Gains On the Go: Your Guide to Muscle Growth While Traveling

By Matt Villanueva

Dr. Matt Gaston Villanueva, Ph.D.

Be assured: once you’ve finished this article, never again will you have to worry about losing your hard-earned gains while you travel. For one, not having access to a gym or a lot of training equipment will no longer be a reason to miss a workout (thank goodness!), especially while you’re on the road. Second, when you’re on-the-go, there are specific and crucial nutritional “quick-fixes” that can boost your performance and keep your body’s anabolic switch turned on.


To design training protocols for your travels, focus on four primary elements.

  1. First, think Minimal Equipment: Your workouts can, in fact, be completed with the use of your own body weight and either a pair of dumbbells or a single kettlebell.
  2. Second, be aware of Time Efficiency: Your workouts need to be effective and efficient and can easily be completed in under 45 minutes, including a 5- to 10-minute warm-up.
  3. Third, focus on Intensity: Your workouts should be flat-out hard. You won’t stand around much, you will sweat, and you should step outside of your comfort zone. A relatively short session means you have to train with an all-out mindset.
  4. Finally, target your Total Body: Your workouts should hit the entire body and primary (large) muscle groups. Emphasize multi-joint exercises, and take a balanced attack approach by selecting a battery of exercises that work (opposing) muscle groups for both the upper and lower body.  

Minimal Equipment: As counterintuitive as this may sound, some of my best workouts have taken place on-the-road with only the use of my body weight and a single “tool,” such as one kettlebell. What makes this maximally effective, though, is the weight/load you choose. While load specificity depends upon several factors, including your relative strength level and training experience with certain types of equipment, here are some general guidelines to consider.

  • For Men: Select a kettlebell or two-dumbbell load that is equivalent to between 30% and 40% of your body weight. For example, in general: a 200-lb. man would select a kettlebell between 60 and 80 lbs. or a pair of 30-40 lb. dumbbells.
  • For Women: Select a kettlebell or two-dumbbell load that is equivalent to between 20% and 35% of your body weight. For example, in general: a 125-lb. woman would select a kettlebell between 25 and 45 lbs. or a pair of 12.5-20 lb. dumbbells.

Whether male or female, select a load that you can move well and without stopping. In other words, this load should be challenging, but it shouldn’t be so challenging that you break your form for any given upper body or lower body exercise. Along these lines, you should be able to train proficiently with this load for at least 30 seconds without stopping.

Time Efficiency: Travel often means you’re on vacation or at work, and no one necessarily wants or needs an inordinate dose of training time to interfere with the other main objectives and purposes of the trip. Accordingly, I outline three different and highly effective work:rest templates — use the option that best suits you and your current state of fitness — that will leave you feeling pushed, challenged, AND unstoppable after a fast and furious training session.

  1. Do repeat bouts of 30 seconds of non-stop work with 10 seconds of passive rest.
  2. Do repeat bouts of 45 seconds of non-stop work with 15 seconds of passive rest.
  3. Do repeat bouts of 60 seconds of non-stop work with 20 seconds of passive rest.

I prefer to create my own unique timer in my phone (e.g., using “Seconds Pro”) and, for example, mix and match the 3 different work:rest templates above. Make sure to prepare, mentally, for “sprint-type” work, which means you will drive your physical capacity to go all-out for the designated work interval and train yourself to recover as quickly as possible during the corresponding passive rest interval.

You will exhaust and highly challenge your immediate, ATP-CP, and glycolytic energy systems, which operate during work bouts lasting between roughly 3 and 60 seconds, depending on your fitness level and training experience.

In terms of total time to complete a workout, following a thorough and well-rounded warm-up, here are two examples (Workout A and B). Note that, here, one round equals 30 seconds of work, 10 seconds of rest, 45 seconds of work, 15 seconds of rest, 60 seconds of work, and 20 seconds of rest, for a total of three minutes.  

  • Workout A: 10 Rounds = 30 minutes of total time = 22.5 minutes of work and 7.5 minutes of passive rest
  • Workout B: 13 Rounds = 39 minutes of total time = 29 minutes, 15 seconds of work and 9 minutes, 45 seconds of passive rest

Intensity: It may not be easy, but it’s simple and more than worth it: go hard, and then go home! If you examine the two example workouts closely, you’ll see that the time you will spend actually moving is less than 30 minutes in either case! From plenty of personal/professional experience, that is a perfect amount of time that allows you to work extremely hard and come out of the workout feeling both challenged and accomplished.

Remember, make it your number one priority to lift non-stop during your work intervals; intermittent/occasional pausing of your timer is perfectly acceptable, and I do it all the time, especially to hydrate, sip on my supplements, and ensure that the quality of my training session remains sky-high.

Ideally, you would never set down your weight(s) during a work interval; you will recover as quickly as possible during your very brief rest periods, and you will be ready to rock ‘n’ roll at the very beginning of every new work interval.

Total Body: The 3 other main elements of “Gains On-The-Go Workouts” are founded upon exercise selection. To sum it up, here’s what you will aim for:

  • Multi-Joint Exercises: squats, deadlifts, lunges, RDL’s, swings, high pulls, shoulder presses, chest presses, push-ups, rows, upright rows, and the like.
  • Balance and Variation: Most often, you should select 6 to 12 different exercises, including upper body and lower body that hit agonist and antagonist muscle groups.
  • Head to Toe: Select 2 to 4 exercises that are non-resistance based. These can be viewed as “cardio” and/or active recovery exercises and can include: jumping jacks, mountain climbers, body weight squat jumps, split squat jumps, sprints/high knees, planks/bridging, ab/trunk work.
  • Exercise Sequencing: So that your output and technique can remain very high-quality, strategically sequence exercises within a complex, by emphasizing multi-joint exercises + isolation exercises and/or agonist + antagonist sequencing (specifically, stacking opposing muscle groups and/or upper body + lower body muscle groups/movements)   


Whenever I travel, convenience trumps all. So, make it easy for yourself to properly fuel your body with minimal prep’ time. No solid food and Tupperware, just one shaker bottle and 2 main supplements…easy breezy! 

To START: approximately 15-30 minutes before beginning your warm-up, grab and smash a C4 ON-THE-GO, for a pre-mixed pre-workout drink you easily pack in your suitcase and take with you when you're traveling. Above all, I love C4 ON-THE-GO’s cutting-edge, science-backed, and results-proven formulation that augments energy and mental focus, in addition to priming your body and energy systems for a stellar workout. It only has 8 Calories, 2 grams of carbohydrates, and 0 grams of sugar and the taste is outrageously good (my favorites are Watermelon, Cherry Limeade, and Icy Blue Razz!).

PERI-WORKOUT (immediately pre-, intra-, and immediately post-workout): Scientific research tells us that, even at rest, you can stimulate muscle protein synthesis by ingesting branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) or a complete protein source. On the road, I recommend you remove the guesswork by having one of my favorite BCAA powders – Scivation’s XTEND – on hand with a shaker bottle and water OR a supplement/water bottle funnel and water (the latter is my GO-TO!).

As a convenient muscle-building quick-fix, drink a serving or two of your BCAA’s peri-workout AND between solid-food meals as well, in order to trigger muscle protein synthesis and keep the gains pouring in!


Now, THERE’S NO EXCUSE STANDING IN YOUR WAY, and wherever you go, your gains will come with you!

Plan ahead: write up a few different training protocols using my results-driven guidelines and recommendations, pack your supplements, and bring your equipment and workout clothes. Then, find an open space — whether it be an open field, your hotel room, or even the hotel fitness center — focus your mind, and do what we do best: get the job done!   

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