By Julianna King & Savannah Kaminski
As a powerlifter, when you aren’t lifting what do you love to do? Personally, one of my favorite aspects of life is traveling. I love to experience new foods, beautiful locations, and rich cultures whenever I can.
It is no secret though. Planning times to go to the gym and get a workout in can add a whole new level of stress to the itinerary. Especially if you are traveling to an unfamiliar area. Sometimes there may be a meet on the horizon and the need to train is simply unavoidable. Other times lifting ends up going on the back burner to free up more time to enjoy the traveling experience. Both things are completely okay and depend on the timing and the lifter.
I have been an avid member of the powerlifting world as both an athlete and a coach for almost ten years now. As a traveler and an athlete myself, I realize that when it comes to traveling every person, place, and situation is going to come with different challenges. So as you are planning for your vacations this summer, here are tips I have learned over the years. I’m here to give you peace of mind instead of guilt over missing your next deadlift session.
Last year, I took a month off of training to take part in a once-in-a-lifetime study abroad trip in Italy. That was a no-brainer to do – but with us traveling from place to place and my own want to participate fully in the experience, I didn’t plan to train the entire time. This decision wasn’t made lightly as I experienced all the same fears as you might.
How much weight am I going to lose off my lifts? How long will it take to build back up? Will I be able to sit back and relax or will I feel the constant presence of gym-guilt the entire time?
At the end of the day though, whether the trip is big or small, these experiences outside of the gym are as vital to my well-being as being in the gym is. Exploring new places, new cultures, and experiencing the world provides clarity and comfort to my life – but that doesn’t mean it didn’t make me nervous to push aside training. Especially since it’s such a large part of my normal routine. When it comes to a decision like this, it’s important to remember not to set aside your life. Don’t throw away life-altering experiences simply because you don’t know where the nearest barbell will be in the next 3 weeks.
Since the gym is such a big part of our lives at home it can be easy to think it can be just as easy to lift on vacation. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as it sounds. There are several stressors that come into play from the beginning.
Some examples may be:
You may be with other people who play a role in the scheduling.
You may not have control of the scheduling.
You may be in an area that lacks the equipment you’re looking for.
You may not be in an area that welcomes visitors to their gym locations.
You may have a schedule that doesn’t allow time to structure training in.
You may not want to train during your travels.
These situations are all valid, and most of them are out of our hands. I have been in travel scenarios where all of these have applied. While the pressure to train or fear of “losing your gains” may loom over your head prior to, during, or after your experience. Planning to train in these scenarios can only add to the stress. Sometimes it can even make you dread aspects of your trip or your training.
So how do you handle this? After being in all of these scenarios at least once, here are my tips for traveling and training:
1.) Recognize that you’re not going to “lose all your gains.”
Research has shown that within up to 28 days of no training, absolute strength seems to be minimally affected. That’s a whole month of time where you can sit back and enjoy looking at the Eiffel Tower instead of trying to find a gym with a one-day guest pass. After 28 days, there is an accelerated effect, but it’s also the strength that can be quickly rebuilt once you get back into a consistent routine at home. Monthly Applications in Strength Sport has summarized several articles and reviews highlighting this topic – most recently in Volume 7, Issue 6 where Dr. Eric Trexler notes in the research review that:
“If you’re worried about losing all of your gains during a short break from training, rest assured that losses of strength or muscle mass tend to be small and extremely temporary during detraining periods ranging from a few days to a few weeks. Finally, if you’re very concerned about losing your gains during a period of reduced training volume or limited training opportunities, remember that even a little bit of physical activity or structured training can go a very long way when the goal is maintenance (rather than progress).”
Your next question may be this… If absolute strength isn’t significantly affected for over 28 days, then why am I coming back from my weeklong vacation in the Bahamas feeling like I can’t even squat 50% of my 1RM?
The research isn’t as straightforward with muscle mass – however, the main idea is that you likely come back from vacation feeling “flat” or “weak” because of the decrease in muscle blood flow and glycogen content. This feeling is present simply because you’re not using your muscles in the same way – meaning the endurance you built to carry that 315 lbs squat on your back is what has decreased more so than your actual strength. While you may feel weak at the moment this is not the end of your powerlifting career. Within a few weeks of being back on the program, you’ll be back and better than ever. So enjoy the rest, enjoy the variety of activities, and enjoy the new experiences. Your favorite gym, rack, and barbell will be waiting for you when you come home.
2.) Ask yourself what the priority is.
- Do you NEED to train (i.e., you are in meet prep)? If yes, then…
- Scope out the area: Sometimes it takes sitting down for 30 minutes and just searching everything near your location. It may not be an ‘optimal’ training setting, but this is not the time to be picky with equipment.
- Simplify your program to the vitals: This is a discussion with the coach, but oftentimes, this includes the compound lifts. Having a coach to guide and prescribe in this scenario can be extremely helpful.
- Communicate with and collaborate with your travel partners: if you’re traveling with someone, it’s important to work with them on making time for the gym – even if they’re not going with you. Go into the conversation with honesty and transparency – and be open to having the conversation about what is feasible.
- Understand you may have to make sacrifices: these will look different for every scenario – it could be giving up 45 minutes of beach time, it could be waking up early when everyone else is sleeping, it could be saying yes to some things and no to others. Check out our blog post about training mindset too to help with this.
- Would you LIKE to train? (i.e. access is available, minimal barriers, etc.) If yes, then…
- Simplify your program to the vitals: This still stands. Your training time may be shorter (or you want it to be shorter) if you’re exploring/doing other activities.
- Collaborate with your travel partners: Again, don’t leave people in the dark. Talk with them about your intentions/wishes. See what makes the most sense.
- Work it in: Similar to above, there may be sacrifices – but in this case, if it’s not an absolute necessity, don’t sacrifice more than you need. Training is important, but so is enjoying whatever you’re doing in your time away.
- If you DON’T NEED/WANT to train: If this is the case, then…
- Enjoy your travels: Some of these experiences may be once-in-a-lifetime opportunities or may be some of the only long-term rest you may see for months. Enjoy them.
- Find movement where you can: There are vacations and there is traveling. These may look like two different things to you. Going to Europe and going to Cancun will probably result in two different types of activities. Whether it’s 20,000 steps a day, hiking new trails, or simply going for a swim in the pool, find movement where you can and make it natural. Even if it’s a rest-and-relax-focused vacation, get in the water. Go for a walk. Say yes to the excursion.
- When you return…
- Go light the first week back… I mean it!: The first week back should be an introduction week. You’re going to want to be doing less volume and less intensity and allow yourself to get accustomed to the gym. The goal this week is NOT to induce the burn of your life. If you want to get back to normal training, you want to keep it light and reduce soreness to allow you to train through the whole week.
- Build back up: Depending upon the length of your training cessation, it may take some time to build back up. It’s easy to get frustrated by this – but remember, at the end of the day, training will be there and your body will get back.
- View it as an opportunity: I’ve seen several instances (including within myself) where people go on a longer period of training cessation and upon returning, within a few months they’ve overcome plateaus and/or are right back where they were prior to their break in training. The body is incredibly adaptable – but you also have to let it adapt.
3.) Don’t forget to enjoy life.
One of my favorite things about powerlifting is the knowledge that the gym will be there. It’s not going anywhere. Routine and consistency are, by far, some of the most important aspects to making training progress. However, don’t sacrifice all other aspects of life for it.