How To Get A Good Workout In A Crappy Hotel Gym

Photo: linvoyage

Some hotels try more than others, but no hotel “fitness center” can match a fully equipped gym. You’ve got your treadmill, your elliptical, and usually a few dumbbells. Anything beyond that is a rare bonus. Here’s how to get a decent workout in.

Know Your Options

You might not actually be stuck with the fitness center. Ask about a pool, consider running on local streets, and be sure to check whether the hotel has any deals with neighbouring actual gyms — sometimes guests get a discount or a free pass.

Survive the Cardio Slog

If you love treadmills, you’ve probably already stopped reading. So, for the rest of us, there are two ways you can spend a half hour on a cardio machine without losing your mind.

One is to let your mind go somewhere else. Watch a movie on your phone, or better yet, a tablet. Try to forget that you’re on an elliptical machine rather than a couch.

The other is to break up the workout into segments too short to bore you. Some options:

  • On a treadmill, I like to alternate between two paces: a tempo pace (a bit faster than I’d usually run), and the fastest I can walk (for me, that’s 6km/h). Two minutes tempo, one minute fast walk, and it averages out to about the same pace as an easy run.

  • Do the guided run called “Run fast. Repeat.” in the Nike Running Club app. It’s 30-second intervals with 60 seconds of rest, for 40 straight minutes. A friendly coach encourages you the whole way.

  • For other cardio machines, I like the Classpass Go app (free on iOS and Android, no subscription required). There are guided workouts for elliptical machines, indoor cycling, and rowing.

Lift Those Tiny Weights

If you’ve got dumbbells, you can do a weight workout, even if they’re smaller than you’d normally use. A million reps with light weights can be just as effective at building strength as fewer reps with heavy weights.

Bodyweight fitness is another option (which you can do in your hotel room, if there is no official gym present). Here’s our guide to building the perfect bodyweight workout. Not sure where to start? Try this 15-minute bodyweight workout. Repeat it two or three times, throw in a little treadmill jog between sets, and you’ve got yourself a solid circuit workout.

Reddit’s r/fitness has an entire thread on strength workouts you can do with limited equipment. Last time I found myself in a hotel gym, I did one of the workouts I found there. I had a weight bench and dumbbells up to 25 pounds. Here’s how it went:

  • Split squat (with my back foot on the bench), 3 sets of 8 reps.

  • Bench press with the biggest dumbbells they had, 3 sets of 8+ reps. (If there’s no bench, you can rest your back on an exercise ball or just lie on the floor.)

  • Dumbbell rows, with one arm and knee on the bench and your back parallel to the floor, 3 sets of 8 reps

  • Reverse fly, 3 sets of 10 reps

  • Calf raises, 2 sets of 15 reps (Hold weights, or do them unweighted on one foot at a time)

  • Overhead triceps extension, 2 sets of 10 reps

Bring Accessories

There’s no law saying you have to limit yourself to what’s in the gym. Bring a set of resistance bands or one of those suspension trainers you can hang off a door frame. Use them in the fitness center, or work out in your room if your choice of lodging offers nothing but a post-workout continental breakfast.


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