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Improvised Fitness Routines

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No Gear? No Excuses

Like many in consulting and training, the job often takes me on the road for a good part of the year. Staying on a fitness plan can be a challenge. I’ve learned to get it done with little to no gear. Early in my deploying career, many locations were new forward operating bases with very little in the way of workout equipment. I had to come up with creative ways to stay in shape and fight the boredom that arises from the “Ground Hog Day” routine.

Traveling these days, many domestic and international hotels prove to be just as sparse when it comes to fitness equipment. No doubt it’s due to a lawyer somewhere advising against barbells and free-weights due to liability concerns. Listed here are a few of my go-to functional exercises, allowing you to get a workout by using bodyweight, dumbbells, and a few packable pieces of gear.

Despite the current trend, functional fitness is not a new fitness craze. Certain companies have marketed it and built empires on the theme, but the fact remains, the movement and exercises have stayed the same over time, even if recognized by a new name.

Body Weight Movements
Foundationally, you should be able to correctly push, pull, and squat your body weight. Reflect on that. Isolating each muscle group involved with those movements and performing them repeatedly is necessary for functioning in any capacity. Try to perform the movements without “kipping” (the movement that generates momentum through motion). This will minimize injury (especially during the pull-up) and offer a true measure of your strength.

Once you perform these movements correctly, then you can move toward the enhancing and compounding movements, creating more difficulty.

When done correctly, push-ups strengthen the core and engage several important muscle areas: chest, triceps, shoulder, and back.


Start from the ground position. Lay face down, with hands in line with the chest area close to the body. Avoid squeezing the elbows toward the body. Elbows shouldn’t be flared out, but in a neutral position. While keeping the body rigid, legs straight and flexed, feet about shoulder width apart, push your body away from the ground.

At the top of the movement, arms should be at extension with no bend in the elbow. Wrists should be aligned under the shoulder. Shoulders and hips should rise at the same time. At the bottom of the movement, chin and chest should make contact with the ground; this ensures full range of motion for the movement.

Spiderman Push-Up
These are brutal when done correctly. It’s important to first be able to perform a perfect push-up before moving to this progression. The Spiderman push-up requires a great deal of core strength.

Start position is at the top of the push-up with arms locked at extension; back straight and rigid body (legs locked straight). Feet should be slightly outside shoulder width.


As you descend, touch the left knee to your left elbow; rotate your head to look at the left knee, allowing you to get lower in the movement. Lower your body to the ground, but don’t make contact with your chest. As you push-up from the bottom, come to full extension, extending the left leg to the start position, and perform the same movement while alternating to the right side.

Isolate the working muscle and tendon group by not flexing the foot (it should be relaxed). This will allow the focus to be on the hip and hip flexor.

Air Squat
This is one of my go-to exercises, especially for warm-ups. Again, it’s important to get the form down and strengthen the targeted muscle groups before you start any progressions with compounded movements.

Stand with your feet a little wider than hip-width apart, your toes turned out.


Broaden your chest by pulling your shoulder blades in, elongate the spine by picking your chest up and keeping your back flat. Keep your head in a natural position. Bend your knees slowly, pushing your butt and hips out and down behind you, while keeping weight in your heels. Keep your head and shoulders aligned over your knees and your knees aligned over your ankles. Keep your weight balanced evenly between the front and back of your feet.

Lower your body until your thighs are parallel to the ground. Keep tension on your knees, driving outward and/or tracking over your toes; don’t let them fall inward.

As you lower down, raise your arms up and in front of you no higher than parallel to the ground. Drive out of the squat position, keeping the weight in the heels.

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