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Do These Workouts Next Time You’re Stuck in a Hotel Gym

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.

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Knowing what to do after you arrive at a hotel gym is the next step after learning how to scout one out. You’ll have to make the most of the restricted equipment and, frequently, lighter weights than you might prefer because hotel gyms typically offer very few amenities. But that doesn’t mean you have to work out ineffectively.

On a recent trip, I opted for the convenience of hotel gyms rather than the (also viable) alternative of walking to a nearby full-service gym. I made the decision to enjoy the challenge and put up a set of exercises with the bare minimum of equipment to share with you guys when I got back. I was prepared for the chance that these workouts might not be the world’s most efficient ones, but let me tell you: If you want them to be, these are lethal.

These are exercises, not a training regimen.

First of all, the exercises I’m discussing are workouts, not a course of action. These exercises can be performed at home if you’d like, but they don’t build on one another with a steady focus or progression. They only provide you with a means of remaining active, robust, and healthy for however long your vacation may go.

You should also be aware that you are more likely to experience delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS, anytime you perform exercises that are unfamiliar to you. In other words, you might feel stiff and sore the next morning. (Here are some suggestions for reducing soreness.) Consider performing a lighter or shorter workout on your first day to avoid it.

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The hotel’s exercise equipment

I made the decision to choose just a few exercises and perform them individually for more sets rather than performing a variety of activities for the customary three sets of ten. Due to the fact that I would be exercising every morning while the rest of my family was getting ready for the day, I also wanted to make sure that I would enter and exit the hotel gym in a predictable amount of time. I was therefore already inclined toward something time-based.

The RPM program by Brian Alsruhe, which divides each workout into four 10-minute intervals, has a method I appreciated. (Check out his program if you want a real, progressive one with this organization for each exercise.) You perform the exercise at the start of each minute during each 10-minute block, take a minute to relax, and then begin the program again as soon as the timer displays another set of zeros. Here is a 10-minute internet timer that beeps once per minute.

This method is fairly popular in the Crossfit and other functional training communities, where it goes by the abbreviation “EMOM” (for Every Minute, On the Minute). Because it makes the most of modest weights, I particularly appreciate it for exercises in hotels. As you move into the following minute, your exhaustion builds, and by the finish, even light weights feel heavy.

I worked out in the hotel using 10-minute EMOMs, but if I hadn’t had enough time, I could have done the strength exercises in 5-minute EMOMs and left the gym in no more than 30 minutes. I’ll also offer that as a possibility.

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Here is how each exercise session goes:

Push exercises for a block of five to ten minutes.

Pull movements for a block of five to ten minutes.

Leg exercises for a block of five to ten minutes.

One block of conditioning for ten minutes (or five to ten minutes for core) totals forty minutes with the ten-minute option and twenty to twenty-five minutes with the five-minute option. Your time commitment will be around 30 minutes for the short version and still considerably under an hour for the lengthy version after allowing a few minutes to transition between exercises. If you still have time, finish up with some additional exercise on a bike or treadmill. (I didn’t perform a specific warm-up to prepare, but if you want, you can start with some cardio or jumping jacks.)

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In my version, unlike Alsruhe’s, everything can be changed depending on your preferences or what is available in that small, claustrophobic space. The order in which you complete the exercises is up to you (he does legs first). As you are getting ready and warming up for the workout, determine an adequate weight (he has recommended percentages). And I’ll leave it up to you to decide which reps feel difficult to you while yet allowing you to recover by the end of the minute.

Pick one exercise per day to be the “heavy” one, and perform the others as light or medium if you’d like a general guideline for diversity. Here is how I would grade each representative and how they ought to feel:

Heavy: Three reps per set; at this point, you should sit down.

Medium: 5 reps per set; you feel rather good about yourself and are grateful for the 30 second break.

Light: 8+ reps each set, respectable, and you could continue after a little break.

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Exercise No. 1: Dumbbells only

Here’s one I completed in a gym with just a dumbbell rack. Go for additional repetitions on the lower body exercise if you’re stronger or bigger than I am and the weights in your gym feel pretty light.

Push: five sets of dumbbell bench press (I used 35 pounds to start, and then dropped to 30 toward the end).

5 repetitions per set for (I used 35 pounds to start, and then dropped to 30 toward the end). 8 repetitions of the dumbbell pullover per set (I used a 20 pound dumbbell).

8 repetitions per set (I used a 20 pound dumbbell). Legs: kickstand Romanian deadlifts with the rear leg serving as support and the front leg serving as the working leg. Using the front leg as the working leg and the back leg for support, I performed 3+3 reps with a pair of 40-pound dumbbells (three on the right, three on the left, then a brief rest). I performed 3+3 reps with a pair of 40-pound dumbbells (three on the right, three on the left, then rest). 5 thrusters per minute with 2 25-pounders for conditioning. This exercise is more about exerting enough effort to raise your heart rate than it is about having the strength to lift the weights. Consider it HIIT.

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You might complete more repetitions by performing single-leg exercises, for as kickstand RDLs, on just one leg during each set. In this case, I may have performed 6 repetitions on the right in one set and 6 repetitions on the left in the following set. Naturally, you should perform an even number of sets; for example, if the exercise is a 5-minute version, complete the set in 6 minutes to achieve three sets on each side.

Exercise No. 2: Dumbbells only

If I had another strength day at the hotel that allowed only dumbbells, I would have done the following exercise, which I was unable to do:

Push: Perform 3-5 sets of dumbbell incline presses. Pull: Perform 5-8 repetitions of dumbbell rows (or kroc rows). Regular rows are acceptable if the dumbbells are too light for you. Kroc rows are fantastic since you can go heavy and explosively.

(or standard dumbbell rows) for a total of 5-8 repetitions. Regular rows are acceptable if the dumbbells are too light for you. Kroc rows are fantastic since you can go heavy and explosively. Legs: Perform Bulgarian split squats for 5-8 reps per leg, elevating your back foot on a bench throughout each rep. Burpee conditioning: 100 or 10 minutes, whichever comes first. If you’d like, you can perform these EMOM exercises: 10 (or as many as you can) per minute.

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Since I know that many of you will forego the burpees, I’ll offer an option for the conditioning. If you want to go the simple route, get on the treadmill and sprint for 20 seconds at the start of each minute before walking for the final 40 seconds.

If you have a cable machine, try exercise #3.

I stayed at a hotel with a cable machine, pull-up bars, dumbbells, kettlebells, and other exercise equipment. With all of that other equipment present, I was unable to perform a dumbbell-only workout, so I did the following instead:

pull: three pullups per minute for one minute. (For reference, on a good day I can perform 10 pullups. Just aim for a number you can perform repeatedly; you’re not attempting to reach the maximum here.) Use the cable machine to perform a pulldown exercise instead.

for 3 repetitions per minute. (For reference, on a good day I can perform 10 pullups. Just aim for a number you can perform repeatedly; you’re not attempting to reach the maximum here.) Use the cable machine to perform a pulldown exercise instead. Push: five standing kettlebell overhead presses at a minute. You could use a set of dumbbells, but the two heaviest kettlebells at the gym, which weighed 25 and 30 pounds, are more interesting and provide more variety. Yes, the weight was inconsistent; I alternated sides after each set of five reps. You could use a set of dumbbells, but the two heaviest kettlebells at the gym, which weighed 25 and 30 pounds, are more interesting and provide more variety. The weight was unbalanced, and I switched sides after each set. Legs: 5 reps of zerchers using the cable machine. Do you remember that cable machine straight bar attachment? I did 5 reps per minute of a really heavy squat while holding it in the crooks of my elbows after hooking up both sides. Do you remember that cable machine straight bar attachment? Conditioning: bike intervals. I hooked up both sides and held it in the crooks of my elbows for a nice hefty squat. Or, to be more precise: I rode the Peloton for a 10-minute rise. (There was a real Peloton at this hotel.) You could also use a standard bike like this one and download a 10-minute ride from YouTube.

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More suggestions for hotel fitness

Need more choices? Replace any of the following with pushups:

Z-press with a pair of dumbbells or a single dumbbell while seated on the ground with your legs straight.

Pushups with the hands or feet raised as necessary (hands up is easier, feet up is harder)

between two benches, dips (or on dip bars, if available)

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Here are some further pull suggestions:

cable rows, half-kneeling with one hand or crouching with both

Dumbbell rows at an angle

rows with a chest support on an inclined bench

Following are some choices for legs:

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Glass squats

Step-ups (with or without dumbbells)

Performing somersault squats is a terrific way to engage your quadriceps if you did a hinge exercise yesterday.

stepping lunges

You definitely don’t need any further ideas for conditioning as cardio machines are excellent for that; simply download an interval workout from YouTube or your preferred fitness app. However, performing core exercises during your fourth block of the day is an additional choice. There are some options:

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With the heaviest dumbbells you can find, Farmer’s carries EMOM (I would say this is a combination of core and conditioning)

Crunches and supermans should each receive a minute, then you should repeat.

Any of the three-move core exercises from this post should be performed. Nine minutes is plenty of time for three rounds.

I suggest completing one of these full-body strength workouts every other day to maintain a program while you’re away, and on the days in between, you should either relax or do some light cardio (for example, 30 minutes of jogging or incline walking on the treadmill).

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