In fact, this might sound familiar: you check into your hotel after a 4:30 am wake-up call so you could get to the airport in time to catch your 8 am flight. You have a few hours of downtime before a busy afternoon of business meetings and then dinner and cocktails with clients.
You have every intention of cramming in a great workout session in that small window of downtime – you even brought your running sneakers. But once you get to the hotel, it starts raining outside, the bed looks so fluffy and inviting, and your eyes so tired from the early morning plane ride. You get as far as putting on your workout clothes before you fall asleep…
This happens more often than not for business travelers and even vacationers, who really do intend to work out as they travel, but succumb to the temptations of the road. After all, it’s hard enough to get motivated when we have a set schedule and our neighborhood gym is right down the road!
But there is a solution: getting a great workout right there in your hotel room. In fact, you can facilitate vigorous exercise in a small space with no equipment no matter what your environment and goals – from toning to building muscle, increasing flexibility and even cardiovascular fitness.
A lot of these exercises are as traditional as our gym class routines when we were trying to earn the Presidential Physical Fitness Award back in elementary school. Some are so new-age that even the most holistic yoga teacher would approve, and others are used in military basic training and even by Navy Seals. Believe it or not, but many of the principles of getting an intense, muscle-building workout in a small space with no equipment come from…you guessed it: prison, or “jail cell workouts” as they’re called.
No matter who you are or what your fitness level, always start slowly to get the form correct first, and be mindful of any injuries. If you have health conditions or are new to exercising regularly, it may be a god idea to consult your physician first. I’ll just cover the basics, but if you need better explanations of what these exercises should look like, feel free to get on YouTube (I assume your hotel room has Wi-Fi!)
Ok, with the caveats aside, we have you standing in the middle of your hotel room with no equipment and half-an-hour to get a great workout. What next?
You can’t go wrong with the old standard pushup (or press-up). But too many people try to do them too fast out the gate, which can diminish the intended effect and even strain your elbows. Try them slowly, really squeezing your chest at the top. Once you’ve mastered the basic pushups, start doing variations – placing your hands wider and closer together, putting your feet up on a chair to create different angles, freezing at the bottom, and even clapping at the top!
Planks may not look like much, but it’s a really great whole-body workout that strengthens your core – which can help prevent lower back pain from sitting at your desk so much. Start timing your planks so you can always challenge your personal best, and advanced planks can even go from resting on your forearms up into a pushup and back down, over and over.
To be honest, you could probably just do burpees and get in amazing shape (though the hotel guests in the room below you might not be happy with the thumping!) Burpees incorporate pushups, squats, shoulders, back, and work your core really well. After 10 or 15 burpees you’ll probably also be out of breath like you just ran around the block! This is a “jail cell workout” staple, by the way.
By working the larger muscles in your legs and hips, you really jumpstart your fitness and will see results all over your body. Don’t worry about squatting with weight – just do them correctly and all the way down to avoid stress on your knees or back. You can also do one-leg squats, jump squats, or frog squats to mix it up. A good tip is that if you’re not used to squats, and you need some help to get the form correct, hold on to each side of the bathroom door handle to help stabilize you as you go down (just don’t hold on to anything that can come out of the wall or tip over!)
Put your hands on a chair or the edge of the bed while facing out (Google a proper demonstration) and dip, which works the triceps, shoulders, and chest.
Biceps and back:
The hardest exercises to work on the road are probably your biceps and back, as they involve pulling motions. Short of having something that can act as a stable pull up bar (don’t try the shower rod!!!), you can try some more basics movements. Fill your laptop bag or the pillowcase with as many heavy books or items as you can find and curl that, or do bent-over rows to work the back. You can also take two heavy books and hold them out, and lift them up and down at an angle, which can work shoulders and back muscles.
There are huge fitness, circulation, and health benefits to handstands, so clear a space against the wall to aid your feet and legs and take the plunge. (Don’t try these solo unless you’ve practiced them before.)
Hotel room cardio:
It may seem like the biggest challenge would be getting a full cardio workout in an enclosed space, but there are plenty of things you can do in your room. Jumping Jacks, running in place, running with knees up, shadowboxing, and the aforementioned burpees all will get you breathing heavily and your heart racing.
Every hotel has a stairwell in case of a fire, so run up and down the flights of stairs as many times as you can, or find a nearby parking garage with plenty of steps.
I also bring a jump rope with my on the road, which takes up almost no room and weighs next to nothing, but can be used in any parking lot, stairwell landing, hotel ballroom, or even inside your room (sorry, downstairs neighbors!)
Take out your laptop, pull up a yoga channel on YouTube or put in a DVD you brought, and do a full yoga session right in your room. The deep breathing element will keep you fresh and relaxed amid all of the stress of business meetings, and the flexibility and circulation benefits will help you feel great through long plane rides. By the way, you can bring your own yoga mat or just use a hotel towel!
If you want to lift some serious weight without paying extra baggage charges and lugging it through the airport, buy a couple of collapsible dumbbells that you fill with water. They make them special for business travelers, and you can fill them up with more or less water in the bathroom sink to adjust the weight.
Is this still not enough for you? Try to book a hotel with a workout room, ask the concierge where a good (and safe) loop is for a couple-mile run, or Google gyms in the area that accept guests with one-day passes.
Have a productive business trip – and a great workout!