If the title of this article has you mystified, allow me to clarify. It can apply to your luggage, as in, “carry-on suitcases”; or, it can indicate how important it is that our traveling clients “carry on” their fitness routines, even while visiting family or on vacation. Since my husband almost always insists on carry-on luggage only, I will expand upon the second definition.

During my many years as a writer, and as a competitive bodybuilder, I have done an extensive amount of research on exercise. A theory that has been around for decades is that of the importance of rest days. Muscles grow during our down time, not in the gym. There is “stimulating” the muscle, and then there is “annihilating” the muscle. Too many eager athletes tend to err on what they perceive to be the side of caution, and end up annihilating the very lean muscle mass they have been working so hard to attain! These are the clients who need to be reminded to actually rest up for a few days while they are out of town!


Assessing The Client’s Needs

If your clients are simply recreational lifters, and just desire to maintain their current level of fitness, they probably are well aware of those “rest days”. Many individuals take advantage of vacations and holidays to recoup their energy stores. For those clients who are competitive, however, or striving to add considerable muscle mass, time off is a somewhat foreign concept. Yes, it is true…I fell into that category myself while traveling during competition season!

Finding the middle ground is important to trainers, since many clients seek our advice prior to heading out of town. There are several routes to take when approached with such an inquiry, and “I don’t really know what to tell you” will not go over well, nor is it professional. By being aware of each client’s goals and limitations, as well as any parameters that may exist while he is away (such as proximity of a workout facility, time constraints, etc.), you can easily develop a basic vacation action plan that is both effective and requires little if any equipment.


The Away-From-Home Fitness Frustrations

Let’s review some of the core problems that we all face when we are away from home:

  • If you regularly train at a fitness center, you might not have your usual equipment.
  • If you are a runner, you may not feel comfortable venturing out alone in the area of your hotel.
  • If you are accustomed to cooking all of your “clean meals”, hotel rooms often do not include kitchens or a refrigerator; in addition, Mom or Grandma might be cooking holiday meals, and those are tricky to navigate while still maintaining your typically healthy meal plan.
  • If you travel abroad, you may find the time zone changes to have a considerable impact upon your sleep patterns and energy…and, of course, your workouts.


While these are in fact obstacles, they are by no means impossible to conquer. This is where your client is counting on you to provide a roadmap or plan for him. Begin by reminding him of how very dedicated he has been all year long, and that this is not the time to let his priorities lapse. Going back to basics, you can design a body-weight-only circuit that can be done either in a hotel room or in a nearby park, if the weather is favorable.

Example Travel Workout:

  • 4 sets of push-up’s performed in an inverted pyramid style: 25, 20, 15,10
  • Rest interval between each set is about 2 minutes
  • 4 sets of 20 stationary lunges per leg, alternating leading leg each set
  • Rest interval between leg changes is about 60-90 seconds
  • 3 sets of 20 crunches
  • Rest interval is 45-60 seconds
  • Plank: attempt to hold at least 60 seconds, and strive to add 10-15 seconds each workout


These exercises are familiar to almost every client, and will therefore not appear to be daunting. Do not be misled, however. If the above circuit is performed 2 or 3 times in succession, the body will feel both challenged and completely trained. Alternatively, a Tabata format is surprisingly effective in a short amount of time: 4 bodyweight exercises, each performed for 20 seconds followed by a 10-second rest interval, repeated for 8 circuits.

If you know that a particular client is 100% intent on workout out with weights while out of town, you can encourage him to use his imagination in the absence of a hotel gym. Full water bottles make great “dumbbells”, as do suitcases. Whatever weight the client desires can be dictated by the amount of clothing he places in the suitcase! Exercise bands, too, travel very well and can provide a creative total-body workout.

On The Run?

If you have been training an endurance athlete, he will not want to lose ground while he travels. Often a hotel’s concierge will be able to provide a few safe routes in the vicinity, including the mileage for each. This is what my husband relies upon and has overall been quite pleased. If running is not an option, offer up the idea of walking lunges around the lobby (who cares what on-lookers think? Your client has an agenda, a priority, a commitment to himself, and that should be the important message to stress). Running steps is always an easy fix for your cardio junkies. Skip the elevator every day! If all else fails, jumping jacks in the hotel room will always suffice. Have the client aim for 3 times a day, each time completing 2-3 sets of 60 seconds’ worth of jacks.


The Fuel Rule

Food is always a challenge for me when we travel. While I do pack healthy snacks and “emergency” protein sources (low-sugar, gluten-free protein bars, fresh fruit, coconut water), dining out with friends and family may pose a threat to a client who confesses to having very little willpower. He will probably tell you, “Come on, it is my vacation! I want to let loose!” This is totally understandable; but so is the idea of bracketing such events with intentionally leaner meals. If there is alcohol flowing, give the liver a few days to recover. If the client is traveling to his childhood home, and knows there will be a lot of holiday treats, he can let his family know prior to his departure that he is making a concerted effort to eat relatively healthy meals while traveling, and ask for their understanding…and support, if he feels comfortable doing so.

So Many Options

If you know in advance that the client’s hotel does in fact offer a complete fitness center, you might consider contacting the Fitness Manager there. Request a complimentary training session for your traveling client, and then be sure to inform him that he can follow up to set an appointment. You will gain a tremendous amount of respect from clients when they see you are willing to be so proactive on their account. Many upscale hotel chains in large metropolitan areas partner with nearby gyms and offer their guests a class or workout session at a considerably reduced rate. Have your client inquire about this when he checks into the hotel.

If you and the client are both willing, suggest that he remain somewhat connected to you while away. Emailing a client every other day, with motivational tips and ideas for weaving exercises into his busy travel schedule, will help him remain accountable to you. This is, after all, a major consideration when hiring a personal trainer. Having a link to someone, knowing there is a professional waiting for you every week at the gym, provides a sense of security for many individuals. By providing such reassurance electronically, the client will be even more encouraged to keep up his activity level.

Wish your client a happy holiday, safe travels, and leaving him with the empowering thought: Carry On!

For more ideas, check this out: Holiday Travels and Your Fitness

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Cathleen Kronemer

Cathleen Kronemer is an NFPT CEC writer and a member of the NFPT Certification Council Board. Cathleen is an AFAA-Certified Group Exercise Instructor, NSCA-Certified Personal Trainer, ACE-Certified Health Coach, former competitive bodybuilder and freelance writer. She is employed at the Jewish Community Center in St. Louis, MO. Cathleen has been involved in the fitness industry for over three decades. Feel free to contact her at trainhard@kronemer.com. She welcomes your feedback and your comments!