It’s no secret I’m obsessed with smart and efficient workout programming.
The reason I talk about progressive overload so much is because I want you to feel empowered by knowing how to actually create physical changes in your body!
Most people work hard at ineffective workouts, and thus they conclude that there must be something wrong with their body, since it never changes. That’s the opposite of empowerment, and it sucks. By training according to the rules of science, you can not only see actual changes, you can also start to re-build trust in your body’s ability to respond appropriately to stimulus. (Hint: trust is a crucial component to learning to accept and love your body.)
The science is simple: your workouts must consistently and continually progress, aka become harder in some way, if you want to see consistent and continual changes in your body.
If you don’t want to see any changes, this rule doesn’t matter; just carry on doing whatever makes you happy.
But if you want changes of ANY kind, aesthetic or performance or otherwise, you’re gonna need progressive overload.
Now, there are lots of ways a workout program can progress, but “getting stronger” is (obviously) my favorite one. I like to lift heavy and rest a lot, so that I can do amazing, ego-boosting shit without ever breaking a sweat.
But when you throw traveling into the mix, shit gets weird. Everyone always wants to know:
How Should I Work Out While Traveling?
A lot of my normal advice and preferences become difficult or impossible during travel times. Spending weeks or months away from normal gym equipment often means that progressing by getting stronger goes right out the window as an option. But that’s no reason to abandon smart training principles like progressive overload!
Note: everyone raves about the benefits of bodyweight workouts, but the truth is, bodyweight workouts become pretty difficult to progress after a certain point of training. If you normally do lunges with twenty pound dumbbells for example, then suddenly switching to bodyweight lunges in your hotel room is a huge regression, and as such, pretty much useless.
Luckily, this is where some fun programming can come into play! Based on what equipment you have available, what you’re used to doing, and how long you’ll be away from your normal routine, you can pursue a new way to progress while traveling, and continue to see great new results! Here are the three types of progressions I recommend:
3 kickass ways to progress a workout plan while traveling
1. INCREASE INTENSITY
Intensity just basically means “difficulty,” so basically this means: make shit harder each week.
In a permanent gym space and routine, I recommend increasing intensity by upping your weights at the gym, but traveling often means less/no access to equipment, so that might not work. Assuming you’ve been doing somewhat of a consistent full-body strength training program recently, and you don’t have gym access while traveling, the best ways to increase your workout intensity are with difficult bodyweight moves, and with plyometrics.
Plyometrics are explosive moves, like squat jumps, power skips, tuck jumps, clapping pushups, and bounding. These are generally easy to progress by jumping higher, farther, or sharper. “Difficult” bodyweight moves is totally relative to you and your body. If you can’t do full pushups yet, starting on a wall and slowly decreasing the height of your hands each week until you’re doing full pushups would be an excellent bodyweight progression. So would stepping into a dead hang, then stepping into eccentric pullups, then half-stepping into eccentric pullups, then doing a pullup, all over the course of weeks or months. Or doing bodyweight step-ups on an increasingly high step. These would all be awesome ways to increase you workout’s intensity while only using your bodyweight.
Note: Doing a plyometric travel workout plan is NOT a good idea for anyone who has never done plyos before, or for anyone who doesn’t have impeccable, sharp, crisp form. Jumping is lot of impact on the joints, and done poorly it puts you at too high of risk for injury. It’s just not worth it, trust me.
2. INCREASE VOLUME
Increasing workout volume just means doing more of shit.
The key to using volume as a progression is knowing that with increased volume must come a decrease in intensity, and vice versa. In normal gym life (for women especially), I often suggest doing harder workouts with more rest in between. I take advantage of the heavy weights available, and increase their intensity while decreasing their volume. But while traveling and lacking gym equipment access, it can often make a lot of sense to do longer or more frequent workouts that aren’t quite as hard.
How do you increase workout volume? That depends on what you’ve been doing recently. If you normally do 3 sets of 8-10 squats with weights, you might discover that while traveling, you want to do 4-5 sets of 15-20 squats at bodyweight. If normally you only work out with weights 3 days/week, while traveling you might decide to do a bodyweight workout 5-6 days/week. Or maybe your workouts are usually short and intense, like 20 minutes of smashing weights in a circuit. In order to offer yourself some progression while traveling, you might want to do nice long workouts, using whatever equipment you have available or just your bodyweight, doing lots of sets and reps over the course of an hour.
3. INCREASE DENSITY
Density means how much work you get done in any one particular span of time.
If you want to progress density, I recommend doing the same workout with less and less rest periods over the course of a few weeks. This is a very useful way to progress a simple workout while traveling, because you can do a big bodyweight or minimum-equipment circuit with say, 45 seconds of rest between each exercise. Then the next week when you do it, you can drop the rest to 30 seconds, then 15, then none at all.
I love using density to progress for about 3-4 weeks at a time, but you’ll eventually hit a limit (when you run out of rest to cut out!) and have to find another way to progress.
A few notes on these progressions:
-You can totally combine them. For example, if you decide that while traveling you want to start playing with some difficult bodyweight moves or plyometrics, you might want to start with a super low volume, like 3 sets of 5 reps in order to make sure your form is super sharp and your joints don’t get overwhelmed. Then the next week you might do a harder version of the moves (like a tuck jump instead of a squat jump, or single leg burpees instead of regular burpees). Then the following week you might add sets or reps, but keep the move the same. That would be an example of progressing your workout using a combo of volume and intensity.
-You can also use isometric moves and pauses to increase your time under tension, which is somewhere between increasing intensity and increasing volume. Some examples would be super controlled 5 sec chin-up eccentrics, long pause squats, or just long isometric holds in tough positions, like a plank or an L-sit.
-It’s worth mentioning here that if you’re only on vacation for a week or so, you really don’t need to worry about any of this at all. Take the week off. Relax. Go swimming or walking or surfing or whatever, and then come back to your gym routine fully rested and relaxed.
These progression plans I’m suggesting are for those of you who travel often, or for big chunks of time, and are looking to continue maintaining, or even improving, your hard-earned gym results while doing so. I’m in this boat myself lately, having been traveling since August and I’ve come up with the following important tips:
Staying Fit And Healthy While Traveling More Or Less Full time
1. Take advantage of local movement opportunities. Is there hiking where you are? Biking? SUP-ing? Swimming? Rock climbing? Slack-lining? Yoga? Do what’s available, and enjoy it. Don’t get so caught up in viewing gym-based “fitness” as the only way to stay fit.
2. Take advantage of ANY available equipment. If you find you have access to a random resistance band or medicine ball, you can do a ton with that! Google some moves and put them all together. Get creative and have fun. Eventually one flimsy resistance band (or whatever) will lose it’s ability to give you any progression, but if you’re always on the lookout for equipment, you’ll be surprised how tough and effective you can make your workouts for a few weeks.
3. Focus on the opposite of what your usual goals are. For me recently, this means focusing on cardio instead of strength. This works extremely well for me right now, ONLY because I never, ever did cardio before, so I have tons of room for improvement there! (No joke, I’m increasing total volume rapidly, because the first day I could only run for about 3-4 minutes at a time.) Choosing a completely different new physical goal or challenge gives your body lots of new stimulus to adapt to, and this provides a wealth of new progressive overload opportunities. If you’re the opposite of me, and you’re a cardio queen already, I suggest working toward nailing some tough bodyweight moves, like pushups, pull-ups, pistol squats, or 10 second all-out hill sprints.
4. Bring something to help train your back and butt. If you’re stuck with no equipment, hitting the posterior chain becomes damn near impossible. It’s easy to hit the chest, shoulders, core, and quads with just bodyweight exercises, but the hamstrings, glutes, and back are a whole other story. To remedy this, and avoid hip-flexor and quad-overload, I recommend traveling with something that can help balance out your workouts a bit, like mini-bands, resistance bands, or TRX cables.
5. Move more often. This might mean more leisure movement, such a going on long restorative walks, more gentle stretching and movements, or exploring a new city on foot. But it also means more workouts per week. I was used to doing 3-4 incredibly heavy and challenging workouts each week, and I really needed my rest days to make the most of my workout days. Now, without access to barbells, I don’t need those rest days anymore. So while my overall intensity has been dialed way down, my overall movement volume gets dialed way up.
6. Seek sharpness and intentionality in your workouts. I’ve talked about this before, but the way you move is just as important as the movement you’re doing. Moving with sloppy, lazy form is significantly less effective than moving with sharp, clean, intentional form. This matters in the gym for sure, but it matters even more when you’re trying to make seemingly easy bodyweight moves challenging. Use your mind to create maximum tension and tightness, and you will discover it goes a LONG way to making bodyweight workouts more effective.
7. Don’t be a perfectionist about it. I love lifting weights, but more importantly I love my body. Just because my chosen sport isn’t available while I travel doesn’t mean I have to throw in the proverbial sweaty towel. Movement feels great, and traveling is an opportunity to discover other aspects of training that you might have thought you didn’t like, as well as aspects you might have thought were just a waste of time. (Like me, with cardio!) Use progressions to give yourself some structure and motivation, but then relax and have fun!
I am passionate about helping women learn to love their bodies, and I’ve found that the best way to do that is to combine structured movement (aka fitness) with mindset and emotional-life changes.
That’s why I offer private coaching to a very small number of clients
— so that I can give them all my attention, use all my skills and resources to help them learn to finally love and accept themselves, and offer them the tools to transform every facet of their lives. If you’re interested in working with me, please apply here.