By Nick Nilsson
Author of Mad Scientist Muscle
If you've traveled for any length of time, you know how tough it can be to fit in a workout, eat right and continue to make progress (or even maintain what you've got) when you're in and out of hotels and motels.
It seems the "fitness center" found in many hotels is a stationary bike without a seat and (if you're lucky) a battered multi-station weight stack machine. Quite often, hotels have deals with local gyms to offer discounts or free passes but, if you're busy with other things, you may not have time to take advantage of these offers. You may even be staying in a place that has nothing at all for equipment.
So what DO you do when you're on the road and want to workout and eat right?
This article will give you some practical advice on just how you can keep yourself in shape on the road. It covers training programs, nutritional advice and some sample exercises that require no specialized equipment except for what you can easily find in and around typical motel rooms or homes.
TRAINING PROGRAMS FOR THE ROAD WARRIOR:
Quite honestly, it's tough to follow a set program when you're in unpredictable circumstances, as often happens when you don't know what equipment you'll have access to or even if you'll have a chance to train on any particular day.
The more planned-out-in-advance your travel schedule is, of course, the better you'll be able to follow a more set program. Here are some tips on how to schedule your training while traveling.
1. Every time you get a chance to do a workout, do a total-body workout. That way, if you don't get a chance again for a couple of days, at least you'll still have worked everything. And, even if you do get a chance and do end up working the whole body for several days in a row, you'll get great benefits from this training by giving your body a completely different stimulus than it's used to!
Here is a sample total body workout arrangement - take short rest periods to keep the training intense (e.g. 30 seconds to a minute between sets). The number of reps you get will depend on the exercise you use (some exercises and body positions will be tougher than others) but shoot for around 10 to 15 reps per set.
5 Sets Chest
5 Sets Back
5 Sets Thighs
3 Sets Shoulders
2 Sets Biceps
2 Sets Triceps
2 Sets Calves
3 Sets Abdominals
2. If you feel up to it, on days when you've been traveling for long periods, do some stretching to help loosen up. Your body is basically motionless for long periods when traveling and resistance training may not be all that productive after a long day on the road. Stretching is easily done, requires no equipment and will help relax you.
3. If you know you have a longer trip coming up, ramp your current training up to that date. What this means is that you want to start building up and working your body with increased sets and start using intensity techniques to move towards overtraining.
By doing this, by the time your trip comes along, your body will NEED the break and moving to infrequent bodyweight training will actually help your body recover and improve.
This strategy can also be applied if you travel very frequently for business. Before you leave on your trip, do a couple of extremely tough workouts in a row. While you're on the trip, do a couple of bodyweight workouts or focus on stretching, especially on shorter trips.
4. If your goal is to lose fat, try Fat-Loss Circuit Training while on the road. This training technique is basically doing cardio training in between resistance training sets instead of taking a typical non-active rest period. It's extremely powerful and gives your body a strong metabolic response - perfect for packing as much punch into your workouts as possible.
Here's a sample of what looks like in action:
1 set chest
30 seconds cardio
1 set chest
30 seconds cardio
1 set back
30 seconds cardio
1 set back
30 seconds cardio
In your motel room, you can choose from a number of cardio options: pack a skipping rope, use stairs or a low bench or even just step-ups onto a stable chair in the room (no rolling chairs!).
5. If your goal is to build muscle, I would still recommend using the total-body workout format but try to use more challenging exercise variations that only allow for 8 to 12 reps per set. Doing 50 push-ups isn't going to build muscle.
When it comes right down to it, it doesn't matter where you're training. As long as you're giving your body a strong training stimulus, you're going to be able to build muscle.
NUTRITIONAL ADVICE FOR THE ROAD WARRIOR:
Eating while traveling can often be unpredictable. Depending on activities or schedules, you may not know when or where or what kind of foods you're going to be eating on any given day. Here are some tips to help keep your eating on track.
Most of these tips are just common sense, but it can be difficult to watch what you eat on the road and especially when you're out in a group. The key is to just do the best you can and don't stress yourself out worrying if you eat something that you didn't plan on. The stress of constantly worrying about it is worse than the effect of actually doing it.
1. Naturally, the more control you have over food choices, the better off you'll be. When you can choose, opt for healthier fare without fancy sauces and fatty toppings. Stick to less processed selections and do your best to stay away from fast food as much as possible.
2. If your room has a fridge, you can buy food from grocery stores and stock your fridge. If your room doesn't have a fridge, do the best you can with nonperishable items. Try to stick to foods that are non-processed like fruits, veggies, whole grains, etc.
3. Bring a protein supplement. This could be in the form of protein powders, Ready-To-Drink formulas or protein bars. While traveling, you'll probably find that it's tough to get protein without getting a lot of fat along with it (meat is often fatty cuts or swimming in sauce). Protein supplements help immensely - you have complete control over how much protein you get and what is in it this way.
4. Take your vitamins. At the very least, you should be taking a multivitamin and plenty of extra Vitamin C (to help keep your immune system strong, which is especially important when you're packed on a plane with others who may be ill).
5. If you know you'll have a meal where you won't have much choice as to what you must eat (it happens), try to schedule a workout immediately before it. This will minimize the impact of any not-so-healthy foods you eat and you won't feel like you have to say "no" to everything.
6. Make sure to eat breakfast - your best choice is something healthy that you bought at a grocery store...before you even leave your room. Quite a few of the restaurant breakfast choices consist of fried, greasy, sugary and enriched flour foods. Starting with a good breakfast will keep you alert and energized throughout the day.
7. If you're on a road trip and stopping for something to eat, try stopping at the grocery store instead of the McDonalds. It's a lot easier to grab something healthy there. If you must eat fast foods, try to stick to grilled items. Many places offer low-carb selections or salads. Low-carb wraps are healthier than white-flour buns.
8. Order food without sauce or dressing or ask for it on the side so that you can control what goes on your food.
9. If you're at a gathering and they serve snack foods, try to stick with nuts, fruits and veggies as much as possible (avoid the dips). As tasty as the cocktail weenies are, they have no nutritional value and are fatty.
EXERCISES FOR THE ROAD WARRIOR:
In this section, I'm going to over exercises you can do for every major bodypart. At the end of this section, I'll give you a link where you can find pictures of many of these exercises in action.
1. Push-up Variations:
Regular Push-Ups (the normal push-up)
Close Grip Push-Ups (hands shoulder-width apart)
Wall Push-Ups (standing up with your hands on wall, body at an angle)
One Arm Push-Ups (set feet quite wide for balance)
Feet On Chair/Bed Push-Ups (incline push-ups - increases difficulty)
Between Two Beds/Chairs Push-Ups (hands on two objects so your range of motion is greater)
Luggage on Back Push-Ups (set your suitcase/bag on your back for resistance)
Between Two Chairs (use the tops of the chair backs as dip handles)
In a Countertop Corner (stand in the corner facing out and set your hands on either side of you - do a dip from there)
1. Inverted Rows
Lie underneath a solid object like a rail or table (not a table with only a center pedestal!). Pull yourself up underneath it like you're doing a rowing movement. Here's the full description of Inverted Rows for back.
2 . One Arm Suitcase Rows
These work best if you got a heavy suitcase. Use your luggage for resistance - go for strict form and squeeze your back hard as you do them.
If you can find something that is solid that you can hang from, you've got yourself a pull-up station.
4. Suitcase Knee Rows
For this exercise, you'll need a fairly large suitcase. Rest the suitcase end on your thigh - this end will act as the pivot point for the exercise, using the suitcase as resistance. Row the handle towards your body - the one end will stay on your thigh while the top end pivots up towards you.
5. Luggage Farmers Walk
Grab your two heaviest pieces of luggage and walk around with them for as long as you can! For a variation that works your abs, hold only one piece of luggage - this hits the obliques.
1. Squats or Lunges
These can be done for high reps without extra resistance or you can use your luggage or other objects around the room for resistance. High reps won't be as useful for muscle building but will definitely stimulate your metabolism.
2. Wall Sits
Maintain a sitting position with your back against a wall for as long as possible (with no support - you'll only stay up by pushing hard with your thighs). You can also hold a piece of luggage on your lap for extra resistance.
3. One-Legged Squats
These can be done on the floor or standing on a chair for greater range of motion. Basically, you stand on one leg and squat down as far as you can then come back up (you can hold onto objects for balance when you first try these).
4. Isometric Leg Curls
Most motel/hotel rooms have tables. Stand in front of the table facing away from it (make sure there's nothing on top of it). Now raise your foot underneath so that the heel of your foot is pushing against the underside of the table. Now try to push the table up. You should feel a strong cramping in your hamstring. Hold it there for 5 to 10 seconds, squeezing hard. Relax and repeat.
5. One-Legged Bench Squats
The one-legged bench squat exercise requires a chair, bench or even just a stair (as long as you have something solid to grab onto). Move the chair in front of a solid object, like a doorframe, that you can get a good grip on. Stand on the chair on one foot. Now, holding onto the solid object, lower yourself down into a one-legged squat. The benefit here is that you can go further down and use your arms to pull back up if you need to. This is a tough one but a good one.
1. Luggage Shoulder Presses and Raises
Press your bags overhead or do raises (front, rear or lateral) with them. When doing presses, grip the luggage on both ends and press the whole thing directly overhead (it's a shorter range of motion). If your luggage is light, you'll need to do high reps or isometric holds at the top of the movements.
2. Horizontal Push-Ups
These are done by first bracing two chairs against a wall about 2 feet apart. Kneel down in front of them then put your hands on the chair legs. Use your legs to push your body forwards then use shoulders to press your body backwards. Use your legs to apply resistance.
1. Luggage Curls
Suitcases and bags all have handles. Use these to curl! These actually work extremely well because of how the resistance of the bag hangs down underneath the handle - much different than a dumbbell or barbell! As you curl up, your hand will bend backwards, which keeps the resistance on the biceps very effectively.
2. Vertical Chin-Ups
If you've got a place you can do chin-ups, try keeping your torso completely vertical while coming up. This throws more tension onto the biceps.
1. Close-Grip Push-Ups
These are done like a regular push-up only you will set your hands about shoulder width apart. Keep your elbows tucked in beside your body as you do these.
2. Bodyweight Tricep Extensions
The bodyweight tricep extension is a great exercise that can be done using a dresser, chair, table edge or railing. Stand in front of the object (make sure it won't roll back - brace it against a wall). Step back a few feet. Set your hands on the edge. Now, keeping your body stiff and straight, lower yourself down so that your head ducks under the edge of what you're grasping.
3. Bench Dips
These can be done on a chair or bed. Sit on the chair and set your hands on the edge under your butt. Set your feet a little forward. Now move your butt off the chair and lower yourself down. Use your triceps to push yourself back up. This exercise can also be one arm for those who are stronger - set your feet wide apart for balance, keeping your legs straight. Your working arm should be in the center of the chair for best balance.
Here's the full description of Bench Dips for Triceps.
Bench Dips - easiest position
Bench Dips - Legs straight and legs up - harder positions
One Arm Bench Dips
1. Standing Calf Raises
These can be done with one leg or two legs. They can be done on stairs or any other solid object. If you're in a hotel room, often a thick phonebook will work just fine.
Basically, stand with your heels off the edge. Let your heels come down then use the calves to push back up. That's the Standing Calf Raise.
2. Full Range Calf Raises
In short, you combine both Donkey Calf Raises and Standing Calf Raises into one exercise. Here's the full description of the Full-Range Calf Raise exercise.
The standard ab crunch exercise will work just fine.
2. Abdominal Sit-Ups
All you need for this one is a rolled-up towel. Place the rolled-up towel in the small of your back just above the waistband and do a regular sit-up from there. The towel changes the leverage and forces the abs to do the bulk of the work. You can read the full description of Abdominal Sit-Ups here.
3. Luggage Squats
This is a variation of an exercise I call the Curl Squat. Grip your luggage with two hands (one on either end) and hold it at face level just in front of you, a few inches from your body. Be sure you're NOT holding it against your body but that it's support just by your arms. Now squat down as far as you can and back up. Holding the luggage in that position will activate the abs VERY strongly.
While it can be a challenge to keep in shape on the road, it's definitely possible. By training as regularly as you can, using exercises that are suited to the environment that you're in and keeping your nutrition as simple and natural as possible, you should be able to continue to make excellent progress in your training no matter what your goals.
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