hotel gym, working out while travelling, gym, exercise, training

Currently, I’m seated in a large metal tube roughly 10 km above sea level, hurtling through the air at 560 knots. Somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean, it dawned on me that for the next 7 days, I’ll be away from my gym. 

Now, I’m on my way to Wichita Falls Athletic Club in Texas, for a biennial seminar audit to maintain my Starting Strength Coach certification. So I’ve no doubt that there’s everything I need to continue training as usual and that the equipment will be excellent.

Over the last couple of years, since COVID stopped being a hindrance to travel, our clients have been going abroad more frequently for both business and pleasure. For the majority of these clients, good quality barbell strength training equipment isn’t something they’ll have convenient access to while they’re travelling. Often, they try to hit PRs or train hard right until their trip, and are concerned about losing their gains or regressing in their training when they travel. 

As a result, I’ve been asked this question quite a bit recently, “What can I do to train while on my trip or how do I keep up with training if I don’t have access to barbells?”

What if there’s only a hotel gym? 

In a perfect world, you’d pack your training gear, find a proper barbell strength training gym close to your hotel and carry on with your usual training. But we know that’s not always feasible.

Barbell training has gained popularity over the last decade, so a quick Google search, for example, “Barbell strength training gym near me” or “Barbell strength training gym in (insert city)” should yield suitable results. 

Unless you’re in the middle of nowhere, once you’re in a city, chances are there’ll be a gym with barbells not too far away.

But let’s assume that travelling to a gym isn’t possible while on your trip. Maybe you have a busy schedule, so commuting to a proper gym isn’t feasible unless it’s right across from the hotel. Realistically, most will probably end up at the hotel’s gym.

The problem is, most hotel gyms aren’t up to scratch for barbell strength training, and understandably so. What you can do will be limited by what equipment the hotel gym has. I think I’ve only ever seen 2-3 hotels with barbells and racks in my entire life. The average hotel gym usually only has cardio equipment like treadmills and stationary bikes, some dumbbells (usually not very heavy) and some machines. 

If the hotel gym is your only viable option, what can you do there?

Guidelines for training in a hotel gym

When you’re back home, you train for strength. But when you’re travelling, because hotel gyms lack the requisite equipment, switch it up and train like a bodybuilder.

So what does it mean to train like a bodybuilder? In general, you’re going to be chasing a pump, doing the exercises for higher reps to failure and keeping rest times short (which also helps get you out of the gym faster and get on with your trip). 

In order of preference, your hotel gym workouts should prioritise dumbbells, then machines, then finally bodyweight exercises.

The underlying principle is to choose exercises that use the most muscle mass and joints, and allow you to lift the most load. This criteria will select for the exercises that more closely mimic the basic barbell lifts. For example, we would rather choose the dumbbell bench press instead of, say, dumbbell flys or the machine pec fly. Or a leg press instead of the leg extension/leg curl machine. While push-ups do engage roughly the same muscles as a bench press, there’s no external resistance, so I’d choose to do the machine bench press over it. 


Dumbbells can be used as an external resistance to do loaded human movement patterns. Basically, you’d use them to perform the dumbbell lifts that mimic barbell lifts as closely as possible. 

For example, by doing goblet squats in lieu of the usual barbell back squat. But if you’ve been training with us for a bit, the weight is most likely going to be limited by how much your hands can hold or the heaviest dumbbell in the gym instead of how much you can actually squat. Alternatively, you can do weighted Bulgarian squats or lunges.

Similarly, you can replace the press with the dumbbell press, and the bench press with the dumbbell bench press. Or Romanian deadlifts holding dumbbells instead of the usual deadlift.

An additional benefit of using dumbbells over machines and bodyweight exercises is that you’ll need to work hard to control the balance of the dumbbells, even more so than barbells. Anyone who’s done both barbell and dumbbell bench knows that you can’t simply halve the weight of your barbell bench and apply that to two dumbbells. Because the dumbbells aren’t connected like a barbell and can move around independent of each other, it requires more work to maintain its balance, which will limit the amount of weight you can lift.


Machines usually isolate and exercise body parts or muscle groups. It forces you to move in a constrained movement pattern that’s decided by the manufacturer, rather than you controlling your movement according to your anthropometry and movement model.

Depending on the type of machine, they’re preferred in general over bodyweight exercises because they provide external resistance. 


This is the least preferred option, because we can’t increase the resistance. The only way to make bodyweight exercises harder is to do more reps or manipulate the speed by pausing or going slowly. We much prefer to increase external resistance. 

However, if you’re in a very small or simple gym that only has some cardio machines and none of the equipment above, then bodyweight exercises will work in a pinch.

While the order of preference is dumbbells –> machines –> bodyweight, you don’t have to stick to just one type – you can mix and match as you like. 

Don’t get too hung up about it. This is just some physical activity to tide over your trip, until you can get back to proper training at your own gym.

Some example plans you can adapt

I’m actually very reluctant to show examples of what each type of exercise looks like. I don’t want you to latch onto a template and blindly follow it, instead of understanding the underlying principles and coming up with a program that works for you and your situation. 

With that said, here are two very simple example plans, one using dumbbells, and one using your bodyweight. Please adapt them as necessary. Because the machines differ from gym to gym, I’m not going to write a sample program using machines.

Hotel gym with dumbbells

Goblet Squat/Bulgarian Split Squats/Lunges

As heavy as possible (either your capability or the gym’s availability) x As many reps as possible (AMRAP) x 3 – 4 sets

Dumbbell Press/Dumbbell Bench Press

As heavy as possible (either your capability or the gym’s availability) x AMRAP x 3 – 4 sets

Romanian Deadlifts (RDL)

As heavy as possible (either your capability or the gym’s availability) x AMRAP x 2 – 3 sets

Chin Up/Pull Up

3 – 4 sets x AMRAP

Curls/Tricep Extensions

3 – 4 sets x 8 – 10 reps

Bodyweight only

Bulgarian Split Squat/Lunges/Pistol Squat

3 – 4 sets x AMRAP

Push Up (you can vary your hand width)

3 – 4 sets x AMRAP

Chin Up/Pull Up

3 – 4 sets x AMRAP

To train or not to train?

Some people are Team #NoDaysOff and hate to miss training, even on a holiday. If that’s you, do be considerate and wake up early to get your training done before everyone else gets up. Don’t be a twat and piss your family off by disappearing for hours multiple times during the trip, and make everyone’s holiday schedule work around your training. 

For most people, holidays occur only periodically. What I’m saying is, it’s ok to take a short break once in a while and not train for a bit. Enjoy your holiday. We’ll help you restart when you’re back. Depending on the length of your trip, you’ll probably need to take some weight off, but you’ll get back up there before you know it.

However, if you’re preparing for a meet (especially one that’s important to you) and you’re travelling for more than a couple of days, you’d want to carry on with training while on your trip. That means packing your training gear and looking for gyms that offer what you need to train – you gotta do what you gotta do if you want to perform at your best at the meet.

If you have to travel frequently for business and are away for more than a couple of days at a stretch, you’d ideally want to get some exercise in while you’re abroad. So follow the above recommendations when you’re away and resume training with barbells once you’re back home.  

To train or not to train while you’re away? If you’re going to train, what should you do? Assess your individual situation and decide which course of action will work best towards your goals and schedule. In any case, our gym will be waiting for you when you get back. 

If you travel frequently and would like guidance with your training, we offer online coachingContact us to find out more.


My interest in fitness started when I was around 19 years old. Being overweight for most of my growing up years, I decided to do something about it. After months of not being able to achieve the desired results, I began poring through books and articles about training and nutrition. The more I read, the more interested I became in this field, and got better results when the the newly discovered knowledge was applied. After 1 year of persistence and hard work, I lost 24kg and felt fantastic. The sense of achievement motivated me to pursue a career in working with people to help them achieve their own fitness goals.

After achieving my weight loss goal, I tried a variety of training programs for a few years, looking for a new goal to train towards. After aimlessly moving around from program to program, I chanced upon a book called Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training, written by renowned strength and conditioning expert, Mark Rippetoe. Little did I know that this book was about to change my life and coaching career.

At that point, I had experience training with barbells and was relatively familiar with it but never have I come across any material that gave such explicitly detailed explanations of how to perform the barbell lifts. I devoured the book and modified my lifting technique and program. In just a few months, I was pleasantly surprised by how much stronger he had become. I now had a new goal to work towards – getting strong.

With full confidence in the efficacy of the Starting Strength methodology, I began coaching my clients using this program and got them stronger than they ever thought was possible. The consistent success my clients achieved through the program cemented my confidence in Mark Rippetoe’s teachings. I then decided to pursue the credential of being a Starting Strength Coach and I’m currently the first and only certified coach in Singapore and South-East Asia

In my 9 years of experience, I have given talks and ran programs at numerous companies and worked with a diverse group clientele of all ages with a variety of goals. Today, I specialise in coaching people in their 40s, 50s and beyond because it brings me a great sense of satisfaction to be part of the process of improving this demographics’ health and quality of life by getting them stronger.