3 Ways for Athletes to Travel Fit
Whether it’s an away game, out-of-town tournament, or a family vacation, the chances are high that traveling is in your near future. And, if you're anything like me, your body is likely not used to traveling on a regular basis. Unfortunately, traveling can take a toll on your body, both in terms of your fitness and general well-being. However, there's no need to fear your next car, train, or plane ride because there are ways you can defeat the dreaded travel obstacle. In order to ensure that your body stays healthy, happy, and game-ready, no matter where your travels take you -- here are my top 3 tips on how to travel fit.
The key to success in most aspects of sport performance is planning. Whether it’s preparing your meals for the upcoming week on Sunday, opting for water instead of a soda the night before practice, or even just keeping up with the laundry so that your lucky pair of underwear is fresh for game day, planning ahead helps! Of course, it should go without saying, but keeping you stress-free and on-track for meeting your goals will make everything else fall into place.
The same reasoning applies to travel, believe it or not -- how long will you be stuck on transportation? What helps you stay in the zone? What snacks will be available to you and can you avoid junk food? Eating whole, fresh foods and staying well-hydrated are two ways planning ahead can help you stay game-ready on the road -- which brings us to...
Eating Right on the Road
Eating well might be the most difficult aspect of traveling for competition or vacation. Part of the problem is what I like to call the When in Rome travel mentality. Fried chicken and biscuits? When in Charlotte, NC! Bagels and schmear? When in Montauk, NY! Aunt Katherine’s Famous French Toast? When you ask yourself "who knows when I’ll get to eat this again?" -- you know you're in trouble.
This type of reasoning is all-or-nothing and often very unhelpful for athletes. If you can’t have a salad with grilled chicken on it, then how about two burgers and a shake because why not, right? Wrong. This is why we gain weight over the winter holidays and then make resolutions to lose it after New Year’s Eve. A little overindulgence is fine on occasion, but vacations are not an excuse to eat whatever you want for every meal.
Staying focused on your training goals is difficult when you’re traveling, especially if your only meal options are fried or processed. A little planning ahead can go a long way if you’re committed to staying fit and healthy on the road. Packing fresh produce for a long plane or bus ride, pre-portioning protein powder to mix with water or milk for a portable snack, or even opting for nuts instead of a Snickers at a gas station are all decisions you can choose to make before you travel.
Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate
Nothing is worse than having to pee a million times during a cross-country flight -- well, except having dehydrated muscles when you land! Don’t let your soft tissues turn to beef jerky when you travel by not only packing a water bottle but using it as well. If you know you’re going to be traveling by car or plane for a long period of time, consider packing an electrolyte supplement to add to your water (my personal favorite is Lemon-Lime Nuun). Keeping your body well-hydrated is Health 101, and there is no excuse for not drinking enough water when you’re traveling.
UNGLUE YOUR MUSCLES
As anyone who’s taken the red-eye from New York to San Francisco can attest, traveling wrecks your body. Travel -- especially by plane -- is a perfect storm of detrimental body conditions: sitting in one position for hours, lack of moisture in the cabin air, dehydration, and the overall stress of lacing up your shoes after going through security to sprint to your departure gate before the plane leaves without you. (OK, maybe that last one is just me...)
Whether you’re going by train, plane, or automobile, your traveling plans probably involve tons of sitting down, which can be damaging to the most important parts of your body. As an athlete, you have to keep your engine running, even when conditions are less than optimal, and this means undoing the damage that travel can put on your body -- here's how:
Open Those Hips
Try this experiment by first sitting down in a chair. Once you're there, grab the fold of fabric created by your pants in the crease of your hip. Still holding that fabric, try to stand up -- you’ll probably find that it’s tough to straighten your hips fully with that fold of fabric all bunched up.
Unfortunately, this is what happens to your hip flexors whenever you sit. Your body, the amazing machine that it is, will adapt to whatever position you put it in most often. So, when we sit for hours at a time, our hip flexors say: “Hey! Seems like we hang out in this shortened position a lot. Let’s just stay shortened all the time for efficiency!”
Once that happens, your hip flexors are short, tight, and awful 24/7, and not just when you’re seated.
Stretch Those Pecs
For a recent road trip to the East Coast, we rented an SUV with bucket seats. I thought this was pretty cool, until about an hour into our drive, when I realized that my upper body had drooped into an ugly, internally-rotated mess. My shoulders were pushed forward by the car seat and my chest muscles tightened as my scapulae were pulled away from each other, overstretching my upper back. It's the same position we fall into when seated at a desk for too long and it is a killer.
Try to do anything remotely athletic in this position and you will find yourself crying in a heap of despair -- I know I do.
Anecdotes aside, it’s important to stretch your pectoral muscles after you’ve been traveling. Tight, short pecs make for trigger-pointed traps, rhomboids, and lats. Try the doorway stretch -- which, if you’re sneaky, you can even get away with doing at the back of the plane or bus by the bathrooms -- to loosen up on the road. Be sure to stretch with your arms below, above, and parallel to your shoulder as this will target both the major and minor pecs in a more effective chest stretch.
Roll All Your Worries Away
I’ve said it a thousand times and I’ll say it again: foam rolling makes you a better athlete. It will improve your test scores, give you perfect pitch, and make you just a better person all-around -- it’s that good! But really, if you get the chance to pack your foam roller with you on your travels, it will be your best friend.
Whether you realize it or not, you'll need to unstick your muscle fibers and fascia that form during long travel days. If you’re limited to a carry-on, or have nineteen pairs of shoes in your suitcase, you can substitute a lacrosse ball for your myofascial-releasing needs. If you're ready to get out on your own field, track, or court -- browse our coaches for your perfect fit!
This one sounds like an absolute no-brainer, particularly for athletes on the road, but it is actually quite easy to forget. Your body was designed to move and that’s how your joints get lubricated, tissues stay healthy, and your body utilizes the energy you consume by calories.
Obviously, when you travel, your capacity for movement is limited. Which is why it is crucial to keep moving, even when you’ve just reached your hotel after bussing for eleven straight hours to your next away game. To many, this may seem borderline impossible, but a little creativity can solve your problems!
Stay Active En Route
Getting up to move as often as possible during travel will help keep your muscles supple and your metabolism chugging away. If you can, try to stand up and move around at least once an hour while traveling. On busses and planes, there is usually a small area near the bathrooms where you can do some prisoner squats, lunges, and stretches.
You may feel a bit silly, but you’ll feel much worse if you reach your destination moaning and groaning from lack of movement. If you hit a rest stop or layover, be that person doing dynamic drills or burpees while everyone else hits the bathrooms and vending machines. You may lose out on some chips, but the gains for your body are much more tasty.
Stay Active During Break
Are you going on a non-sport-related vacation? Be sure to talk with your coach to see if there are workouts you should be doing for your sport over break. Sport-specific training should always take precedence over random strength sessions. If you’re just trying to keep your fitness up, running -- especially hill sprints -- can be fabulous for both aerobic and anaerobic conditioning. Even better, hills are free and pretty easy to find.
If you’re stuck indoors, here are a few of my favorite metabolic conditioning workouts to do with little or no equipment. You can do these workouts in your hotel room or back porch to keep your engine burning. Since they're high-intensity interval training exercises, they will take up only 15-30 minutes of your day, so there's no excuse for not working out. With these workouts, as with all workouts, remember to warm-up with 5 minutes of light cardio, dynamic stretching, and mobility drills beforehand and a cool down afterward.
No Equipment A:
20 Dead Bug, alternating
10 Judo Push-up
20 Reverse Lunge with reach-back, alternating
No Equipment B:
Tabata intervals for 20 seconds of work, then 10 seconds rest x 4 minutes
Jumping Lunge/Superman, alternating intervals
Rest 60 seconds
Prisoner Squat/Plank Shoulder Taps
Rest 60 seconds
Jumping Jack/Bicycle Crunch
Dumbbell or Kettlebell:
10 DB/KB Goblet Squat
10 DB/KB Diagonal Chop, each side
10 DB/KB Bent Row, each side
10 DB/KB Lying Toe Touch Rest
60 seconds, then repeat
Chair, Bench, or Step:
40 seconds of work, then 20 seconds rest
Dynamic Step-up, alternating
Single-Leg Squats to Chair, alternating
Rest 60 seconds, then repeat
Travel is tough on the body, but by making smart choices before, during, and after your travel, you can keep your body functioning well on the road. You have the power to keep vacations and competitive trips from derailing your fitness. The key is to strike a healthy balance between discipline and fun. For more healthy exercises or a personalized workout plan, head to Volt Athletics' blog and read more!