The Everyman: Working Out The Roman Way

Doing laps at Circus Maximus, an ancient chariot racing stadium. Photo: Jason Devaney |

You don’t need a gym and/or a track to get in shape, writes Jason Devaney.

Running the same route over and over again can get boring. Even when you’re in a foreign country surrounded by history.

Since touching down in Italy last month, my wife and I have tried to run our way around Positano and, for the last four weeks, Rome. Our runs in the capital city have mostly consisted of either an out-and-back route on a trail along the Tiber River or what I call sightseeing runs—which involve a combination of running, stopping, taking photos of ruins and old churches, walking and a bit more running at the end.

For the last week, however, we’ve been craving more of a traditional run—you know, one that actually involves mostly running.

This week, we discovered it.

Our Monday evening run began on the sidewalk of a main road next to the Tiber but quickly brought us over to the east side of the river, where we put in a good 10 minutes before arriving at Circus Maximus—an ancient stadium where Romans used to race chariots. All that’s left is the shell of a track, which is covered in crushed stones and sections of grass. We did one loop of the half-mile track as we pretended to race ancient horse-drawn chariots at dusk. The loose stones made it quite difficult to build much speed or keep our footing.

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Then we continued along a shaded sidewalk until we reached what I’ll call “Muscle Park.” It has various workout stations scattered throughout, including pull-up bars, stumps on which to do dips and lots of other things that I can’t even begin to describe.

It was as if we had gone back in time to a few hundred years A.D. There were no air-conditioned gyms, but parks like this one were the place to get in a workout and hang out with your buddies.

The place was too busy for us to hit any of the stations, so we decided to run a loop on the road that circles the park. It ended up measuring nearly three quarters of a mile.

And that’s when it hit me. Who needs a gym when most of what we need to stay in shape is right in front of us? Not every city or town has its own “Muscle Park,” but there are park benches (dips), curbs (dips, pushups), playgrounds (lots of options there), boulders (again, lots of possibilities) and other things everywhere.

If you can’t afford a gym membership or do not have one near you, don’t be afraid to take a walk and check out what’s around you. No track in your town? Try doing loops around your neighborhood. Or, run on a straightaway, sprinting from telephone pole to telephone pole.

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After a handful of those, do some pushups and then run back. Do dips on the front steps of your house. Or do bodyweight squats—a few sets of 50 will bring on a nice burn.

If adding more upper body strength is your goal, find a place where you can do some pull-ups—maybe the top of a swingset, the overhang of the deck in your backyard (just make sure it’s not too high!), etc.

Sometimes all it takes is some creativity to get the job done.

What’s your favorite exercise to do outside of the gym? Tweet me @jason_Devaney1

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