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Diary of a meathead traveller part II: Cambodia Vietnam General physical preparedness (GPP)

The following account covers the period before the idea to write the blog arose, a time where the call for revolution was nothing more than the drunken ramblings of a traveler living off his past achievements. For all my emotion and over the topness during the call to arms of my first blog, my initial foray back to the gym didn’t last long. As I mentioned though this predates my sad truth epiphany and so this was to be expected. Despite falling short seeds were undoubtedly sown at the end of the 1st week in March and it is for that reason alone that I believe it is where this story should begin.

A chance meeting with a very scatty Irishman whilst looking for a hostel meant that along with the information that he was leaving the country after getting his Cambodian concubine pregnant I now knew where a gym was. I hadn’t thought about the gym for six months so it seemed merely a novel outing that would break the otherwise monotonous day to day of Sihanoukville life. The best news at this point was that it would only cost 60p a session.  For those of you that have ever had gripes about Dave’s Gym I suggest you go to the Sihanoukville Colloseum in Cambodia (my name not theirs) and get the reality check that you need. I didn’t take any photos unfortunately but the internet doth provide.


I bet you are thinking “that’s not too bad, there is no reality check here”. Let me stop you there. Those photos are extremely generous. When I turned up I didn’t even realise that there was a sauna. There were motorbikes inside the gym and everyone to a man despite their physical condition was topless. What’s more, it was easier to find my underarm hair at nine years old than two plates or dumbbells of the same weight. I must confess I had to join the skins team as the heat was unbearable. By the end of the session I was a mere dried husk of a man, broken but nevertheless gorging on the endorphins I had long forgotten about.

Session (memory slightly hazy)

Amped warm + Mobility
Zercher squats
Dumbbell Romanian deadlifts
Close grip chins
Straight arm pull downs
Press ups
Dumbbell military press
Ab roll outs

All exercises 3 sets of 8 reps increasing weight each set.

The following few days were painful to say the least but I was glad I had done the work. I can’t say much for the session other than I was conscious about correct technique and weight wasn’t a priority. Also with it being full body I wanted to have all major movement patterns in there. In subsequent sessions I would substitute in unilateral movements for both upper and lower body. Lunges, single arm rows and single arm shoulder press if I remember rightly.

Three sessions got my pickle well and truly tickled but as so often with the early stages of training the slightest bump in the road can have the wheels off quicker than a cheetah with jet enginelike flatulence. Kampot, a sleepy town near the Vietnam border didn’t look like it would have a gym so I simply didn’t investigate the matter any further. Pitiful I know but I have nothing to offer in my defence. Again my ego got the better of me and neither a run nor a bodyweight exercise took place. A gym monkey through and through.

It was to be two weeks before I again crossed the threshold of a gym this time in Hoi An central coast Vietnam. The gym had no name and resembled a dog kennel with wire fencing making up the fourth wall. About the same width and half as long again as the dumbbell area of Dave’s space was at a premium. Thankfully though there was a squat rack and wouldn’t you know it, nobody used it.  For the first time in nearly seven months I did some actual bonified squats.  With the barbell once again massaging my somewhat shrunken traps I came over all silly and even did a finisher.


Amped warm + Mobility
Barbell Romanians
Lat pull downs
D/B military press
S/A row

3sets of 8reps 60s rest

Descending burpee pyramid from 10reps with forty metre run in between each set.

In the three separate sessions I did substituted in front squats and close grip chins (assisted of course) but the overall aim was the same as in Cambodia; full body, form, range of movement, short rest periods. The 40 metre distance for the conditioning was dictated by the size of the car park and the finisher itself was a sort of sick reward/challenge for having not smoked for eight weeks. The wheels I felt were back on and a more strategic plan was being formed.

Westside would be next but not before another two weeks of GPP. Slightly off piste here, if you are wondering why there are no guns in these sessions the photos will hopefully appease you.

 “Check out these pythons.” Curling a Burmese python in central highlands Vietnam

GPP programmes are not supposed to be too regimented.  Depending on your starting point this phase can take anywhere from 3 to 6weeks. In my case I was aiming for 3 weeks roughly 9-12session  Your main focus should be understanding the techniques of the exercises that you will take with you into a more specific programme later and not how much weight you are lifting.  Performing push, pull, upper, lower, single arm, single leg movements in each workout or across the week will stand most people in good stead. Light conditioning can also be undertaken but remember not to spin to many plates at once as you don’t want to finish GPP burnt out unable to make improvements at the next stage.

Finally, establishing an effective warm up that both increases body temperature and mobility is also fundamental to GPP. Warm ups are over looked time and time again by gym goers.  Just remember that every serious athlete does one and that means you should too.

The last stop on this part of my tale is Hanoi northern Vietnam at Club Olympia. Two embarrassing things happened during my 3 outings but for rather different reasons. The first came about because I erroneously picked the wrong end of the street when looking for the gym and the second because I obviously don’t cut the foreboding shape I once did.  Due to my gamble not paying off it took me nearly an hour to get to the gym and so on returning to my hotel afterwards I did something no Dave’s Gym lifer has ever done.  I ran home.  At the risk of further calls of Judas! I have to admit I rather enjoyed it. It felt like I’d run for an hour although it was more like 16mins, my calves were like tennis balls and my legs like lead piping but it was a good feeling.

I was so encouraged by this seminal moment that I ran to and from the gym for my next 2 sessions , bloody mentalist that I am. On entering the weights room my eyes strained to see through the sea of topless men, a common feature of this part of the world, for a squat rack and somewhere to warm up. Whilst doing this a local man with good english encouraged me to the upstairs room.  He had a peculiar tone to his voice and when I asked why I should bother when clearly all the free weights I needed were in front of me he replied with a very straight face “this is the heavy room”.  Mortified I left to go upstairs to warm up wandering whether I should just sack it all off and join in the aerobics class next door.


Squats working up to a 5rep max
Wide chins 3 sets max reps
Horizontal cable row
Press ups
D/B shoulder press
Tricep push downs

The only photo the internet had.

I did the same session on all three visits with exercises following the old 3×8 rule. It doesn’t take a genius to work out why the squats where done differently. My bruised ego needed a massage after the heavy room comment and if nothing else I wanted it to be known that I had cock worth measuring.  The joke really was on me in the end because 100kg was all I could manage.  Despite the realisation that I am no stronger than a school girl I was feeling more confident with each session and I wanted to only improve further in Luang Prabang northern Laos which was to be my next stop.

Thanks again for reading


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