View of a side room and stairs to the tanning deck at the ruins of the Baths of Caracalla
Having just returned from a trip to Rome, I am feeling inspired by the things I learned about Roman life lately. I’ve been having a cup of coffee with milk with my breakfast, and beautiful salads with oil and vinegar for lunch. And, because I spent some of the time visiting the ruins of Roman baths, I’ve explored Roman bathing and fitness.
As I learned at the ruins of the baths built by the Emperor Caracalla, bathing was an import from Greece. Romans originally turned their noses up at it, considering it something that the “soft” Greeks did, but eventually adopted it with gusto. Ironically, it was this love of luxury and comfort that ended up lulling the Romans into a complacency that led to their undoing. But softness aside, the baths were not just a place to clean up. Bathing in ancient Rome was a complicated ritual. A public bathhouse would also have a gymnasium, where patrons could lift weights or perform other exercises before bathing. There would be a swimming pool for use in warmer months. There would be masseurs and other service personnel selling beautification services.
The actual bathing ritual was carried out by moving among three main areas: a cold pool, a warm room and/or pool, and a hot room. One would plunge or swim in the cold pool, move into the warm area to prepare for the hot room, and then spend time in the hot room, where there would be a hot pool. One would rub the body with oil and sweat in the hot room before returning to the cold pool for a quick plunge to rinse off.
In honor of my Roman holiday, I’ve come up with a Roman-inspired workout and beauty routine using the facilities at my gym. First, I go upstairs to the mat room, where I can do calisthenics, stretching, and some acrobatics. Today, I did 5 rounds of sun salutations, lunges, cartwheels, and crawls, then practiced cartwheels leading into a back bridge. Then I did some handstands, and then did three rounds each of squats, push-ups, and planks. I finished off with some light stretching.
Then I moved to the natatorium for my hydrotherapy, which consisted of a half an hour of light swimming in the 50-meter pool, and a 5-minute sauna. Normally, I would spend time in the steam room instead. This was followed with a self-massage with oil, a hot shower, and a cold rinse after. I emerge invigorated from the exercise, and glowing from the combination of hot and cold water, and ready to start my day, strong and beautiful.