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Staying Fit While On The Road

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Kristina Martin of Decatur, Georgia is this month's Fitness Makeover. She brought up a great question that has not been answered in this column before: how to arrange an effective workout routine around a busy travel schedule.

Kristina’s job requires her to be away from home anywhere from one to three nights a week, and up to 26 weeks a year on any given project. As such, she has found it difficult to build a program that she can maintain consistently to achieve her fitness goals.

A former competitive swimmer and recreational runner, Kristina is determined to stay fit and "win the fight against gravity," as she writes that she has gained 15 pounds since starting her travel-heavy job three years ago.

"While no one would look at me and say that I am fat," she explains, "I definitely would like to lose the extra weight and tone up — I don’t want my nice swimming triceps to turn into flabby mush!"

In addition, Kristina admits that she finds it hard to stay in a routine because she gets bored — so she enjoys breaking from it (perhaps the years dedicated to swim practice twice a day have made her yearn for a more flexible and easygoing approach to fitness).

"I tell myself it’s good to take a break and skip a workout because growing up I never missed a swim practice. I think of it as keeping me balanced and I feel more normal, rather than obsessive, about working out."

Obsession is certainly not healthy in the long run, but I have always believed that a happy athlete is one who never missed a workout because she enjoyed and looked forward to each days training session.

Kristina should ask herself why she works out, and write down the list of ways that exercise improves her quality of life. Then, whenever she is tempted to skip a day, she can read the list and remind herself why she's doing it (and enjoying it) in the first place.

While skipping occasional days is important for recovery, it seems that Kristina’s work schedule ensures that she misses days anyway (whether she’d like to or not). So I am going to propose that she attempt to work out every day, and allow herself days off only when she cant find time to train because of her job. The trick will be to find her things to do that she can look forward to and enjoy without wanting to skip a day unless she absolutely has to.

So how does Kristina find a happy medium between having a workout routine that is fun, interesting, and challenging, yet one that is also adaptable enough to take on the road?

To begin, I am going to recommend running at least three times a week, or every other day. Running is a surefire way to lose weight (especially when combined with healthy eating habits) and a great cardiovascular exercise. In Kristina’s case, jogging is convenient because it requires little more than a pair of decent running shoes that can be packed into a suitcase and taken on the road.

One of my favorite things to do when traveling to a foreign city is going for a run in the streets moments after I settle into my hotel room. Not only does this stretch out my travel-weary muscles and release endorphins that fight jet lag, but it allows me to get my bearings in an unfamiliar city — a place that I may need to navigate through later on in my trip.

Having recently been to London and Cannes, France (a first for me in both cases), I relied on my "orientation run" as the basis for my subsequent daily travels. I was happy to take note of simple necessities such as banks, subway stations, and convenience stores that came in handy later — all while completing a brief rejuvenating workout.

Helping Kristina’s cause is the fact that she enjoys running with her dog Maggie, a definite motivator in her quest for cardiovascular supremacy. Many people don’t realize how easy it is to get exercise with their dogs, and how the benefits are twofold. While solo jogging can get dull, a run or fast hike with a canine companion can be a lot of fun.

Take care to build up your pet’s endurance levels before attempting frequent workouts together, and make sure not to have your dog run on pavement over long periods of time as it is potentially devastating to their paws (remember, they don’t wear Nikes!). Not only will you stay fit, but you’ll have a dog worthy of a Best in Show prize.

Kristina is no stranger to organized workouts, and she is a member of the well-known Dynamo Masters swim program in Atlanta. Unfortunately, because she travels so much, she never knows how often she can get to the pool. And while hotels usually have pools, they are not the kind conducive to swimming laps.

One alternative to conventional fitness training for travelers is fitness VHS tapes and DVDs. Long thought to be relics of the Jane Fonda-fueled '80s aerobics craze, exercise tapes have exploded in recent years as new forms of conditioning have come into vogue.

At the forefront of this renaissance is yoga, and many video stores have entire sections dedicated to this popular exercise, ranging from introductory instructional videos to super-advanced courses.

Warner Home Video recently launched a line of yoga tapes by famed yogi-to-the-stars Ganga White called the "Flow Series." A three-part set, (beginner, intermediate, advanced), the compilation is a great foray into the world of yoga and its benefits.

If yoga is too New Age-y for you, there are other options available in the exercise-video marketplace. Kickboxing, Tae-Bo, karate, aerobics, Pilates, abdominal training, it’s all available and quite convenient if you’re a frequent traveler.

While lugging VHS tapes in your suitcase may not be the answer (remember, many hotels do not offer VCR’s in their rooms), laptop-compatible fitness DVD’s are now available. You also can teach yourself what’s on the tapes and then do the workouts in your hotel room, from memory.

To combat those potentially flabby arms, Kristina should try and incorporate some strength training into her weekly schedule. While she doesn’t much care for weights, she should be open-minded about doing light dumbbell and Nautilus-type exercises once or twice a week for toning.

Besides, most hotels have small gyms equipped with weights, so Kristina would be wise to take advantage of them. Doing just three or four different upper-body exercises (three sets of each, 10 reps) will help Kristina maintain the toned arms that she would like.

Kristina should definitely invest in a set of "bands." Also known as surgical tubing, bands are an easy and convenient way to maintain muscle tone. Lightweight and easily rolled up into a shaving kit or cosmetics bag, bands provide resistance training that can be done just about anywhere!

The exercises one can do are too numerous to mention here, but a trainer or physical therapist can inform you of the benefits and proper techniques to band training.

Granted, some of the ideas above may seem to require more discipline than Kristina is ready to commit to. But my suggestions are meant to stimulate her into a varied routine that can change each and every day according to her moods, what she feels like doing, and of course, where she happens to be in the world.

Unlike training for a triathlon (which requires discipline in three specific sports and unwavering commitment), the suggestions above are meant to inspire those of us who can’t devote a huge part of lives to heavy-duty training (as much as we may want to).

For those looking to stay fit and maintain their ideal body weight and muscle tone, there are multiple ways to do so without being repetitious. It just takes a few creative ideas and the willingness to think — and train — outside of the box!

If you are interested in being the subject of a Fitness Makeover, please e-mail your questions to Alex, and include a phone number where you can be reached upon your selection.

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» Flexibility, Yoga & Massage
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