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Add Exercise to Your Conference Schedule

When you make plans to travel to an academic conference, your foremost concerns are likely to be intellectual or logistical: how can I trim down this chapter into a 20-minute talk? how can I get someone to cover for my Thursday classes so I can attend the first day’s plenary? (or, in today’s economic climate, how can I stretch my travel budget to cover this conference?)

But let’s imagine for the moment that you’ve been accepted to the conference of your choice, it doesn’t conflict with your teaching schedule, and your presentation is already written. 

What else do you have to think about besides what to wear?  

If you already have a regular exercise routine, or are just starting one, travel of any sort can be disruptive if you don’t think ahead a little bit.   So here are a few ideas for how to integrate exercise into your conference experience.

Establish your tonic level of exercise.
I learned this concept from The Athlete’s Way,  a fascinating, if a bit eccentric, book by ultramarathoner Christopher Bergland.  Your tonic level of exercise is the minimum amount you need to do in order to feel good and function well.   Basically, it involves taking a realistic look at how to shift your priorities when necessary.  If you’re used to running 10 miles a day but won’t have time to do that at the conference, maybe a quick 3 miles will still let you feel good.   Since you can’t bring your favorite Pilates teacher with you in your suitcase, maybe you can select a few exercises to do on the floor of your hotel room.  You’re only going to be at a conference for a few days, and your fitness level won’t vanish if you just scale back a little bit.

Something is better than nothing.
If you’re new to exercise, can’t imagine having a tonic level of exercise, or know that your conference experience will involve several late nights, doughnuts and too much coffee from the snack table, and restaurant dinners with friends, then this is the most important tip.  Just do something, even if it’s small:  some stretches and strength exercises done in the privacy of your hotel room, no equipment necessary, can do wonders for your neck, back, and attitude.

Consider your options.
Larger hotels tend to have gyms or fitness centers on the premises.  These vary widely, and if it’s important to you that your hotel have a swimming pool or certain kinds of fitness equipment, I’d recommend telephoning to confirm that whatever the website says really is true and that the pool will be open during your stay.  Typically you can expect at least a treadmill, maybe a stairstepper or elliptical, and sometimes some multipurpose weight machines.   You probably won’t be able to do the full workout  you’d do at your usual gym, but you can do some basic things.

If you’re a runner, ask the hotel staff for a recommended safe running route.  Many conference hotels are located in iffy areas and you want to know what the locals recommend.  Runtheplanet.com and run.com can also provide suggested running routes.

There’s a lot you can do in the privacy of your hotel room.  Use one of those extra bath towels as a mat on the floor and do some basic stretches, yoga poses, or body-weight strength training.   Some useful resources include:

  • marathoner and  fitness trainer Jonathan Roche’s No Excuses workout plan combines interval training and body weight strength training.  A free 6-minute workout sheet is available  from his website.
  • circuit training, in which you use a set of lighter weight dumbbells and perform a series of strength moves with minimal rest, is a highly time-efficient way to combine strength and cardio work.  Kim Lyons’s Your Body, Your Life offers a good introduction and sample circuit plans.
  • core strength training is essential for people who spend a lot of time sitting, and can easily be done in your hotel room without fancy equipment.  Physical therapist Peggy Brill’s The Core Program offers an excellent 15-minute workout plan suitable for new or experienced exercisers.   For more committed athletes, I’d also recommend Mark Verstegen’s Core Performance, which provides plans for every aspect of athletic performance: range of motion, flexibility, strength, and endurance.  An online training program is also available.
  • Yoga Journal’s website offers a variety of print and podcast yoga workouts.
  • the 100 pushups training program offers a training plan designed to improve anyone’s strength and stamina, as well as an iphone app.

And, if you pack your resistance bands and running shoes, but wind up choosing to sleep late instead during your conference, you’ll still be OK.  Ease up on the free doughnuts, do a few pushups, and head out for a workout on your first morning home.

(cc licensed image from flickr user minorissues)

Do you exercise when you travel to conferences, or do you pull up to the doughnut table? let us know in the comments!

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