Stay Fit: The All-Purpose Travel Workout

All too often, life won't wait for you to finish your 12-week program. Keep strong wherever you go with these resourceful full-body lifts!

Before working full-time as a personal trainer, I had many jobs that required me to travel extensively. I spent years doing production work and music and tour management, with stints ranging from 3 weeks to 10 months each year for about 10 years. Although I wasn't a fitness professional at the time, I was certainly a fitness enthusiast. One of the biggest challenges to my enthusiasm was staying fit and strong on the road.

Lack of equipment is the most obvious hurdle, but once you're actually on the road, you discover that time is your real enemy. No company wants to pay you to jerk around, so you learn quickly to make the most of what's already around you. Yes, sometimes hotels have gyms, but they're usually no more than cramped, converted broom closets with a few treadmills and a water cooler. You can forget about traveling to a local gym, assuming you could even find one. Furthermore, the proper workout attire for outdoor training doesn't always fit in your carry-on.

You can try to impress me with stories about the wonderful things you do with resistance bands and other toys, but veteran travelers know that mobile strength training starts with the objects in your hotel room. From one road warrior to another, here's my guide to maintaining the hard work you've been doing back home.

Checking In

As soon as you enter your room, size it up and see what you've got to work with. Of course this is a good idea anytime you'll be training in a small area, but it's crucial when you've got to get your reps in a "gym" that wasn't built with training in mind.

What can you use for resistance? Is there a chair for dips? How about towels? What hotel gear can you transform or adopt for your workout? There may be more than meets the eye, so take a few minutes and open your mind.

The dimensions of your hotel room determine the workout you can accomplish. Chairs, beds, nightstands, suitcases, and even towels can become implements.

If you read my article about the home-gym essentials, you've already heard me advocate making the most of walls and floors. This is equally true in hotels, where the components of the room form the easiest way to implement leverage.

If standard push-ups aren't challenging enough, see what you can use for incline push-ups. Place your feet on the windowsill to take this classic exercise to the next level. This change in leverage can also be implemented to intensify other exercises, such as lunges, by elevating the rear foot.

Squat What You Got

Squatting is one of the best exercises in your arsenal, for the simple reason that if you have room to stand, then you have room to squat. Squats work pretty much the entire body, with emphasis on the legs, back, and glutes. Because it's hard to commit to a schedule when traveling, isolating individual muscles is probably unrealistic. Full-body movements are your best bet.

Need another reason to leave your split routine at home? Large exercises that recruit multiple muscle groups promote greater overall expenditure of energy. It can be hard to eat healthfully on business trips, so the more you can burn, the better!

Of course, squats can be performed with no external weight at all, but like the push-up, squats can be adapted to suit your needs in numerous ways. For instance, I've found that suitcases can be my best pal when it comes to resistance. Place it on your back, out front to emphasize your quads and abs, or high overhead to target your spinal erectors and shoulders.

Romanian Bed-Lifts

In the hotel room and gym alike, you'd be hard pressed to find a better overall exercise than the deadlift. It's one of the premier builders of sheer strength and overall functionality—and luckily, barbells are optional. Using your bed for weight here is a no-brainer.

For a number of reasons, I've found that the Romanian deadlift is the deadlift variation that adapts best to hotel room use. For this exercise, you simply pick a heavy object off the ground and then do reps from the top down, using your posterior chain of pulling muscles: the hamstrings, glutes, and low back. Need more weight? Just park something—or someone—on the bed.

Throw in the Towel

Hotel towels aren't always great at drying, but they're more than up to the task of helping you stretch out after a hard bout of improvised lifting. For maximum mobility in minimum time, look no further than the towel-assisted overhead shoulder stretch and the lying hamstring stretch.

To perform the shoulder stretch, simply hold the towel overhead with your arms fully extended, tugging slightly at the edges. Roll the towel out in front, over your head, and behind your back.

This is a classic movement used by powerlifters and heavy benchers, but it'll open up the chest and shoulders of whoever is smart enough to use it.

Towel Chest and Shoulder Stretch
Watch The Video - 00:17

To perform the lying hamstring stretch, just get down on your back with one leg fully extended. Place the towel over the foot of your extended leg and pull it slowly toward your torso. This one is really helpful after all those Romanian bed-lifts.

Rules of the Road

No matter where you train, the quality of your workout is dictated more by your performance than any piece of gear. Whether you train with a suitcase or a barbell, at Holiday Inn or in Gold's Gym, you reap what you sow—both in life and in fitness.

The hotel gym is all yours. You control the regimen, intensity, and duration. Focus on quality reps, mental focus, flexibility, and then hit the shower!

If you're going to go to the bother of working out in a hotel room, don't cheat yourself by doing it poorly. Use controlled, attentive reps with a full range of motion. Lock out your hips on squats. Lock your elbows on push-ups, and bring your chest to the ground. Whichever your environment, give your best effort. No matter the setting, 5 good, controlled reps are better than 10 subpar ones.

These are my favorites, but of course they're just a few of the possible ways to maintain your strength and physique on the fly. I'd love to hear yours. Let me know in the comments below, and keep training hard!