Keeping fit, healthy and strong has become a big part of both our lives over the last couple of years. I (Ben) began lifting weights for health and fitness about 2 years ago and Jess subsequently became interested and started working out with me. What with our intention to travel all over the world over the coming years we’ve started to piece together ideas for how to keep our conditioning and health at a respectable level whilst being on the road as well as just continue to exercise for the enjoyment that we get from it. So what we thought we’d do is share with you a few of our ideas about what we’re going to do for general health and fitness whilst we travel and brief descriptions on how to implement these yourself.
Firstly just a little background of our training and general philosophy when it comes to fitness. Our training is mostly based around barbells and dumbbells and train predominantly in what could be considered a powerlifting style where our workouts are based around the squat, deadlift and bench press (neither of us have competed and we aren’t approaching a competitive level mind you, we just enjoy this style of training). The reason we train at all is generally to develop a basic level of muscular strength, maintain joint health and structural integrity (my fancy way of saying essentially good posture and ensuring that all the muscles of the body are doing the jobs they’re meant to do!) as well as for the numerous other benefits of strength/resistance training.
(Since I don’t have any actual photos of us lifting in the gym, please enjoy this photo of myself messing around in the gym in a christmas jumper!)
As far as diet goes we aren’t personally big fans of ‘diet’s’ or using particular methods for food intake, really we just stick with the staples: eat plenty of fruit and veg, quality protein (meats, eggs, dairy) and try and stay away from junk and highly processed food as much as possible (I say ‘as much as possible’ as this doesn’t always work when you’re craving that sweet, sugary goodness of cake, chocolate, crisps, doughnuts…the list could go on!). We have found this works best for us though and allows a more balanced and healthy approach to eating. With that little background out of the way just to provide some context, we want to share our basic fitness plans for while we’re on the road!
Now I hasten to say that we haven’t actually done any of this yet so as for how successful it will be we have no idea! This is what we plan to do though and we’ll give it our best go and see what happens. Since while travelling it’s rare to stay in the same place for a large amount of time what we share here will be working on the assumption that we don’t have access to a gym and any of the equipment that typically comes with them. So onto the details.
I’ve bought (for a surprisingly small cost from eBay if anyone’s interested) several rubber resistance bands, which are going to form the basis of much of our exercise plans. For those of you who don’t know these are essentially giant rubber bands of varying thickness that provide different amounts of resistance based on how thick the band is and how far you stretch it. Depending how thick you go these bands can offer resistance of anywhere between 5 and over 200lbs. We plan to divide our workouts up into either upper and lower body on different days of the week or do one or two full body workouts a week.
So please forgive the extremely amateur photography and demonstrations involved below, but this is how we plan on exercising and using the bands:
No surprises here but to work the upper body pressing muscles (pecs, deltoids and triceps) we’ll use the good old standard push up, which has the advantage of being possible anywhere with a floor (even whilst travelling the odds are you shouldn’t have too much trouble finding a floor 😉 ). The bands come into play when push-ups are too easy to be of particular value for strength training. If you can only do say anywhere between 0 and 15 push ups in one go then the push up alone will be a perfectly adequate exercise for maintaining or building strength. However much beyond this and you’ll receive diminishing returns in terms of building strength.
Band push up start position
Band push up bottom position
The pictures above show how we’ll arrange the bands and from here push-ups can be done as normal but with the added resistance offered by the band as you push yourself off the floor.
Pull-ups and rows
For the upper body pulling muscles (pretty much every muscle in the upper back and biceps) we have two options to play with, both require slightly more organisation than the push ups but we hope they will still be doable. The first one is simply to do pull ups though these come with two conditions: firstly a place to do them and secondly strength to do them in the first place as for many people these are extremely tough. The second option is to use the bands to perform a rowing movement to target the upper back muscles (and biceps to an extent).
To tackle the pull-ups first, a place to do them may involve having to be a little creative and possibly looking a little strange to onlookers! This is something we’ll have to wait and see about when we are in a particular place but low hanging (and sturdy) tree branches may be an option as well as looking out for appropriately heighted and sturdy places in more urban areas (this is where we may have to tolerate some strange looks!). For people who can’t yet do full pull-ups (Jess is currently working on them herself) there is the option of doing negative pull ups which are pictured below. The other option involves the bands for assistance. With this option we’ll need to find some way of hooking the band, firstly over whatever we’re pulling up to and secondly around our bodies so that the band is partially holding you up almost like a sling. This reduces the amount of work that it takes to pull up and can help make the exercise doable.
Starting position with feet resting on a chair
Lower yourself as slowly as possible
The other option if pull-ups aren’t possible would be to use our bands to do a rowing movement as pictured below. The band can be hooked around pretty much anything that is tough enough to stay where it is! This exercise is not a brilliant substitute for doing pull ups or using weights for rowing movements but we’re hoping it’ll do in a pinch!
Band hooked round fence, shoulders back and down and band taut.
Pull elbows backwards keeping the rest of the body stable.
Squeeze shoulder blades together once elbows are past your sides, don’t shrug shoulders.
Squats and pistol squats
When it comes to the lower body things get a little trickier as for most people standard bodyweight squats aren’t going to be nearly enough resistance to get a decent strength workout for the legs so we’re opting for the pistol squat. We’re both currently learning how to do these, as they are particularly tough! The basic idea of a pistol squat is shown below. My current barrier to these is a lack of ankle flexibility meaning my knees don’t travel far enough forward so I fall backwards, so adequate ankle flexibility is a must to do these properly (in the mean time, raising your heel by placing something underneath it or wearing slightly heeled shoes will help but practice the non-heel raised assisted version shown next as well). For Jess the issue is more a strength one so how we’ve been learning these is to do them whilst holding on to something and using our arms to assist us on the way up until we develop the strength/flexibility to do them without help.
Pistol squat start position, leg and arms out in front for balance.
Squat down on one leg keeping heel on the floor.
Go as far down as you can then imagine you’re pushing the floor away from you to stand up.
Assisted version: hold onto the door with one leg out in front of you.
Assisted version: squat dow, push against the floor and pull up with your arms to standing position.
Even the assisted version of these can be very hard and plenty adequate for an improvised on the road workout. The other way of doing these if full ones are not possible for whatever reason is to perform them as if you are going to do a full pistol squat but instead do a partial range version where you sit back onto something at a height that makes the squat difficult but not impossible like below. The height of the object can be slowly lowered as you gain strength.
Start position, heel on the floor.
Lightly touch the object, don’t rest weight on it, push the floor away back to standing.
Finally a brief note on cardio: thankfully cardio is the easiest of exercise to improvise as of course you can just go for a run and if you’re running in some foreign land you can take in the sights as you go and get to know a place a little better at the same time. Though I would caution against running randomly with no idea where you’re going as you might end up in a neighbourhood you’d rather avoid or lost in the wilderness! But with a little use of intuition it should be easy enough to find an enjoyable running route wherever you are.
Two last things I should stress are firstly that this isn’t obviously a perfect arrangement but our aim was to give some ideas that might see you through and keep you active and having fun with fitness whilst travelling (or even if you just don’t want to go to or can’t afford to go to a gym). Secondly in our experience we tend not to eat half as much whilst travelling as we do at home and tend to drop weight pretty quickly so particularly for resistance training be aware that if you’re anything like us you may need to take it slightly easier than usual and don’t expect to make any particular progress while travelling, just enjoy being able to do something to keep active while away and look forward to getting back to it when you return home!
We’ll keep you updated with how this goes and don’t skip leg day guys! 😉
Any experiences of your own, thoughts, suggestions or questions, let us know in the comments 🙂