John is a good friend of ours who recently went travelling while approaching his training and diet intelligently. He managed to make some of his best gains despite coming out of a month with diarrhoea in India. You can follow his travel blog here, a very entertaining read. This is a guest-post where shares his wisdom on training while travelling:
Nowadays it’s very popular to go travelling to South East Asia, Africa or South America during uni summer breaks, gap years or between jobs. Propane has already written an article on how to avoid undoing all your hard work while on holiday. However being away from home for a week or two is very different to a few months, because gym access will be limited for a much longer time. If you pack sensibly your backpack will only weigh about 10kg and will have very limited capacity meaning everything you take needs to be well thought out.
Before you go
For a couple of weeks before you go increase volume across the board. Start doing both Am and PM sessions, train every day if you don’t already or if you’re short on time simply throw in some drop sets and supersets. When you get to your destination take a week or two off heavy resistance training to get over jet lag and acclimatise to the new climate etc. Eat and sleep well and you may even gain some lean body mass without being anywhere near a weight room. After a rest you’ll be fired up to start training again.
Find a gym
Seems obvious; before you go find out the word for gym in the language of your destination and ask where one is when you get there. The problem? There often either won’t be a gym or you won’t find it. The one time entry fee is often extortionate and the gym may be poorly equipped. You might simply have no time if you only have a couple of days in a city. When you do get in a gym, prioritise legs. They’re the hardest thing to load while travelling and will eat up a lot of your workout capacity which will probably be lower than usual owing to your crappy diet. Squat, deadlift then hit the other basic compound movements giving the greatest attention to the ones you train least outside the gym (ie if you’re doing several types of push ups every day then bench is probably going to need the least work). Be creative. No squat rack? Front squat. Not enough weight to deadlift? Go heavy on your Olympic lifts. If you can make it to a gym once a week it will go a long way. Bear in mind you only will only improve to the extent you can recover. If you are sightseeing walking hours every day in the sun, not sleeping and eating well then your recovery capacity is going to be lowered. Endless sets of curls are not advisable.
Propane already has an introduction to bodyweight circuit training. Given this may be your main form of training you might also want to throw in some more demanding exercises like one arm push ups, muscle ups, front levers and one leg squats. If you can’t do any of these, travelling may be your opportunity to become a bodyweight guru. In China most public parks have pull up and dipping bars in them which is fantastic for when travelling. If you’re not so lucky find some scaffolding, swings or monkey bars.
Take a band
I know what you’re thinking, is that what my Mum uses on her Swiss ball to do lat raises and curls? A 41inch Elite FTS band would be the ideaI travel companion but I couldn’t stomach the $70 odd shipping fee. A decent alternative may come in the form of “Woody Bands” available from Strength Shop, but I haven’t had the chance to try them out. Given no such weightlifting bands are easily found in China, I have been using the cheap and widely available but feminine looking exercise band you see above (mine was the equivalent of few quid from Decathlon in China). Buy the thickest and most resistant one possible, even if it’s pink.
Double the band over and it becomes half as long, twice as thick and therefore a lot more resistant. We can now make the traditional push up more taxing by looping the band round each hand. Even better, the band can be used for pull aparts, or folded over again (making it 4 times shorter and thicker) and used for some single arm rows.
Obviously don’t expect this to feel like a heavy dumbbell row, but at least you can balance out all that horizontal pressing you’ll be doing so your posture doesn’t deteriorate to the point where you’re as hunched as the bench monkeys.
You can also do the curls and lat raises your Mum uses the band for; just remember if it’s too easy double the band over, or hell take a couple along.
Phone a friend
Your training partner just got oh so much more important. I’m currently travelling with my girlfriend, who at 55kg weighs a lot more than my backpack or any rocks I can find nearby. If you’re travelling with friends bribe them by offering to carry their bags since it’ll be easy for you anyway, right stud? Have a light friend straddle you when doing push ups to reduce those 50 rep push ups sets to 2-3. If they’re too heavy have them release most of their weight onto their legs at the bottom of the movement. You can also do bodyweight squats with someone on your back, good mornings, jumps and running. I like a circuit of “friend” push ups, squats, piggy back running and band rows to finish.
Take your Vibrams
Don’t even think about taking those think soled running shoes with you. They’ll take up way too much space and are rubbish for lifting in anyway.
I recently got a pair of Vibrams Classic which pack very small, I love weightlifting in, and can also be used for hill and beach sprints or generally looking like an oddball in (yes people will stare and may laugh at your shoes). You might also want to think about a skipping rope. They pack small, can give you are a good addition to bodyweight circuits and may be the only safe form of cardio available in a big city.
Snacks are golden
Unlike on a short holiday, taking the protein shake travelling just isn’t worth it. It’s bulky, calorie light and a pain to mix then clean the shaker. Milk, eggs and meat will probably all be readily and cheaply available so use what nature/the food processing industry gives you. That’s not to say you shouldn’t carry food with you, just think of calories rather than protein. With all those 6am wakeups for trains, 10 hour bus rides not to mention extensive hiking you’re facing some prolonged fasting. I like taking a plastic tub of peanut butter and a spoon.
Expect to lose some weight initially as your glycogen packed muscles become a bit less full. More than likely you will lose some lean body mass and gain fat. Be prepared for it and don’t freak out when it happens. A couple of years ago I saw some of my best gains and broke through a plateau following a month in India with diarrhoea. Travelling might be the most fun you ever have. Hopefully the above will help you train while you’re away and by the time you get back you’ll be gagging for a few hours quality time with the iron.