Workouts for the road
For those of you that are going travelling but are simultaneously panicking about being away from barbells and dumbbells for an extended period of time, 'The Advanced Travel Workout' is for you, provided you don’t mind bringing some extra, travel friendly equipment with you. Similarly, if you are pretty good shape through another sport, and you want to keep as fit and strong as realistically possible, then this is the workout plan for you. Bear in mind that this programme is based around general strength/hypertrophy training, and assumes at least a basic understanding of more typical “weightlifting” programming and principles. If this sounds too complicated or demanding try - 'The General Travel Workout Plan'
The problem with a bodyweight/calinsthenics training routine is that it just doesn’t replicate heavy-weight training that some of us are used to. The lack of variable mechanical tension is the number one issue, making progressive overload, muscular damage and metabolic stress harder to come by. While this programme is not as optimal as weight training, it’s the best realistic option for those who want to maximize their training time while travelling.
What you will need:
A set of heavy duty, high-quality resistance bands is the only required equipment for the Advanced Travel Workout. My set has 120 kgs/262lbs worth of resistance (this still may not sound enough for some but let me clarify later.) It has sturdy handles, ankle straps, great door anchors (these are invaluable) as well as another anchor which you can attach to solid fixings like railings, window bars and beds. I left a few of the extra handles and straps at home and the whole thing weighed in at about 5kg/11lbs. If you're worried about lugging an extra 5 kgs around with you for a few months then this workout probably isn't for you.
Related article: The General Travel Workout
Below is the set that I ended up buying. I did my research and heard a lot of good things. I’m sure there are other decent sets out there, just don’t buy cheap, poor quality bands as it will be a waste of your time and money. They will snap or tear and often won’t provide any meaningful resistance at all. I can safely say these are excellent.
A set of high quality resistance bands are very good at replicating accessory and isolation movements. However, the three movements that they struggle to replace like-for-like are….the Deadlift… the Squat…. and the Bench Press… “What’s even the point….no big three!!” I hear some of you say. Relax, whilst you can’t quite emulate the awesomeness of the big three with resistance bands, there are some really effective substitutions you can do that are going to tide you over until you get back to the gym.
Resistance bands can feel awkward and unfamiliar at first. Don't be put off, you will quickly master them and be able to get great workouts in. With bands it's important to use them in the same fashion every time, especially for the sake of effective tracking. Take this hypothetical rows situation for an example; You could be standing on top of your selected bands with your feet 10 inches apart one session, and then 8 inches apart the next session. This would create less starting tension in the bands during your second session, making it slightly easier and thereby throw your tracking a little. Take as much notice of your body positioning, band positioning and form as you would with a barbell. The kit I bought had a nifty fold-out poster that was useful in getting an idea of how to perform a whole range of exercises with proper form and positioning.
Programme info and clarifications:
Like The General Travel Workout programme, this is a full-body routine with a day A and a day B. It gives you the best ‘bang for your buck’ whilst keeping things simple, effective and manageable under travelling conditions. If you are used to splits like Push Pull Legs, Upper / Lower or a Bodypart split, put it on the shelf until you get back home.
It’s recommended to perform this workout 3-4 times a week. Back-to-back days are generally fine. I found they are often great to squeeze some workouts in if you have a busy schedule looming ahead.
The rep ranges are generally listed as 8 - 12 which is a pretty popular rep range in traditional Barbell/ Dumbell training. I personally found 8-12 reps to be best for nailing the form with bands, managing progressive overload and tracking. In a gym environment I would usually train between 5-8 reps for a good few of the exercises below, but for some reason the nature of bands makes it less awkward to work a bit higher in terms of reps. If you normally train lower in reps don't sweat it, 8-12 will work excellently for the few months you are away, so long as you're working hard. If you are particularly strength focused in your training feel free to mess around with lower reps ranges.
If you're going to use this workout you may be experienced enough with training to tweak some of the factors to suit you. If you want deviate from the recommended sets or rest times, feel free. As standard, rest times would be 2 minutes for the more challenging movements, and 1 minute for the accessory work.
The Advanced Travel Workout - Day A
Squat/Leg Press variant variant 4-5 sets of 8 -12 repetitions: Options include: Seated Anchored 1 Legged Leg Press. (using a door anchor at shoulder height you can seriously hit your quads with this exercise. This is my favourite version and the one I would most recommend. Place your back against the door, double the band(s) over and attach both ends to foot/ankle strap). Resisted One-Legged Squats (use an ankle strap and run the band(s) up your back and over your shoulder. Hold the band(s) tight with one arm and the wall with the other). Resisted Squats (Your band's instructions will show a resisted bodyweight squat. Personally I found them very awkward, try them if you like but I much prefer the leg press above.)
Chest Press variant 3-4 sets of 8- 12 repetitions: Options Include: Resisted Rocky/ 1 Arm Pushups (I really like these, your free hand holds one end of the band while the other runs over your back and down your pressing arm), Resisted Pushups (easy to perform as per the instructions but I found there was a tendency for the bands to slide about once the resistance gets higher, Rocky Pushups are easier to manage), Standing Anchored Chest Press/Pressdown (These resemble cable presses with a dual pulley machine in the gym, you need a sturdy door to anchor at both sides.)
Row Variant 3-4 sets of 8-12 repetitions: There are a lot of options for rows when you factor in standing/seated, anchored/un-anchored and the various angles you can anchor from. My favourites include: Bent over rows (great movement, bands run underfoot, wrap your wrists around the ends and row away), Seated back row (anchored at about chest height whilst seated on the floor, brace the door with your legs), Lawn Mower rows (basically a one-armed bent over row with the band under one foot, then held in the opposite hand.)
Tip: Switching rows out for chin-ups or pull-ups (Workout B exercises) in this workout is often a good idea if you have the opportunity. The reason being it is often difficult finding a place to chin/pull,so if you get the chance to do them, do them and do the rows next workout instead.
Optional Workout A Exercises
Whilst these are optional, I would recommend doing at least some of them especially if you are a reasonably advanced trainee.
Anchored Crossover Flyes 2-3 sets 10-15 repetitions: Easy to perform and good for feeling the pump 'n' burn. Alternating leading foot between sets is best. If you choose to do this optional exercise I also strongly recommend including Face Pulls in your routine to balance out the extra Pectoral and Anterior Deltoid work you will be doing. That is, unless you want to run the risk of shoulder imbalances, potential rotator cuff injuries and bad posture.
Anchored Face Pulls 2-3 sets 10 - 15 repetitions: Much the same as a Face Pull with cables in the gym. You could also do reverse flys here instead. Great for posture, healthy shoulders and developing the often neglected Posterior Deltoids.
Tricep Variant 2-3 sets 10-15 repetitions: There are lots of options here, my favourites include: One Armed Overhead Tricep Extensions, Tricep Dips (body weight exercise but effective), Lying Triceps Extension (these are a bodyweight movement but they are very good and remind me of skullcrushers, you perform these face down, whilst holding the edge of a bed or other low object, think about dropping your elbows down to the floor while your forearms move into a vertical position, and then press back up until forearms are parallel to the floor.)
Calf Raises 2-3 sets 10-15 repetitions: These are best performed with an anchor under the door with band(s) running through the anchor wrapped around each hand, probably a little way down the length of the bands until you feel there is enough tension. You may have to quickly adjust hand position mid-set as your grip will slide a little.
The Advanced Travel Workout - Day B
Deadlift or Hip Extension Variant: This is the most difficult exercise to perform, both in terms of availability of equipment and technical difficulty of some of the options. For this reason I have broken it down into type 1 and type 2 options. Type 2 options are to be performed when type 1 options aren't available. or, if you aren't able, aren't interested or feel uncomfortable doing type 1 options then just stick to type 2.
Type 1; Deadlift options- 2-4 sets of 5-10 repetitions: Options include - "Bedlifts" or "Romanian Bedlifts", you will need a sturdy, unfixed bed which you can stand close to, pick up on the underside at one end, and then stand up straight by hinging at the hips until you are standing vertically . Your back needs to be kept straight at all times to avoid risking injury. Grabbing the underside of a heavy bed can be hard on the hands, so I recommend using a towel between your hands and the bed to make things less painful. You can use backpack(s) or maybe even a human being on the bed for an extra challenge, just don't break the bed!
With the Romanian version, start the movement from the top after you have picked the bed up. Move you hips/butt back whilst keeping your back straight and slightly unlocking your knees. Lower the bed until you can feel a nice stretch in your hamstrings, then stand back up whilst driving the hips forward with your glutes and hamstrings. Don't go too low, and don't let your back round. To pick the bed up and put it back down safely simply unlock your knees further to allow you to get lower whilst maintaining a neutral back position. I personally prefer this version, as the standard version can feel awkward with the way certain beds are made, and also with how you are personally built.
Whilst I generally prefer the Romanian version, the standard version is a more complete range of motion if you can do them easily with what you've got.
Type 2: Hip Extension Options: 2 exercises each being 2-3 sets of 8-12 reps: As Deadlifts hit the hamstrings, glutes and back hard, it will take more than one exercise to target the same muscles sufficiently. Options include: Lying Hamstring Curls (Easy to perform, start the movement with the band(s) well stretched). Standing Back Extension (Perform these with the anchor under the door and the bands threaded through, bend over and wrap your hands around the band(s) at a point where there is already a fair bit of tension. Keep your back right and neutral, stand up straight, hold for one second and then return to the start). Hip Thrusts (primarily a glute exercise, done with bodyweight, single legged for the more advanced. Try adding a backpack for that extra challenge as it is hard to incorporate bands into this movement. Most beds make a good platform on which to lean against while performing this exercise.)
Pull Ups/ Chin Ups 3-4 sets of 8 -12 reps: Options include Pull-ups or Chin-ups preferably. Either are some of the best exercises in existence. If you are too strong for the rep ranges above, try adding some weight in a backpack. Lesser alternatives include: Lying Band Lat Pulldowns (To do these you need to anchor the band(s) under a door and lie on your stomach. You will probably need to drag a bed or another heavy object into a position where you can hold onto the underside of it with your heels/feet, otherwise you will just pull yourself, ungracefully, on your stomach, towards the door. This is not good for your ego or your lats). Kneeling Lat Extensions (Not a great alternative but easy to set up with a door anchor on top of the door.)
Shoulder Press Variant 3-4 sets of 8 -12 repetitions: Options Include - Handstand Shoulder Presses (a challenging bodyweight exercise best done using a wall for support, unless you are a Ninja.) If you are exceeding the prescribed rep ranges you can rig up two sets of bands to matching resistances. Attach bands to ankle straps. The hard part with bands is getting into position, with your hands pressing the bands into the floor and your feet on the wall. I suggest getting upside down with knees bent, feet against the wall. Secure the now dangling bands under each hand and then press away.)
Workout B Optional Exercises
Shrugs 2-3 sets 8-12 repetitions: These are very easy to perform with band(s) running underfoot into both hands. Don't roll your shoulders back in the shrug as this can cause impingement in the shoulder. Straight up and down works best.
Bicep Curls 2-3 Sets 8-12 repetitions The handles and ankle straps are great for a variety of standard and hammer curls. You can use an anchor under a door or stand on the bands. Pick what you like best.
Lateral raises 2-3 sets 10-15 repetitions These are best performed with a lighter weight for higher reps as it's easier to isolate the lateral head in my experience. Best performed by standing on the bands.
Abdominals 2-3 sets: reps depend on exercise There are a lot of options to choose from here; I found kneeling abdominal pulldowns/crunches with the bands anchored on top of the door to be a good exercise. I also like oblique crunches from an under-door anchor position. However, they are by no means your only options, pick what exercises you enjoy.
And that's it. A routine which is simple to do on the road and effective for experienced lifters. I personally did this routine for over 4 months and made some solid gains in the process. Next, check out our diet and nutrition guide if you want some helpful tips and strategies for your time travelling.
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