working it out
Crossfit Amatak head coach Minna Ajo shares her tips and tricks on staying in shape in Phnom Penh’s urban sprawl
What are some of the main challenges to staying healthy in Phnom Penh?
Water intake is number one – it's freaking hot. You will suddenly notice how little you actually drink water – it comes in headaches, you feel drowsy, and the second your water intake is up, you feel better about it. So that's number one. And then comes food. As much as you love fried food, you should keep away from it.
When I first moved in, I ate at the noodle bar, Mexican, pizzas, burgers, because the lifestyle of an expat is fairly easy, right? Then you end up eating that too much, and you're like, hold up, where did my money go? Sure, it's kind of cheap, but when you do it all the time, it becomes expensive. So I started ordering my meals here [at Crossfit Amatak's café], and then I shop at Russian Market for vegetables and food, and then I go to Dan Meat for, well, meat. And it's really easy to cook at home. It's just the convenience that we normally fall into.
What are some of the ways you can keep fit without a gym membership?
Run, swim, bike – Phnom Penh is not that up and down, there's not many hills. Get yourself a good road bike and a fantastic helmet, and then bike down south of Tuol Tom Puong, go all the way south down National Road 2, do a big loop. There are a lot of places where you can swim – Phnom Penh Sports Club is not too far away. That's actually something I recommend for our athletes and members to do on a day off instead of always being here. These are the easy things – it's just finding the facility for it and doing that kind of investment if you want to go biking. There are things to do; it's just how much you want to put the effort in. That's how I see it.
What are some of the common mistakes people make when it comes to staying in shape?
Setting up unrealistic expectations of themselves is where everyone, even me sometimes, falls over. And what we try to teach here is that it's about building character first: understanding why do I come here, how can I support my efforts in the gym? Instead of just working for 45 minutes to an hour, you have to think about what you do throughout the day. So if you think narrow-mindedly that these 45 minutes are going to save my day, are going to make me super fit, you're wrong. Seek other information, like how can I make these 45 minutes even more efficient? How do I eat, how do I sleep, do I drink water or beer? Little things like that. There's such a vast amount of information out there, and trying to find the right way to go is hard.
Head coach Minna Ajo training in the Crossfit Amatak gym in Phnom Penh's trendy Tuol Tom Puong district