No matter what or where I am, I’ve got to get my fitness on like Donkey Kong. One of my buddies once told me that if I was going to be “undisciplined” with my eating I should at the very least continue working out. I agree and I do. But having access to a gym regularly while I’m bouncing around or a visitor in other countries is wishful thinking, so I prepare for plan B by bringing fitness travel gear that allows me to stay fit and strong anywhere, at (almost) anytime.
This does mean I have to pack workout clothes and one pair of workout shoes, along with fitness travel gear. It’s well worth it though because being able to work out is the one constant that keeps me grounded, even when the rest of my environment and routine constantly changes. I do my best to pack light because lugging extra crap around isn’t fun, but in my experience so far, these fitness travel gear actually are real travel-friendly options.
1. Suspension Trainer Straps
Unless I know for certain I’ll have access to a gym, I always, always, ALWAYS bring my most versatile piece of fitness travel gear: suspension trainers. They’re special straps with handles that you anchor to a door, a light post, a tree branch, or some other tall thing. They immediately beef up the number and variety of bodyweight movements you can do.
TRX is the brand name, but the one I have is a prototype from my buddy’s company Real Results Trainer. TRX is a bit pricey, around $150, but there are cheaper alternatives that run less than $50. I can’t say anything about other brands, but the Real Results trainer and the TRX are quite durable and hardly take up any more space in your luggage than a cosmetic bag. It used to come with a little travel sac, but I lost mine so I replaced it with the smallest of my TravelWise packing cubes.
FYI, I’ve used these suspension trainers for about eight years now. The strap handle itself has had to be taped up once or twice, but they’re still going strong.
Bodyweight exercises like push-ups, pull-ups, bodyweight squats, and so on are good and fine, but you can only do so much even with a park bench and pull-up bar. With suspension trainers, you can continue doing strength-building movements using only your body weight. By holding onto the straps and leaning your weight in different directions, you’re able to do exercises that isolate certain muscles like your biceps or triceps. You’d be surprised by how challenging and effective of a workout you can get from these. In fact, I spent months doing basic bodyweight workouts (an example workout is in this article Work Out Anywhere With This Strength Bodyweight Program) and have seen great results with them.
If you’re not sure about what you can do with suspension trainers, check out this chart of exercises we featured at Lifehacker.
2. Resistance Bands
I really like resistance bands because they help me train for strength. Think of resistance bands as giant rubber bands, some of which are closed loops or have handles. I prefer the closed loop ones myself simply because I have suspension trainers already. They look unassuming and kind of dinky, but when you pull on them, they pull back with an equal amount of tension so that it feels like you’re tugging a considerable amount of weight (like a resistance workout, WHAT).
Resistance bands are color coded to denote how much resistance they provide, with green or red ones typically being among the “lightest” and black being among the “heaviest”. You don’t have to bring the whole set if you don’t want. I bring two, a small green and blue band, just for simple warm-up exercises.
The beauty of resistance bands is that you can do a lot with them without attaching them to any anchor point. That means when you can anchor them to, like, a heavy couch you make more movements (like a banded hip thrust) possible. Plus, they help you do certain moves that the suspension trainer can’t. For example, you can use a resistance band to make push-ups harder or pull-ups easier. I even wrote about this chart of different exercises you can do with resistance bands here.
3. Smart Shaker Bottle
Maybe it’s just me, but I take a shaker bottle with me even on the road. It doubles up as a container that lets me easily mix up my protein shakes and also as a water bottle. Efficiency!
There are plenty of shaker bottles on the market. The popular one is the Blender Bottle, but it has a loose metal ball that just clinks around non-stop if you’re on the move. The inexpensive Smart Shaker Bottle, on the other hand, can shake things up just fine without the clink, clink, clink. I’ve yet to find the perfect shaker bottle that’s a good travel companion, but the Smart Shaker gets the job done. And if you get something like this, you can store things in a detachable bottom compartment which is kind of cool.
4. Massage Ball
With all the traveling and sitting, you can count on your body getting wound up like a pretzel. When I was in Hong Kong, I found myself in desperate need of a massage, but I couldn’t find a non-sexy time massage. I didn’t want to risk it. That and I wasn’t looking for any ol’ massage. I needed my trigger points to be targeted and loosened up.
So the next best thing was my massage ball. I use a softball to massage particularly tight areas on my body. Yeah, that means I bring around a big, hard ball with me. *snort*
Lacrosse balls also work, but you can get fancy by buying the brand TriggerPoint, which is a softer ball that’s made for self-massage. I’m only including it as an option, but why pay $15 for it when you can just as easily and cheaply buy a can of tennis balls or a softball for a third of that price?
So when a massage therapist isn’t always an option, the ball can apply a (good) painful amount of pressure to certain parts, like your TFL, piriformis, glutes, deltoids, hamstrings, pecs, traps, and any other tight areas. It hurts SO good, and I end up avoiding, or at least minimizing, bad strains, aches, and pains.
5. Running Shoes
I always count on hiking, running, or at least walking long distances wherever I go, so I bring trail running shoes with me. Traditionally, trail running shoes can be pretty bulky and heavy, but not my Merrell Vapor Gloves. They’re super lightweight, weighing a little under 10 ounces, according to my gram scale. Despite that, they’re rugged enough for rock and dirt terrain and look sharp enough to wear around casually too. I’m like Big Foot around my toes and the Vapor Gloves seem to have a wider toe box to accommodate that. The result is that they’re comfy as heck.
The main drawback is, you need to be used to having barely any material under your feet. The Merrell Vapor Gloves are minimalist shoes, which means there’s not a whole lot of material or extra cushion that will protect your feet from the ground (especially sharp ass rocks). If you’re not used to minimalist style shoes, you need to take a long time to ease your feet into them. Start by walking in them on paved ground for weeks until your feet and legs get adjusted to them. (That is, before you head out with them.)
These Vapor Gloves were my feet’s ride-or-die homies for years, including throughout my time in Asia. The soft material on the outside of my toe was starting to whittle away so I ordered a brand new pair, the second versions of the Vapor Glove, just in time for my trip to Europe. Because they’re minimalist and so light, they’re also really easy to bend and cram into your adventure bag.
If my trip is going to be short–say, less than a few weeks–I might skip bringing one or two of the above items. The suspension trainers, softball, and Merrell’s are mainstays though.
What can I say, fitness can be high maintenance.
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