Jungle Workouts: Preseason in Bali

Last year, I had without a doubt the toughest off-season that I had ever put myself through. I worked tirelessly to prepare myself for the season, whilst battling against a back injury that restricted my lifting for months. When I wasn’t training, I was buried up to my eyeballs in newspapers from the 1950s in an effort to get my thesis written. Although I was in serious danger of becoming a recluse, it was totally worth the effort on both counts as 2011 rewarded me with a Masters’ degree and a Maple Bowl.

In terms of location, this off season has been a stark contrast. Since October I have been living and working in Bali, at a remote eco-lodge on the slopes of Mount Batukaru. It is located between two small villages, surrounded by the jungle and rice fields that cover the deep valleys. It is a world away from Manchester, where the tarmac is flat and unbroken and the gym is only a short drive away.

My Gym

Instead, I have no sporting facilities to speak of. I have only what the Balinese landscape has to offer and so naturally, my isolated existence has posed some challenges for me as I endeavour to prepare for the new season. It has also presented some fantastic opportunities and challenged me to get creative with my training regime. The degree to which I am being tested remains high.

One area in which I have no problem at all is running. I am blessed with an entire mountainside that is mine to explore. Terrain varies from dense jungle to wide open paddy fields, providing fantastic scenery but occasionally difficult footing. It certainly puts you off stride when you plunge knee-deep into a rice paddy. The network of roads that runs between villages can sometimes offer the sweet relief of asphalt, but more often than not brings potholes and loose stones. Rather fortunately, the road that runs through the property here is a steep tarmac hill. Sprinting up this a few times certainly aids my speed training.

The most significant challenge is the lack of weight training facilities. To begin with, I was restricted to bodyweight exercises and explosive, plyometric work. I basically bounded around the place like a rabbit for six weeks or so, doing the odd press up every now and then for good measure. I also attempted to weigh down pieces of bamboo with bags of books. Sick of watching my bugs bunny impression, a friend of mine named Komang showed up for work one day with a homemade barbell on the back of a motorbike. I now use this bar in much of my weight work. It consists of an iron bar, with a block of concrete on either end. One bar, one weight, no adjustment.

My weights

My other weights come in the form of two large cushion covers that I have converted into sandbags. I throw these over my shoulders or stuff them into my rucksack and use them for my strength workouts. The whole package can probably weigh up to around 100 kilos, depending on how much sand gets stuffed in the bags. It is enough to work with, and can be surprisingly versatile. It certainly adds a bit of variety to workouts.


More lifting

My schedule is heavily dictated by the weather, which fluctuates heavily up here. It is possible to see blazing sunshine and torrential rain within ten minutes of one another, and I exercise almost exclusively during the latter. I have become accustomed to being pelted by raindrops the size of marbles whilst lifting and running because it is simply too hot at any other time of day. It is like exercising in a sauna, while someone continually sprays a cool hose over you. I doubt I will ever be happy in an air conditioned gym again.

Through all of this, one thing remains consistent. The Balinese think I am utterly mental. On every run, I am fixed by the puzzled stares of sheltering farmers while they wonder where on earth I need to get to so quickly in the middle of the monsoon. Kids glare at me, desperately trying to work out why I keep picking up a sandbag, only to decide it was fine where it was and put it back down again. Mountain life demands only that one is strong enough to carry a bag of rice, so what need is there of training? Ever felt uncomfortable at someone watching you in the gym? Don’t do any exercise in Bali.

My training partner Huey.

I’m confident that I will be in great shape when I arrive back in Helsinki. I have a fresh approach to training and I really feel like it is having a great effect on me. Only time will tell whether jungle workouts really work.