I am a Pilates master trainer, Gyrotonic certified Pre-trainer, Yoga instructor a USAT (United States of America Triathlons) certified Level 1 Triathlon coach as well as a Physical Therapist Assistant, so I can say that I may not know my burgers but I do know bodies. Unfortunately there is no magic potion, no cream or lotion, no little pill that you can take that will instantly give you the flat abs and toned physique we all long for. We have all heard the saying, “it’s easy, just eat less and exercise more!” Is it easy? Not in a city where on every street corner they are hawking freshly baked simit (circular sesame rings) and where you can’t even go to the hairdresser or to buy a carpet without the proprietor offering you something to eat or drink. Turkish hospitality is synonymous with food, so how can we stay fit?
The good news is, just like there is almost a seemingly endless choice of places and things to eat in Istanbul, there are also a wide array of activities and sports facilities to keep those simits from forming around our waists.
The single most important piece of advice I can give anyone about to embark on a fitness quest is to first get a check-up with a physician. Once you get the go ahead, the next thing I would advise is to find some physical activity you liketo do. A few years ago everyone was going to Pilates studios wanting to do Pilates. Why? Because it was modaor the “in thing” to do. Trying something new is a way of finding out if we enjoy it, so there is nothing wrong with starting something because it is popular. Still, I must reiterate what I said before: once you’ve tried it, make sure you likeit. An hour can fly by in a spin class if you like riding a stationary bike with loud music and a teacher yelling at you to turn the pedals faster. Nevertheless, if you aren’t a person who likes to sweat buckets while spinning your feet like an animated cartoon character, that hour can seem endless.
There are so many options in Istanbul for sports and since summer is coming I have decided to highlight a few activities that may help you reach your ideal bikini body.
Pilates has been around for quite a while in Turkey and I opened the first Pilates studio in Turkey in 1999 at Planet Health Club in Kuruçeşme. Now, there are almost as many Pilates studios as there are simit vendors! Pilates has become increasingly popular and it is a great way to tone your body and fix postural problems. However, keep in mind that it is not an aerobic activity, so if you choose to do Pilates, you must make time during the week for some other activity that will raise your heart rate and help you achieve cardiac health and burn fat. Pilates is ideal for people who want to learn how their body works. A good Pilates teacher will teach their client all about anatomically correct movement and will explain any kind of postural problems the client may have and not be aware of.
Gyrotonic is another “new” fitness fad although it started almost 25 years ago. It is new in Turkey and I introduced it to Istanbulites 8 years ago. It is slowly catching on and I feel I must report that I have trained instructors in such far away cities as Diyarbakır where they are now teaching Gyrotonic, so trust me when I say it will be all the rage soon.
Gyrotonic is taught using a machine that looks more like it should be in a torture chamber than in a wellness center, but anyone who tries it says it feels like a massage. It is a series of 3 dimensional movements with the goal of liberating the spine and thereby creating a more functional and responsive body. Gyrotonic has the same caveat as Pilates; however it is not an aerobic exercise so it must be supplemented with some kind of cardiovascular activity as well. Gyrotonic is for the kind of person who likes to move organically and who learns through doing rather than “being taught”. It is also great for anyone with scoliosis or those of you who have suffered from a slipped disc in the past.
Yoga isn’t new and yet there are so many different kinds of yoga being taught that it seems like there is always something new and different to try. Ashtanga Yoga, Vinyasa Yoga, Hatha Yoga, Bikram Yoga and Anusara Yoga are just some alternatives. If you are a person who likes to focus on the spiritual side of things, Yoga is the way to go. Just like with Pilates, there are almost as many yoga studios as there are types of Yoga. Try them all and see which one suits you the best.
Fitness centers are popping up like mushrooms in Istanbul and just like mushrooms, they are equally as varied. They range from the basic to the sublime. If you are a member of a gym and haven’t been going, get yourself back in there! If you aren’t a member and are looking to become one, then look for one that is first and foremost convenient. Being a member of a gym does you no good if you can’t get there easily. Next look to make sure it has the primary things that you are looking for. If you like to swim, then look for a gym with a pool. Conversely, if you like to get massages, then choose one with a fully equipped spa. The majority of fitness centers in Istanbul are staffed with well trained and qualified instructors. Also, they are constantly offering new and exciting classes from aikido to zumba and they are everywhere – even at shopping malls! You can work out with your personal trainer, lose that extra weight and go buy yourself some new jeans afterwards! If you exercise your fingers and just flip to the back of this issue to THE LISTINGS section, you will find some of the more popular fitness centers listed.
What about those of you that don’t want to go to a gym or studio? What if along with your resolution to lose weight you are also resolved to be financially frugal and you don’t want to or have the means to take private lessons or join a fitness center? Then, how about getting back to the basics? That is - the great outdoors. Istanbul may seemlike a concrete jungle, but it’s not! For those of you - like me - who love to bike and run, there are miles upon miles of forest trails and seaside roads where you can pound the pavement or go for a spin. Riding a road bike can be a little daunting, but there are more and more velophiles here in Istanbul: you can see us riding in groups in the outskirts in Kemerburgaz or over by the Formula 1 racetrack on the Asian side of the city. For leisurely rides, the Asian side has great bike paths which are busy on the weekends. For mountain bike enthusiasts, Istanbul is full of great single tracks, switchbacks and mellow fire roads. Anyone interested in starting biking can go to a reputable bike shop like Kaçkar, Aktif Pedal or Yeşil Bisiklet where they can get you geared up and even give you information on where to go to ride. As for the runners among you, between the Belgrade Forest (Belgrad Ormanı) and the Bosphorus shoreline road there just isn’t much better running anywhere else to be found. All you need is a pair of sneakers and an iPod and you can run for miles.
If you are not sure how to start either biking or running or if you want to kick it up a notch and train for a marathon or even a triathlon, www.antrenmanyap.comis the first ever online training program that will be up and running by the end of January. The website is in Turkish and perfect for the Turkish readers of The Guide Istanbul. Tony Benson, the author of “Run with the Best”, Hunter Allen, Elite cycle coach and author of “Training and Racing with a Power Meter” as well as other USAT coaches have worked together with Turkish coaches to create an easy to use program for beginners to elite athletes.
With all these options, it’s hard to come up with an excuse not to exercise. As a result, hopefully in 2011 you will try a new sport to attain that “new” you. To quote Edward Stanley, “Those who think they don’t have time for exercise will sooner or later have to find time for illness.”