Simple Workouts to Stay Fit on the Road

Last Editorial Review: 11/20/2006

Here is your ultimate step-by-step guide to fitness away from home

By Leanna Skarnulis
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature

Reviewed By Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD/LD

When you're scrambling to get out of town, there's much to think about: Put work projects on the back burner, cancel the dog's standing appointment with the groomer, promise the kids you'll go to that must-see movie when you get back home.

It's no wonder that you've probably given little thought to how you'll work in your workout while you're away from home.

But with a little thought and planning, fitness on the road is easier than you might think. And, according to experts who spoke to WebMD, it can even be fun.

Packing for Fitness

With a couple of pieces of equipment stashed in your suitcase, it's easy to get in a workout without leaving your hotel room (or your host's guest room). Two basic items to pack are exercise tubes (those stretchy things that add resistance to your workout; available in sporting goods stores) and a jump rope. They weigh next to nothing and take almost no space in the suitcase.

Exercise tubes may look wimpy, but don't underestimate them, says Suzanne Schlosberg, author of Fitness for Travelers: The Ultimate Workout Guide for the Road.

"With thick enough tubing, even veteran weightlifters can get a challenging workout," she says. "You can buy a door attachment for the basic tubes and mimic the cable pulley exercises you do at the gym."

You can also buy portable dumbbells that you fill with water before using. But Schlosberg prefers the versatility of exercise tubes.

Jumping rope is a great aerobic exercise (just be sure to take it easy if you're a beginner). For a small space, like a hotel room, Schlosberg recommends a thin, plastic speed rope. It's lightweight and less likely to damage furniture than a heavy-duty rope. If you're headed for a warm climate, it's practically guaranteed that your hotel will have a swimming pool. Pack an inflatable ball, and your family (maybe even strangers) will want to join you in a pickup game of catch. To intensify your water workout, pack aquatic gloves, weights, and other accessories.

One last thing you might want to do before leaving town is to locate a gym near your destination. If you're a gym member, see if you can get free access to gyms in other cities. Also, many gyms issue day passes for a fee. The International Health, Racquet, and Sports Club Association (IHRSCA) web site has a health club locator that lists both IHRSCA members and nonmembers.

What to Do When Time Doesn't Fly

If your flight gets cancelled, why kill time in the airport when a 10- or 15-minute taxi ride may take you to a nearby gym? A list of U.S. and Canadian gyms can be found on the web site of Airport Gyms. Most gyms charge $10-$15. At many facilities that cater to travelers, you can rent or buy workout clothes and shoes.

A few airports offer exercise facilities right in the terminal. Pittsburgh International Airport runs a center in conjunction with Airport Fitness, and Las Vegas McCarran International Airport has a 24-hour fitness center complete with kickboxing and spinning classes.

Even a half-hour wait can be turned into an aerobic workout: Just walk briskly through the terminal.

Once you board the plane, you often scrunch into a seat and then sit so long you fear your muscles could atrophy. But that doesn't have to be the case.

JetBlue Airways and Crunch Fitness teamed up to create Airplane Yoga and Airplane Pilates cards, which illustrate activities you can do without leaving your seat. And of course, you can always stretch and take walks up and own the aisle.

Get Out of Your Exercise Rut

Once you arrive at your destination, look at it as a chance to get some variety in your workouts -- especially if you're an outdoor exerciser. A change of scenery can be just what you need to add life to your fitness regimen.

When print and broadcast journalist Stephanie Stephens travels, she likes to jog or ride a rental bike through residential neighborhoods. "I get a sense of the people, meet their pets, and enjoy the architecture," she says.

A resident of Laguna Niguel, Calif., and Cambridge, New Zealand, Stephens is committed to exercising wherever she is. She always takes workout clothes and jogging shoes on the road. Even on Thanksgiving, she'll do her workout -- first thing in the morning. "Then I'll be good to go and can eat whatever I want," she says.

Hotels Warm Up to Fitness

The hotel fitness center with one squeaky exercise bike and rickety treadmill are so yesterday. Well, maybe not. Depends on where you are.

"I was just in Alice Springs, the only town of any size in central Australia, and the only gym consisted of one marginally usable stationary bike, some prehistoric weight machines, and a single dumbbell," says Schlosberg. "It pays to have a repertoire of exercises so that when you come across a situation like this, you can still create a decent workout."

Back in the U.S., there's a trend in the hospitality industry to upgrade fitness centers and pamper guests, says Lisa Ianucci, author of Healthy Travel, to be published in the spring.

Some hotels provide "fitness kits" for yoga, strength training, or Pilates. At Westin hotels, you can tune the TV to a yoga channel. "Some hotels, like Don Shula's Hotel in Florida, even have a fitness concierge who creates workshops and exercise classes for guests," says Ianucci.

Exercise in Your Room

In her book, Schlosberg presents some workouts you can do without any equipment in the space of a hotel room or guest bedroom. Here's an example:

"Stop telling yourself that you must devote an hour to exercise -- break it up into 10-minute intervals."


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Warm up. Start with five minutes of light cardio exercise (try walking or jogging in place) to warm muscles and prevent injury.

Cardio exercise. Schlosberg advises doing 30 minutes of cardio exercise, which can be broken up into 10-minute bursts. Use your jump rope, or try this sequence, which you can repeat or augment with jogging in place (or in the hallway) or strength exercises:

  • Low-jump twists (20 to each side). With feet together and knees slightly bent, hop slightly and rotate your feet in one direction. On the next hop, rotate in the opposite direction. Keep your shoulders still.
  • Jumping jacks (20).
  • Wall jogs (1 minute). Stand about 2 feet from a wall and lean forward, placing your hands on the wall at shoulder height. Jog in place while you push against the wall. The higher you lift your knees, the tougher the workout.
  • Mountain climbers (25 with each foot). Place your hands on the floor or the edge of a desk or dresser. Start with your legs staggered, right foot in front of your left. Jump up and switch feet, bringing your left leg forward. Repeat, alternating feet.
  • Side shuffles (10). Using as much space as you have available, shuffle to the side, keeping your feet apart. Then reverse directions.

Strength training. When you can't get to the gym and don't have exercise tubes, do exercises that use your own body for resistance. And to save time, do multimuscle exercises, such as push-ups, which exercise your chest, triceps, and shoulders. A minimal workout would include:

  • Push-ups
  • Stomach crunches with an upper-body twist
  • Kneeling back leg extensions
  • One-legged lunges

Do one to three sets of each exercise, resting for 30-90 seconds between sets. Normally, eight to 12 repetitions of each exercise should work muscles to the point of fatigue, Schlosberg says, but without equipment it's difficult to adjust resistance. So a beginner's limit might be four reps for some exercises, while an experienced exerciser might need to do 20.

Cool down. Don't stop exercising abruptly. Keep moving at an easy pace for five minutes to bring your heart rate down.

Stretching. Stretching should be done after your muscles are warm. Do stretches that target your neck, shoulders, triceps, chest, upper back, hamstrings, hips, and calves. Stretch to the point of mild tension, not pain, and hold for 10-15 seconds.

How often should you do the workout? It's best to keep up your normal routine, but if that's not possible, do what you can.

"Even getting in one strength workout and two or three cardio workouts a week can make a big difference," says Schlosberg. "You'll be able to preserve most, if not all, of your fitness, and you'll have more energy for your travels. The key is to maintain your usual intensity level."

Overcome Obstacles, 10 Minutes at a Time

But what about your motivation, which seems to have been misplaced along with your luggage?

Time, stress, and fatigue are the main obstacles to exercising, says Kara I. Gallagher, PhD, assistant professor of exercise physiology at the University of Louisville in Kentucky.

"If you think you have time constraints, it can get bigger and bigger, and there's no amount of motivation to overcome that," says Gallagher, who is also a spokeswoman for the American College of Sports Medicine.

The best strategy, she says, is to stop telling yourself that you must devote an hour to exercise -- "break it up into 10-minute intervals" -- or that you must maintain the same routine you do at home.

As for stress, conquer it by recommitting to your goal.

"When you're not stressed, write down very specific reasons for exercising," says Gallagher. When you're just too tired, remind yourself that a little exercise will give you a boost.

"Psychologically, it also helps if you have a companion," says Gallagher. If you're traveling for business, find a co-worker who will go to the hotel gym or pool. If you're a houseguest, offer to walk your host's dog.

What Happens if You Slack Off?

OK, you had the best intentions, but you didn't manage to exercise at all during your trip. What will happen to your body?

If it's only been a week, don't worry, says Gallagher.

"Most changes in terms of aerobic fitness happen at about 12 days without activity," she says. "[The] body's ability to deliver oxygen efficiently goes down, and they'd find that doing the same exercise they'd been doing would leave them a lot more winded."

In terms of strength training, a decline begins after about two weeks.

"The magnitude of de-training is determined by how long they've been exercising," says Gallagher. "If they've been weight training for several years they'd see less difference than somebody who had just started."

Exercising Back Home

Now that you're home, work moves to the front burner, the dog can't see through the shaggy growth over his eyes, and, darn the luck, the kids' movie is still in the theaters.

"Your workload increases dramatically when you get back because of all the things you couldn't handle while you were away." Gallagher says. "You feel you don't have time to devote to exercise."

The problem is compounded if you got out of the exercise habit while you were on the road. "We know the more consistent and regular people are with behaviors, the more likely they are to stick with them," Gallagher says.

So how do you get back in the groove? Set your alarm 30 minutes early and exercise first thing in the morning before the day gets away from you, says Gallagher. "Get in your exercise, even if it's a shorter session."

Originally published Nov. 18, 2004.
Medically updated November 2006.

SOURCES: Lisa Ianucci, author, Healthy Travel (to be published spring 2005), New York. Kara I. Gallagher, PhD, assistant professor of exercise physiology, University of Louisville, Louisville, Ky.; spokeswoman, American College of Sports Medicine. Suzanne Schlosberg, author, Fitness for Travelers: The Ultimate Workout Guide for the Road, Los Angeles. Stephanie Stephens, print and broadcast journalist, Laguna Niguel, Calif. and Cambridge, New Zealand. Airport Gyms web site. International Health, Racquet, and Sports Club Association web site.

©2006 WebMD Inc. All rights reserved.


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