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Hotel Room Workout: Get Fit on the Go

Burn Fat, Build Muscle or De-Stress in 30 Minutes or Less

author image Greg Presto
Greg Presto is a sports and fitness reporter and video guy in Washington, D.C., who thinks fitness should be fun and an adventure, whether you're on a trail, in the gym, or on the living room floor. He's done work for "Men's Health," "Women's Health," "Shape," "Prevention," "Reebok," "USA Today" and others.
Hotel Room Workout: Get Fit on the Go
If you're on the go, put your hotel room to work for you as an impromptu gym. Photo Credit Jupiterimages/Goodshoot/Getty Images


When you're traveling, fitness is often the first thing that falls short, but not without good reason. Hotel fitness rooms are typically crowded closets packed with creaking treadmills and bikes that don’t exactly lure you into workout mode.

Even if a full gym is at your disposal, after a long day of sightseeing or client meetings, you simply may not be in the frame of mind to complete a full workout. However, this doesn’t mean you should neglect your fitness completely. You can perform a fast, muscle-building, fat-torching workout using the contents of your hotel room -- or a poorly appointed fitness space.

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What can you take advantage of in your room? You can always benefit from any kind of chair or cushion. If you give me a chair, I can make it super hard for you ... or super easy.

- Mike Wunsch, performance director, Results Fitness, Santa Clarita, California

Make the Bed and Chairs Your Benches and Balls

Hotel Room Workout: Get Fit on the Go
Pushups are an excellent choice. Photo Credit Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images

Pushups, lunges, squats and other moves don't require a shred of equipment. But you can use the hotel furniture to make any exercise easier or more challenging to accommodate your fitness level, said Mike Wunsch, performance director at Results Fitness in Santa Clarita, California.

For beginners, use the bed as a landing pad if you're practicing single-leg squats, said Craig Ballantyne, creator of the Turbulence Training system. He also suggested using a chair or the armrest of a couch to elevate your hands for incline pushups.

This chair pushup is a real bonus for business travelers. "So many of us sit at computers, and we get tight shoulders," said Jeremy Frisch, owner and director of Achieve Performance Training in Clinton, Massachusetts. "With this pushup, you stretch the muscles in front that get tight, and strengthen the back [ones] that get weakened."

For advanced exercisers, Wunsch suggested positioning your feet on the chair for decline pushups, or raising one leg behind you to perform rear foot-elevated split squats. You can also use the cushions or pillows from your bed to create instability for planks or squats; simply put your hands on the pillows when you perform a straight-arm plank, or stand with your bare feet on the pillows to perform bodyweight squats.

You can also use the chair for an upper-body vertical push. To perform an inverted shoulder press, place your feet on the chair and your hands on the floor, shoulder-width apart. Raise your hips so your body forms a 90-degree angle, with your hands beneath your shoulders. In this position, lower your head toward the ground by bending your elbows. Press back to start.

The only movement that's tough to train without equipment is pulling -- the stuff you get from pull-ups, pull-downs and rows in the gym. But Frisch offered a solution: Grab a pair of chairs.

Put the chairs at your sides, and place a hand firmly on each to perform pushups.

"The chairs allow you to sink down between, so you get a much bigger range of motion," Frisch said. "At the bottom of the move, your chest is stretched out like crazy. You're between two chairs, and your back musculature is turned on. You have to squeeze those muscles to stabilize your shoulders."

Create Your Own In-Room Workout

Hotel Room Workout: Get Fit on the Go
Alternate exercises that work your entire body. Photo Credit Goodshoot RF/Goodshoot/Getty Images

To build your own hotel room workout, Ballantyne suggested you pick a lower body exercise, like lunges, rear-foot elevated split squats or squats, and then an upper-body exercise like pushups or inverted shoulder presses. Then pick another lower body move, another upper body move and a core move like straight-arm planks.

Choose exercises that challenge you in 15 reps or less, and perform them for rounds in that order: lower, upper, lower, upper, core. Repeat this entire sequence three times or more, then perform Ballantyne's four-exercise conditioning circuit.

The first exercise in the conditioning sequence is the close-stance bodyweight squat, performed with your feet shoulder-width apart. The second exercise is the split shuffle. To do this, stand in a lunge position and quickly alternate your legs like scissors. The third exercise is a simple jumping jack. The fourth exercise is the full body extension, which is like a fake jump, Ballantyne said. Act like you're going to jump, but just go up to your toes, not into the air.

In the conditioning circuit, perform each of these exercises for 30 seconds, then move to the next exercise without resting. Complete the entire sequence of four exercises for three total rounds.

If you're really tight on time, Frisch suggested a three-move workout. "The way I do it when I'm busy is try to do 300 bodyweight squats right in a row," he said. "Just do one big set. Stop when you have to stop, shake out your legs, and keep going."

After your 300 bodyweight squats, perform 300 bodyweight lunges -- 150 on each side -- and 70 to 100 chair pushups.

"Go until you're exhausted, gather yourself and then keep going," he added. "It's an unbelievable strength and cardio workout. It's such an efficient way to train."

Don't Slog Through Cardio

Even if your hotel does have cardio equipment, don't just hop on and start pumping -- your trip time is too valuable to spend 60 minutes pedaling. Instead, integrate the equipment into a full-body conditioning and strength circuit, said Jared Meacham, owner and personal training director at Precision Body Designs in Covington, Louisiana.

After a quick warm-up, start with a sprint on the treadmill or bike for two to three minutes. Hop off and perform a set of eight to 10 reps of a lower body exercise like squats or lunges. Then move to an upper body exercise like pushups or inverted rows. To do these without a bar, lie beneath the handles of a treadmill and grab the heart-rate monitor handles from below. Pull your body up as you would in a normal row.

After your upper body move, choose a total-body conditioning exercise like a squat thrust, vertical jump or bear crawl. Then do an ab exercise -- but choose one that's restful, Meacham added.

"You've kept your heart rate up this whole time. Choose something that's going to be like an active rest for 90 seconds, because you're about to get up and do another sprint interval," he said. Good choices for the core move include lying leg raises, crunches and slow, controlled mountain climbers.

Repeat the cycle, choosing a different exercise for each category in each round -- or, if that's too much variety, stick with the same moves. Continue going through the circuit to complete as many rounds as possible in 20 minutes.

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