Now that you know how to scope out a hotel gym, the next step is knowing what to do when you get there. Hotel gyms tend to be pretty bare bones, so you’ll have to make the most of limited equipment and, often, lighter weights than you may like. But that doesn’t mean you have to do a half-assed workout.
Recently I went on a trip where I chose the convenience of hotel gyms over the (also valid) option of trekking to a local full-featured gym. I decided that I’d have fun with the challenge, creating a collection of routines with limited equipment to share with you guys when I got back. I was okay with the possibility that these might not be the world’s most effective workouts, but let me tell you: These are killer if you want them to be.
First of all, what I’m describing are workouts and not a program. You can certainly do these workouts at home if you like, but they don’t build on each other with a consistent focus or a steady progression. They just give you a way to stay busy, strong, and healthy for however long your vacation might last.
Another important thing to know is that whenever you do exercises that are different than what you’re used to, you’re going to be especially prone to delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS. In other words, you may wake up the next day feeling stiff and sore. (We have some tips for easing soreness here.) To avoid that, consider doing a shorter or lighter workout than you think you need on your first day.
Instead of doing a bunch of different exercises for the traditional three sets of 10, I decided to pick just a few exercises and do them each for more sets. I also wanted to be sure that I would be in and out of the hotel gym in a predictable amount of time, since I’d be doing this each morning while the rest of my family was waking up and getting ready. So I was already leaning toward something that was time-based.
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I liked the approach in Brian Alsruhe’s RPM program, in which each workout is made up of four 10-minute blocks. (If you want a legit, progressive program that has this structure for each workout, check his out.) In each 10-minute block, you do the exercise at the beginning of each minute, then rest for the remainder of the minute, then go again as soon as you see another set of zeros on the timer. Here’s an online timer that will beep every minute for 10 minutes.
This approach is pretty common in Crossfit and other functional fitness spheres, where it’s known by the acronym “EMOM” (for Every Minute, On the Minute). I especially like it for hotel workouts because it makes the most of light weights. You accumulate fatigue from each minute as you go into the next, making even small dumbbells feel heavy by the end.
I used 10-minute EMOMs for my hotel workouts, but if I were pressed for time I could have done 5-minute EMOMs for the strength moves and easily been in and out of the gym in half an hour. So I’ll present that as an option as well.
So here’s how each workout goes:
That adds up to 40 minutes with the 10-minute option, or 20-25 minutes if you’re doing the five-minute blocks. Add a few minutes to transition between exercises, and your time commitment is about 30 minutes for the short version, and still well under an hour for the long version. If you have more time, you can do extra cardio on a bike or treadmill at the end. (I didn’t do any special warmup to get ready, but you can add a few minutes of cardio or jumping jacks at the beginning if you like.)
In my version, unlike Alsruhe’s, everything is up for modification based on what you prefer or what’s available in that cramped little room. Do the exercises in whatever order makes sense to you (he does legs first). Figure out an appropriate weight as you’re setting up and warming up for the exercise (he has recommended percentages). And I’ll let you choose the reps based on what feels challenging but still allows you to recover by the end of the minute.
If you’d like a rough guideline for variety, pick one exercise each day to be the “heavy” one, and do the others as light or medium. Here’s how I’d rate the reps for each and how they should feel:
Here’s one I did in a gym that only had a rack of dumbbells. If you’re a bigger/stronger person than me and the dumbbells in your gym feel pretty light, go for more reps on the lower body exercise.
When you’re doing single-leg work, like the kickstand RDLs, you could get in more reps by doing them on one leg each set. So, in this example, I could have done 6 reps on the right as one set, then 6 reps on the left in the next set. You’ll want to do an even number of sets, of course: if you’re on the 5-minute version, do this set for 6 minutes so you get three sets on each side.
I didn’t get a chance to do this one, but it’s what I would have done if I had another strength day at the dumbbells-only hotel:
I’m going to give an alternative for the conditioning, because I know a good chunk of you are going to skip the burpees. If you want the easy way out, hop on the treadmill and do a 20-second sprint at the top of each minute, then walk for the remaining 40 seconds.
One of the hotels I stayed in had a cable machine, pull-up bars, dumbbells, kettlebells, and more. I couldn’t do a dumbbell-only workout with all of that other stuff around, so here’s what I did instead:
Want more options? Swap in any of these for push exercises:
And here are some more pull ideas:
Here are some options for legs:
Cardio machines are great for conditioning, so you probably don’t need more ideas for that—just grab an interval workout from YouTube or the fitness app of your choice. But another option would be to do core workouts as your fourth block of the day. Some options there:
For a sustainable routine during your vacation, I would recommend doing one of these full-body strength workouts every other day, and then the days in between, either rest or do some low-intensity cardio (for example, 30 minutes of jogging or incline walking on the treadmill).
Do These Workouts Next Time You're Stuck in a Hotel Gym – Lifehacker