Friday, July 8, 2016

Staying in shape while travelling

A reader asked, in The Open Thread: May 2016:

Does any of you guys have experience with staying in shape while holding a job that includes a lot of travelling?

I'm really into strength training. Kind of need it to stay sane. That goes along with a good diet (meaning I'm (pre)cooking 99% of my meals).

Now I got offered a well payed position as a consultant which requires up to 40% travelling. Has one of you guys been able to follow a strength training program while travelling alone?

Since the entire work week consists of 100%, 40% means two days on the road. If your company sends you somewhere else via train or plane, and you have to travel the day before, those two days may easily cost you four days. Let's say you're sent off on Wednesday, after work. You catch a plane, sleep at a hotel, and work for two days at a client's site. You travel back on Friday. It's not easy to hit your fitness goals given those constraints. In fact, you will have to compromise.

The bad news is that it will be very difficult if not impossible to keep your workout schedule. Ideally, your employer puts you into decent hotels with on-site gyms, but those can be hit or miss. Frankly, it's a trade-off. My goal was never to bulk up a lot, but I do like to maintain a certain level of strength and muscular tone. If there are no weights at hand, then I do push ups in several variations, and planks, or just a 30 to 45 minute Ashtanga yoga session on my own. If you are working for a big client, then maybe they have an on-site gym. At my current work we have access to a basic gym, free of charge, which is available even outside office hours. Depending on your fitness goals, body weight exercises may be a good enough temporary substitute, but there are clear limitations compared to working out with free weights.

The bigger threat to your physique will be due to bad nutrition, which may be hard to avoid. If your employer puts you into a nice hotel, you may also get a meal allowance, but it may be tied to the hotel restaurant --- and it is rather easy to consume too many calories. It then boils down to will power. Tell the waiter that you need to watch your weight and ask for, for instance, steak without the red wine cream sauce.

In the end, though, it boils down to in which areas in your life you are willing to make sacrifices. I know nobody who didn't sour on frequent business travel. However, I also know quite a few people who took jobs that required frequent travel, powered through this for two or three years, did not get laid a lot and didn't stay in shape either, but eventually transitioned into rather good positions afterwards. If you are doing management consulting, then this is a pretty standard career path because sooner or later a client will want to take you on full-time, which normally entails a nice salary bump and much less frequent travelling.

Have you been in a similar situation? Please share your thoughts below.


  1. I just took a week long roadtrip recently but I was still able to keep to my workout schedule. That's what I love about the Beachbody workouts. I was able to use just my phone, and I brought a pair of Select-Tech Dumbbells and a yoga ball. Even without those things, I still could have done a decent workout.

    As for nutrition, that part is more difficult. I would just buy from a local grocery store, even if it's precooked/prepared

    1. Taking a week off is a bit different from working at the site of a client, though. Traveling for work means you have less spare time, while the opposite is true when taking some days off.

    2. There is a huge difference if you're 20 yrs old and still in puberty (google adolescence) of if you're 30+. Your body functions a lot more different and hormones are not as high anymore.

      What you also should consider -and everyone ignores that fact- if you focus on career in your job -and btw you don't even have to travel- that your job will not be done with a 50h week. Sometimes you have meetings that take 2 hours longer. Yes you can say "hey I have to go, my kids, family, sports, etc" but your colleagues/superiors know you don't contribute to the project/job as much as you should to get it done.

      I can tell from own experience, if you had a long day and tomorrow will be the same, you just want to go home, eat something quick and sleep. No energy to prepare and cook some healthy food or count the calories or to even go to the gym - if it hasn't closed yet ;-) And its not just me, its the whole company. My colleagues or my boss do skip lunch sometimes, because they are still in a phone conference.

    3. It doesn't matter. It's the same situation when I had to work late hours and be back at work early the next morning. All I need is 30 min to 1 hour to work out, and sometimes I will do it late at night if I have to or make time early in the morning to do so. I know not everyone can do this because their bodies function differently, but working out before bed actually does help me sleep better. If I'm following a 30 day, 60 day, etc. calendar, that keeps me more motivated.

  2. You should be able to stay in shape while travelling quite easily although this is dependant on what your definition of "staying in shape" is. If you are lifting for bodybuilding oriented goals namely as much size as possible, you can kiss this goal goodbye. These type of goals are often too time intensive to mix with consistent travel.

    However if you want to maintain current muscle mass will likely be able to do this. If you have been lifting for sometime your base muscle mass is likely to be good, this means you could stop lifting altogether and likely still have a decent physique (noticeably better than average). Bodyweight exercises are your friend. Weighted (using a backpack, or any other options available) Pullups,dips, pushups and core exercise can suffice for upper body. Lower body exercises will prove more difficult, maybe try plyometrics or any squatting with any heavy objects you can find. If your engaging your muscles consistently you will be able to retain results assuming that you are not a powerlifter or bodybuilder.

    1. Natural bodybuilding is a much much slower way to build muscle. But it also means losing muscle is much slower as well.

      If you built your muscle over years, naturally, you take a break, go months without touching a weight and people won't notice a difference.

      Roid users are so funny. They deflate like a popped baloon. We got a roidkid in my gym who had huuge arms two months ago. Now he looks like a stickfigure, his arms are as thin as a skinny 12 year old girl.

      I (almost) feel sorry for them when I see them go through their deflationary crashes.

  3. In the Army I had many points where I had to travel and no gym or no time for gym. My saving grace was prison workouts, which aren't all body weight workouts as people think. You can still do some pretty impressively difficult lifts by putting all your stuff on the edge of your bed and dead lifting or getting underneath and benching it or doing sit ups while holding it in the air. You can also do handstand push ups against a wall and squat with a backpack or duffel bag. Still not hard enough? You can nearly double the weight by doing any of these on a single arm or leg. Another nice thing to travel with is a back pack. Fill a trash bag with various heavy objects or tightly sealed water jugs and throw it in and you have a decent weight to throw around. Going for a run with 30-40 lbs added will kick your ass. There's also the option to bring pull-up bars, gravity boots, or different elastic workout bands you can attach to a door/doorway. Look around and you'll find that the options are endless.

  4. I thought this was a pretty decent video about fitness:

  5. Hey there,
    I'm the OP. Thanks for your replies guys. @Steven Farm, are you in management consulting? What you're describing is really what I'm scared of. This shit creeps in and before your realize it you're a fat, balding slop approaching the forties.

    I know one should be happy to get offered a good position that is payed very well. But health & strength is one of the things I value a lot. It sounds stupid to many but the people who lift know that it goes beyond looking good naked. It truly is a lifestyle.

    The situation is confusing for me. I start to realize it's not about the job really, but about how I want to live my life. Something I never thought about. The past years it was all about getting a good degree and starting a career. But now as a recent graduate I don't know any more.

    1. No im working for a german company as an development engineer for automotive parts.

      I do have a gym account and barbells and lifting equipment at home, so I do work out a lot - even if I get up at 5pm. Another thing that helps me is to only buy food that is healthy and keeps me lean. Sometimes when I come home from work and im hungry and tired I just drink water or tea and go to sleep. Sleeping and giving my body enough rest is more important to concentrate at work then to always satisfy my hunger.

      But I do understand why a lot of my colleagues do have a few pound too much on their body. Its not because they don't want to take some time, its because they don't get the same results and satisfaction that I have when doing sports or eating healthy.

  6. I usually don't comment, but I feel like I have sth to say here. It's DEFINITELY possible, and regular sports will not drain you if you play it smart. You'll just have to 80/20 the whole topic properly.

    I'm an ex top-tier management consultant, average week ~60 hours work I'd guess. I made it to the gym every single week except once when we had a near meltdown (plus every weekend of course). And I had 7+ hours of sleep ~90% of my work nights in case you wonder.

    Some things to consider:
    - GYM: I don't know what your setup is, but researching a gym with proper iron and long opening hours was always the first thing I did when I knew where I'd end up for the next few weeks. You may have to cut in workout volume during the week and increase intensity, though. I like to go heavy and designed my workout around large compound movements, so I'm always done within an hour in the gym. I also focus on strength and not muscle mass, which helps keeping the volume low
    - DIET. I hope the added inconvenience comes with a solid pay raise. An option might be to cut down on pre-cooking your meals and spend a bit more money on healthy, ready-made food. I followed (and still follow) the leangains diet with an EatStopEat-style 24 hour fast thrown in whenever I felt team dinners or snacks were too much. This minimized my diet admin
    - WORK. Push, push, push. If you don't give a shit about your workout, nobody will. People will milk you if they can. And it's easy to get comfortable not doing anything when all your colleagues look like meat bags. On every single team I made clear that gym is my #1 priority besides work and that I will only compromise on very exceptional occasions (with some flexibility around the precise day I lift). I always got props for this and worked with my team to find days that worked for our workload as well as my gym schedule. The more stand-alone you work, the easier this gets obviously

    Hope this helps

  7. I work in the countryside 4 days a week (+60 hrs work a week), always driving. I am still trying to figure out the best method to stay in shape. There are gyms in the towns I visit, but i rarely hit the same town often enough that i can subscribe to any of them. Thing is, my schedule is not fixed, so its almost impossible to plan ahead. Thankfully, my job is, to a large degree, outdoors and off-road, so that keeps me moving.


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