We know that going to the gym and lifting weights helps us build muscle. But, if you are on the road all the time and are confined to bodyweight movements or small hotel gyms, you might be wondering whether it even works.
Here is the truth: While more challenging, building muscle on the road is entirely possible. But, of course, you need the right tactics to put together effective training.
Today, we will go over what that means for you.
Maximizing Muscle Gain with Challenging Bodyweight Training
For many, bodyweight training is nothing but a big waste of time, only fit for beginners looking to make regular exercise a habit. But you need to face reality: bodyweight exercises can be fantastic for muscle gain, so long as we adhere to one important rule: keep our workouts challenging.
The human body understands tension. It does not care where it comes from and does not stop muscle gain if we do our workouts away from the typical gym setting.
For example, suppose classic push-ups are too easy. In that case, you can always go for more challenging variations like decline push-ups, plyometric push-ups, and even weighted push-ups. The same goes for almost every bodyweight movement out there: you can always do something to make it more challenging.
In addition, tracking your progress through total volume can be a helpful measurement for bodyweight exercises. For example, increasing the repetitions you perform each week indicates that you are getting stronger. This is a better approach than relying on time-based workouts, as slowing down your reps can also benefit muscle development.
Are you looking for a fitness app that helps you plan and track your workout? Check out our advisory page to find your digital gym buddy.
Making the most of limited Hotel Gym Equipment
Hotel gyms rarely fulfill our wishes. Only selective hotels invest in their gym and get a satisfying GymFactor. Unfortunately, many are too small and have little equipment. For example, the dumbbells only go up to around 50 lbs (23 kg), and unlike the US, only to 22 lbs (10 kg) in Europe. Furthermore, there are often only a few machines we can use. This can be challenging if you are looking into strength training while traveling. So, should we throw in the towel and not train? Absolutely not!
You can challenge yourself a lot, even if you have little to work with. Let us take the dumbbells as an example. If there are just a handful of dumbbells in the gym, use them as best as you can. If they are lighter for you to do below twelve reps per set, do more: 20, even 30 reps. Rest less between sets, and you will spark muscle growth. Another way to keep yourself challenged with lighter dumbbells is to perform more challenging variations. For example, if you usually like to do "dumbbell goblet squats," replace them with "Bulgarian split squats."
Similarly, what if the gym only has one back machine or one of those all-in-one solutions? Again, focus on training your muscles through a full range of motion and make a conscious effort to activate your muscles. Even if you have just one option for each muscle group, take advantage of it, and do more sets. For example, if you only have access to a "lat pulldown machine," do multiple sets with varying grips: a close and a wider grip, and sets with an underhand and overhand grip; simple as that.
In our blog post, you can read ideas on how to make the best use of a hotel gym not having enough weight.
Bring your own Equipment for Strength Training while Traveling
To upgrade your workouts while traveling, consider bringing your own lightweight equipment. Resistance bands would likely be the most popular and obvious choice. Available in different resistance levels, these open up various exercises and movements. Read our dedicated Guide on Resistance Bands and learn why they should make it into your backpack.
For those who are already quite strong, try incorporating single arm/leg variations of movements. Doing this can challenge your muscles more with the same resistance band.
Another lightweight option would be a TRX suspension trainer. It rolls up into a super-small bag, even fitting in your carry-on. You can perform almost all resisted movements you can think of. From hanging the Suspension Trainer off your hotel door to getting outside and securing it to a tree, the TRX is ready to go in seconds.
The overlooked Factors in Building Muscle
Many trainees limit their muscle-building ability even while training in good gyms. This is because they mainly focus on moving the weight from point A to point B and completely disregard factors that play a more significant role. Specifically, we discuss using a full range of motion, consistent tempo training, and establishing a good mind-muscle connection. So, pay attention to these factors when you do your strength training while traveling.
1. Use your full range of Motion
It is easy to fall for the bad habits of training with a shorter range of motion. This allows us to lift heavier weights and feel stronger. But, to activate and stimulate a muscle as best as possible, you should train it through an extended range of motion.
A simple training technique to leverage when traveling would be Time under Tension (TUT). It refers to the total time your muscles are under tension during a movement. The longer the motion, the longer time, the longer the muscles have to work.
That way, you can experience good stretches and powerful contractions and get more out of each repetition.
2. Keep a consistent repetition Tempo
Inconsistent training tempo becomes more likely when we train with lighter weights. Each repetition takes less effort to complete, and we are more likely to power through the set without thinking about it.
But the tempo is vital because it allows us to cause an adequate eccentric and concentric contraction of each muscle we train. So, for example, if you only make an effort to curl the dumbbells but then let them drop on the way down, you are effectively making each repetition half as effective for your biceps. A good rule is to take two seconds to lift the weight, two to lower it, and a second to hold the contraction on top.
3. Include Eccentric Movements
A similar concept would be to include more eccentric movements and focus on an exercise's "lowering" phase. For example, with a resistance band bicep curl, you would lift the band as usual but slowly lower it back down. This eccentric move helps to stimulate muscle growth further. This is a very common technique used to build strength for pull-ups. By lowering your body very slowly, you can gradually build the strength needed to perform multiple pull-ups in the future.
Eccentric Movements are a straightforward but effective way to build muscle while traveling. Whatever exercise you do, slow things down and keep your muscles engaged for longer.
4. The Mind-muscle connection
Though it may sound unimportant, research suggests that the mind-muscle connection is essential to our training results.
No matter where you train and what equipment you have access to, it is important always to try and link the mind and muscles at work. Doing so can better engage your muscles, improve your performance, and cause a greater growth stimulus.
Fun fact, a Harvard study from 2007 found that educating hotel maids on how their daily tasks contribute to physical fitness led to weight loss, lower blood pressure, and healthier body composition - despite no changes to their diet or daily routine. In contrast, the control group saw no benefits.
Working out while traveling does not need to be seen as a compromise to your regular training. Building muscle on the road is possible with the right tactics, such as keeping bodyweight exercises challenging. It can even be a chance to learn new skills and exercise with lightweight equipment, like resistance bands or a TRX suspension trainer.
If you are very serious about building muscle while traveling, a fitness app can provide the structure, guidance, and support to help you progress. Have a look at Alpha Progression and Fitbod, or check out our Fitness App Advisor for more quality apps to choose from.
While there are many great ways to make the best out of a bad gym, why not stay in a hotel that takes fitness seriously and provides all you need? Check out GymFactor before you book your next vacation/trip and avoid these disappointments. With us, you will never have to skip a workout again!