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If you’re worried about losing all your hard earn gains while traveling, this guide is for you. We’ve got proven tips and ideas to help you not only maintain muscle while traveling, but also build muscle and progress your strength training.
Forget general tips like “do push ups”… we delve into actual training strategies that are simple, but incredibly effective.
With a little planning and forward-thinking… you may just come back from your travels in better shape than when you left!
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How to Build Muscle While Traveling – Things to Consider
Calisthenics and Bodyweight Workouts
Ultimately, understanding how to build muscle using mainly your bodyweight is going to really help you maximize your workouts while traveling if you don’t have access to lots of equipment.
Calisthenics and bodyweight workouts go far beyond just push ups and squats… there are all sorts of movements that can target every muscle in your body effectively.
You can also do more challenging versions of simple bodyweight movements like push ups… for example, aiming to do explosive push ups where your hands leave the floor (e.g. clap push ups) that will help develop power to support and enhance gym exercises like the bench press.
By following a specific calisthenics workout plan, you may find you really do build muscle, as opposed to just maintaining it.
As far as bodyweight exercises go, movements like pull-ups give you a lot of bang for your buck and will definitely keep your muscles feeling challenged. By combining these challenging movements with eccentric repetitions (which we’ll go into in a second), you can definitely create effective muscle building workouts while traveling.
If you’re doing a bodyweight routine, using total volume as a measurement of progress is useful, i.e., doing more repetitions each week would illustrate you’re getting stronger. This is better than following time-based workouts, as doing reps slower will be better for muscle development.
If you want to enhance your workouts with some equipment, there are some great lightweight options. Resistance bands would likely be the most popular and obvious choice. Available in different levels of resistance, these open up all sorts of exercises and movements.
You really can do so many exercises with resistance bands… and you may find it helps fill the gap with just doing bodyweight movements for certain muscle groups (e.g. if you want to train biceps, it’s simply easier with a resistance band than just your bodyweight).
When using equipment like resistance bands, try and incorporate single arm/leg variations of movements (such as the b stance deadlift) so you can challenge your muscles more with the same resistance band. This is particularly useful for those who are quite strong already.
Resistance bands are also really affordable, so they probably should make your backpack.
Another lightweight option would be a TRX suspension trainer (or any suspension trainer). Our recent TRX workout plan highlights some of the best exercises you can do with this equipment. In essence, it helps enhance bodyweight exercises and allows you to put more emphasis on certain muscle groups.
Time Under Tension and Eccentric Repetitions
A simple training technique to leverage when traveling would be TUT (time under tension). This simply refers to the total time your muscles are under tension (i.e. engaged) during a movement. The longer the time, the longer the muscles have to work for.
For example, you could do 10 push ups in 20 seconds… or 10 push ups in 40 seconds… the latter would be more challenging for your muscles.
This is a very simple… but very effective way, to build muscle while you’re traveling. Whatever exercise you’re doing, slow things down and keep your muscles engaged for longer.
A similar concept would be to include more eccentric movements… which focuses on the “lowering” phase of an exercise, as opposed to the contracting/lifting phase. For example, with a resistance band bicep curl, you would lift the band up as normal, but slowly lower it back down. This helps further stimulate muscle growth. We’ve got a detailed guide on negative (eccentric) bicep curls to help you master this technique.
Enjoy New Challenges
Working out while traveling doesn’t need to be seen as a compromise to your normal training… it can be a chance to learn new skills and develop new attributes, such as muscular endurance.
Movements like the pistol squat require incredible strength and balance, and traveling could be a great time to try and perfect this movement.
By doing these challenging movements, you’ll also likely experience significant gains in more traditional strength exercises as your balance, stability, endurance and flexibility improves.
Equally, doing activities like yoga while you’re traveling might be just what your muscles and body need for longer term gains.
Doing the same workout week in week out isn’t a great approach to strength training and changing things up to challenge your muscles in different ways is a great way to keep forcing your muscles to adapt and grow.
Your diet will also be a factor while you travel. If you’re traveling for a long period, you’ll want to ensure you are still consuming plenty of protein and avoiding junk food.
An app like MyFitnessPal can help make tracking your calories much easier to help you understand how your diet is doing.
Especially if you want to maintain a lean physique or you’re wanting to bulk up, keeping on top of your diet will be key. (Sleep is also very important and something that’s often harder to control when you’re traveling).
If traveling means you’re going backpacking around the world for a year (we’re definitely *not* jealous!) a bit of creativity can go a long way. Using your backpack or luggage as weight may sound somewhat of a compromise, but it can be more effective than you’d think.
Sandbag workouts have become very popular and these basically involve doing traditional exercises will a sandbag (which isn’t too far from a backpack full of clothes). Filling a drybag with either water or sand could also prove an effective way to create weight while you’re traveling.
Research Local Gyms
You may find you can achieve a lot with some well thought out bodyweight workouts, but you may want to add a gym session in once a week to focus on heavy compound lifts.
Research some local gyms and see if they do guess passes (a lot do this nowadays). You may pay a bit more than you’d like, but at least this gives you access to barbells, dumbbells, and the like.
Similarly, if you’re traveling for work, you may want to research if certain hotels have a gym.
As well as “working out”, you could also opt for physical activities that will engage your muscles. Kayaking, for example, will definitely leave your shoulders, arms and core feeling sore the next day.
Similarly, doing plenty of hiking will keep those glutes activated.
These sorts of activities are also great forms of cardio activity to burn calories… especially if your diet isn’t perfect while traveling.
Consistency and Intensity
If you’re traveling for a long period, consistency (or lack of it) will be very influential in terms of the ability to build and maintain muscle.
Doing something… each week, will be better than training hard for a few weeks and then completely ignoring your training for a month.
Similarly, remember to keep up your intensity. It’s easy to go through the motions with a workout and avoid breaking a sweat, but this won’t get you results. Train with purpose and keep your intensity high.
The type of workouts you do before you head off traveling is definitely something to consider… especially if you usually do hypertrophy/bodybuilding style workouts.
For example, if you want to maintain muscle while traveling, you could focus on workouts that prioritize muscle mass and “bulking” (with low rep, heavy weight workouts), so that you can use your traveling as a time to focus on toning and sculpting with lighter resistance. As you focused on building up muscle mass before traveling, you can use bodyweight training and high rep workouts to your advantage.
If you’re only traveling for a few weeks, you may find if you’ve been training hard before hand, taking those weeks off entirely from working out doesn’t have a noticeable impact.
Follow a Workout Plan
As we mentioned in the introduction, services like Future will take your travel workouts to the next level and offer a completely customized workout plan, along with accountability and support.
On the cheaper end of the scale, apps like Fitbod and Alpha Progression allow you to build custom profiles so you can exclude specific equipment you don’t have access to. The apps then create an appropriate workout plan based on your goals. You can even select how many days and your time restraints too (as you probably don’t have much time if you’re traveling either for work or pleasure).
By following a workout plan, you can train more efficiently. This might mean only training 2 or 3 times a week but still achieving the same results as if you’d train more often. Don’t under-estimate good programming.
Travel Workout Plan
The workout plan below follows a PPL (push, pull, legs) split, so you only need to train 3 times a week. If you can squeeze in some yoga or general stretching, as well as other physical activities like walking, on other days, that would be even better.
Some exercises include variations to make them easier/harder – for example, a pike push up is more suitable for beginners, a decline push up better for intermediate and handstand push ups for experienced athletes.
* AMRAP = As many reps as possible
Day 1 – Push
|Clap Eccentric Push Ups||10-15||5|
|Pike/Decline/Handstand Push Ups||15||3|
|Eccentric Resistance Band Chest Flyes||15||3|
Day 2 – Pull
|Eccentric Wide Grip Pull Ups||AMRAP||5|
|Resistance Band Bent Over Row||10-15||3|
|Banded Lat Pull Down||15||3|
|Banded Bicep Curl||10-15||3|
|Narrow Close Grip Chin Up (with Pause)||10-15||3|
Day 3 – Legs (and Core)
|Squats/Single Leg Squats||20||5|
|Hip Thrusts/ Banded Hip Thrusts||10-15||3|
|(Weighted) Good Mornings||10||3|
|(Weighted) Single Leg Romanian Deadlift||10-15||3|
|(Weighted) Russian Twists||AMRAP||3|
There are many factors that will influence how likely you are able to build or maintain muscle/strength while traveling… but by following the tips highlighted above, you give yourself the best chance at combating potential muscle loss due to traveling.
As we mentioned, if you’re very serious about building muscle while traveling, an online coaching service like Future could definitely be worth considering, to help provide the structure and guidance for your workout routine.