing provides, I do like that the Bar Method requires only a little space and minimal props.
- Ilaria Montagnani’s Powerstrike DVDs: Although there are a lot of tedious repetitions and combinations that might catch a beginner off-guard, these workouts will kick your butt. You’ll kick and punch until you can barely lift an arm or a leg. Not for the faint of heart!
- YouTube: Amen for instructors who take the time to videotape their routines for those of us who don’t have access to a gym. Janis Saffell is one instructor that I like along with some Les Mills programs. I’m always on the lookout for other good cardio workouts, so please share if you have any favorites!
- A good playlist and inspiration: I tap into my fitness background and create some high powered cardio workouts to get my heart pumping in my living room to music my neighbors probably love. I’m sure. Dagny looks at me like I’m nuts, but hey, it gets the job done.
All of the above options for fitness in France take dedication and it hasn’t always been easy to motivate myself to work out from my living room. Won’t lie there. But it can be done – and I’m hoping that one day I’ll find myself living somewhere near a gym that I adore. In fact, I’m sure of it.
What do you do for fitness in France or elsewhere?