How to Stay in Shape While Traveling: Hazards of Just Sitting

October 15, 2014

Imagine you're on a long road trip.  Multiple weeks even.  And maybe you're one of those extreme-ophiles that likes to do it via motorcycle.  Or not, and you're good with a spacious RV or camper trailer.

How do you keep up with your fitness?

This question and more I was invited to address at Overland Expo-East in Asheville North Carolina this past weekend (October 3-5).  In case you're wondering what is Overland Expo, I covered it in a post last year when physical therapist and friend John Tuitelle, a presenter at the 2013 Expo, asked if he could demo the Portable Kettlebell.  

Essentially, this expo covers every topic relevant to extended overland travel - not airplanes or boats - but trucks, campers and motorcycles.  And quite a few of the folks that attend the expo have made such trips around the world.  Some have written books and include tips and tricks from crossing borders with pets to packing your car or motorcycle into a shipping container.  

Anyway, it tends to be my idea of fun.  So when the opportunity came up to offer some of my tips and lessons learned, I jumped on it!

This is part one of two where I intend to share the key points discussed during the 50 minute seminar. As always, feel free to share (constructively, of course) thoughts or questions and I'll do my best to answer them.  And here's the disclaimer: please note that I am not a physician and none of this is intended to treat or otherwise cure what ails ya.  For specific instructions and a personal assessment, I strongly urge you to visit with a health care professional.  Specific suggestions on this also follows.  


Overland Expo: Fitness on the Road

First I'd like to share with you the Don't Just Sit There! diagram show below.  It's a compilation of major areas of concern for anyone that finds the majority of their day to be spent sitting, whether behind a keyboard or the wheel of a vehicle.  


Muscle degeneration

Of course there is the obvious concern of muscle degeneration of the abs and the glutes, but were you aware of your hip flexors?  Do you even know what these are?  It wasn't until I was deep into kettlebell training and CrossFit that this particular muscle group enter into my consciousness.  The fact that these tend to shrink I personally found interesting, as this is where I tend to feel the most discomfort after sitting for more than an hour or two.  My solution: break up long sits with breaks every 45 minutes and stretch the hip flexors with a nice deep lunge, also pictured in the diagram.  


Neck and shoulders

From here, I like to point out the next most obvious point of contention for those that find sitting to be their default state: sore neck and shoulder muscles.  This is usually the result of overextending the shoulder and neck muscles.  Here is where the pronating or rolling forward of the shoulders also occurs.

Pronated shoulders can have significantly negative effects on your ability to move functionally down the road, as in lifting weight overhead.  It's nearly impossible to do so safely if your shoulders have settled into a pronated state.  Doing overhead kettlebell movements on a daily basis, I'm particularly aware of where my shoulders, torso and hips should be for maximum mobility and strength.   

The tip here is to focus on rolling your shoulders back into position, so that your shoulder blades are tucked in place.  You also want to be aware of what your rib cage is doing at this point.  Many of us tend to stick it out in order to compensate for the pronated shoulders, and what you'll find is that the natural arch of your lower back will become exaggerated.  The tightening of the lower back muscles coupled with mushy abs equals lower back pain and discomfort.  

If this has been happening for some time, I strongly recommend you see a physical therapist or more specifically, a sports therapist trained in Active Release Techniques (ART) or Airrosti.  Please note that I am neither endorsed nor paid by either one of these modalities or any of their treating specialists in any way.  I just tout them based on my experience with each, particularly ART in so far as dealing with pain and discomfort.   


Organ damage

Finally, the one aspect of the diagram that I personally knew that least about and therefore found the most interesting was the potential of organ damage.  Here the experts interviewed for this report identified two organs: the heart and the pancreas.  

The heart is a concern due to the build up of fatty acids in the blood stream as a result of inactivity, wherein your muscles aren't working so less fat is being burned and therefore eventually builds up in the blood.  This can lead to high blood pressure and potentially cardio vascular disease.

The pancreas is what produces insulin which delivers glucose, i.e. energy to your cells.  But inactive muscles and their corresponding cells don't need the energy and thereby don't consume as much glucose.  But think about what happens when you're on the road, do you stop eating?  And when you eat, are you consuming slow burning carbs and protein or... sodas, candy bars and otherwise crap?  This is the stuff that is turned into glucose that your body desperately wants to get rid of - but you're not moving. 

So your pancreas produces more insulin to deliver glucose to the cells in your body that aren't responding to it.  This overproduction of insulin can lead to diabetes.  No bueno.  

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this presentation where I'll hit on the specific challenges that overland or otherwise extended travel participants will encounter: space constraints, environmental challenges and equipment limitations.

Until then, I look forward to your thoughts and experiences with keeping fit while on the road! 


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