Much has been written about this topic, but there’s still a lot of questions and challenges. If you usually train with your bodyweight (for example yoga or calisthenics), you know there’s quite a bit you can do regardless of where you are. As long as you have some floor space – mats and any props you can bring or borrow are a bonus. If your preferred activity requires equipment (aerials, lifting, climbing…) you may have to make do with bodyweight conditioning, hotel gyms, or try to find classes/spaces in the area.
Why is it so hard?
From my experience, it’s not usually just about the physical limitations. It’s more of an issue of time, energy and motivation.
I remember what it’s like travelling for work, being onsite with a customer for the whole day, followed by a heavy and long team dinner and then spending the late evening catching up on all the work you couldn’t do because people were distracting you during the day. It’s incredibly draining, and hard to find an uninterrupted section of time just for yourself.
On the other side, when you’re paying a lot to go on holiday to explore another country and/or relax, exercising can seem like a waste of precious time, or a distraction, even if you generally love it.
Types of Trips
How I treat training during travel mostly depends on the type of trip.
One-off short trip
“Short” meaning up to 4 days, so for example a long weekend. In such a case, I have a solid training session the day before leaving and the day after coming back, and don’t worry about it too much during (unless I have lots of spare time and not much to do). If you’re working out a lot regularly, you body might actually benefit from a rest period. However, it’s still nice to take opportunities to walk and stretch.
One-off long trip
“Long” meaning at least 5 days, but the exact length will affect my plan. For example, this year we went to Australia for 3 weeks. This seems like an unimaginable time for me not to exercise nowadays, and I wanted to hold on to the great progress I had made in the months before. I didn’t manage to do quite as much exercise as I hoped (among other reasons, I forgot to pack the door attachment for my rings…), but even the little was better than nothing.
For such a case, plan out some pockets of time to exercise where you’re going, and look into gyms/parks/classes in the area. If you’re busy it’s unlikely you’ll make loads of progress, but even doing a little bit on a semi-regular basis can help you maintain what you’ve got.
At the same time, don’t stress about it too much. If you go the whole time without resistance training, you probably will lose a little bit of strength, but it’s temporary – it really shouldn’t take that long to get it back.
If you’re travelling regularly (at least once a month), you’re going to need to develop a sustainable system. I was in this situation a couple years ago because I felt like I couldn’t do enough while I was there (see work situation I described above), and my handling of it probably deserved about a B-. I did well for a while, but as the stress increased, it went a bit downhill. The main pitfall I fell into was overtraining when I was at home, which led me to a shoulder injury.
Make yourself a priority and set boundaries. Depending on your personality and situation this may be easier said than done, but at least try. If you can, make yourself unavailable at certain times and reserve them for yourself.
Think about trade-offs. Is it worth sacrificing an hour of sleep to get a good work out in? (Honestly, often the correct answer will be no.) Can you find an excuse to skip a work-social event you don’t want to go to anyway (for example not feeling well, having to catch up on work, etc.)? At the very least, do you have at least 5-10 minutes of time and energy to do some basic exercises and stretching?
If you’re low on ideas on what to do, here are some suggestions.
Working out alone in your hotel room/gym is not the only option. Consider:
- outdoor/street workout parks and areas with exercise equipment: can be free and versatile, and especially nice if the weather is decent
- going for a run or bike ride in a new location can be a fun way to experience it
- ClassPass is active in 50+ cities, if you like to take group classes but don’t want the hassle of finding & price checking new places
- lots of studios have fitting intro offers (e.g. unlimited classes for 10 days for £20) if you’re in one location for long enough
- if money isn’t an issue, you can just pay for drop-in classes anywhere
- some international gyms have branches in many locations over the world (so if you’re a member of one, you can work out in others too)
However, if you don’t have other options (or time to explore them), there’s still a lot you can do there. You may have to put some equipment-tied goals such as pull ups on the back burner, but you can take this opportunity to work on something different. Some of my favourites:
- Core: dish/hollow body, plank, side plank, pike compressions
- Side core: plank side to side movement, side plank raises, side plank crunches, Russian twists
- Upper body: push ups (many variations, e.g. alternate the width between the hands), tricep extensions (if any bars are available, also dips, parallel or straight, and pull ups or rows)
- Lower body: squats, lunges (jumping if you want more intensity, or grab a heavy object for some weight), leg extensions, hamstring curls, band kickbacks
- Yoga flows (e.g. ashtanga primary series, or just a few sun salutations if you don’t have a lot of time)
- Flexibility training & stretching (e.g. splits)
- Arm balancing (and maybe headstands if you have a comfortable surface)
Yoga/exercise mat: this will make all of the previously mentioned options a bit more comfortable, especially if you can take a regular mat with you. If not, there are a lot of travel mats available. They take up less space and can be folded in different ways, but they will usually not add a lot of padding. I have a Manduka travel mat, and I’d recommend it – it’s grippy and light.
Gymnastic rings: with the right attachments, you can hang these on a door, or on any bars outside (such as swings on playgrounds). They can then really broaden the range of things you can train, especially for calisthenics or aerials. In general, traveling with rings shouldn’t be an issue, but there was one airport where they wouldn’t let me take them in hand luggage.
Resistance bands: there are different types of these for different goals. They can provide resistance instead of weights. You can also use them to help you modify pull ups or other bodyweight exercises, if you have access to a bar. These are super light weight, versatile and easy to pack, so one of the best items to travel with.
Paralletes, yoga blocks, or two other things of equal height: these can be handy for inversions, arm balances, push ups or yoga. However, I’ve never had quite enough spare space in my bag to take them with me.
Not strictly for exercise, but I like to take a tennis ball with me. This allows me to do self-massage and release body tension after sitting down for a long time.
If you want more ideas of what exercises to do, I’ll link a couple posts below.