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Working Out On The Road

I’ve been asked many times about how I stay in shape while I’m constantly on the road. I spent years telling myself that I needed to work out more. I even went so far as to join a gym but then rarely went. Then there’s the hectic travel schedule. Airports, airplanes, hotel rooms, other people’s houses, not to mention the busy work schedule with very little sleep that goes along with it. What turned my exercise ethic around were DVD workout programs.

First, I was introduced to the Billy Blanks Boot Camp. What I thought would be easy soon showed me how out of shape I really was. Following that I discovered Tony Horton’s P90X, which really changed things for me, as some of you well know. After awhile Tony Horton introduced the graduate program, P90X Plus, and his One-on-One workouts. Finally, the same company that produces P90X, Beachbody, released the intense cardio program called Insanity.

After awhile, I decided to venture out and learn more. Trying different workouts, all different types of fitness, and finally becoming certified as a personal trainer. I not only wanted to know how to workout, but also the science and methodology behind it. When it comes to fitness, knowledge is power. Simply lifting heavy weights doesn’t work and will often times lead to injury. Proper form, designing well rounded workouts, and a balanced diet will give you the results you want and the health you need.

For those of you who are interested in getting into shape, whether at home or on the road, I’d like to give you some helpful tips. For those who do travel, I’ll give you some great tips to make it work.

Know Thyself: When it comes to working out, the most important thing is to know your own body. Know what you are capable of, your strengths and weaknesses, and what you’d like to achieve. From there you’ll be able to choose the program that is best suited to your needs and abilities.

Consistency: Nothing is going to change for you if you don’t work out regularly. I often hear the joke that someone did the “P14X” because they didn’t finish the program. You need to commit and follow through. That’s why these workout programs were great for me, because they gave me a schedule to follow. Also getting a program designed specifically to fit your needs by a quality personal trainer is optimal. Shameless plug: adding JitterBlast to your routine will help burn those unwanted calories. You won’t start seeing any good results until at least 2-3 weeks into each program and then again after 1 month into it. Stay with it and don’t give up. Don’t fall into the traps of making excuses, getting lazy, or feeling overwhelmed.

Helpful Hints

The hints below help make working out, especially working out on the road, a more achievable and healthy, pain-free experience. They’re areas that are not necessarily directly addressed in the workout programs but nevertheless will have a big impact on your long-term success if you incorporate them into your program.

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Stretching: This is the one area in which I fail miserably. Most programs simply do not have enough stretching in them, especially if you also dance a lot. How often have you heard or said “I should stretch,” briefly reflected on the idea, and then moved on, without stretching? Stretching can save your body from wear and tear as well as help to prevent injury. All the muscle pulls I have ever had were due to lack of stretching. Stretching is also especially important if you fly frequently like I do. Flying makes my body swell up like a balloon and tightens my muscles to the point that I feel like Gollum after a long trip. Doing stretches or yoga after flying can help your body recover as well as fight against jet lag. (Side note: warming up is very important to preventing injury as well as cooling down after a workout or dancing.)

Foam Rolling: Foam rolling can be your new best friend. Everyone hates this in the beginning because it can be a bit painful, but over time the pain goes away. Foam rolling is a way to get the kinks out of your muscles for proper muscle function and also acts as a nice little massage. It can help correct muscles imbalances and alleviate soreness. This is best to do before any physical activity and before stretching. It’s a great way to help your body recover afterwards as well. Every athlete and every dancer should put foam rolling into their schedules.

Lower Back Care: Most programs can really destroy your lower back if you’re not careful, or if you’re feeling too lazy or tired to do the exercise properly. When using weights or bands, never arch your back to try to lift the weights, because this puts too much strain on that area. If you find yourself doing so during a set, pick a lighter weight or stop. P90X has you do a lot of weight lifting while standing up, so make sure you have a wide stance with bent knees. Insanity has a lot of movements that reach for the floor. Do these with a straight back unless otherwise instructed. Rely on your legs and a tight core to complete the exercises.

Ninja Skills: Be one with your surroundings. When you travel you find yourself in different living conditions constantly. Sometimes you can move furniture around in your room to create the space you need (note: chairs and beds can be very useful for different exercises – get creative). Other times, you’ll have to find a hallway, spare room or lobby in which you have enough room to exercise. Get over the idea of being embarrassed if people see you working out – most of those people are thinking that they should work out too. If you’re staying in a hotel, call ahead and see if they have a gym (workout room) with free weights. Lastly, if you’re going to use bands for doing pull-up type exercises, be careful with what you attach them to. Most things break easily. I made the mistake once of attaching them to a locked door – it sounds like a good idea, but what I failed to do was to check to make sure it stayed shut. Needless to say, the band came crashing down on my head, and I nearly passed out from the pain. Lesson learned.

Hydrate: They always say this in the programs, but seriously, drink more water. Even when you are not working out you should drink more water than you are. If you feel thirsty, then you are already dehydrated. Start carrying around a water bottle that will be a reminder to keep hydrated. Drinks with electrolytes are also very helpful. Lately, I’ve been pounding back coconut water and Vitamin Water Zero (both of which I’ve noticed are more widely available at airports now). Hydrate even more when you fly. I find that drinking a lot of water the day before I fly helps on the travel day.

Supplements: For someone who is very active, or travels a lot, and/or as you get older, daily vitamins become very useful in alleviating pain and promoting general health. Also calcium/magnesium, fiber, and joint vitamins can help. If you’re not getting enough of these vitamins and minerals in your regular diet, the store bought pills are a way to create a balance. I also use whey protein mix as a dietary supplement as well as a post workout drink. Protein mixes help your body replenish what energy you spend in the workout, as well as help build and tone muscles. I always travel with protein mix, and I sometimes use a pre-workout drink to energize myself if I’m tired. They give you a better workout, but never use them more than 2-3 months at a time without taking a month off. It’s not good for your body to constantly take them. I recommend consulting a professional for the right mix of supplements for what your body needs.

Diet: This is the other major fail to my health. I just love food too much. I find eating well to be much easier when I am consistently at home, because I can buy the right foods and plan a balanced meal. However, on the road this issue becomes near impossible to solve. Here are some helpful hints for eating while traveling: When you are at an airport, it’s easy to stop at the McDonald’s and order a number 4 but remember that pretty much anything that you order by number is going to be bad for you. Look at the airport map and choose the least egregious option. Also, avoid soda whenever possible. I’m a big soda addict, especially since I often run on little sleep and am jet lagged, but seriously, soda is bad for you. My most recent effort has been to limit soda and find other caffeine options like tea when I need it. Another useful tool in keeping a steady, healthy diet is to try to be good all week and then reward yourself with a “cheat” day or meal to pig out a bit. If you do some activity like squats for a minute and a half within an hour after the meal, it will help your body process the food better. Be careful of the mindset of “well, I’ll just work it off later”. That never ever works…ever.

Nap time: When you’re on the road all the time, naps and resting times become rare commodities. It’s also possible to use these times to get in a workout. Working out can give you energy and is sometimes more beneficial than a nap. Again, listen to your body. If you’re running on exhaustion, or you know you’re going to get very little sleep that night, by all means take a nap. Your body needs sleep to recover.

Final thought:
Whether or not you decide to try the workout DVDs, start working out on your own, or join me with JitterBlast, I implore you to take care of your body. Just dancing isn’t enough. I have female friends who join Pilates and/or yoga classes to stay fit. Some enjoy getting outside for running, swimming, hiking or climbing. Whatever it is that will motivate you, I encourage you to be active. It’s never too late to start.

See you on the dance floor…or on the airplane.