Traveling can wreak havoc on your workout routine. Whether you’re on a long-haul flight, traveling between cities by train, or on a road trip, chances are you’re sitting in cramped quarters for long periods of time with little opportunity for movement. True, you may have a hotel gym waiting for you on the other end of your journey, but in the meantime your muscles can get stiff and your blood flow can change in unhealthy ways.
The best thing you can do to offset the negative effects of being strapped in for hours at a time is walking, says Todd Galati, spokesman for the American Council on Exercise.
“If you’re traveling on a plane or a train and you have some room to move, get up and walk the aisles a bit,” said Galati. “It can get blood circulating, and it can also help alleviate stiffness.”
“It can [also] help you avoid deep vein thrombosis,” he added. “[That] occurs when blood clots form in the deep veins of the body, particularly the legs.”
But what about getting an honest to goodness workout on the go?
Galati stresses that doing a little maintenance exercise is your best bet. “Just do a little stretching on a plane,” he said. “You can do a little mobility for your back, your shoulders, stretch your lower limbs a little bit.”
While stretching is a good way to get creaks out before you reach your destination, we wondered if it would be possible to do a bit more—maybe step out of that plane, train or car feeling a little better than when you stepped in. We reached out to certified master trainer Shaun Zetlin of Zetlin Fitness for some answers.
“You can have a wonderful, functional and aesthetic workout while sitting stationary,” he said. While you’re not going to get a full sweat session in, you have a surprising array of options for toning, light strength training, and even a little cardio.
Zetlin suggests a number of exercises that can be done with very little space and might even make you feel a little better about being crammed into coach for a few hours.
“You may perform exercises that create movement such as marching, dynamic tension movements, and leg extensions,” said Zetlin. “Furthermore, isometric movements include the ‘drawing-in’ maneuver and balancing on one leg.”
“Packing light dumbbells on your trip is fantastic since you may perform a multitude of exercises for your upper body and core,” he added.
If that’s impractical, you can substitute a small resistance band or even use a laptop bag or briefcase (where there’s space, of course).
To give you a few more options, we supplemented Zetlin’s suggestions with a few of our own.
Seated Reverse Plank
This one is for the exit row, an inward facing seat on a train, or the airport. Sitting forward in the seat and gripping the front of the chair for balance, try to make your back and legs into as straight a line as possible, and hold it for as long as you can. Aim for about 30 seconds, take a breather, and do two more reps for a good workout of your core, quads, and lower back.
This simple isometric exercise is harder than it looks, and it seriously works out your quads. Since it requires a wall, it’s best done at a pit stop or in the airport/train station. All you need to do is squat with your back and head firmly pressed against a wall and hold it for as long as you can—no more than a minute. Your knees should be shoulder-width apart and bent at a 90-degree angle. Do three reps for a solid burn.
Calf & Toe Raises
Chances are your lower legs and feet aren’t doing a whole lot when you’re in transit. One way to work those muscles is by doing calf and toe raises, which are just what they sound like. For a calf raise, keep the balls of your feet on the ground and lift your heels. You can lean on your knees or put your carry-on in your lap for extra resistance. Do 20 to 30 quick reps and switch to toe raises. For a toe raise, simply keep your heels planted and lift your toes in the same rapid succession. This will strengthen your ankle and shin muscles. Do two or three sets.
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