Exercise Ideas for Non-Gym-Rats or Frequent Travelers

We all have our moments of laziness. Through trial and error, I’ve found these exercises to be convenient and effective when one is short on time or motivation. Give them a whirl and see what you think!

Pew swinging:

If you ever find yourself in an entirely empty church, or in a very informal church situation (a wedding rehearsal, or a church-concert rehearsal) with some downtime, do the following: standing at the entrance to a pew, place one hand on the top of each pew to either side of you. Next, gripping the pew-backs firmly and keeping your arms straight, raise your knees as close to your chest as possible. Then, with your hands as pivots or anchors, swing your torso back and forth for as long as your endurance safely allows. Return to standing position, and then repeat.


If you have a performance coming up, plan to arrive extra early to rehearsals and the concert, so that you have time to run up and down the aisles and around the stage before anyone else arrives. Do this relatively quietly, or you might attract attention, turning your workout into a long-lived anecdote. I haven’t done this for quite a while, but it really gets the heart going and is a great way to become familiar with the concert hall’s nooks and crannies.


Pick a time of day when the hotel in which you’re staying is most likely to be empty. At that time, stealthily dash up and down the hallways. You do want to avoid being reported to management for making too much noise. A benefit: by the end of your workout, you’ll definitely know where the ice machine is!

This is simple: whenever you’d normally walk, skip instead. Don’t worry about looking silly; remember that activities like this will keep you young.

Weight-lift your groceries:

You’ve probably heard of this already, but I’ll explain it anyway. As you walk down the street – or across the parking lot – with your groceries, carry them instead of “carting” them. Along the way, do bicep curls, letting the grocery bags hang from your fists. If the bags lack handles, raise them up and down while supporting their undersides. Next, before putting them in your car or on the floor, do five bicep curls or weight-lifts with each bag. If you’re driving, do the same when you unload them from the car.


No, this is not as vulgar as it sounds. This is truly the ultimate couch-potato exercise. While watching TV, wait till the commercials come on, then pick up a sizeable sofa-or bed-pillow, whichever is closer. Grip one end in each hand. Start by holding it close to your chest. Keeping the rest of your body still, push the pillow straight out in front of you. (This will look like a modified pushup.) Return to starting position. Next, lift the pillow up till it’s resting on top of your head. Push it straight upwards, towards the ceiling, then lower it back to the top of your head. Repeat this entire pattern till the ads end and regular programming resumes. If possible, keep your back and neck stick-straight while performing this exercise – it’ll reduce unnecessary strain to the upper back and neck.


Get in touch with the kid in you! While sitting at the airport, doctor’s office, or DMV, or while reading or researching a dull topic at the library or doing mundane desk work at home, swing your feet back and forth. It’s the healthiest way (no food, caffeine, or deafening music required) to stay awake in interminable situations. Just be sure not to disturb anyone while doing so – concerts and meetings could be bad foot-swinging situations.

Sustained leg extensions while typing:

Sit in a comfortable chair. Keeping a very straight back and neck, gradually raise your feet till your legs are straight. Hold this position for the length of time it takes to write a short email or memo, then return to normal as soon as the email is sent or the memo is printed. Not only will this strengthen your legs and torso, it’ll also greatly quicken your note-writing process. Feel the burn!

Ballet on the bed or on a mattress:
Pliés, arabesques, jumps, leaps, and repetitive exercises are all excellent candidates. Keep your shoes off and make sure your bed and springs are strong enough to stand up to this stress. And don’t hit your head on the ceiling! This is harder, but much more fun, than it might seem. It’s a wonderful routine for improving balance, and it’s about as low-impact as a workout gets.

Make your bed and time yourself:

This is the perfect follow-up to bed ballet. Tuck the covers under the mattress, lifting the edge of the mattress before every tuck. Keep your spine straight throughout the whole process. Do this faster every day, timing yourself with a stopwatch or clock, until you wind up dashing around the bed to get it done on time.

Car stretches:

A) Upper body: Reach your hands above your head, arching your back till your nose points directly at the roof. Flatten your palms against the ceiling, fingertips aimed towards the back of the car, and hold for five counts. Repeat several times.

B) Lower body: Back seat: If you have the back seat all to yourself, sit in the middle. Take off your shoes, unless your feet are really smelly. Straighten your legs in front of you, one at a time, as far as the vehicle will allow. Breathe in deeply. Return feet to the floor. Next, turn to face the door to your right. Extending your right leg along the seat, place the sole of your left foot against the inside of your right thigh. Press your left knee downwards towards the seat, as far as possible. Don’t strain, don’t force. Hold that position, maintaining a straight back and neck, and then lean forward till you feel the stretch. Return to starting position; repeat. Reverse, to the right. Front seat: Take off your shoes, if you’re comfortable doing so. Keeping your right foot on the floor, bend your left knee and bring your left ankle up till it rests on top of your right thigh. Your left kneecap should aim towards the driver (unless you’re in New Zealand, Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore, or Great Britain – or anywhere else where folks drive on the “other” side of the road). Bend forward from the waist, with your back straight, as far as the car allows. Hold, return to sitting position, and repeat. Reverse, to the other side.

Air cycling:

This can be a great workout. Lie flat on your back on a soft surface (carpet, blanket, yoga mat, mattress, or sofa). Bring your knees up to your chest. Then, move your legs in the air as if you’re riding a bicycle. Be careful not to bounce or wobble your upper body during the motion; this should be a fluid motion. Continue steadily for five minutes, take a break, and repeat twice more, if you have it in you. Try to get your heart-rate up to a good exercise pace, moving your legs smoothly at all times.