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7 Strategies from a Pro Traveler: How to Exercise on the Road

By September 19, 2017Exercise and Workouts
Reading Time: 7 minutes
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Somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean, knees driving into the orange polyester seatback in front of me, the quiet allowed me time to reflect upon how I got from spandex-clad trainer to globetrotting gal.

For years, I rocked yoga pants all day long in high-end gyms in South Beach and Los Angeles. I would train a few motivated executive clients, close out my morning shift and hop on a squat rack. After a nice afternoon siesta, and sometimes a second workout, I was back in business, ready to coach the after-work crowd.

Those same dedicated clients would take their 48 to 72 hours between training sessions to jaunt off overseas on private jets, go to a few meetings, then come back and do it all again. I envied them. The gym walls eventually started to close in on me. I wanted to go and see those places for myself.

7 Strategies from a Pro Traveler: How to Exercise on the Road

On my first attempt to leap out of exercise land into a profession that would allow me to see the world, the stars aligned. I said goodbye to my fitness career to take a job that would eventually send me on over 100 work trips, venturing to 45 countries and multiple domestic destinations.

Over time and with much trial and error, I have developed a system to ensure I stay on the exercise ball, and I’m going to share it with you today. Here are my seven strategies for bringing your commitment to exercise on the road.

1. Itinerary Tricks

I like to exercise first thing in the morning. Whenever possible, I book flights that allow me one last workout before I depart, though I try to avoid activities that will lead to painful soreness from sitting. Pre-flight workouts are great opportunities for solid cardio and stretch sessions; full-body, moderate-intensity strength circuits; or a calming yoga session.

Pro-Tip: For my return flight, I try to apply the same principle, fitting in one last workout before I go wheels up, so I have the option of a rest and recovery day upon return.

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2. Suitcase Strategy

Logistics once demanded I pack only a carry-on and backpack for a seven-day trip to East Africa. Oh, and I would have no access to laundry. At first, I swore this was impossible. But I did it, and it changed my suitcase game for good.

If you watch me pack (exciting, I know), the first things in my suitcase are my lightest sneakers, followed by two pairs of dress shoes and the belts to match. Then the magic begins.

If you are limited on packing space, the only way to guarantee your wardrobe won’t hold up your workout, is to count. It’s simple. How many days will you have on the ground? And how many of those will be workout days? (For me four days on the ground means packing four workout outfits.) I make it a goal to use every piece of exercise clothing I bring.

Pro-Tip: Pack a waterproof bag to separate sweaty workout clothes from business attire.

3. Sleep Well Where You Can

I require seven hours of quality sleep or I am a gym zombie. If an opportunity to sleep arises, I take it. A good neck pillow on the plane is key, and perhaps one nice glass of champagne with in-flight dinner to push me over to dreamland.

Pro-Tip: Prior to tucking into the hotel bed, set the stage for sleep. Shut down electronic devices an hour prior to bedtime, drop the thermostat to 68 degrees, and close the blackout curtains. Schedule a wake-up call that gives you time for your morning workout.

7 Strategies from a Pro Traveler: How to Exercise on the Road

4. Paint Your Workout

By habit, as soon as my bags are in my room, I head right back out to find the hotel gym. The mission: scope out the available gym equipment for tomorrow’s workout. This also eliminates a bleary-eyed scavenger hunt for hidden gyms the next morning.

Here are some of the questions I’m looking to answer for myself:

  • How many pieces and what types of cardio equipment are there?
  • Is there a sturdy weight bench?
  • How heavy/light do the dumbbells get?
  • Is there space to stretch or do core work?
  • What’s the gym temperature like?
  • What are the other gym-goers wearing?

With these observations, I make the call – either I can do cardio and/or weight training in the gym or it’s going to be a real test of my creativity to workout entirely in my hotel room.

Pro-Tip: When in a hotel gym, go high repetition. (Hotels are unlikely to have heavy weights or barbells to facilitate low-rep workouts.) Opt for circuits of four exercises at three sets of 20 repetitions. Throw in a two-minute cardio burst between rounds to take the your session into overdrive.

5. Hotel Room Hacks

The longer my exercise life extends, the easier it is to bore me with a workout. I know I need good music, so if I’m traveling somewhere remote and hedging my bets on a weak hotel gym, I bring a Bluetooth speaker to pump up the jams in my room.

If I’m opting for the hotel room workout, I put myself on timed workouts such as:

A high intensity interval training workout (HIIT):

  • 30 seconds of exercise A
  • 30 seconds of exercise B
  • 20 seconds rest

Repeat that sequence two times for beginners, four times for advanced exercisers. Try to work through a minimum of four pairs of exercises total. Pair strength and core exercises or upper and lower body exercises.

A Tabata-style workout:

  • 20 seconds of work followed by 10 seconds of rest
  • Repeat the same exercise for 8 rounds

Pick six to eight exercises to create a twenty- to thirty- minute workout in total. Be creative in your hotel space. Try decline push-ups off the ottoman, mountain climbers on slick surfaces with towels under your toes, handstand hops with a supporting hotel door behind you, or jump squats tapping your bum to a suitcase for a depth-check.

Pro-Tip: There are a number of timer apps out there now, of which I most prefer Seconds Pro because it includes a voice that will shout halfway points to you while you exercise.

6. Stream in a Coach

Group training is all the rage. As my work travel is mostly solo, sometimes I opt to stream in workout friends. I have narrowed it down to two favorite sites that seem to work well on any continent:

  • Fitness Blender: Tons of videos, regularly updated content, allows the user to select the length and difficulty of the workout, and has an option to choose “no equipment” workouts. Includes HIIT workouts, cardio workouts, targeted strength workouts, yoga, and Pilates. Workouts include built-in timers and no soundtrack.
  • My Yoga Works: Free yoga workouts for a two-week trial. No equipment required besides a yoga mat. (Carpet yoga can add a nice core and shoulder stability challenge.) User has the option to select video length and difficulty. Videos are themed to stretching areas that trouble travelers, as well as morning wake-up yoga, pre/post-natal yoga, and men’s yoga.

Pro-Tip: Search for videos on these sites that require “no equipment” to avoid reinventing the wheel mid-workout.

7 Strategies from a Pro Traveler: How to Exercise on the Road

7. Toe Up to the Start Line

Staying fit for me is often in the quick rebound from a trip. My first errands after I return include a trip to the grocery store to stock up on healthy fuel for the downtime between travel. I aim for a ten-hour night of sleep the first night in my own bed. Depending on the trip, I will either take a full recovery day upon return or get my butt right back in the gym to get to the next goal.

Pro-Tip: Schedule your return workout within 36 hours of landing. Make an appointment with a workout buddy or lock yourself into a group class to ensure your time off the exercise wagon is limited.

Traveling on…

Seven years of gallivanting later, a tiny bit older and a lot wiser, I am arguably as fit as I was at the peak of my fitness career. As I continue honing this system as a part-time trainer and full-time world explorer, I wish you the best in frequent flyer fitness. Stay one step ahead and you will never get behind.

Liz Marmesh
Liz is a NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and 200HR Yoga Instructor. Liz has been in the fitness industry since 2003, working in fitness education, fitness management, personal training, and group fitness in Boston, South Beach, Los Angeles, and the DC area. Liz graduated from the University of Miami with a Masters in Exercise Physiology.

A believer in constant movement, Liz has partnered with clients of all types to achieve various end goals. You can catch her teaching yoga at Ballston CrossFit in Arlington, Virginia.