How you focus on fitness within the routine of life at home doesn’t always translate well to the reality of travel. You’re out of your element on the road, faced with new stresses and responsibilities, away from your usual gear, running route, classes or gym membership. Even if you can do it when you’re traveling for work or for fun, tackling your home workout might not make the most sense on your trip.
To help you pick the best workout for every travel situation, we interviewed fitness experts on which types of exercises to turn to.
The best exercise when you get off a long flight
Long flights — or long bus, car and train rides — are terrible on your body. You’re stuck in a sedentary position for hours. Our experts point to mobility training to reset your spine after being crammed so awkwardly on a flight.
“Travel is one of the most beautiful parts of life but also just feels so detrimental to your body,” says Kirsty Godso, Nike Master Trainer. “Do something like [mat or tower] Pilates, where you’re really rolling your spine and mobilizing. Taking away a lot of that tightness in the hips that you feel from sitting on a flight is a great way to do it.”
Chris Perrin recommends doing a short workout to get you moving and functional again.
“The best thing to do is a dynamic stretch to stretch out the hip flexors and get the spine moving,” says the co-owner and operator of the sports conditioning gym Cut Seven, in Washington.
Try a reverse lunge with a spine rotation to stretch your hip flexor and get your back moving. Perrin recommends moving until you start to feel relief, and feel more loose. That time frame may depend on the length of your flight, drive or ride.
And before you start any post-flight workout, grab some water.
“That’s critical,” says Janine Delaney, a psychologist and fitness influencer. “If your joints are dehydrated, you’re not going to help them move as well. So you want to definitely hydrate.”
The best workout to fight jet lag
When you’ve jumped across time zones and your body is feeling weary, a workout can ease the pain. If your goal is to stay awake and push through a jet-lagged morning or afternoon, go big.
“You should shock your body and wake it up,” Perrin says. “Do something super intense as hard as you can, and your body essentially won’t know what hit it. You’re fully awake afterwards, and it won’t matter what time of day it is; you’ll feel that your heart rate will be raised.”
Perrin recommends 30 to 45 minutes high-intensity interval training (HIIT) with active rest built into your time. Work hard for 30 seconds with moves like burpees to get your heart rate up, then spend 45 seconds to a minute doing things like push-ups, squats and curls (if you have access to weights) to keep your blood moving.
The best workout in between big vacation meals
You’re in Italy going to town on every incredible pasta, gelato and Barolo opportunity that comes your way. Although your heart may be full, your body may feel horrible. Exercise could be the answer to your bloated woes; at the very least, it could ready you to eat again later.
“Most people are going to want to be sedentary, but it’s good to get up and start moving,” Delaney says. “Avoid doing anything too intense. The last thing you want to do is make yourself nauseous.”
In between meals, Delaney recommends spending 30 to 45 minutes doing yoga, walking in the pool or light weight training. Perrin is also on the weight-training train.
“What you want is to go slow and work out with a heavy weight,” he says. “You may want to start with upper body, because doing things lower body — those kind of body movements may upset your stomach.”
The best workout when you only have 15 or 20 minutes to spare
A travel workout doesn’t have to be long. It’s about quality, not quantity.
“A big deterrent for people is they think a workout has to be super long,” Delaney says. “If you can find time to work out, even doing 20 minutes a day is amazing."
When you don’t have a ton of time to spare on your trip, Delaney recommends grabbing a jump rope. It’s one of her favorite workouts at home and on the road.
“Aside from the convenience that you can do it anywhere and the affordability, it is the best overall conditioning exercise,” she says. “You get cardio, you get upper body training. It’s also a great endorphin release.”
If you’re new to jumping rope, Delaney stresses the importance of moving just your wrists (vs. your arms), and not trying to jump super high. When shopping for the right rope, make sure you pick one that’s the appropriate length for your height.
For Godso, Tabata HIIT training (a type of high-intensity interval training) and EMOM (or every minute on the minute) workouts are best for crushing 10- to 15-minute openings.
“You can really fry yourself in 15 minutes,” she says. “Pick a few drills, or keep it so simple, and do two exercises.”
Try tackling Godso’s signature “hot sauce” burpees (or one of its many variations) coupled with something like mountain climbers, or following a workout from the Nike Training Club app.
The best workout when you don’t have access to a gym
Hotel gyms are a luxury. Not every hotel has one, and not every person stays at a hotel when they travel. But there’s plenty to do without weights and cardio equipment to get a good workout in.
“I would take it back to basics,” Perrin says. “Do a one-minute plank. Ten push ups, then a one minute wall sit, then 10 squat jumps. One minute of crunches and 10 reverse lunges each leg. You don’t need a ton of room. You don’t need any equipment.”
Take your workout outside, when possible. Go for a run around town.
“I hate running, and I’m very open about it,” Godso says. “But when I travel to Europe and I go places like Paris, it’s such a gorgeous city to run around and a great way to see all of the monuments.”
The best workout before your flight home
When the party’s over and you have to fly, drive or take the train home, squeeze a workout in beforehand to save your body a little transportation-related pain. Because your gluteus maximus muscles will be dormant for a while, Perrin suggests focusing on exercises that will fire up those glutes ahead of time.
“After you get off the plane, you’re going to be less sore,” Perrin says.
Before a big flight, Godso prefers well-rounded hybrid exercises, like combining boxing with strength training. She tries to find exercises that will activate her glutes and core before locking in for a sedentary flight.
“I love to do a bit of a combination between strength and HIIT. That is my ideal,” Godso says. “Everyone is different, but what you want to do is get your body moving. You definitely want to sweat.”
The best workout when you don’t want to work out
Don’t feel like it when you’re on vacation? Then don’t bother.
“I never work out on vacation. My wife always works out on vacation. Everyone is different,” Perrin says. “Do whatever you want to do, and don’t feel bad. Get rid of the ‘I need to work out’ mentality.”
Godso stresses that being on vacation is about being happy — not beating yourself up over missed gym time or indulgent foods.
“Your body isn’t going to remember if you have two meals off script,” she says. “It’s about mental relaxation."
The experts’ advice is a little different for the business traveler, though. Road warriors can struggle to create or maintain a workout routine in a routine-less life. When you’re really struggling to overcome the urge to flop down on the hotel bed, but you still want to get a sweat session in, Perrin suggests going in with low expectations.
“All [business travelers] need to do is move,” Perrin says. “Plan to walk into the gym and do your favorite exercises. It doesn’t have to be heavy, doesn’t have to be your best workout. Continue the habit of moving.”