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We're kicking the series off with a topic that doesn't get a ton of love: travel fitness! And before you're like, "ugh, I don't travel," keep in mind that travel fitness is more or less synonymous with minimalist fitness. So even if you'll never be in a position to need a travel workout, you might still pick up some useful information.
The 21st Century Lifestyle
We live in an increasingly busy – and crazy – world. New opportunities and old commitments constantly tug us from one end of a city to another, from one end of a country to another, and so on and so on. We’re all over the place.
That’s the lifestyle of the 21st century. Go, go, go, all the time. We don’t mean to say that previous generations weren’t always on the move – of course they were. And man, it took a long time to get anywhere back then. But today, traveling is easier than ever. Buy a ticket, hop on a plane, and land in another country in no time at all. In one sense, it’s fantastic. It’s so easy for us to see new things and explore new places.
On the other hand, it’s tough on some aspects of our lives…like fitness. Poor little fitness tends to suffer when we’re on the move because it’s so easy (even easier than normal) to make excuses.
“Oh, I don’t have access to a gym. I can’t do a workout today.”
“Well, I’m in a busy conference all day, then I need to head back to the hotel, so I just don’t have time.”
“Man, I’m beat after a long day of exploring. I don’t think I have it in me to knock out a workout.”
Excuses are excuses no matter how you frame them, but each of these lines is perfectly reasonable. Even when you’re not traveling, skipping workouts usually comes down to lack of time, lack of equipment, lack of energy, or some combination of all three.
But here’s the thing: travel workouts don’t require a substantial amount of any of those. You just need your body and enough oomph to power through a 15-minute workout. It's still effort, but it's less effort than driving to the gym and doing a 45 to 60-minute workout while dodging hordes of gym bros.
Enter this guide. Over the next two thousandish words, you’ll learn how to make working out while traveling more manageable. We’re going to go over your equipment options, staple exercises that you can do anywhere, and the workout creation process.
Why Use Travel Fitness Workouts?
It’s a fair question to ask. Does it really matter if you ignore your fitness for a few days, or even a week, while you’re traveling?
In the grand scheme of things, no – it probably doesn’t. Time off is good, and you shouldn't see any negative effects over the short term. Even so, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to stay on top of it. Here’s why:
Fitness can improve your mood and sleep quality (you should already know this!), both of which are essential when you’re traveling
If you’re a frequent traveler, these workouts can help minimize the damage of training inconsistency.
Maintaining a regular fitness schedule, even if it’s a little wonky, can help you stay motivated to keep pushing forward.
And that’s just a start. You’ve made it this far anyway, so we'll just assume you don’t need any more convincing. Let's head straight to the good stuff.
Travel Fitness Equipment Options
Now that you’re on board with staying fit while traveling (hopefully), you’ll need to sort out your equipment. Your choices are somewhat limited, so it’s not a complicated process, but you’ll still need to figure out what works best for you.
Keep in mind that these options assume you don't have access to a hotel gym (if you're even staying in a hotel). While it's true that hotels are better equipped than they used to be, most are still woefully inadequate, and you can't count on having access to certain equipment. If you're staying at a fancy hotel with a fully stocked gym, or you have access to a branch of your home gym, then that's awesome, but you probably don't need to keep reading this post.
Anyway, depending on the size of your bag, you have a few options...
Tier 1: No Equipment
If you don’t want to lug around any equipment at all, there’s no problem with that; bodyweight exercise is a great starting place. Anyone can do bodyweight exercises and they’re as low-hassle as you can get. They’re also completely free of cost and that’s always a nice benefit.
However, one point to understand about bodyweight exercises is that adjusting the difficulty does require some basic knowledge. Even with this know-how, it can still be a pain to find the difficulty sweet spot – it's very much a process of trial and error.
Tier 2: Sliders & Jump Rope
If you want to use some equipment, you can add sliders and/or a jump rope to the mix. Both pieces of equipment can easily fit into all but the tiniest bag, although the jump rope does require an open space to use and you probably shouldn't use it inside your hotel room (been there, done that, people got mad).
The range of slider and jump rope exercises isn’t as large as that of the other categories, but both pieces work well for adding extra variety to your workouts. The jump rope is a fantastic conditioning tool, while sliders put a lot of emphasis on core strength and stability.
Tier 3: Bands & TRX Suspension Trainer
These are the heaviest duty travel equipment options. They require the most space and they cost the most – especially the TRX straps. They’re not necessary for a quality workout, but they greatly expand the range of exercises you can use.
The benefit of both bands and the TRX is that they allow you to work at a higher intensity level than the other options. This might not be necessary depending on your goals, but it's something to keep in mind. Perhaps more importantly, they also make it easier to adjust exercise difficulty.
If you’re trying to implement travel workouts for the first time, you should stick to only bodyweight exercises. You’re already trying to make one big change – adding travel workouts into the mix – so you don’t need the added difficulty of trying to do it with multiple pieces of equipment.
If you’ve been using travel workouts for a few months and you’re getting tired of bodyweight exercises, then it’s time to jump up to tier two. Both the jump rope and sliders add a unique dynamic that provides some much-needed variety.
Finally, if you’re a seasoned travel workout enthusiast and you want to up the intensity, consider adding resistance bands and/or the TRX suspension trainer to your arsenal.
Staple Travel Exercises
Just like in the gym, you’ll want to focus your workouts around a set of “staple” exercises. They include many of the same movements you probably already use in your workouts: pushups, rows, squats, glute bridges, lunges, planks, and jumps. These aren’t the only exercises you can use in your travel workouts, but together they form a nice starting point.
About the Categories
Please understand that this is far from the only way to categorize exercises. When we’re talking about the gym, for example, pushups are usually thrown into a more generalized “push” or “press” category.
But we’re not talking about the gym. These categories were chosen with the limitations of travel in mind. Using the previous example, you won’t be able to do a pushing or pressing exercise that’s not a pushup without certain equipment (like bands), so we’ll just call that category “pushups.” That same logic applies to the rest of the categories as well.
Here’s some extra information about the categories in general that might be helpful:
They feature compound exercises that recruit multiple muscle groups
They have easier and tougher variations that can work for anyone
They line up (for the most part) with gym-based categorizations
That being said, it's okay to stick with the terms you already know and love. Squats are lower pushes, glute bridges are lower pulls, pushups are upper pushes, rows are upper pulls, and so on. Whatever makes you happy.
What Muscles Do They Work?
The workout creation process that we’ll walk through later on ensures that you’re getting a balanced full body workout, but it never hurts to understand what muscles each exercise targets.
Pushup: upper body pushing movement that works your chest, shoulders, and triceps.
Row: upper body pulling movement that works your mid-back, upper back, forearms, and biceps.
Squat/Lunge: lower body pushing movements that work your knee extensors and hip flexors
Glute Bridge: lower body pulling movement that works your knee flexors and hip extensors
Plank: core exercise that works your abdominal and lower back muscles.
Hops/Jumps & Jump Rope: lower body exercises with a conditioning element – they’re movement-heavy, so they spike your heart rate.
How to Use the Next Section
The next section details several exercise options for each category, with extra recommendations that you can swap in as needed. These exercises were chosen for their effectiveness and to represent a range of difficulties, but they’re by no means your only options. Use them as a starting point, evaluate how they work for you, then adjust and add new exercises as needed.
Hands Elevated Pushup
Raising your hands drastically decreases the difficulty, so this is an ideal pushup for beginners. Play around with hand height until you find the sweet spot.
Band Resisted Pushup
This is the opposite of the hands elevated pushup. The addition of the band increases the difficulty, especially at the top of the movement.
The TRX Pushup elevates your feet and adds an element of instability, making it the most difficult option.
While it isn’t the most comfortable rowing variation, the doorframe row works well for beginners who don’t have access to any equipment. Walk your feet forward to make it harder and walk them backward to make it easier.
This one is a step up from the doorframe row, but you can still adjust your feet and hand height to change the difficulty.
Band Lat Pull
Unlike the other two horizontal rows, lat pulls are vertical. They’re ideal for people who can’t yet do full pullups.
Glute bridges are one of the easier exercises on the list, but you can make them tougher by elevating your feet and/or adding a pause.
Single Leg Glute Bridge
The only difference between this and the glute bridge is that you’re using one leg, but it’s a change that greatly increases the difficulty. As with the glute bridge, you can elevate your foot and/or add a pause to make it even harder.
Slider Hamstring Curl
While similar to the machine hamstring curl, the slider version requires you to hold a glute bridge during the exercise, making it much tougher.
Sorry, no video for this one because apparently everyone knows how to jump rope (hopefully that's true!).
The alternating skip is an easy progression from the basic skip. It does require more coordination, but you can adjust your tempo to increase or decrease the difficulty.
Single Leg Skip
Single leg skips are a natural progression from alternating skips. They're not quite as easy, but if you can do alternating skips then you can handle single leg skips.
Double unders crank up your heart rate when you're comfortable enough to do multiple in a row, but it'll take some practice to get there. Don't write them off – practice makes perfect.
How to Create Workouts
At this point, you’re probably wondering what you’re supposed to do with all these exercises, but don’t worry – anyone can create effective workouts with the step-by-step process that we’re about to go through.
However, keep one thing in mind: while this process works fine, it’s oversimplified and doesn’t take into account individual differences and limitations. Use the following steps as a framework and adjust the pieces that don’t work for you as needed.
1. Start by choosing one exercise from each of the following categories:
Squat & Lunge
If you have room to hop or jump, you can choose one exercise from that category.
If you have a jump rope and room to use it, you can choose one exercise from that category.
If you want to use hops/jumps and/or a jump rope exercise, you can sub them in for your squat/lunge and glute bridge moves
2. Pick your format:
For a slower workout, do each exercise one at a time. That means do all sets of one exercise before moving on to the next.
For a faster workout, treat it as a circuit. That means do one set of the first exercise, one set of the second exercise, and so on – with no rest – until you’re done with the last exercise. Take a rest, then repeat.
3. Choose your sets:
For a shorter workout, use two sets per exercise
For a longer workout, use three or four sets per exercise
4. Choose your reps:
For easier exercises, go with higher reps (up to 20). An example of an “easy” exercise is the bodyweight squat or glute bridge.
For harder exercises, go with lower reps (up to 10). An example of a “hard” exercise is the band resisted pushup or broad jump.
5. Put it all together. Here’s an example of the finished product:
Hands Elevated Pushup: 3 sets of 15 reps
Inverted Row: 3 sets of 8 reps
Band Goblet Squat: 3 sets of 10 reps
Single Leg Glute Bridge: 3 sets of 6 reps per side
Reaching Plank: 3 sets of 10 reaches per side
TRX Pushup: 3 sets of 8 reps
Band Lat Pull: 3 sets of 12 reps
Slider Reverse Lunge: 3 sets of 8 reps per side
Hip Thrust: 3 sets of 15 reps
Body Saw: 3 sets of 8 reps
Squat Jump: 2 sets of 12 reps
That's all there it so it. You easily can mix and match exercises to fit your mood, equipment, and available time.
You’re in a pretty sweet spot at this point, and it’s all up to you to move forward with everything you’ve learned.
First, try to fit in a single bodyweight workout the next time you’re traveling. That should help you decide if it’s something you’re truly interested in.
If you can squeeze it in – and more importantly, if it makes you happy – then try a tougher workout next time. If that doesn’t do it for you, then drop back to an easy bodyweight workout like the one you already enjoyed.
If you like the harder workout, consider adding in a piece of equipment like sliders or a resistance band, then continue moving forward from there.