FF#3: Travel with a Fitness Focus - Improvising  I  (Spring 2011)


Counterposing headstand with a shoulderstand variation.

The Challenge

    Keeping our fitness level high and well-rounded as travelers requires constant improvising.  Our fitness-related needs are in a slow but constant state of flux depending upon our mode of travel, which activities we are emphasizing at the moment, which sport we’ll be doing next, and if we are coaxing along an injury. Even at home in our little “traveler’s apartment” we are pressed for storage and moving-around-space so we always need to keep an eye on versatility and compactness when selecting equipment and activities.

Having A Ball!

    My first yoga teacher way back in the early 1990’s was very eclectic and one of her few but non-traditional props was a basketball. Ever since being introduced to them as yoga aids, I’ve found balls to be a delightful wellness companion.  I loved the ready back massage available by sitting on the floor and arching my back across the ball and before we started traveling, there was always a ball lurking in a corner somewhere in our home. The intense backbend over the ball was always a terrific counter to the hunched forward position that is so seductive for most of us and is compounded in cyclists.

    Use of the ball was reserved for when at home our first 8 years of overseas cyclo-touring but in 2009 Bill bought me a small kid’s beach ball in Italy to rehab my recently dislocated shoulder.  His online research for relief from an especially bad spell of discomfort stressed the benefits of bouncing a ball with the injured arm to recondition it to the stresses of receiving ballistic forces.  About the time my shoulder injury outgrew the need for the ball, Bill discovered that it was far less harsh for back-bending than our homebound basketball, so that ball has traveled with us on his bike ever since.


“Rolling out” tissue knots with a ball instead of a foam roll.

We bought a $4 basketball in Las Vegas the first day of our RV trip in the southwestern US and it saw daily use.  We were both doing headstands regularly and a ball had become an essential prop for us both when doing modified shoulder stands, the requisite headstand counterpose in yogic tradition.

    The Barefoot Running book by Sandler that I was reading on the RV trip extolled the many virtues of ‘rolling out’ knots in leg muscles by massaging on a foam roll. Not wanting to add another bulky prop to our stash, we settled on using the basketball as a substitute. It was probably more intense than a foam roll, but we both achieved the desired results of getting the painful lumps out of our upper legs (ITB’s & medial quads) with our budget-priced ball.

    Sandler also mentioned the benefits of kicking balls or sticks barefoot as a way to toughen up the feet and toes for life on the trail, so we gingerly used our heavy basketball for a little non-competitive barefoot kickball when in the campgrounds in the SW.

    Now we envision traveling with a softer 4-Square ball, both in the RV and when suitcase travelers overseas. An almost pocket-sized bike pump will be easy to carry with the ball and allow us to re-inflate it after being squeezed into a suitcase. It won’t be quite as intense as the basketball, but the lightweight and greater compactness when deflated will make it an acceptable compromise.

Toughening up the toes with barefoot kickball.


    The “P90X Extreme Home Fitness” DVD program we bought from Craig’s List in April of 2011 both recommended and demanded that we do some improvising. Bill had already planned to buy a new latex-free set of exercise bands to replace our disintegrating ones but it hadn’t arrived by the time we needed the bands for the program, especially for the pull-ups.

    Given that we were wildly remedial in the area of pull-ups (I’m still looking forward to doing one), being forced to modify was just fine.  A hefty wooden clothes closet rod we had previously used for air drying laundry proved a perfect intermediate solution for us when positioned between opposing kitchen counters. And a week of very watered down pull-ups before the bands arrived was a relief for both of us.

    A big selling point for me upon seeing the P90X informercial was their use of exercise bands as a substitute for both dumbbells and a pull-up bar. There was no way we’d be dragging around weights with us as travelers but we already packed some bands in our panniers. Even at home we weren’t eager to dedicate space for storing a set of dumbbells because our apartment was already stuffed to the gills.  

    One week into the P90X workout we tumbled to the realization that in addition to the bands, we were going to need the equivalent of folding chairs to do some of the routines in the program.  When in lodging establishments, provided chairs might do and if not, we’d manage with the beds, window sills, counters, or other sturdy pieces of furniture. But anticipating life in a camper with precious little storage space was a different matter. And envisioning keeping folding chairs in uneven gravel from tipping over while supporting ourselves on a single leg was another issue. No doubt a solvable problem, but a good reminder that there is no end to the improvising that’s required to force-fit other people’s regimes into our traveler’s lifestyle.

Exercise band variation of pull-ups.

    As the weeks rolled by with daily use of our P90X DVDs on our little TV, it became clear that we’d need several alternative viewing platforms. The once a week routine that was an hour of bounding on our toes prompted a rude complaint from our downstairs neighbor, so the first improvisation was heading off to the concrete, ground floor laundry room at 6:30 am on those days. Bill copied the workout onto our laptop and we hopped over to the dryer on which it sat for a look when the verbal cueing was insufficient.

  Doing P90X work-outs outdoors in campgrounds would be the next obstacle because the laptop screen might not be up to the challenge of the harsh light and the audio might disturb the morning quiet of our neighbors. To the rescue: Bill bought sport armband holders for his i-Touch with the plan being to record the DVD’s on to it as well, allowing us to periodically peek at the video and listen to the audio with earplugs.

Quad Fix            

    When back from our trip to the SW, our sports massage therapist reminded Bill of the importance for us to do medial quad strengthening. The medial quad development lags behind that of the lateral quad when cycling which creates an imbalance that often results in knee pain. The solution is simple though tedious--leg lifts. Not just any leg lift will do, however. To pump up the medial quad in just the right place requires repeated bending and straightening of the knee at the last 15˚ before full extension or straightening with internal rotation of the foot.

    We both began dutifully doing our leg extensions with our slackline and a couple cans of beans tossed into a heavy duty fabric tote bag for weight. But the jury-rigged alternative to ankle weights was too annoying and we soon ‘forgot’ to do them. But Bill spotted a band option for leg lifts online and bingo, our failing exercise bands made for a much more comfortable and easier to use option that didn’t require buying ankle weights and lugging them around.

Improvising: modified chin ups in the kitchen.

Private Lessons

Our traveling lifestyle that began 10 years ago annihilated my intense yoga practice which for years had included attending classes 6 times a week and teaching even more.  Suddenly the structure provided by my classes was gone and my yoga practice dramatically withered in the face of the demands of cyclotouring.

   But several years ago we started treating ourselves to 1-2 private yoga lessons a year when at home. We share an hour appointment dedicated to detailed corrections on a couple of challenging poses, like headstand. It is no substitute for studying regularly with a teacher but it is a reasonable intermediate solution, yet another way for us to improvise to achieve the results we want while continuing to travel extensively.

Still Working On It

   Setting up our slackline without suitable trees baffled us during our RV trip in the SW. At home, even without our own yard, there were plenty of sturdy, big trees to borrow for our intermittent balance training. But we only succeeded in setting it up once in 2 months while in the SW. There weren’t a lot of trees there and we didn’t trust the root systems of most of the puny ones we saw. We are hoping that when we have our own rig that we’ll be better at improvising. Perhaps we’ll find a way to anchor 1 end of the slackline to the rig and only need 1 instead of 2 attachment points borrowed from the environment. The good news is that even though we don’t practice often, we noticeably improve with every session.

Freestyle--for a moment--on our slackline.

Private lessons to support learning.