Whenever I had a trip coming up I would look forward to it with glee and anticipation, spending time at work counting down the days on my ubiquitous Outlook calendar. I would come up with an idea of how to stay fit while eating all types of yummy new food and spending hours on end in planes, trains and automobiles. Yet, somehow I would always come back a little more plump than before, which really was secondary to just feeling a little more lethargic and a generally less healthy. While it’s easy to stay mentally stimulated traveling through a new country, staying fit is profoundly more difficult; you’re out of your normal fitness regimen, gym availability might be lacking, fitness time takes a backseat to seeing sites and experiencing new cultures, you’re on planes or buses for extended periods, and you’re exposed to a plethora of delicious new foods that ignite the senses. When you’re traveling the bottom line is that it’s important to enjoy your time off, and looking forward to a trip shouldn’t come with feelings of anxiety towards health and fitness.
Make sure that you’re covered for any potential hazards that can happen while you’re keeping fit on the road. A lot of people don’t know this, but you can add travel insurance even if you’ve in the middle of your trip.
One of the primary reasons that I decided to become a Canfitpro certified personal trainer and left my desk job was because office work was becoming a serious drain on my physical health, no matter how much I tried to balance it out at the end of the day at the gym. It wouldn’t make much sense to allow myself to regress to an even greater extent on my big trip, so I realized that I needed to apply my personal fitness knowledge to design a program that was flexible enough to use anywhere and that fit in with a busy schedule of keeping on the move. Travel and fitness are hardly mutually exclusive concepts, but I knew that it would be a challenge. Here are my core principles of travel fitness. Also see my fitness blog for specific workouts that are suitable for nearly all experience levels.
First Principle: Constant movement. This is the most important principle and the easiest to habituate on the road. It can be as simple as taking opportunities to walk instead of taking the local bus, or advanced as heading out on an adventurous trek through the mountains. An added bonus of this is that you get to enjoy the sights and sounds of an amazing new place from the ground level. Also, never sit when you can stand, even if you’re just waiting for your guide to show up. You’ll be amazed at how much easier it is to connect with other people when you’re walking around rather than sitting on your ass waiting for something interesting to happen!
Second Principle: Meet the locals (and no, I don’t mean just for beers and mojitos, although there’s nothing wrong with treating yourself once in a while). Take a look at how the locals keep fit. I noticed in China that there were a lack of massive roid monkey types strolling around. Awesome, right? Sure, part of that is simply genetics, but it’s also due to how the Chinese viewed fitness and health. It wasn’t out of the ordinary to see a group practicing Tai Chi in a park or the odd Kung Fu practioner by the waterfront. If you can’t perform the same type of workout you would at home, why not try a new method of training that can teach you a few things? It can be as simple as a yoga retreat, kickboxing camp or a fitness class.
Third Principle: Make the city your gym. I actually snagged the idea from a really cool chick I had met 7 years ago in Berlin at the hostel I was staying at. She would wake up at 6 AM on a daily basis to run through a new area of the city, and sometimes even scope out under utilized outdoor track facilities and jump the fence if there was no one around. Sounds a bit ridiculous? Me and my new travel buddy Dominic had a ridiculously awesome time getting in a workout on a rooftop we had snuck onto in Beijing’s Old Quarter. Spending time sharing training ideas with someone that I connected with (and who later became one of my best friends) on a rooftop overlooking a distinctly picturesque area of Beijing remains one of my favorite travel memories to this day. #thecityismygym
I left out a big gaping hole here: nutrition. I’m not a nutritionist, but it doesn’t take one to know that healthy habits such as staying well hydrated and eating green leafy vegetables shouldn’t change when you’re traveling. But, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t enjoy that banana chocolate crepe at the corner street stall that you’ve been eyeing up all day. You only live once and it’s important not to let fitness shape every single decision in your life to the point it detracts from your ability to enjoy the moment or instills a sense of deprivation.
The workout below is a simple all around program if you’re looking to stay fit on short duration trips from a few days up to a couple of weeks. For longer trips where the world becomes your gym and it requires more of a lifestyle change, use my fitness blog posts as a resource to challenge yourself and realize progressive gains in cardiovascular, muscular and flexibility health.
If you’re starting from scratch and have no fitness training experience or very little it’s highly recommended that you receive clearance from a doctor prior to completing any of these exercises, and if you’ve had prior health issues it’s critical that you do so. Make sure to also check out my blog for instructional videos on form and technique.
Road Warrior 1 - Total Body Workout
Frequency: Beginners: 2 times per week Intermediate/Advanced: 3 times per week
Required Equipment: Your own body, large weighted backpack, small weighted duffel/backpack
Optional Equipment: Resistance band Time Commitment: 25 – 35 minutes
Warm Up: 5 mins of warm up movements: light jog, high kickbacks, high knees, standing front/back leg swings, standing lateral leg swings, frog walk twists, bear walk, lateral crossovers
Circuit 1 Beginners: Repeat 2 times with no rest in between exercises, 1 minute rest between rotations Intermediate/Advanced: Repeat 3 times with no rest in between exercises, 1 minute rest between rotations
-Body weight squats x 12 reps Regression: feet farther apart Progression: hug a backpack to your chest
-Push-ups x 10 reps Regression: perform from knees Progression: alternate raising one leg off of the ground
-Bent over rows x 10 reps (use a large backpack held lengthwise or Standing rows (resistance band) Regression: lighten backpack/step closer to center of band Progression: increase backpack weight/step farther from center of band
4 minute rest in between Circuit 1 and Circuit 2
Circuit 2 Beginners: Repeat 2 times with no rest in between exercises, 1 minute rest between rotations Intermediate/Advanced: Repeat 3 times with no rest in between exercises, 1 minute rest between rotations
-Alternating lunges x 8 reps per side Regression: perform one side at a time Progression: reverse lunge
-Mountain climbers x 8 reps per side Regression: put hands on elevated surface Progression: rotational mountain climbers
-Sprint 50 meters, walk back to starting point Regression: fast jog Progression: sprint both ways
Static Stretching: Perform stretches for quads, hamstrings, calves, chest, upper/middle/lower back, triceps, rotator cuff