How to keep vacations, road trips and business meetings from fouling up our fitness strategies.
Whether we’re vacationing with our family or heading to the 2015 IDEA World Fitness ConventionTM with 12,000 other fitness enthusiasts, it can be challenging to stay fit when we’re on the road. Even the healthiest exercise professionals can get caught off-guard with aches, pains, stress and guilt that prevent us from having fun and functioning at our best.
If travel throws the fittest of us off track, imagine what it does to everyone else.
Traveling doesn’t have to be so bad, though. You just need to focus on three key components that make it more pleasurable and less painful:
- body awareness and posture: ensuring proper alignment and coping with stress
- movement: maintaining circulation and exercising muscles
- nutrition: improving digestion and maintaining energy levels
Let’s look at each of these in more detail:
Body Awareness and Posture
Why is it hard to stay on track while traveling? Start with the distractions. If it’s not a smartphone diverting your attention, it’s a book or laptop, fast food or your travel companion. Distractions are not bad, mind you. They’re simply inevitable.
That’s why it’s so important to shift your priorities. Instead of checking social media and email the next time you sit down on a plane or train, how about tuning in to posture and body awareness?
Caught Red-Handed on Social Media
Picture, for a moment, the bent-over posture of somebody using a mobile device.
Tweet: “Boarded my plane to Minneapolis, yo!”
Check-in on Facebook: Denver International Airport
Instagram photo: “Mmmmm, Starbucks for breakfast.”
Some of the worst posture you’ll ever see happens on airplanes or in the car next to you at a traffic light. If you aren’t sitting in alignment, it doesn’t matter how much you exercise or how healthy your diet is.
Being fit enhances posture, but strong rhomboids and erector spinae are no insurance against slouching. They only make it easier to sit up better when you choose to do so. Awareness is key in many aspects of feeling your best.
How can you get yourself and your clients to pay more attention to body position when traveling? Creating an alert on that attention-sucking smartphone or using a string around the finger might do the trick. Some people have to be suffering before they will reshuffle their priorities; others need no more than education, support and reminders.
Your role is to remind clients that quality of life depends on their ability to tune in to their body, even when on the road. Fitness isn’t a bank—you can’t save up. Consistency is key.
Good Posture Isn’t “One Size Fits All”
Good posture and alignment represent the position where the body has the least physical stress. This varies widely because everyone’s internal structure is slightly different. Bone proportions vary from one person to the next, as does tissue damage.
Avoid telling people what good posture should look like if you haven’t seen what’s beneath their skin. It takes a medical professional to determine structural and tissue specifics. Since we generally don’t travel with doctors and MRIs, body signals are the next-best indicator of proper body alignment. This requires us to tune in.
How to Teach Posture at a Deeper Level
Increasing body awareness is the key to maintaining better posture when traveling. The body just feels better when it is aligned. Try this: Sit on the edge of a chair, with your feet on the floor. Place your hands on the iliac crests and imagine your pelvis as a bucket. Tilt forward and backward slowly, and note what happens below and above the hips. Go slowly, observing each joint one at a time as you rock forward and back. Although it’s subtle in some places, a chain reaction occurs:
- Forward pelvic tilt leads to hip flexion, knee flexion, ankle dorsiflexion, spinal extension and scapular retraction.
- Backward pelvic tilt leads to hip extension, knee extension, plantar flexion, spinal flexion and scapular protraction.
Remember, “pelvic tilt” describes a combination of movements happening at each joint in a perfect environment. It’s not an independent or absolute movement. In any case, can you feel the other joints moving? The hardest connection for people to grasp is the movement between the knee and the ankle. If the pelvis is moving and the feet are on the floor, then the knees and ankles have to move because they’re connected. Try this with a partner. Guiding someone through it and helping them identify what’s happening at each joint is eye-opening.
That’s body awareness.
Moving Toward a True Neutral Spine
“Neutral spine” is hard to cue as an outsider and best determined by the individual, because we all have a different bony structure, and tight muscles affecting neutral spine vary from person to person.
Finding a comfortable seated position requires awareness—not just protocol. Repeat the activity I described above, this time paying attention to your spine and neck. When they feel light with minimal tension, that’s an ideal position for you —right now. It can change day to day and from one chair to the next. It also varies based on whether we’re seated, standing or lying down.
10 Steps to Ease Tension on Any Seat, Chair or Bench
It’s possible to improve posture, increase mobility and reduce stress at the same time. Help a client or friend increase body awareness by reading these steps to them. Use this activity any time you find yourself crammed into a seat for several hours. It’s a good one to memorize.
- Sit with your feet completely touching the floor, hip-width apart.
- Close your eyes and take five deep breaths.
- Find your neutral spine. Tilt your pelvis forward and backward, then come to a neutral position—the place that feels best for your spine, hips and shoulders.
- Do shoulder rolls and gentle movements until the scapulae are in a comfortable (not perfect) position.
- Align the neck comfortably over the spine.
- Tilt the head right and left in a side bend. Gradually add the rest of the spine. Repeat five times. Then come back to center.
- Turn the head right and left gently. Gradually add the rest of the spine. Repeat five times. Then come back to center.
- Protract, retract, elevate and depress the scapulae gently five times. Find a comfortable position for them.
- Roll the wrists around. Spread out your fingers over your thighs with palms up. Hold this stretch for 5–10 seconds.
- Roll your ankles around five times each.
Download a free audio of this sequence at www.beverlyhosford.com/travel.
Movement—Staying Fit on the Road
Why don’t more people exercise while traveling? Maybe because what is easy to do is also easy not to do. Exercise is possible in a hotel room, at the airport and in a jetliner. Doing five to 10 simple exercises when you’ve got downtime in a hotel room or an airport gets the blood pumping and restores range of motion. Setting a smartphone reminder can transform Facebook infatuation into a beneficial workout.
Hotel Room Workout Circuit
These moves make the most sense in a hotel room, though you could do them in an unoccupied space in an airport. Perform each exercise for 30–60 seconds and repeat the series 2–3 times.
- squats (any variation—wide, jumping, etc.)
- lunges (forward, back, holding)
- standing side-leg lifts with arms out to the sides (abducted to 90 degrees)
- plank hold (on forearms or hands and knees or toes)
- hip circles—pretend you have a Hula-Hoop and open up those hips
- partial or full roll-ups seated on the floor (slowly roll down halfway or to the floor)
Airplane Exercise That Goes Deep
Sitting on a plane for hours can cause blood to pool in the deep veins, and consequently, clots can develop, especially in the legs—potentially causing a stroke. An airplane seat is one place where having the knees at 90 degrees is not ideal because it can increase blood pressure. To avoid this danger, sit with your knees at various angles during flight, allowing blood to flow more freely.
Standing up and walking on the plane is the next-best way to avoid deep-vein clots. Getting up when flying isn’t always practical, though, with beverage carts coming and going. If you’re not in an aisle seat, help venous return by generating muscle contractions in the lower extremities. This creates a demand for blood flow. Depending on the strength of the contraction, circulation will increase either during the contraction or directly after, once the muscle has relaxed.
Get Some Resistance
Ankle rolls are the most common suggestion for avoiding deep-vein clots, but better choices are available. Creating deliberate resistance is more likely to have the desired effect, and in addition to facilitating blood flow, this method strengthens muscles. It also helps you pass the time and feel better once you are able to stand up again. People get stiff when sitting because they haven’t changed positions in a while.
Start your seated exercise routine with calf raises. Since the resistance is low, try 50 repetitions. Do them with inversion (soles turned in) and eversion (soles turned out) to change the effort of the muscles being recruited.
Tone Your Glutes While You Travel
Think you need to do squats to work that booty? Wrong. You simply need resistance. Work the hip extensors (glutes, hamstrings) on one leg at a time by pushing the foot down into the floor (not forward). Then lift that same foot off the floor just an inch to work the hip flexors (psoas, iliacus). Alternate in a small march, consciously focusing on the muscles with each move. The nice part about this type of exercise is that no one has to know you’re doing it. There is no need to lift the leg high—simply engage the hip flexors to create resistance; that’s enough. After you’ve finished marching, use your hands to create a force for abduction and adduction of the legs.
Friction Is Your Friend
My next exercises might seem insignificant compared to the big moves you do in the gym, but they’re very effective. Small contractions recruit fewer muscles and allow for more isolated focus, which has an important role in the exercise continuum. Progression is often overlooked. Doing small contractions might also help you identify an imbalance that’s been affecting your bigger fitness routines. These isolated exercises are one way to correct those imbalances. See for yourself!
Start by lightly pushing a foot forward on the carpet of the airplane floor. No movement! Use the friction to create force and hold it for a few seconds. Do you feel your quadriceps? Now, switch feet. Next, try pulling back and remember—no movement. Hello, glutes!
Once you’ve identified the amount of muscle contraction required to fire these muscles without movement, you’re ready for a challenge. Push one foot forward to engage the knee extensors, and pull the other back to engage the knee flexors. Feels good, doesn’t it? Repeat this five to 10 times.
With the knees hip-width apart, try to spread the feet (no movement) using friction. You’ll engage the internal rotators in your hip. Don’t let your knees move. Can you feel the muscles? Then, do the opposite, by squeezing the feet together (using friction, not movement) to work the external rotators in your hips. See if you can feel a difference between your right and left sides. Remember not to move your knees and only to use friction from the carpet. These small, focused movements also increase body awareness.
Each person’s need for lumbar support should be evaluated by a medical professional. Contrary to popular belief, not everyone needs lumbar support. Sometimes we need a pillow behind the lumbar spine, and other times it’s better to put it behind the thoracic spine. If you’re riding in a car seat that’s lower in the back than in the front, sitting on a pillow to level things out might help with comfort.
Every seat is different, so it’s important to know your body and how to reposition it for better alignment. Adjust your body for each new seat you encounter, just like you adjust the rear-view mirrors in an unfamiliar car. Side sleepers: Place a pillow between your knees to keep the hips aligned.
Nutrition on the Go
If it isn’t in front of you, it’s not a temptation. The most challenging part of travel, even for the role-model personal trainer, is food. Resisting foods that you otherwise avoid is a challenge in airports and at rest stops—especially when you’re hungry, hurried or bored. Don’t get caught next time.
Foods That Fly—Plan Ahead
- Sweet potato. Bake it the night before and wrap it in tin foil.
- Sliced turkey in a ziplock bag.
- Meal-replacement bars. These are an obvious choice that’s often overlooked.
- Apples, oranges and bananas.
- Leftovers or a premade salad in a storage container that can be used again on the trip.
Seven Tips From a Certified Clinical Nutritionist
Heather Fleming of Conscious Nutrition shares these healthy-food travel tips from her website, www.conscious nutrition.com:
- To avoid headaches and indigestion, eat fresh pineapple or drink coconut water.
- Add lemon to drinking water to assist with indigestion, bloating and constipation.
- Drink 8 ounces of bottled water for hydration after every cup of tea, coffee and alcoholic beverage.
- Add cucumber or lemon to water to assist with electrolyte absorption.
- Bring trail mix—three handfuls of nuts to one handful of dried fruit (to avoid sugar imbalance).
- Pack protein powders to mix with water, and add cinnamon to balance blood sugar.
- Replace bigger meals with small snacks, and adjust them to the new time zone (especially when going east).
Helpful Apps for Healthy Eating
Apps for tablets and smartphones can help to keep your nutrition on track. Research each of these before recommending them to a client; some are based on calorie counting or specific food allergies. Just because it says “healthy” doesn’t mean it’s true. Staying educated and aware is important.
iFly Pro. Helps you find restaurants near your gate in the airport so you can plan ahead.
Airport Food. Helps you navigate the options in the airport.
Zestar® Menu Pilot™. Navigates a restaurant menu and recommends the best choices.
Clean Plates. Searches for the best options near you. This is Yelp for the health nut.
Eatable. Searches nearby restaurants according to your food allergies.
Drive-Thru Dining Guide™. Organizes you with options at 30 national fast-food restaurants.
Healthy Dining Finder. Provides healthy meal options and nutrition information for hundreds of restaurants.
Find Me Gluten Free. Searches for gluten-free options near your location.
Fooducate and GoodGuide. Give ratings and allow you to scan bar codes.
Time to Shine!
Next time a client exclaims, “I’m out of town next week,” a lightbulb should go off. It’s your opportunity to help that person choose one or two travel goals for the upcoming journey. Clients love homework. Avoid overwhelming them with too much information. Instead, find one or two items they’re excited about improving. Getting people to shift their focus from the outside world to the inside of their body is one of the greatest gifts you can give.