I took two weeks off work around Christmas. I spent the first touring Arizona, and the second at my parents’ farm in Ohio. After a 605lb deadlift PR in early December, I felt like a break from the gym. Plus, I did not workout for the three weeks I spent driving up the east coast in 2018. Gym access did not factor into this trip’s planning process either, and so over those fifteen days, I worked out three times. Today, I want to share some thoughts about fitness on the road.
The Why #
First, the why. I used to say I got into weightlifting because cardio took too much upkeep. Skip a few runs and watch that mile time go up. It took much longer, I said, to see those kinds of losses in strength. Most articles agree, but I have had doubts for a while now. My Arizona trip reinforced those doubts, and digging into actual research confirmed them. From Inigo Mujika and Sabino Padilla, in their 2000 paper Muscular characteristics of detraining in humans:
“Strength performance in general is readily maintained for up to 4 wk of inactivity, but highly trained athletes’ eccentric force and sport-specific power, and recently acquired isokinetic strength, may decline significantly.” Source.
And from Randal Wilber and Robert Moffatt, in their 1994 paper Physiological and Biochemical Consequences of Detraining in Aerobically Training Individuals:
“... highly conditioned individuals appear to retain some of the benefits derived from endurance training despite remaining inactive for as long as 12 weeks. ... Conversely, in previously sedentary, moderately trained persons, training related adaptations are completely reversed to pretraining levels after approximately 10 weeks of inactivity.” Source.
Not only had I gotten this backwards, I could expect to lose strength 2 to 3 times faster than conditioning. To make matters worse, I saw those losses even faster than Mujika and Padilla predicted. Based on my break in 2018, my brief return to conditioning last year, and my most recent trip, I lose about 10 pounds across each lift per week of rest. If I trade weightlifting for cardio, instead of just taking time off, that number goes up to about 25 pounds across my bench press, deadlift, and squat. It then takes around 1.5x the rest period to recoup my losses: it took three weeks to get back to my pre-holiday levels. I can now begin preparing for new PRs.
In short, rest costs 10lb per week across the board, and then I have to spend almost twice that long recouping my losses. If this does not make a compelling case for some sort of workout regimen even while traveling, nothing will.
The How #
The need for a travel fitness plan became clear after my last trip, and it would have taken little to make it happen. On day one, I could have gone anywhere on my way out of Phoenix. Even Sedona and Flagstaff, mid-size towns in the mountains, had gyms. I would have had to go without at the Grand Canyon, but I could have tolerated a CrossFit gym in Page the next day before going back to Flagstaff, Sedona, and then Phoenix. Would this have taken away from the trip? If I thought of 8 A.M. wake-ups after watching Slay Bells on Lifetime until midnight a crucial part of the Arizona experience, yes — but I don’t, so no. I should have made better use of those hours. Would it have cost a lot? Maybe. Should I have done it anyway? Yes; will I next time? Yes again.
As I look back on this trip to Arizona, and start to think about the next adventure, I have decided to make gym access a real planning consideration. Weightlifting has become a big part of my life. At home, I like to say it is the hill I choose to die on: the one thing I will always do, no matter what happens. As I set my sights on the Canadian backwoods next, I may not have the luxury of such rigidity — but from now on, if not the hill I die on, I will at least defend it.