I am of the thought that vacation should really be treated as a vacation — sleep until you want, do what you want, eat what you want, etc. But I'm also one of those people who can only go so long without working out before I go stir crazy.
As such, I always make sure to pack sneakers and some workout clothes in case the exercise itch hits, which it invariably does if I'm on the road for any longer than a week. Still, I am not a gym rat and definitely don’t want to sacrifice too much time that I could be spending out and about wherever I am.
The best travel workouts are, in my opinion, either super-efficient or scenic. That way I'm both done and ready for whatever's next or I'm multitasking by exploring at the same time. Said workouts also shouldn't require packing all that much extra stuff because ain't nobody got space for that.
With those qualifiers in mind, I'm sharing my favorite on-the-go workouts fit for traveling.
I think working a workout into sightseeing is hands-down the easiest and most enjoyable (and often sweat-free, score) option of the bunch. My choice way to get into a destination is to walk it all. In fact, I would turn down all taxis and metros if it weren't for friends or hosts who often reel me back by telling me walking for seven hours straight probably isn't realistic. (OK, six then.) There's also biking; just about every major city has options for both bike tours and bike rentals.
Kayaking, going on rafting trips, rollerblading, whatever it is, sign me up.
This is another obvious recommendation but I think it bears mentioning nonetheless. When it makes sense—as in when and where it seems OK for a solo woman like myself to be pounding the pavement—I like to get out and run. I'm probably waxing poetic but I think it offers a distinct type of immersion experience and a new perspective on a place. I'll usually scope out a park, run there and circle it a handful of times. I've found runners' clubs are welcome to incorporating in a tourist, too.
Treadmill Interval Run
I have a love-hate relationship with treadmills. I much, much prefer to just set out into the world for a run rather than pound a looping belt, going nowhere like a hamster in its wheel. But I’ll make peace with the treadmill when my hotel has one because it's the one piece of gym equipment that can provide what I'm convinced is the most efficient and effective workout: an interval run.
Interval runs are done in chunks, usually one minute to three minutes in length, alternating between sprinting and jogging. This gives your body pretty much no time to adjust and makes it work hard. I can do as little as 20 or so minutes and still come off panting from an ass-kicking workout. The intervals break it up such that time flies by so I'm off that piece of equipment and in the shower in record time.
Here’s one 25-minute option that apparently “kicks celebs into shape” and borrows a page from one celeb workout du jour: Barry’s Bootcamp. Or search "treadmill interval runs" runs and find one that speaks to you.
Intervals are very much my friend and the Tabata is the best of them all. A Tabata is really just an approach to working out that can be applied to any move, making it a brainless (but definitely not painless) way to work out, which is why I love it.
Tabata workouts total four minutes. Those four minutes are broken into 30-second blocks of 20 seconds “on,” or working out, and 10 seconds “off,” or resting for eight rounds total. It’s the same move for the entire four-minute block and the idea is to be sprinting or doing as many repetitions as possible in those 20-second rounds. End result: I finish four minutes feeling like my body is going to give out under me, which is exactly what I want.
I find stacking four individual Tabatas together is enough for a full-body workout. And it’s all done in less than 20 minutes. In short, this shit works. For a quick overview, check out this FMW Training video:
For some background, the “Tabata protocol” is named after the exercise scientist who developed and applied the training method to the Japanese Olympic speed skating team with spectacular results. Men’s Health has some sample Tabata workouts on hand as well.
I took the liberty of modifying this suggestion from CrossFit’s Filthy Fifty, which is a workout (“WOD” if you speak CrossFitese) involving 10 exercises requiring all sorts of toys like weights, balls and boxes. I present it as an alternative to the Tabata to give some logical structure to a workout because in my version I kind of just do whatever 10 moves sound good at that moment.
I'll pick exercises such as push-ups, squats, tricep dips, bridges, sit-ups or lunges and do 50 of each. I usually go for this one when I want to work out but am feeling uninspired because it sounds easy enough and I can do it right on the floor of my hotel room or wherever. Of course, then I invariably start to struggle with each move around number 25.
One of my friends loves traveling for her job and is also a total fitness nut. This idea comes from her, as she always packs a jump rope as an option for cardio, whether as an alternative to running or if there’s no gym where she’s staying. I was the playground jump rope queen growing up but following her lead I learned jump rope definitely is not child’s play. Even if it's harder as an adult workout, my inner 10-year-old still loves it and it also torches calories (at 10 per minute, apparently).
Shape has one 20-minute jump rope workout here, which alternates jumping with planks. No equipment other than the rope is required.
Resistance bands are an easy substitute to lifting weights and they’re actually packable. Stow it with a jump rope and you really have a mobile gym. And because I never really know what to do with the band in my hands: a resistance band workout.
I've included links to some of my favorite additional to-go workouts, which can be mined for moves to use in other workouts, like for a Tabata. The New York Times has a great 7-minute workout while Outside Magazine has a 20-minute strength workout outlined. Refinery29 also has some easy no-gym workouts and Women’s Health’s has a piece on CrossFit anywhere. If that doesn’t work, Men’s Health has five awesome body-weight exercises listed. There’s bound to be some great options.