By: Eddie Kuehne, SSOC Intern
Of the main reasons that most people miss training sessions, travel is one we can plan and prepare for, minimizing the impact on our training, staying consistent, and helping to prevent de-training. Travel not only forces changes in the schedule of our workouts, but it also removes us from our normal training routines and local gym. Carving out time to complete workouts, eat for recovery, and get a decent amount of sleep is a challenge at home. Travel makes it even harder. However, in the eight years I’ve spent working as a planning system consultant, traveling two to three times every month, I’ve found a little bit of effort and pre-planning goes a long way toward keeping you on the path to more strength.
Training on the Road (Part 1): Planning
Consistency. Consistency is king. Once you’ve learned the fundamentals of the main lifts, consistency is the biggest factor driving progress in the gym. Arranging the other aspects of life, work, family, and special events to maintain a regular appointment with the iron can be challenging. Especially over the long term. Lack of consistency ends the steady increases in weight on the bar. If the absence is long enough, you start to de-train and become weaker. Yes, you should shudder at the thought.
There are legitimate reasons why workouts might be disrupted, like an illness, serious injury, or travel. Of the three, travel is the one we can plan and prepare for to minimize the impact to our training, stay consistent, and help prevent de-training. Travel not only forces changes in the schedule of our workouts, but it also removes us from our normal training routines and local gyms. Carving out time to complete workouts, eat for recovery, and get a decent amount of sleep is a challenge at home. Travel makes it even harder. However, in the eight years I’ve spent working as a planning system consultant, traveling two to three times every month, I’ve found a little bit of effort and pre-planning goes a long way toward keeping you on the path to more strength.
Make a Plan
Training on the road is easier when you make a plan and develop a system. If you have a coach, great! They can help you. If you don’t have a coach, maybe it’s time to consider getting one. Their clear, third-party perspective, their experience, and the accountability they provide will help you sort through all the dumb ideas in your head and give you a much better chance of being productive and efficient with your training. A coach can help adjust programming, identify gym options, and share the lessons they’ve learned over the years to make training in a strange place less stressful.
One of the first adjustments you can make is to your weekly training schedule. The fewer number of training days you have scheduled during your trip, the more likely you are to complete all of them. When you first start planning a trip, see if adjusting your standard workout schedule can reduce the number of gym visits needed while you’re out of town. For instance, if regular training days are M, W, F and you have a four-day weekend at the beach planned, switching to a T, Th, Sat schedule the week before and after means your sunshine and sand will only impact one workout. One drop in fee, one session with questionable equipment, one hour dealing with the bros, and you’re back to the beach. You can always switch back after the trip.
Schedule adjustments are the low hanging fruit and are a far better option than keeping your regular schedule and “seeing what you have time for.” Waiting to see is not a plan, it’s a built-in excuse to miss training.
Whether you’re on your own or working with a coach, the next steps are finding a gym, making enough time in your schedule, bringing the needed gear, and then showing up and getting the job done.
Find a Gym
Do your research before you leave, when you have the time and clarity of thought to make good decisions. Recommendations from friends or lifters who have been in the area can help you narrow down your choices. If you are part of SSOC, the #gymfinder channel on Slack-SSOCFamily is a great place to start. Powerlifting Watch also has a gym search page under the Info menu on their website. The results seem dated in some cases so make sure to verify the recommendations. Google maps is an excellent way to list out the options near the location where you’re staying or working. You may have to try multiple search terms like “gym,” “crossfit,” “powerlifting,” or “fitness.” There will be a different set of listings for each one, although with some crossover.
Once you’ve narrowed down a couple of options near the place you are staying or working, do your research. Go to their websites and see if they list their available equipment. Barbells and squat racks are must-haves. If they don’t list equipment, search the photos on the website or photo gallery to see if you can spot them. Next step is to get the phone number and call them. Ask them what equipment they have, operating hours, drop in rates, how busy they are when you plan to workout, and anything else you want to know to help you determine if they deserve to stay on your list of options. Generate at least two qualified gym choices. There will be trade-offs to think about with quality vs. convenience. Having options will prepare you to adapt and overcome any unforeseen events on your trip.
The other big factor when choosing where to train is the quality of the gym. There is a general hierarchy of better to worse that can be used to triage your options. It’s a good place to start before getting into the specifics like location, travel time, equipment, operating hours, etc.
The top of the food chain would be a Starting Strength gym. If you are traveling to an area that has a Starting Strength gym, find a way to adjust location and schedule to drop in. It’s worth it. Call ahead and see if you can schedule an in-person coaching session. Especially if you don’t already have a coach.
The next best option would be a strength gym or powerlifting gym. They typically have good equipment, chalk, and other people working to get stronger. You can squat, deadlift, use chalk, and get your gains on relatively well. They can be hard to find or a long distance from where you are staying, but they are good places to train.
CrossFit boxes can be fun. Many of them advertise open gym times. Even if they don’t, call them. Ask if you can use a rack and get your strength workout in. They may be willing to let you workout during their CrossFit classes if they have enough room and equipment available. Mention Starting Strength or that you are preparing for a powerlifting meet, and it may help grease the wheels a bit. The bonus is you also get some built-in entertainment between sets.
Globo gyms are not ideal but sometimes are a necessary evil. If the first three options aren’t available or are located too far away to fit into the schedule, then this is what you’re left with. Make sure they actually have free weights and at least one squat rack. Some franchises are carving out CrossFit-like areas in their gyms for rigs and barbells. Others have only cardio equipment, machines, and bosu balls. If you’re new, you may be able to sign up for a free day pass or 7-day trial and workout for free.
Usually, this is about as far as you need to go. However, I’ve been to a couple places where time is such a constraint, I’ve had to find other alternatives. Local YMCAs may have barbells and racks. I’ve used them in Boston and Oklahoma City with moderate success. One of the best places I’ve trained in this category is the Poplar, Montana Wellness Center on the reservation where I grew up. $3/day for a full gym with a deadlift platform and jack, multiple squat racks, and lots of barbells.
Avoid the hotel gym if at all possible. Hotels will not even have the basic equipment to complete a good training session. Dumbbells are not barbells, the chest fly is not bench presses, and Smith machines are not squat racks. These are the best a hotel gym will offer. The changes you will have to make to your training to accommodate hotel gyms are not worth the trouble when compared to a little bit of research and the typical drop-in fees of a real gym.
Travel Time and Transportation
Finding a gym that’s relatively close and having an idea of the time to get there and back are important factors. Time is usually the big constraint when traveling. The gyms closer to where you are stationed require less travel. Less travel means more time for other things. Minimizing the time it takes work out translates into more time for work, entertainment, cocktails, and epic dinners, hopefully with people you enjoy being around. Be realistic. Build buffer times into the schedule before and after the workout if possible. If your workout takes 1 to 1.5 hours, travel takes 30 minutes each way, and planning for the unknown could be another 15-30 minutes, training could take as much as a 2.5-hour block of time.
When researching gym options, other important considerations are the gym operating hours, travel time to it, and modes of transportation available. Rental cars, Uber, trains, trolleys, buses, feet, I’ve used all of them to get to a gym.
Google maps has a great resource to see what travel times are typically like between your location and the gym during different times of the day. Open it in a browser, not the app. After you enter your location and the destination, the route options pop up. Look for the drop-down menu that says “leave now you can choose to set your departure or arrival time. You can select the day and time you want to either leave or arrive and see how long it typically takes for the different routes. It gives a range of travel times to help you plan your schedule a little more accurately. For bigger cities, you can also change the selection from car to public transport to see if there are faster routes using the bus or train. Waze has the same feature but it only goes out seven days.
When you travel to the same places and find a gym you like, it can really tighten up your timing. I used to travel to Denver at least once a month and found a DoubleTree hotel with a CrossFit gym across the street, about a three-minute walk. It was an ideal setup. The equipment was adequate. They had a squat stand, bars, and plates and let me do my own thing. I’ve probably done over 20 workouts there and have always had plenty of time for the post-workout bourbon and chocolate chip cookie.
Training consistently and following the program until you reach your goals doesn’t happen accidentally. It takes making it a priority, planning ahead, and shutting down the little voice in your head whispering excuses in your ear, with action. The benefit is that you’re going to feel good after you finish because you kept your commitment to yourself. You’ll have that feeling of accomplishment for the rest of the trip. Which means you can enjoy the prime rib, dessert, or an extra cocktail because you’re still on the path. You’re still getting stronger.