Here’s a better option: Exercise aids small enough to fit in your carry-on bag and versatile enough to get you huffing and puffing, no matter your GPS coordinates. Here are five we like.
The Kichgo Bag
The brainchild of celebrity trainer Kit Rich, who has worked with Jennifer Lawrence, Kesha and other A-listers, this canvas bag contains two resistance bands with clip-on handles and ankle straps; a set of sliders that work on carpet or hardwood; three resistance loops; a small inflatable core ball; a wire-thin jump rope and a door anchor. This mishmash looked downright flimsy until I started following along on my laptop with Rich’s five- to 30-minute videos.
In one 28-minute session, Rich led me through a warm-up of dips and reaches, while squeezing the core ball with my hands, followed by lifts, kicks and yoga or Pilates-like moves with resistance bands that felt easy to start but had me breathing hard in minutes, and kept me that way until the end of the video.
Rich, an upbeat emcee who offers helpful guidance on form, is joined by two cheery co-hosts, one of whom demos novice versions of each exercise. The bag weighs less than two pounds. $65, includes 20 videos; kichgo.com
TRX Home2 Suspension Trainer
A company spokesman told The Washington Post that the Home2 is preferable to the older TRX Go because it has a stronger strap and handles, and can provide travelers with a more comprehensive workout.
The heavy-gauge nylon adjustable strap, with integrated plastic-and-foam handles and padded foot and ankle loops, is a compact version of TRX’s signature black-and-yellow body-weight training products, which dangle from those metal A-frames in many gyms. Maybe you have even tried an awkward set of push-ups with them when you thought nobody was looking. Well, now nobody IS looking, so let’s get into it.
I anchored the Home2 to my back door, cleared space in my kitchen (I’m 5 feet 7 and found I could do most exercises in about a 3-by-5-foot space), and learned the seven moves around which every workout is built: side plank, chest press, Y fly, lunge, squat, torso rotation and hip press.
Then I opened the TRX app and launched a 35-minute workout. After a quick warm-up, a trainer led me through a mix of moves that wore me out based on sheer repetition — squats and chest flys — and others that looked easy on video but proved difficult, including a crossing balance lunge and something called an atomic push-up (feet suspended, tuck knees to chest, untuck, push-up, repeat).
While the coaching is a bit generic — instruction comes via voice-over, often repeats and lacks music — the workouts are fast paced and well organized; many exercises are grouped to minimize on-the-fly strap adjustments. $150, includes one-year subscription to the TRX app, which costs $40 through the Apple App Store or Google Play; trxtraining.com
Many serious runners have their fave tracking and mapping apps, and we hate arguing with serious runners, so we tapped Jeff Dengate, runner-in-chief at Runner’s World, to throw down the gauntlet.
“My go-to pick has usually been MapMyRun because of its massive library of user-generated routes,” says Dengate. “A blue dot shows your position, so you won’t get lost. It’s extremely helpful when running in new cities.”
I tested MMR’s street smarts against my go-to routes around my office and home and the app kicked out legit circuits, and allowed me to save runs, set training goals and more. But, maddeningly, I couldn’t search for routes ahead of a theoretical trip using the app; I had to go to the MapMyRun website to accomplish that.
But using both the app and the site, I was able to narrow results by distance — helpful when sifting through dozens of user-generated runs.
If you want turn-by-turn directions piped through your ear buds, check out Rungo, which points out landmarks (“You are now on top of the Statue of Liberty . . .”).
MapMyRun and Rungo offer sufficient free versions, with fees for premium features such as heart-rate analysis, audio-guided intervals and live tracking to let friends or family know where you are.
Prefer off-road? Trail Run Project, a free app from REI, offers downloadable maps, many with photographs and detailed descriptions, of trails across the United States and in other countries, although the foreign library is a little thin.
This extremely compact strap-and-handle system (it’ll fit in your coat pocket), seems geared to outdoor-loving millennials on the go. It’s made from rock-climbing-grade webbing with powder-coated aluminum handles, and looks like a mini TRX unit, which it is — sort of.
The Boulder-based, millennial-run Monkii claims that its No. 1 goal is “to inspire people to live wild,” and offers step-by-step DIY instructions for making your own unit. The literature feels a little cultish — after 15 minutes of perusing I started thinking monkii was a real word — but, as cults go, it’s a refreshing one. Want to work out outside? Take the straps to your local park or even on a hike and toss them over a (sturdy) tree branch. Car camping with the family? Rig up the Monkii to your roof rack and get after it.
Using one of the hundreds of free videos available on the company’s app, I tried the 21-minute park workout, using a basketball hoop as my anchor.
Monkii founder Dan Vinson emceed as his cohort Gabor mixed traditional moves such as push-ups with some more innovative ones — think holding a handle with one hand while leaning back, twisting and reaching behind with the free hand to tap the ground.
The videos laced the instruction with attitude, humor and, at times, spacey club music — a contrast to the almost military seriousness of the TRX media. The result: A whipped writer who really wants to work out more often in the great outdoors. $149, app and videos are free; monkii.co
No, we’re not suggesting you wander the streets of upper-crust suburbia looking for a pickup game. We use the lacrosse ball for trigger-point massage — like an ultra-portable foam roller — to relieve muscle tension.
“You’re trying to relax the tissue and create a temporary ischemia,” that is, a restriction in blood supply, says A. Lynn Millar, chair of the department of physical therapy at Winston-Salem State University.
As blood flow resumes, it can help repair damage and flush out the buildup of metabolic byproducts that makes tissues tight. Millar emphasizes that there is no conclusive clinical evidence on how to relieve muscle knots or if there’s lasting benefit in doing so.
But it sure feels good. So, get on the floor and lower the spot that hurts — calf muscles, hips and trapezoids are common — onto the ball, rolling slightly around to find the point of greatest tightness.
This might be a bit painful, but breathe into it and hold for 30 seconds or so, until you feel the tension start to dissolve.
One caution: I’ve had TSA root through my carry-on because of the bomb-like shape of the ball, so now I send it through security in a bin to minimize hassle. About $5 for two balls online.
Briley is a writer based in Takoma Park. His website is johnbriley.com.
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