Many executives and businessmen use work and travel as an excuse to avoid exercise. Yet we find enough time to spend in bars and restaurants,” says Bangalore-based management consultant Sunil Chainani, a busy man who is also a board member of Fabindia, East and Explocity. Chainani has always made time for his fitness routine, even when travelling 15-18 days a month. “In fact, when travelling overseas, exercise helps beat jet lag. If you do not (do it), you lose fitness, eat too much and get into a lazy lifestyle,” he adds.
Photographs: Madhu Kapparath / Mint and Ramesh Pathania / Mint
Sumit Chowdhury, chief information officer, Reliance Communications and CEO, Reliance Tech Services, Mumbai, agrees that exercise is an antidote to the weariness of travel. “I feel energized after the workout or the run,” he says. “The travel fatigue is gone. Mostly aches and pains of sitting in aeroplanes and taxis also go away when I exercise.”
Before you talk of gym opening hours, take heart from what Kiran Sawhney, fitness instructor and owner of Fitnesolution, a fitness centre in Delhi, says, “Exercising on the move need not necessarily mean getting to a gym: You can achieve a great workout anywhere. And your hotel room is the perfect place to start.” (see ‘Improvise…”)
Whatever your preferred style of activity, there are easy options.
Yoga for active alertness
Sanjeev Bhanot, founder-director of Yogalife, a Delhi-based company providing courses and training in yoga in India, Belgium and Switzerland, says, “People travelling on business need to sit long hours in planes and meetings, and the result is often a stiff neck and back.” To keep the spine strong and limber, he suggests a series of sixfold yoga-based movements. This spinal exercise is often done on the floor, but this seated variation can be done anywhere: at the airport, in your hotel room, in an office or on the flight.
Total duration: 10 minutes
Repeats: two-three times for each step
Breathing: Always inhale as you reach up or back, or come out of a curl or bend; exhale as you curl forwards or bend. Hold all stretched or curled postures for 5-30 seconds (increase gradually, with practise) with regular, relaxed breathing. Pause for one-two breaths between every set of movements.
Starting position: Sit straight, feet flat on ground, knees and ankles at right angles, hands resting on your thighs, index fingers and thumbs touching, rest of the fingers extended (see photo). Start by breathing deeply, making sure your stomach moves out as you breathe in.
(1) Interlock fingers loosely and stretch arms up above your head. Keeping the lower back pressed against the back of the chair, tilt sideways, first to your right and then your left. Bring arms down to rest on thighs again.
(2) Grasp the side edge of the chair with your right hand for balance, and stretch the left arm straight up, then try to push it over to the other side, stretching from shoulder to hip on the side as you bend sideways. Change sides and repeat.
(3) Now move your knees shoulder-width apart, and grasp the edge of the chair between your thighs. Keeping feet firmly on the ground, let your head and shoulders fall back, arching backwards. Come back to a neutral position slowly.
(4) Bring your knees together again, and curl slowly forward as you reach for the floor beside your feet.
(5) Now to rotate the spine, twist around to your right, and lightly hold on to the top of the chair back as you try to turn to face directly behind you. Return to the neutral position and then repeat on the other side.
(6) Pull your right foot up to rest on your left thigh. Now bend over and try to reach for the floor on either side of your left foot. Straighten up slowly, change sides and repeat.
Pilates for a full-body workout
“Frequent travellers usually end up with a very stiff body, particularly stiffness in the neck and the lower back,” says Vesna Pericevic Jacob, director of Vesna’s Wellness Clinic, New Delhi. She prescribes Pilates-based stretching and floor-based calisthenics to both prevent and cure those aches and pains. It makes deep abdominal muscles stronger, which in turn supports your back and reduces fatigue. One of her favourites is this exercise called the Hundred, which Pericevic Jacob calls “Pilates cardio”, as it gives you a bit of an aerobic workout too. Pericevic Jacob suggests doing this as part of a complete, easy 10-minute routine working all parts of the body <VIDEO LINK>. You can do the routine twice over and give yourself a complete 20-minute workout almost anywhere, since no equipment is needed at all.
Duration: 20 minutes (for full routine), or just 5 minutes for this mini cardiovascular boost.
Starting position: Lie down on the mat or towel, on your back, knees bent, legs shoulder-width apart. Your spine should be neutral, i.e., not pressed into the mat but leaving a finger-width space in the small of the back.
1. “To begin, awaken your lower back with a few pelvic tilts. This loosens the stiff lower back,” says Pericevic Jacob. With your knees bent slowly roll your pelvis back and forth, i.e. press the back into the mat without lifting the bottom off the ground, then arch the back, creating the space between the back and the mat. Repeat 10-15 times.
2. Now pull one knee to the chest and stretch your other leg out. Placing your opposite hand on the outside of the knee, draw the leg down across your body. Repeat on the other side.
3. Now do a light head roll from side to side to loosen your shoulders.
4. The Hundred: Keep your knees bent, spine still neutral, but move your knees shoulder-width apart. Pull in your stomach and flap your arms against the mat in fast, tight up-and-down motions, 10 times 10 (hence “100”). Then bring your legs and shins together, and lift them into the tabletop posture (thighs perpendicular to floor, shins parallel), and repeat. This is actually quite a demanding exercise, and should get you breathing a bit heavier and your heart rate up.
5. Now get hold of your knees and roll your head and shoulders up from the mat, then slowly roll down again. “It’s not a large movement, just a light rocking motion of a few degrees,” says Pericevic Jacob. If you think it would help, you can put a small pillow or cushion to pillow your back (when you can do this easily, you can try to hold the posture at the point where it is most challenging). Then take a little break, and repeat—this time, go slower, and try to hold that challenging position. Do one set of light and one of slow movements with 10-15 repeats.
6. For the legs, you can do squats. Or you can lie down on your side, arms stretched out to stabilize you, flex the lower foot and take the heel off the ground, toes stay there partly and also try to lift your waist off the ground. Now move the upper leg, toes pointed, up and down to hip level 10 times; flex toes and repeat 10 times; go as high as you can 10 times; and then do 10-15 circles with that leg.
7. You can now flip over on to your stomach, forehead pillowed on hands and do quick bottom squeezes 10-20 times to strengthen the lower back and ease pain there.
8. Move into a set of push-ups. “If you do it correctly—hands shoulder-width apart, body supported on your toes, back straight, inhale coming down and stop with your nose 1.5 inches from the ground, and slowly exhaling on your return—this shapes and challenges the whole body,” she says. You would be able to do only about two-three sets of 5-10 if you keep good form.
9. Now relax! Do 10-15 “cat and dog” stretches: rise up on your knees and hands, back nearly flat, arms and legs parallel. Inhale as you round your back and tuck your stomach in (think of a cat) and then exhale as you arch your back and push your belly downwards (like a dog would). Finally, sit back on your heels, stretch your arms out in front and hold for 3-5 minutes. This should bring you stress relief and immediately get you to a happy place. This is in fact a mini workout you can do at any time—works every time.
Strength training, minus the extra baggage
“It’s easy to do exercises on the floor, using your own body weight as resistance—and for that you don’t need any equipment,” says Virendra Sherlekar, executive director of the Talwalkars chain of gyms. Do three sets of 10-12 repeats for each exercise. It’s best to have your trainer or instructor guide you through correct form in the gym first.
1. Start with a set of push-ups to work your upper body. You can go up on your toes (which means they are supporting half your total body weight), or leave your knees on the floor to reduce the load.
2. Next do some squats to work your lower body. “This maintains strength in your legs, a concern as you grow older, especially if you are sedentary,” says Dr Sherlekar.
3. Now use two full water bottles to do shoulder presses. “This, too, is essential because for the average person, the hand never goes above the shoulder the entire day,” says Dr Sherlekar.
4. Finally, with a resistance band, give your back and shoulders a quick workout. Extend your arms straight ahead, holding the rubber band at shoulder level, but make sure your elbows are not locked. Move the arms outwards till they point straight out to your sides. “Do this slowly, taking 5-7 seconds for each repetition,” says Dr Sherlekar.
5. Then, if possible, go for a 30-minute brisk walk—don’t jog, so that the impact on your knees is less. “This will enhance your aerobic fitness and make your heart stronger,” says Dr Sherlekar.
What else can you do?
Take a walk: “Walking is the best thing, especially in pedestrian-friendly cities. I’d just go for a walk, for 30-40 minutes, to feel fit and refreshed,” says Dr Sherlekar. Kiran Sawhney, fitness instructor and owner of Fitnesolution, notes that it is a great way to get a little sightseeing in while you travel on business. Her suggestions: Ask for a map of the neighbourhood, check about safety issues and timings of local parks, and bring along your ID and some cab fare, just in case. Remember the water bottle, even if it is cold.
Stay flexible: “What we need to do is to have a flexible workout schedule which can be adapted depending on weather and time available,” says management consultant Sunil Chainani. “You may not be able to run in Europe in winter or Dubai in summer, but you can use the gym.” It helps if your basic routine has built-in variety: “I go the gym twice or three times a week mainly for weight training and yoga type exercises and I run long-distance, 10-20km. So I manage to do one or the other most of the time,” says Reliance Communications’ Sumit Chowdhury.
Get playful: “Running, using a gym, or skipping: these are what I use when travelling,” says Chainani. “I also used to play competitive squash, and then would try to stay close to a club or tie up a game with friends in the cities I visited. A sportsman will find a way to get a game.”
Turn to TV: “Wherever in the world you are, you can usually surf TV channels in the morning to find a fitness programme to follow instead of your workout,” says Sawhney. Keeps you far from bored as well.
Improvise: Your everyday workout, with no equipment [box]
Kiran Sawhney, fitness instructor and owner of Fitnesolution, a fitness centre in Delhi, suggests ways to exercise without your usual equipment when you travel:
• Use the belt from a hotel robe as a stretch cord.
• Instead of a stretch frame, attach your resistance band or stretch cord to the leg of a bed or a heavy sofa.
• Hold on to the back of a sturdy chair while you do squats and leg lifts.
• Two filled bottles of water can be used as hand weights.
• You can increase the impact of your walk by adding weights: a small backpack (not the laptop case) comfortably adjusted on your shoulders, centred on your back, should do it.
• If the hotel gym is closed, ask if you can borrow a set of weights to use in your room.
• A low, sturdy stool or ottoman can be used for step exercises. Make sure it is heavy and sitting on a carpet, so it won’t shift; or else put a towel under it.
• Spread out a towel or shower mat for yoga or floor exercises.
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