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How to exercise with resistance bands when you travel

So far in this “How to use X” series I have covered everything from what a proper warm-up is, to how to use dumbbells, to how to use various pieces of cardio equipment!

All great information — if you have access to gym equipment! The question becomes, what do you do when you travel? Yes, most hotels have gyms — but not all of them — and often when traveling (especially for work) it is unrealistic to think you will have time to get down to the gym. Even the 10 minutes to and from a hotel gym might be too valuable to lose. Or the gym hours might be unhelpful. The last time I traveled the hotel gym opened at 8am, but my meeting started at 8am. Not useful. And sometimes you just want the efficiency — not to mention privacy — of training in your hotel room.

The solution? Pack a resistance band! It is light and inexpensive. One band is roughly $10. Or, invest in 2 or 3 bands (of differing intensities) to create basically an entire “gym” for under $30. If you go wild and crazy and invest in a doorframe attachment (under $10), you can hook the band onto any door to create a make-shift cable machine. The attachment is a small piece of fabric that has a ball at one end and a loop at the other. You anchor the ball into the closed door and thread the band through the loop. Voila, the world becomes your fitness oyster; you can replicate any exercise traditionally performed on a cable machine — wood chops, rows, triceps press downs, etc.

Sample full-body band workout

Warm-up (5 minutes)

Dance around your hotel room or choose 5 different cardio moves — high knees, bum kicks, etc. Do each for 1 minute.

Main circuit (repeat 2 to 3 times)

Push-ups, 10 to 20 reps. On your knees or toes, bend your elbows to lower your chest down towards the ground. Exhale as you push yourself back up. For an extra challenge, after each push-up, try jumping your feet towards your hands and standing up. Lower yourself down again, place your hands back on the ground, and jump your feet back to the starting position.

Rows without doorframe attachment: seated V hold and rows, 12 to 15 reps.

Sit on your bum with the band hooked around your feet. Hold one end of the band in each hand. Lean back 10 degrees and hold the lean throughout the motion. Engage your core to stay stable. Use your upper back to row your elbows backwards. Imagine cracking a walnut between your shoulder blades. Slowly release.

Rows with doorframe attachment: squats and rows, 12 to 15 reps.

Loop the band through the attachment. The attachment should be at roughly chest height. Hold one end of the band in each hand. Stand with your feet hip-distance apart. Bend at your hips, knees, and ankles and sit your bum backwards like you are sitting in a chair. Keep your arms straight as you squat. As you stand up, use your upper back to pull your elbows backwards. Crack the walnut. Slowly release.

Lunge and lateral raises/lunge and front raises, 12 to 15 reps per side.

Start standing with your right leg forward, foot in the middle of the band. Hold one end of the band in each hand, arms straight by your sides. As you lunge down bring your arms up to shoulder height — keep them straight. Lower your arms as you stand up (lateral raise).

To lunge, bend both knees so your body moves towards the floor. Use the bum muscle of the front leg to stand back up. When you do the exercise on your left leg, straighten your arms forward to chest height (front raise).

Plank scapula retractions, 10-20 reps.
In a plank position, balancing on your hands and toes, bring your shoulders blades together and then apart. Keep your arms straight and your lower back neutral. Try and activate the muscles between your shoulder blades.

Do 1 to 3 minutes of any cardio (burpees, high knees, jumping jacks, etc.)

Rest for a minute. Have some water. Repeat the entire circuit.

Second circuit (optional, when you have time, repeat 1 to 2 times)

Squat and biceps curls, 12 to 15 reps.

Stand on the band with your feet hip-distance apart. Hold one end of the band in each hand. Bend at your hips, knees, and ankles and sit your bum backwards like you are sitting in a chair. Do a biceps curl as you squat. As you stand up straighten your arms.

Triceps without doorframe attachment: overhead triceps extension, 12-15 reps per side.

Stand holding one end of the band in your right hand. Reach your left hand behind your body and anchor the band. The closer your hands are together, the harder the exercise will be. Keep your right upper arm into your right ear as you straighten the arm. Slowly release.

Triceps with attachment: triceps press down, 12-15 reps.

Stand facing the door with the attachment on the top of the door and the band looped through. Grab the band — one end in each hand — and glue your elbows into your sides, chest out and core engaged.

Straighten your arms — use your triceps. Slowly release.

Side plank, 20+ seconds. Start on your right side with your elbow under your shoulder. Connect into your right armpit muscles to stabilize. Balance on either your knees or your feet (feet is harder). Keep your feet (or knees, depending on your version) in line with your hips and shoulders, and your head back in space. Hold for 20+ seconds.

Another option … intervals!!

Want a slightly more efficient workout? Try this 20-minute interval workout. It's fast and effective. The workout consists of 2, 10-minute sets. Each set is broken down into 10, 1-minute intervals. Within each minute, you must complete 2 exercises back-to-back. Done early? Relax for the remainder of the minute. Take the full minute? Immediately start your next interval.

Set no. 1

Push-ups, 8 reps. On your knees or toes, bend your elbows to lower your chest down towards the ground. Exhale as you push yourself back up. For an extra challenge, after each push-up, try jumping your feet towards your hands and standing up. Lower yourself down again, place your hands back on the ground, and jump your feet back to the starting position.

Squats doorframe option: squat and rows, 15 reps. Loop the band through the attachment. The attachment should be at roughly chest height. Hold one end of the band in each hand. Stand with your feet hip-distance apart. Bend at your hips, knees, and ankles and sit your bum backwards like you are sitting in a chair. Keep your arms straight as you squat. As you stand up, use your upper back to pull your elbows backwards. Crack the walnut. Slowly release.

Sans doorframe attachment: squat and reverse flyes, 15 reps. Start standing. Hold the band in front of your chest with your arms straight. Squat down. Engage your bum and core to stand up. Use your upper back to pull your hands backwards so your body forms a T. Keep the angle at your elbows stable — initiate the motion from your upper back not through the momentum of your arms.

Set no. 2

Plank scapula retractions, 8 reps. In a plank position, balancing on your hands and toes, bring your shoulders blades together and then apart. Keep your arms straight and your lower back neutral. Try to activate the muscles between your shoulder blades.

Lunges, 8 reps per leg. Step backwards with one leg. Bend both knees so your body moves towards the floor. Use the bum muscle of the front leg to stand back up.

One last option

To ward off boredom, try a different combination of exercises each time you travel. For example, try jumping jacks, biceps curls, or lateral raises using a resistance band.

Kathleen Trotter is a personal trainer in Toronto who loves audiobooks, planks and having a growth mindset. You can follow her blog or find her on Facebook.