Sitting on the hospital gurney, trying to ignore the stitching needle passing through my leg, I contemplated how a week long fitness kick could end so painfully. I had expected sore muscles, but this was a shock. After the past few months of festive eating and Tet holiday indulgences, I was feeling a little sluggish, so I decided it was time to get off the couch and see how I could get fit in Hanoi.
Wanting to avoid the larger gyms with their high membership fees and tortuous exercise routines, I chose seven activities spread across the city. My goal at the start of the week was to feel fitter, healthier and inspired to remain active. By the time I ended up in the hospital bed, however, all I wanted to do was curl up on the couch with a good book. But I’ll start at the beginning.
Sunday afternoon rock-climbing
It was a sleepy Sunday afternoon and I was pumped to start my week of fitness by tackling indoor rock climbing. Upon entering the small, stuffy climbing room at VietClimb, I was disappointed by the small walls and lack of harnesses. As I hesitantly climbed a few metres off the ground, I watched in awe as the man beside me hung casually off one of the smaller plastic wall grips. He pushed off with his foot, propelling his body sideways as he leapt, a la Spider-Man, along the walls. A few people hung around below, offering up suggestions for his next move and ignoring my pathetic attempt to reach the top of the baby climb.
For those with some level of climbing experience and the desire to hone their bouldering skills, these low, angular climbing walls with the steep overhangs and sharp corners would offer an hour or two of fun exercise. However, for the rest of us, this is just a small, bewildering room with cushioned floors and colourful plastic objects hammered into the walls.
Monday morning Bootcamp
Beeactive Fitness: beeactivetoday.com
Despite the drizzle that greeted me early Monday morning, I headed out to Tay Ho where I had signed up to participate in the appropriately named Bootcamp. It took less than 15 minutes for my peppy self to transform into a shaky mess of aching muscles. As I squatted, lifted, skipped, ran, and fantasized about sitting down, I was taken through an hour of high-intensity circuit training. The trainer, Joakim Esaiasson, offered the perfect mix of encouragement and tough love, while ensuring that the exercises were done safely. Although I can’t honestly say it was fun, I did finish the hour with a proud sense of accomplishment and, despite the burning muscles, I felt that I had achieved the workout I craved.
Tuesday evening vinyasa
Zenith Yoga: zenithyogavietnam.com
In all honesty, I didn’t make it to the Vinyasa yoga class on the Tuesday after Bootcamp. The following day was spent nursing my very tender thigh muscles, which I didn’t think could handle an hour of down-dog. However, I had previously taken yoga at the sunny Studio Two and, despite my inability to twist my body in a knot while standing on one leg, I have always enjoyed it. Zenith have a great group of teachers who, though transient, always ensure you are comfortable and safe no matter your level of yoga experience. As well as helping to build fitness and muscle tone, yoga is a physical, mental, and spiritual discipline which can be very enjoyable, particularly for the last ten minutes which are spent lying on the floor in meditation.
The class was called Jump and it was to be held at B-Garden, a small gym and dance studio opened in 2013. Bambu, the owner and instructor, greeted the class warmly and showed us to our individual trampolines. The class started easily enough — there’s nothing too taxing about bouncing on a trampoline — but it quickly picked up intensity. The music was turned up and at the front of the room Bambu was jumping, kicking and spinning at a speed that was impossible to match. With whoops, whistles, and unfailing energy, she shouted out instructions that I could barely understand. Forget kicking my legs higher, I was concentrating on staying upright. Watching my arms and legs flail about, Bambu smiled reassuringly at me. “Just have fun,” she said.
It was a nightmare scenario. Standing in the middle of the class, everyone had turned to stare at me. The third-floor room was hot and I had asked to turn on the fan so as to dispel some of the gym-room stink, but my request was met with a mocking laughter. It was ten minutes into the women’s kickboxing class and I already felt like a complete idiot.
I had naively thought this would be fun. I envisioned an aerobics class where a peppy teacher would put on some music and we would all workout using a few kicks and punches. Instead, I had joined a group of intense women who were there to prep for fights. These regulars were serious and it was clear that unless I was, too, I had no business interrupting their training session. This was no class for beginners and for someone who (apparently) didn’t even know how to punch properly. It was an uncomfortable and intimidating situation.
Friday morning Zumba
Shiva-Studios: Search Facebook for Shiva-Studios Hanoi
Feeling fragile after the previous night’s kickboxing, a friend and I entered the small Shiva-Studio with trepidation.
“We don’t shake hands, we only hug here,” greeted the owner Nijla as she embraced us both. It was hard to feel intimidated by this sort of welcome. It didn’t matter that neither of us had taken Zumba before, we were there to have fun and get a bit of exercise. This was a relief, as it quickly became clear that, despite a decade of jazz ballet, I had no talent for Zumba. “Just don’t forget to smile,” was the advice of the instructor as we awkwardly swung our hips and clapped our hands.
The Saturday afternoon run
Red River Runners: redriverrunners.com
It was day seven of my week of exercise and I was feeling energised and inspired by all the new activities I had tried. For the final activity, I joined the Red River Runners, a casual group who meet every weekend for a social run around Hanoi. Although I hadn’t run much in the past year, I was fairly confident that if I could make it through kickboxing and Bootcamp, then running 10km would not be a problem. Leaving from Xuan Dieu, we headed past the flower market and down towards the river. I was feeling pretty happy, jogging past the fields and flowers, talking to my new running friends and enjoying the almost clear weather.
Then I was down, sprawled on the ground like an upside-down turtle. I had climbed, lifted, skipped, jumped, kicked and danced my way through the week, only to be taken down by a rock in the ground, which I had clumsily tripped over. Regaining my balance, I rolled up my leggings to reveal a deep puncture in my knee. Although my husband insists I’m exaggerating, I am convinced I saw the bone. So with blood streaming out of my knee I hobbled over to a taxi and made my way to SOS Clinic where the doctor stitched me up. In reassurance to my whimpers she told me, rather sternly, that she had just done this for a five-year-old, so I would be fine.
So ends my week of fitness. Despite my sore leg, I do feel fitter and healthier, and I plan to get back out there as soon as possible. Many of the activities I tried over that week were not just a fitness success, but genuinely fun.