No Gym? No Problem: Training On The Cheap In Tokyo

The Ultimate Body Revolution Bargain

If you're frustrated with your crowded, cramped, and expensive gym in Tokyo, have no fear! There are still plenty of ways to get in shape outdoors or in the comfort of your home. Here are a few savvy tips for staying in super-shape without blowing your hard-earned yen.

So, you’ve just moved to Tokyo. Bright lights. Big city. Big stressors. Big expenses. After three months of getting settled, exploring, and sampling a variety of carby Tokyo treats, you hop on your scale and realize that you’ve gained a whopping 3 kg.

“Musta been all those onigiri,” you think. So you run to your nearest gym for membership. You see the prices. “Sheesh, ¥12,000 a month…wait, ¥8,000 a month to go between the hours of midnight and 7 a.m.? What the what?”

“It must be a premium one,” the optimist inside you says and you head to another — and one more — but you soon realize that prices are the same; they can’t explain the rules to you because it’s all nihongo; and the gym doesn’t want you as a liability. Bummer. But it’s already beach season and you need that summer bod right now.

Well, fear not, ladies! You can still easily get fit in Japan without a gym. If you’re looking to get a little stronger, a little more bendy, a little more confident, and save a lot of yen, your options in the city are limitless with a bit of creativity. Here are just a few!

Join a Fitness Community

Japan is experiencing a boom in strength training. Cardio-holics are still the majority, but with bodybuilding federations cropping up at an alarming rate, Crossfit gaining popularity, and outdoor fitness excursions (think Spartan Race and Color Run) growing, there are ample opportunities to not only enjoy the outdoors while getting fit but also meet with communities of like-minded people.

Menya Hinga, owner of Fit For Life, runs SOGO Fitness (Suns Out Guns Out), a fitness community that personifies its mantra “stronger together.” SOGO offers free classes every Saturday afternoon in Yoyogi Park that are open to all ages and levels of fitness. They combine strength building calisthenic movements with HIIT (high-intensity interval training) exercises. The community has turned into a #fitfam 3,000 members strong and even holds healthy cooking workshops, bouldering events, and obstacle courses for its members. Check upcoming events here. For other communities, see this article.

Hit The Public Gym

Many private gyms claim to be the “mecca of fitness,” but in reality, Tokyo Metropolitan Gym is. It costs a whopping ¥450 for a two-hour session and boasts high-quality facilities and training equipment. Want to squat mad weight? Put on your knee sleeves and go for gold in one of their many racks. Want to swim in an Olympic-sized pool? They’ve got that too. Frustrated by overtime and need to do some kicks? Head to a kickboxing class in their studio. Aside of this gym, your local ward is likely to also have one, so get your residence card and visit them. In most cases, you’ll be paying less than ¥500 and you’ll get pretty much the same experience as in most private gyms.

Free and Functional Park Training

While Tokyo as a whole is a concrete jungle, it has some beautiful and amazingly clean parks and outdoor spaces for its residents. Many parks have basic functional fitness equipment for calisthenic training and are great for meeting up with soccer and running enthusiasts.

If you’re not willing to travel out to Komazawa Olympic Park, there are likely parks tucked away in your own ‘hood. When I was without a gym, I utilized Shinagawa Kumin Park, equipped with bars for elevated push-ups, pull up bars, a dipping station, an Olympic pool, and a large track for sprints. The park is surrounded by a large wooded area for a post-training nature hike.

Bands-a-make Her Dance…or Bicep Curl

If you have a little cash on hand, quality powerlifting bands will give you “gainz” in the gym and at home. A set of bands in differing weights (necessary for progression) costs about ¥2,500 on Amazon and provide a myriad of possibilities for home training. Try these:

  • Shoulder dislocates: Great for shoulder health and improving posture. Grab both ends of the band, straighten your arms. Bring the band over your head and behind you, retracting your shoulder blades. Repeat 10 times.
  • Assisted pull-ups: Loop the band around a pull-up bar and step on the end of the band with two feet (or one for more difficulty). Use the weight of the band to assist you to a pull-up position with your chin over the bar. Repeat for reps. Heavier bands will reduce your body weight during the pull. Decrease the weight of the bands for added difficulty.
  • Bicep curls: Step on one end of the band, hold the other and get your pump on. Loop the bands for added resistance.
  • “Frog pumps”: Wrap the band around your legs, underneath your knees. Lie on your back, flatten your spine, and elevate your hips (glute bridge). Tuck your neck into your chest (sexy potato face), put the bottom of your feet together and move your heels toward your butt. Lift your butt into the air and squeeze dem glutes. Repeat 20-50 times. Add or loop bands for added resistance.
  • Lateral raises: Step on one end of the band and hold on to the other. Bend your elbows slightly and keep your knees slightly bent. Raise your arm until your elbows are at shoulder height. Lower and repeat for reps.

Frog pumps

Similarly, if you’re the person who can bang out pull-ups like a boss, increase the intensity with gymnastic rings! A pair costs just ¥2,000 on Amazon and provides a much more challenging workout. Strap them to a pull up bar (or a tree if you’re the queen of the inaka like me) and perform Dips (add weight in a backpack for more difficulty), Ring chin-ups (supinated grip, palms facing you), Ring pull-ups (wide grip, narrow grip) and L-sits (sit and hold or elevate your legs up and down for the most insane crunch variation ever). 

Last but not least…

In the age of the internet, there’s no reason why you can’t find a progressive training program that can be done anywhere and everywhere. Free sources like Reddit’s r/bodyweight fitness (come on, gymnasts are the most jacked) are chock-full of programs and ways to progress in bodyweight training. Don’t let expensive Tokyo gym memberships deter you from reaching new and exciting fitness goals!

For other recommendations on staying fit without breaking the bank, see here and here.